Tiny Handcuffs: A Sad History

The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
Jan. 11 2013 11:30 AM

The Sad History of the Kid-Sized Handcuffs

The Vault is Slate's new history blog. Like us on Facebook; follow us on Twitter @slatevault; find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

In recent reporting for Indian Country Today, Mary Annette Pember tells the story of these tiny handcuffs, which have only lately been brought out of storage at the Haskell Indian Nations University's Cultural Center and Museum in Lawrence, Kan.

In the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th, Native American children often attended government-run boarding schools where the objective was assimilation. Army officer Richard Pratt, who founded one such school in Pennsylvania, famously said that his mission was to “kill the Indian ... and save the man.”

Advertisement

To that end, the schools forbade children from speaking their tribes' languages; enforced strict rules around food, sleep, and dress; and taught simple trades in the hope of transforming a “problem” group into tractable citizens.

Families sometimes sent children to the schools willingly, but there are also many tales of children being taken away from their parents by force.

According to their donor, these handcuffs were used to restrain children who refused to go quietly. We have no definite documentation of their use, but given the many stories of harsh discipline used on students in these schools—Haskell, which was a boarding school in its early years, had an on-campus jail to confine children who stepped out of line—this history seems plausible.

In Pember’s initial article on the cuffs, she reported that the Haskell staff had been unable to contact the artifact’s donor for years. After the article was posted, he came forward to tell his story.

Shane Murray’s grandfather gave him the cuffs when Murray was only 8 or 9 and told him that they were “used to take Indian kids to school.” His grandfather warned him never to play with them. Although Murray doesn’t know how his grandfather—a WWII veteran who suffered from PTSD and was withdrawn and reticent—came to own the artifact, Murray’s grandmother was a Native American from Oklahoma. Murray speculates that the handcuffs may have come from her.

Murray donated the handcuffs to Haskell’s museum in 1989.

Thanks to Mary Annette Pember.

Tiny Handcuffs

Photo by Mary Annette Pember.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Irritating Confidante

John Dickerson on Ben Bradlee’s fascinating relationship with John F. Kennedy.

My Father Invented Social Networking at a Girls’ Reform School in the 1930s

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

The All The President’s Men Scene That Captured Ben Bradlee

Medical Examiner

Is It Better to Be a Hero Like Batman?

Or an altruist like Bruce Wayne?

Technology

Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

The World’s Human Rights Violators Are Signatories on the World’s Human Rights Treaties

How Punctual Are Germans?

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 12:44 AM We Need More Ben Bradlees His relationship with John F. Kennedy shows what’s missing from today’s Washington journalism.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 9:42 PM The All The President’s Men Scene That Perfectly Captured Ben Bradlee’s Genius
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 21 2014 11:44 PM Driving in Circles The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.