Filed Under Race and Ethnicity

Field Matron's Cottage, Reno-Sparks Indian Colony

A 1927 Stewart Vernacular stone building constructed for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The Field Matron’s Cottage was built on the grounds of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony in 1927 to house the activities of the field matron, who served under a program of the Bureau of Indian Affairs that provided instruction in sanitation and hygiene as well as emergency nursing services. The field matron also taught Indian girls housekeeping and other household duties aimed at cultural assimilation, a prominent government policy at the time. The field matron program was ultimately eliminated and health care was placed under the purview of the Indian Health Service.

The population of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony in 1927 was around 160 people. Roughly one-third were Washoe and two-thirds were Northern Paiute. The Reno-Sparks Indian Colony was established in 1916 by an Act of Congress. The term “colony” for a type of Indian territory is unique to Nevada. Indian colonies were intended to provide adequate living conditions to Indian families, although sufficient aid was slow to arrive. The Washoes and Northern Paiutes were forced to build the best homes they could with limited resources--typically, one-room shacks without electricity or modern conveniences. It took nearly ten years of pleading by the agency superintendent to get the funds to build the Field Matron’s Cottage, which served the field matron and later the public health nurse. For many years, the cottage housed the Tribal Police Department, and since 2013 it has been home to the offices of the RSIC Cultural Resources Program.

The Field Matron’s Cottage is modest in size and stylistically reflects the principles of the Arts-and-Crafts movement. More specifically, it might be called Stewart Vernacular, a localized style developed by Frederick Snyder, who served as the superintendent of the Stewart Indian School (est. 1877), in Carson City, Nevada from 1919 to 1934. Snyder’s program provided hands-on experience in the building trades, integrating an architectural style that was sensitive to the school’s western environment, the principles of the Arts-and-Crafts movement, and the students’ cultures. Snyder made a conscious—and successful—effort to establish an architectural identity for the school. Snyder’s apprentices constructed a number of buildings off-campus, particularly at Lake Tahoe.

The Field Matron’s Cottage was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in May 2003, the first Bureau of Indian Affairs property in Nevada to be so recognized.


National Register property
National Register property The architectural style of the Field Matron's Cottage, pictured here in 2003, reflects in part the principles of the Arts-and-Crafts movement, which prized traditional craftsmanship. Source: National Register of Historic Places nomination form Creator: Mella Rothwell Harmon Date: 2003
Distinctive chimney
Distinctive chimney The top of the chimney on the Field Matron's Cottage displays a characteristic course of vertical stones similar to some of the elements seen at the Stewart Indian School. Source: National Register of Historic Places nomination form Creator: Mella Rothwell Harmon Date: 2003
"Stewart Vernacular"
"Stewart Vernacular" The stonework at Stewart Indian School in Carson City, Nevada, pictured here, was the work of the school's masonry apprenticeship program. Note the similarity between the stone pillars in this photograph and the chimney of the Field Matron's Cottage. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries
Tribal Police Department
Tribal Police Department The Field Matron's Cottage housed the Tribal Police Department for the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony for many years, followed by the Cultural Resources Program. Source: City of Reno, Historical Resource Commission


1995 East 2nd Street, Reno, NV


Mella Rothwell Harmon, “Field Matron's Cottage, Reno-Sparks Indian Colony,” Reno Historical, accessed April 12, 2024,