On the western hills of Eagle Valley, a single spot stands out where the slopes meet the sky. The rocks that form the letter "S" are a mystery to some, but to 96-year-old Hilman Tobey, the symbol is a haunting and historic memory of his childhood and the community that nurtured him in the early 20th century. In 1934, Tobey was a sophomore at the Stewart Indian School and was part of the class that built the landmark.
Tobey learned to be a carpenter, a skill that would support him the rest of his life. That's why he and his supporters have committed to refurbishing the Stewart S in grand fashion June 2 with a painting party in the foothills of the Silver State, just south of the capital.
Stewart Indian School served as an off-reservation boarding school from 1890 through 1980, and its stone buildings are an icon of education and life for many American Indians in the West. After the school closed, the buildings were emptied and many became home to state offices. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places and comprised of 83 buildings, the site continues to be a cultural center.
The Stewart Indian School Trail is a self-guided walking tour of the campus with 20 points of interest and audio stories. Using personal cell phones, visitors can access recorded messages from alumni and employees about their personal experiences at the school. The goal of the "Talking" Trail is to preserve the history and memorabilia of the school, which provided education and vocational skills to American Indian youth from Nevada, California, Arizona and New Mexico, representing more than 200 tribes.
"The alumni tell me they are proud of the S because it represented the hard work they did at school and pride they had and still have in the community that they came from," said Sherry Rupert, executive director of the Nevada Indian Commission.
Almost 80 years after Tobey helped build the S, few in the valley know the history of the landmark and many have guessed incorrectly what it stands for. For Tobey, it stands for the accomplishments and the skills learned at Stewart.
"It is a historic and essential component of the former school. The S is in dire need of repainting and maintenance and we really want this to be a celebration," Rupert said. "The Nevada Indian Commission invites everyone to be a part of the restoration, especially former students and those with a connection to the school. We want to restore this piece of history to its full glory." The S had been repainted throughout the school's history, but has not been painted since 2000.
Conditions around the outcropping have made it hard to distinguish the letter and the harsh climate has taken its toll. Now managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the site is in the process of being transferred to the local control of Carson City. Organizers of the event have secured permits and the assurances that the location will retain its status as a historically important site.
To complete the labor of love, the commission is seeking donations of paint, brushes, time and money. Volunteers need to be physically able to hike to the site, a short but steep trek that delivers majestic views of the western skies.
Work on June 2 begins at 7:30 a.m. at the intersection of Clearview and Gentry lanes, with the big plans to honor the accomplishments at the region's famous Father's Day Powwow. The school annually hosts the Stewart Father's Day Powwow, which presents competition dancing, Stewart School alumni recognition, arts and crafts, special events and exhibits. The annual family gathering is held on the site of the school where Tobey attended classes, now a culturally significant site for the local tribes, the state and the nation, Rupert said.
His story is chronicled in an oral history at Great Basin College in Elko, where he discusses life at the school and how his brother introduced him to the skill of pipe making. He has sold his beautifully crafted pipes all around the world. For Tobey, who now lives the Reno Sparks Indian Colony, the new S will bring to life the lessons, spirit and victories of the 1934 Stewart Braves.
For information on the event, contact the Nevada Indian Commission at 687-8333