Canton’s Early Roots

December 18th, 2014

A Trapper’s Shack

Though the city of Canton was small compared to East Coast standards, it was an up and coming community for the far West. Almost as soon as Congress created Dakota Territory,  its new territorial legislature began establishing counties. The legislature established Lincoln County (where Canton is located) during its first session in 1862.

Representative Traps and Trapper

Representative Traps and Trapper

Only two signs of white civilization marked Lincoln County at this early date: a road crossing its northeast corner, and a small shanty on the Sioux River. The shanty had been built by trappers Dutch Charley, Bill Tunis, Old Ross, and his two sons, between Beaver Creek and the Sioux River. This small dwelling was an ideal place to capture game, and gave the area its first name, Trapper Shanty. For several years, this shanty was the only structure in Lincoln County, and became popular with travelers between Sioux City and Fort Dakota. Later, the area around Trapper Shanty became Canton, South Dakota.

Trapper Making a Bear Set

Trapper Making a Bear Set

The people of Canton, South Dakota had always dreamed big. Another old name for the town was Commerce City, though it was never an official one. Land speculators (circa 1850s) mapped the area and created the town there, but Commerce City doesn’t seem to have existed in any legal sense. Canton was also known as Gate City, capitalizing on the idea that it was a gateway into Dakota Territory. With such an energetic history behind them, Canton’s citizens no doubt thought it possible that its unique Canton Asylum for Insane Indians would make it a world-renowned mecca for the study of insanity.

 

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Local Pride in Canton Asylum

December 14th, 2014
Rudolph Hotel, 1912

Rudolph Hotel, 1912

Though insane asylums were not common institutions anywhere, citizens in most locales were delighted to have them situated nearby (see 12/7/2014 post). Asylums meant jobs, payrolls that workers might spend in town, and an ongoing need for supplies that local merchants could try to meet. Canton, South Dakota’s citizens were no exception to this general feeling that an insane asylum would be a good thing for their area. They had further hopes that the special mission of this particular asylum (treating Indians exclusively) would make Canton a magnet for visitors and researchers. As the asylum gained recognition and prestige, they hoped Canton itself would become a more-visited spot.

Canton, S.D. Masonic Temple, 1912

Canton, S.D. Masonic Temple, 1912

Their optimism was not unwarranted. The New York Times wrote an article about the asylum in 1901, as did other out-of-state papers. What was really exciting, though, was the trend that the new construction seemed to promise. At the same time the asylum was being built, an August, 1901 newspaper story told about a new “Chautauqua pavilion down in a grove by the river [that] will seat 5,000 people” and that “plans have just been drawn for O. A. Rudolph for a new hotel which will cost $25,000.” The pavilion and the hotel would then be offered as “inducements for the location of state conventions and other large gatherings.”

Anything that made the small city appear more attractive and cosmopolitan was desirable, and it is no wonder that few people gave any thought to the inadequacies that existed in actually making the new insane asylum a success.

Canton S.D. Courthouse with Buggy in Front, circa 1907

Canton S.D. Courthouse with Buggy in Front, circa 1907

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The Insane as News Items

December 11th, 2014
Doctor's Parlor, Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane

Doctor’s Parlor, Willard Asylum

Though early alienists did a great deal to de-stigmatize insanity and help families feel better about seeking help for their mentally ill members, insanity was still a delicate subject that most families preferred to keep private. Asylum superintendents understood this. They tried to be as soothing and discreet as possible, often bringing families into nice parlors for a private chat to quiet their embarrassment and fears and to find out more about the patient’s problem. Many asylums also had fences around them, not just to keep patients inside, but to keep the curious public out while patients walked or worked on the grounds.

A Work Train Transporting Patients at Willard Insane Asylum

A Work Train Transporting Patients at Willard Insane Asylum

When patients were transferred from one asylum to another, as often happened when a new asylum opened to alleviate overcrowding, the public usually came out in force to watch the transfer. When the East Tennessee Insane Asylum received fifty female patients from the Nashville institution, the Knoxville Daily Journal (March 21, 1886) said that, “The curiosity of about one hundred men, women and children, who had hovered around Erin station all yesterday afternoon was gratified when the train of female lunatics arrived at 4:00 o’clock.”

