More Odd Decisions

Law West of the Pecos Judged Horse Thiefs Harshly, photo taken of Langtry, Texas in 1900, courtesy National Archives

Law West of the Pecos Judged Horse Thieves Harshly, photo taken of Langtry, Texas in 1900, courtesy National Archives

After being accused of horse theft, Peter Thompson Good Boy met an Insanity Commission in South Dakota and was adjudged insane. Oddly, he was sent to the government hospital in Washington, DC instead of the much closer Canton Asylum in SD. (See last post.) Good Boy asserted that because he pleaded “not guilty” to the theft charge, he was sent to an insane asylum far away. He accused a neighbor of instigating the maneuver, because Good Boy knew something about the neighbor’s criminal behavior.

St. Elizabeths' Center Building, circa 1900, courtesy National Archives

Center Building, circa 1900, courtesy National Archives

No one in authority quite believed Good Boy, but two congressmen made inquiries on his behalf, as did a chaplain. Apparently, the authorities at St. Elizabeths had told one of the congressmen (Congressman McGuire) that if someone would take responsibility for Good Boy and give him proper attention, he could probably be released. The chaplain wrote to say that a former employer of Good Boy’s had offered him employment in Nebraska.

Patient Room at St. Elizabeths, circa 1905

Patient Room at St. Elizabeths, circa 1905

Additional inquiries were made on behalf of Good Boy, so that whoever wrote Good Boy’s case summary concluded: “In view of the various conflicting statements (some not included in this post) which we have regarding this man, it is quite impossible for us to definitely decide as to what should be done in this case. His past conduct here has been exemplary, and aside from his ideas concerning, Whipple [the neighbor], he has manifested no signs of psychosis.”

The writer said that he would write to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs about the whole matter, and urged that Good Boy at least go to an institution nearer his home.

Good Boy was transferred to the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians on May 3, 1916. My next post will discuss this asylum superintendent’s take on Good Boy’s insanity.

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Beyond Reason

Rosebud Indian Agency, courtesy South Dakota State Historical Society

Rosebud Indian Agency, courtesy South Dakota State Historical Society

Many patients at the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians did not receive a formal hearing or doctor’s examination before being sent to the asylum. Authorities at least went through the motions with Peter Thompson Good Boy. He was accused of stealing a horse on the Rosebud Reservation, and spent some time in the Deadwood, SD jail while awaiting trial. While the legal proceedings ramped up after his arraignment, Good Boy evidently developed some behaviors that his counsel (and others) said looked “as though he were mentally deranged.”

Good Boy was confined in jail from at least May 1913 to September 1913. His attorney asked the Commissioners of Insanity of Lawrence County, SD to give Good Boy a hearing to determine his mental condition, which they did. They adjudged “the said Peter Thompson Good Boy to be insane.” The state hospital would not accept him, because he was a resident of a reservation and had been brought to jail by a United States Marshal.

For some reason which isn’t clear, Good Boy was sent to the Government Hospital for the Insane (St. Elizabeths) in Washington, DC rather than the asylum in South Dakota, which was much closer.

South Dakota State Hospital, Yankton

South Dakota State Hospital, Yankton

Center Building, Government Hospital for the Insane, circa Early 20th Century

Center Building, Government Hospital for the Insane, circa Early 20th Century

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New Reasons for Insanity

Blackfoot Family

Blackfoot Family

Many (white) observers over the years believed that insanity was rare among Native Americans. Their conclusion was born out during the Indian Bureau survey that tried to assess the need for a special asylum for insane Indians; among the thousands and thousands of Indians living on reservations, fewer than a hundred could be identified with mental problems.

Though J. Lee Humfreville (see last post) had nothing to do with this survey, he backed up earlier thoughts about the prevalence of insanity with his own observations made during his Army career. In speaking about the scourge of smallpox among the Blackfeet, Humfreville told of their extreme reaction to smallpox scars.

“. . . they were so humiliated at sight of these blemishes and scars [from smallpox] that some of them committed suicide. As suicide was almost unknown . . . one may obtain from this some idea of the distress of the Blackfeet over their disfigured appearance.”

Humfreville continued, “Some of the survivors of this dreaded disease became insane; as insanity was something new to them, they believed that the anger of the Great Spirit was especially directed to those who had had the disease.”*

Clearly, mental illness among Native Americans was not common at all if even an Army captain could make that case when speaking about another matter entirely.

Manifestation of Smallpox

Manifestation of Smallpox

* Italics mine.Native American Boy in Yukon Territory Receiving Smallpox Vaccine, circa 1900

Native American Boy in Yukon Territory Receiving Smallpox Exam and Vaccine, circa 1900

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Posted in BIA Bureau of Indian Affairs, Canton Asylum for Insane Indians, Indian tribes, Insanity, medical history | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Another Sad Twist

A Bedridden Patient With Visitor at Blackwell's Island Hospital for Incurables

A Bedridden Patient With Visitor at Blackwell’s Island Hospital for Incurables

The argument can certainly be made that very few patients at the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians were what might be called “classically insane,” with complete disassociation from reality, a complete change in personality, or a complete inability to function within their traditional society. It seems clear from records that many patients simply manifested symptoms derived from epilepsy, alcoholism, deterioration from the last stages of syphilis, and so on and were diagnosed with insanity on the basis of them.

