Canton Asylum for Insane Indians
“The naked fugitive ran toward shelter, home, and sanity. Five men pursued him, one armed with a shotgun and one with a revolver. They scrabbled over miles of rough terrain, determined to bring the man back to the facility where he had been dragged against his will.”

This description of events is from the July 7, 1905 issue of the Sioux Valley News.

Unbelievably, this was not a scene from the pre-Civil War South, but a surreal image from the 20th century. These men were trying to capture a runaway from an insane asylum for Native Americans in Canton, South Dakota. The facility started as a simple pork barrel project, but quickly became a convenient dumping ground for troublesome Indians. Finally, the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians (1902 – 1934) reached a tipping point of abuse and neglect that led to a bitter fight to shut it down.

I recently wrote a book VANISHED IN HIAWATHA: The Story of the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians, published by the University of Nebraska Press.

I spent five years researching varied sources for information about the asylum and for related information that would give context to the era.  Along the way, I discovered many interesting facts about insanity and its treatment, the medical practices of the era, Native American culture and customs, and general American history. I was sure that if I found these tidbits interesting, other people would, too.

My blog contains information that is not in the book, though some information about the Canton Asylum may appear in both. Throughout the blog, I use the language of the times, taken from letters, official documents, newspapers, and other sources.

Mental illness is still a concern today and learning about its history is both fascinating and appalling. During my research, I discovered that there is a great deal of interest in both asylums and medical treatments, so a large part of my blog is devoted to those particular topics. I am always open to suggestions and hope you will feel free to contact me if a particular post catches your interest. ~~ Carla Joinson


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