Postcard of Patients at Asylum Number 3, in Missouri

Postcard of Patients at Asylum Number 3, in Missouri

A few weeks later, the same paper ran an article about two new patients–referred to as inmates–brought to the asylum. A woman was brought by her daughter, and a man by the sheriff of Campbell county. A third person who had gone “crazy about religion” had been tied hand and foot in a train that then passed through town on its way to Wytheville (Virginia) where the man was to be incarcerated. He was accompanied by two sisters and a brother, but spent his time sitting in his seat “singing, cursing and gesticulating frantically.”

The paper called the latter a sad case, but went ahead and printed the man’s name–as well as the names of the other two patients–and as many details about them as it could. It surely did not make anything easier for these patients or their families to receive so much publicity about a situation they would rather have remained private.

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Public Interest in Insane Asylums

December 7th, 2014
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Asylum for the Insane in Nashville

Asylum for the Insane in Nashville

The construction of an insane asylum was usually a welcome event for most towns or cities, since the work meant jobs and a continued money flow into the local economy. Newspapers had little but praise for these projects, as the Knoxville Daily Journal  demonstrates:

An article titled “The New Asylum Opened,” and dated March 18, 1886 begins, “. . . the East Tennessee Insane Asylum, which is a branch of the main asylum at Nashville, and is located at Lyon’s View, the most lovely spot in the part of the world.” It continues, “A brief description of the magnificent structure, as it now stands overlooking the Tennessee river and surrounding country commanding some of the most enchanting views in the south . . . . The main front entrance, through a neatly constructed verandah and vestibule, is by means of marble steps, into a broad and stately hall-way, provided with suitable furniture.”

East Tennessee Insane Asylum

East Tennessee Insane Asylum

Readers are left to imagine the particulars of the building, but they could scarcely do otherwise than think that the new institution was a fine place for the “unfortunates” who would live there. “Altogether, there are about 185 rooms in the building and annexes, and there are ample accommodations for about 225 patients.” With so much room and an additional 300 acres that would be improved and beautified over time, the asylum sounded almost luxurious.

In summation, readers were told that “this grand structure looms up as a monument to the sound judgment and executive ability of the three able commissioners, who certainly performed the work assigned to them honorably and well . . . .”

Undated Photo of East Tennessee Insane Asylum

Undated Photo of East Tennessee Insane Asylum

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The Chronic Insane

December 4th, 2014
Outagamie County Asylum for the Chronic Insane, Wisconsin, circa 1889

Outagamie County Asylum for the Chronic Insane, Wisconsin, circa 1889

 
Alienists stressed that the prompt treatment of insanity was imperative to a cure. They cautioned the public that it was far wiser to bring an afflicted person to an asylum for a cure as soon as possible, rather than let the patient languish at home for years until an asylum became a last resort. By that point, the disease might have too strong a hold and never be shaken.

State Asylum for the Chronic Insane in Wernersville, Pennsylvania

State Asylum for the Chronic Insane in Wernersville, Pennsylvania

 

Despite their sharp division of “acute” and “chronic” cases of insanity, few alienists wanted to shunt the chronic insane into separate asylums. First, few alienists wanted to be in charge of hopeless cases that gave them no scope for meaningful treatment and possible success. Second, alienists hated to pass sentence on patients, fearing that a “chronic” label would take away any chance for recovery that the patient might have had. Rather than give a patient a life sentence to custodial care, alienists preferred to keep these patients with their more hopeful cases on the remote chance that he or she could still make a recovery.

Female Patients and Staff at Willard Asylum, courtesy Robert Bogdan Collection

Female Patients and Staff at Willard Asylum, courtesy Robert Bogdan Collection

Lawmakers did not often share the alienists’ concerns. Custodial care was far cheaper than active treatment, and state legislatures usually felt that chronic patients unlikely to respond to treatment should not use up the state’s precious monies in a facility that actively treated acute cases. Against most alienists’ wishes, several asylums for the chronic insane were built. (Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane in New York is perhaps the most well-known of these.) And, as the alienists had foretold, most patients in them spent the remainder of their lives in custodial care.

