Wheelock Academy
aka Wheelock Female Seminary
Millerton, McCurtain Co. Oklahoma

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Wheelock Academy

Wheelock Academy, Millerton, Oklahoma Campus, 1908

Wheelock Academy, Millerton, Oklahoma Students, 1893

Wheelock Academy, Millerton, Oklahoma  Pushmataha Hall

 above photos are off site links

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Alfred E. Wright

Wheelock Academy Wheelock Mission 

Map showing Wheelock Academy

more Wheelock photos


Built around 1832, the Wheelock Academy was one of the earliest schools. Situated in McCurtain County about one and one-half miles northeast of Millerton and about ten or twelve miles north and west of Idabel known as Towson County, Choctaw Nation, Indian Territory before statehood.

Alfred and Harriet Wright, missionaries, made their way west with Choctaws from Mississippi.

Begun as a mission school for girls, Wheelock Academy was named after Eleazar Wheelock, founder of Moor’s Indian School, later to become known as Dartmouth College. By 1839, the influx of boarding students was so great that a large, two story frame dormitory was added to the campus. 

It was selected in 1842 to become the first Choctaw National Academy. The academy served as the model  for the school system established by the Five Civilized Tribes. It set the precedent for over 30 academies and seminaries maintained in Indian Territory.

The Choctaw National School System took over Wheelock in 1842, converting it to a girls school.

Teachers at Wheelock were both educators and missionaries thus exposing students to the Bible in the classroom and by example. The curriculum included home economics which received as much, if not more, emphasis as English, geography, history, and science. Five hours were spent each morning in academic studies, while four hours each afternoon were devoted to domestic skills.  The girls learned how to use a spinning wheel and loom and crafts such as knitting, needlework, and sewing. 

The Wheelock seminary was closed in 1861 along with all the Choctaw schools when the Civil War Began.

In 1869 fire all but destroyed the original campus, including the 1845 Rock Church (now the oldest church building in Oklahoma still in use). A new facility was built in the early 1880s a short distance northeast of the original mission and school was opened for students in 1884. 

Pushmataha Hall was the first structure to be rebuilt, a two-story wood frame structure. Two years later, Wilson Hall (the classroom building) was completed.

Since its founding Wheelock Academy has been rebuilt, added to, and remodeled. The plain wooden buildings, attractive in their simplicity, housed one of the most complex institutions of its kind in Oklahoma. 

The Bureau of Indian Affairs owned Wheelock Academy from 1932 to 1955. When the school closed in 1955, the complex included 17 structures on the approximate 15 acre site. The General Services Administration owned the school from 1955 until ownership reverted to the Choctaw in the late 1960s. In the late 1970s only six buildings remained.

In 1966 the academy was declared a National Historical Landmark by the National Park Service of the US Department of Interior.

Wheelock Academy has been retained on the just-released list of Oklahoma's Most Endangered Historic Properties for 2002. Historic Wheelock Academy last year was included by the National Trust for Historic Preservation on its list of the 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in America. The future of Wheelock is uncertain...

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Rev. Alfred E. and Harriet Bunce Wright were missionaries to the Choctaws from the American Board of Missionaries. Alfred Wright was born March 1, 1788 in Columbia, Connecticut and was ordained as a minister in 1919 in North Carolina. Harriet Bunce was born Sep 19, 1779 to Captain Jared and Lydia (Prettyplace) Bunce. She was a teacher of unusual ability and the story of Wheelock belongs as much to her as to her husband.

Harriett Wright and Anna Burnham were the first teachers at Wheelock. Anna Burnham had joined the Wrights at Mayhew in 1822 and accompanied them to the Choctaw Nation. Much of the operating of the school fell upon them because Rev. Wright was away from the mission treating the ill or preaching sermons.

The Wheelock Mission and Wheelock Female Seminary (girls boarding school) were directed by the Presbyterian missionary Rev.  Alfred Wright who collaborated with fellow missionary Cyrus Byington to develop a written Choctaw alphabet and translated and printed books of the Bible and hymnals. They learned to speak the language and Byington, in particular, concentrated on developing the tools of the tongue, a dictionary, definer and grammar. Joseph Dukes was with Wright as a translator of the New Testament from 1836 to 1870. Joseph Dukes married Nancy Collins and their son, Gilbert Wesley Dukes served as Chief of the Choctaws from 1900 to 1902.