White patients with these same conditions and conditions were also considered insane and were likewise diagnosed. But, white patients were usually institutionalized close to home, which was not the case for Canton Asylum patients. These patients came from reservations all over the country; the long distances made it especially difficult for family and friends to visit. This added one more level of hardship that their white counterparts typically didn’t suffer, and it was certainly no trivial matter.

In speaking about Native Americans in general, J. Lee Humfreville (who served in the U.S. Army on the Southern Plains between 1862 and 1874) wrote in 1903 that “the affection of an Indian for his family and children is particularly marked, although rarely demonstrative.” Humfreville was writing specifically about Indian captives and continued, “. . . they have been known to die of homesickness, and not infrequently went crazy from the refusal of their captors to allow them to return to their kindred and friends.”

Besides the torment of whatever physical or mental condition that had brought a patient to the Canton Asylum, homesickness would have added an excruciating second layer of pain. Superintendent Hummer–like many other asylum superintendents–actively discouraged visitors because he thought they caused setbacks for the patient. Consequently, many patients could add depression or melancholy to their list of symptoms and seemingly validate their need to be at an institution.

Patients and Visitors at Wyoming State Hospital, May 1931, courtesy Wyoming State Archives

Patients and Visitors at Wyoming State Hospital, May 1931, courtesy Wyoming State Archives

Apache Prisoners near Nueces River, Texas, 1886

Apache Prisoners near Nueces River, Texas, 1886

 

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Reply in Kind

Asylums Were Usually Open to Visitors

Asylums Were Usually Open to Visitors

Until much later, inspections of the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians tended to focus on its physical assets rather than the patients (see last two posts). When Inspector Breid made his detailed comments about the state of the asylum’s floors in 1912, Superintendent Hummer’s reply to his concerns was just as detailed.

Pratt and Lambert #61 Varnish

Pratt and Lambert #61 Varnish

One-and-a-half pages of a five-and-a-half page response explained what he intended to do about the floors.

Hummer begins: “The matter of properly dressing the hard maple floors has been given much thought and study, the final result of which was the placing of an item of fifty gallons of Pratt and Lambert’s #61 floor varnish on the Annual Estimate of Goods and Supplies, for the fiscal year 1913.”

Asylums Issued Their Own Formal Reports

Asylums Issued Their Own Formal Reports

Hummer went on to describe what his original intentions had been to resolve the problem, what a conference with a local painter had brought out, and so on. Hummer discussed at great length other discrepancies Breid had pointed out, and turned in a reply to the inspection that he knew would show his interest and attention to detail in a positive light.

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Focus Of Inspections

Interior, First Floor, Staircase and Gallery, Welfare Island, Insane Asylum, New York, New York County, courtesy Library of Congress

Interior, First Floor, Staircase and Gallery, Welfare Island, Insane Asylum, New York, New York County, courtesy Library of Congress

The Canton Asylum for Insane Indians was inspected many times throughout its life. However, inspectors tended to focus on “things” rather than people. In a January, 1912 report that discussed some sewer problems at the asylum (see last post), Inspector Jacob Breid also discussed–in detail–the physical condition of the building.

“The floors are hard maple but they have not been oiled. They have been scrubbed frequently and the dirty water has gotten into the spaces between the boards and caused the edges to become dark. This gives the floor a dirty appearance . . . .” Breid suggested that the spaces between the boards be filled with a material like wax and the floors oiled. (He also suggested that these floors be mopped with a “cloth moistened with kerosene” rather than with soap and water.)

View of Taunton State Hospital, Interior

View of Taunton State Hospital, Interior

In the wards, Breid noted that the beds didn’t have castors and therefore scratched and marred the floors whenever they were moved. He suggested using pegs with rounded ends in each bed post and oiling them so that they would glide across the floor. Most of Breid’s comments and suggestions concerned the physical state of the asylum.

Asylum in Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1870s

Asylum in Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1870s

 

 

So far as patients were concerned, Breid made a list of how many patients held various diagnoses. He also noted that several patients had tuberculosis and needed to be isolated to a greater degree than the building allowed. Breid completed his review of patients with the hopeful thought that the asylum’s new hospital would be erected soon and alleviate this problem of isolating contagious patients.

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New Year, New Problems

February 1909 Blizzard, Canton, S.D.

February 1909 Blizzard, Canton, S.D.