 

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Evolution of Treatment for the Insane

November 30th, 2014
Dr. Benjamin Rush's Tranquilizing Chair, courtesy National Library of Medicine

Dr. Benjamin Rush’s Tranquilizing Chair, courtesy National Library of Medicine

Most modern readers would consider the mid-1800s a fairly rough and rugged period, inhabited by correspondingly rough and rugged individuals. However, changes in the treatment of insanity during this period point to the idea that people in the middle 1800s believed they had declined from the vigor of their ancestors.

When Dr. Benjamin Rush began treating the insane during the late 1700s, most of his treatments were aimed at depleting patients. Because of the vigorous nature of American society at the time, physicians believed that men and women tended to be out of balance on the side of too much “excitement” in their bodies. Excitement irritated blood vessels and resulted in inflammation, fevers and breathing difficulties that could only be relieved by the intense bleeding and purging protocols that Rush practiced all his professional life. In contrast, people of the mid-1800s had become more lethargic, weak, and nervous. Treatments for the insane tended toward tonics, physical exercise, and regimented days full of activity to invigorate the patient.

A Caricature Sadly Based on Reality

A Caricature Sadly Based on Reality

Opium Was Used Routinely

Opium Was Used Routinely

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even though alienists’ views on why insanity occurred and how it affected the body changed over time, they still knew too little about the causes of insanity to do much more than treat its symptoms. Rush bled and purged his manic patients, while later alienists gave them opium and morphine to calm them. The emphasis on treating symptoms may be a reason for the multitude of techniques alienists used–they simply experimented until they found something that seemed to work.

 

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Gratitude and Thanksgiving

November 27th, 2014

Corn Dance, Taos Pueblo, circa 1920s

Though the majority of the U.S. population celebrates an official day of gratitude called Thanksgiving, many cultures have had the same practice of taking time out to express gratitude for the good things in their lives. Native Americans have a deep tradition of giving thanks routinely, particularly in their practice of giving thanks to the animals and plants which gave their lives to provide sustenance or medicine.

Buffalo Dance at Hano, courtesy www.firstpeople.us

Buffalo Dance at Hano, courtesy www.firstpeople.us

One consequence of their constant awareness of nature’s gifts was that native peoples used Mother Earth’s bounty with respect and gratitude. Some Native Americans today practice a gratitude ceremony which can include song, prayer, smudging and water ceremonies, and an explicit expression of thanks for something they particularly value.

Qahatika Indian Women Resting in a Harvest Field, courtesy www.firstpeople.us

Qahatika Indian Women Resting in a Harvest Field, courtesy www.firstpeople.us

Planting ceremonies were also important, as were dances and feasts to celebrate good crops. The Maple Syrup Ceremony (late spring), Strawberry Ceremony (early summer), Bean Dance and Green Corn Dance (midsummer), and Buffalo Dance (winter), are only a few of the times that Native Americans set aside to acknowledge their dependence upon the bounty of the earth. Festivals  provided opportunities to feast, express gratitude, and enjoy good things, and also provided times of cleansing, healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

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What Caused Insanity?

November 23rd, 2014
Probable Causes of Insanity, Missouri State Lunatic Asylum, 1854, courtesy Missouri State Archives

Probable Causes of Insanity, Missouri State Lunatic Asylum, 1854, courtesy Missouri State Archives

The causes for insanity that early alienists compiled can seem amusing–as well as appalling–to modern readers. Almost anything, from disappointment in love, financial reverses, over-study, improper diet, use of alcohol or tobacco, and masturbation could derail mental health, it seemed. However, most of these causes really stemmed from one primary cause: civilization.

An eminent statistician who was deeply interested in insanity, Edward Jarvis, explained that the growth of knowledge, increased comfort, more refined manners, better appreciation of art, opportunities for indulgence, and so on that arose from an advancing civilization, did not themselves lead to mental disorders. However, their effects could.

Edward Jarvis

Edward Jarvis

The astonishing strides in civilization present in the mid-nineteenth century also gave people “more opportunities and rewards for great and excessive mental action, more uncertain and hazardous employments and consequently more disappointments . . . more dangers of accidents and injuries, more groundless hopes, and more painful struggle to obtain that which is beyond reach . . .” The mental anguish these byproducts of civilization could cause created more cases of insanity than possible when people had lived with more limited lives and opportunities.