Rev. Wright died at Wheelock March 31, 1853, and lies buried within sight of the beloved church he had created in the heart of the wilderness  in the graveyard near the stone church build in 1846. A flat stone over his grave tells a brief story of his useful life. Wheelock Mission Church located south of the academy site was erected by Presbyterian missionaries.

Harriet Bunce Wright tried to carry on with her teaching chores at Wheelock after her husband's death, but after the 1854 school year her health failing she went east to live with relatives. She died Oct. 3, 1863 in Madison, Fla., and was buried there.

Following the death of the Rev. Alfred Wright, the American Board of Missionaries sent Rev. John Edwards, another Presbyterian minister, to serve as superintendent of Wheelock. John Libby, who had made the journey west with the Wrights as a young seminarian but who had returned east to further his education in the late 1830s, returned to Wheelock with Rev. Edwards as an assistant. In 1857, Mary J. Semple (who would later become the wife of the Rev. Ebenezer Hotchkin) joined the staff. She was to be a career educator, spending 40 years among the Choctaws teaching first at Wheelock and later at Spencer Academy. Accompanying her west was Mary Lovell.

See Wheelock, Symbol of Belief, Dedication and Hard Work for more information about the various Superintendents of Wheelock.


Asbill, Barbara and Louis Coleman. Wheelock Academy, An Endangered Native-American National Historic Landmark. Native American Press Archives. Jun 2002 http://www.anpa.ualr.edu/Symposium/SYM_Images/SYM_Sat_Morn_Asbill_wheelock_aca.htm  

Colby, Catherine. Wheelock Academy, Model for the Indian Territory. Cultural Resource Management, Vol. 20, No. 9, National Historic Land Marks, Assistance Initiative. May 2002 http://crm.cr.nps.gov/issue.cfm?volume=20&number=09    http://crm.cr.nps.gov/archive/20-9/20-9-14.pdf 

Dale, Edward Everett. Oklahoma, The Story of A State (New York: Harper & Row, 1949, 1955, 1968).

Debo, Angie. Oklahoma: A Guide to the Sooner State [The WPA Guide to 1930s Oklahoma complied by the Writers' Program of the Work Projects Administration in the State of Oklahoma with a restored essay by Angie Debo and a new introduction by Anne Hodges Morgan] (Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma, 1986).

Green, Len. Bishinik [Newspaper] January 1979, Wheelock, Symbol of Belief, Dedication and Hard Work. Jun 2002 http://www.tc.umn.edu/~mboucher/mikebouchweb/choctaw/cwheel.htm 

Morrison, W. B. . The Choctaw Mission of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. The OSU Library Electronic Publishing Center, Digital Collections, Chronicles of Oklahoma, Volume 4, No. 2, June, 1926: 166-183. Jul 2002  http://digital.library.okstate.edu/ 

Murphy, Justin D. Wheelock Female Seminary 1842-1861 The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Jul 2002 http://www.choctawnation.com/wheelock/wheelock1.htm  

Murphy, Justin D. Wheelock Female Seminary 1842-1861. In The Chronicles of Oklahoma, Vol LXIX, No. 1, Spring 1991.

National Register of Historic Places, Oklahoma, Bryan County, Site #72001056 3 mile NE of Bokchito. Jun 2002 http://www.nationalregisterofhistoricplaces.com/OK/Bryan/state.html  

Rodell, Carrie carrierodell@earthlink.net. Gilbert Wesley Dukes Jul 2002 http://home.earthlink.net/~carrierodell/gilbertdukes.html   

Wheelock Academy, Millerton, Oklahoma. National Trust for Historic Preservation. Jul 2002 http://www.nthp.org/11most/2000/wheelock.htm  

Wright, Allen. Wheelock Seminary.  The OSU Library Electronic Publishing Center, Digital Collections, Chronicles of Oklahoma, Volume 1, No. 2, October, 1921: 117-120. Jun 2002 http://digital.library.okstate.edu/