Many Asylums Were Modeled After Thomas S. Kirkbride's Linear Plan

Many Asylums Were Modeled After Thomas S. Kirkbride’s Linear Plan

Alienists agreed with Jarvis’s premise, and therefore saw a need for more insane asylums and more alienists to meet the needs of a country  which was both moving toward an even higher degree of civilization and quickly expanding its population.

 

Their position seemed to be correct, for most asylums filled up almost as soon as they could be built. While there are many other reasons for the popularity of asylums during the 1840s and beyond, there is no denying that these institutions filled a perceived need within that period’s society.

 

 

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New Ideas

November 20th, 2014
Chest Treatment With Electrostatic Generator

Chest Treatment With Electrostatic Generator, circa 1908

Food was not the only way to treat physical illnesses (see last few posts), though healthy eating may have been the least harmful way to ward off sickness.

The turn of the 20th century saw many innovations and experimental treatments by physicians who were working on new ways to help patients. The August, 1907 issue of The New Albany Medical Herald monthly journal ($1/year for a subscription) reported that:

A Tuberculosis Sanitarium

A Tuberculosis Sanitarium

“[Dr.?} Stuver has used galvanic electricity with splendid results in chronic rheumatism.

 

He uses a current of from 6 (?) to 20 mp. for a person, 20 minutes to a half-hour and says that the results are better if a thin layer of cotton, wet with a solution of cocaine, is placed under the positive pole.”

Tuberculosis Patients at J.N. Adam Memorial Hospital in Buffalo, NY, courtesy Edward G. Miller Library, University of Rochester Medical Center

Tuberculosis Patients at J.N. Adam Memorial Hospital in Buffalo, NY, courtesy Edward G. Miller Library, University of Rochester Medical Center

Another article in the same issue concerned the treatment of tuberculosis. The writer, a Dr. Thos. P. Cheesborough, from Asheville, NC, noted  that he usually received patients who were far along in the condition, due to their home physicians either missing the diagnosis entirely or being reluctant to tell their patients the bad news about their health.

 

Dr. Cheesborough then says, “One of the greatest disadvantages that I have found in treating this disease is that the poor unfortunate, when at last his disease has been diagnosed, and he has been sent from home and its comforts, has been advised by the home physician not to consult anyone here, but to exercise and drink whisky and to come home in a few months cured.”

Obviously, medical care could sometimes be hit or miss.

 

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Importance of Asylum Gardens

November 16th, 2014
Vermont Asylum for the Insane, circa 1880 to 1890

Vermont Asylum for the Insane, circa 1880 to 1890

Asylum gardens provided occupational therapy of a sort for patients who were physically able to work in them. Some patients truly enjoyed working in a small flower garden perhaps, or even an hour or two in a vegetable garden.

However, because some superintendents reported having to “force” patients to work outside, this so-called therapy obviously did not appeal to everyone. Vegetable gardens certainly helped the bottom line, though, and provided fresh food that sometimes miserly public funds might not have covered.

Eastern Lunatic Asylum, West and East Views, circa 1855

astern Lunatic Asylum, West and East Views, circa 1855

In May, 1910, Dr. Harry Hummer, superintendent of the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians, pleaded with the commissioner of Indian Affairs to retain the subsistence allowance for employees.

He told the commissioner that he had a very desirable staff of employees at that time, and: “am very desirous of keeping this force intact, which I believe, will not be possible if the contemplated change (to take away asylum-provided meals) is put into operation.”

Nurses at Georgia State Lunatic Asylum, 1894

Nurses at Georgia State Lunatic Asylum, 1894

Dr. Hummer then went on to make a case for the continued subsistence by noting that the entire cost of subsistence supplies for the year had been $4,470.47. Divided by 75 (60 patients and 15 employees), this sum provided food for a month at a cost of only $5.00 per person.

Hummer pointed out that it would cost employees $10 a month to pay for their own meals, so that they would be losing money even if their salaries were raised by the $5.00/month the government saved. With this point and several others he raised, Hummer managed to save this perk for his staff. Whether the food itself was good, bad, or indifferent, affordable meals meant a lot to employees.

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