New years may imply fresh starts, but for the superintendent of the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians, a new year often meant the same old–or brand new–problems to deal with. The asylum was inspected by Supervisor Jacob Breid in January, 1912. A new sewer had just been completed, but did not work; water was not flowing correctly through one of the manholes about 1,500 feet away from the buildings.

Family in Yankton County, South Dakota, circa 1911 to 1917

Family in Yankton County, South Dakota, circa 1911 to 1917

The sewer had been a headache for the asylum’s superintendent, Dr. Harry Hummer, for some time. The work specifications had been changed as problems arose, one of which was a grade issue and another of getting the pipe down into the ground deep enough that it would not freeze. Perhaps that is what had happened during the time of Breid’s inspection, when it was 40 below zero!

A Snow Storm in South Dakota, February 2, 1910, courtesy University of South Dakota

A Snow Storm in South Dakota, February 2, 1910, courtesy University of South Dakota

 

Of course, Hummer himself could do little about a problem of this nature, and would likely have had to simply wait for a spring thaw before the contractor could find the point where the pipe had broken or cracked. Meanwhile, the asylum had to make do with a sewer that did not function.

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Food Scarcity

Cheyenne-Arapaho Ration Card Used During the Time of the Land Run, courtesy Oklahoma HIstorical Society

Cheyenne-Arapaho Ration Card Used During the Time of the Land Run, courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society

Winter had always been a time of scarcity for both agricultural and nomadic peoples. Even when crops were good and supplies safe, winter generally meant fewer food choices and dwindling stores of edibles that could not be replenished until spring arrived.

Native Americans faced extreme threats to their food supply by the twentieth century: they had been pushed to unproductive reservations; they were dependent on rations supplied by the federal government; and they did not have the political power to fight for better conditions.

Life on the Reservation, Scavenging for Beef, courtesy Smithsonian National Archives

Life on the Reservation, Scavenging for Beef, courtesy Smithsonian National Archives

To make matters worse, such food as the federal government thought fit to dispense arrived via the management of bureaucrats and contractors who could be incompetent, indifferent, corrupt, or all three.

Even the best contractors could not deliver food until Congress had appropriated funds for them to do so, and Congress could delay the passage of appropriations for any number of reasons. When food finally did get through, it could be spoiled, of poor quality, or so strange to the recipients that they couldn’t or wouldn’t eat it.

 

Ration Day on Pine Ridge Reservation, circa 1890

Ration Day on Pine Ridge Reservation, circa 1890

Even if they had been plentiful and unspoiled, federal rations were not particularly wholesome or tasty; they consisted primarily of lard, flour, bacon, sugar, coffee, and beef. Farming was supposed to supply all other food needs, but never did since reservation land was so poor. Rampant hunger and poor health among Native Americans was the inevitable result.

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Winter As a Time of Reflection

Rosebud Indian Agency, courtesy South Dakota State Historical Society

Rosebud Indian Agency, courtesy South Dakota State Historical Society

In most earlier cultures, life slowed during the winter months; people could not plant seed in frozen ground, days were short and dark, and most agricultural tasks were complete. As in today’s practice of contemplation at the New Year, native peoples used winter as a time to reflect on the important events of the previous year.

Winter Camp Scene

Winter Camp Scene

Tribes such as the Sioux would pick an important event as the defining element of a year, and represent it pictorially on an animal hide. This practice is called a “winter count.” Years of great sickness, traumatic events, significant hunts, and so on could be remembered long after they happened.

Dr. Thomas Red Owl Haukaas created the Carnegie Winter Count of events affecting his tribe,the Sicangu Lakota people (Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota) from a 1990s viewpoint.

Here are a few of his interpretations:

1868–1869: Touched-the-Pen Winter
The Great Sioux Reservation was created with the signing of the Treaty of 1868. In exchange for some of our land, the Congress promised our people protection, annuities, education, and health care.

1872–1873: Metal-Horse-Attack Winter
The building of the railroad through Indian hunting grounds coupled with the flood of non-Indians onto Indian lands led to Indian retaliation.

1875–1876: Winter They Came like the Grasshoppers
Gold diggers flocked to the Black Hills even though the hills belonged to the Lakota. The U.S. Army did not enforce its treaty promise to protect Lakota property rights.

1898–1899: Really-Glad Winter
We should be very glad we weren’t moved to Oklahoma. Congress passed the Curtis Act, which destroyed all tribal jurisdiction and self-government there.

1900–1901: Winter of Disbelief*
A U.S. Agent rented out tribal land to non-Indian ranchers in spite of a tribal moratorium against land rental.

Many thanks for these observations, courtesy of Dr. Haukaas and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

*There are many more winter observations on the Carnegie Museum website.

Photo of High Dog's Winter Count of 1902, courtesy State Historical Society of North Dakota

Photo of High Dog’s Winter Count of 1902, courtesy State Historical Society of North Dakota

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Christmas Away From Home

Christmas Tree in Northern Hospital for the Insane, Oshkosh, Wis., 1895

Christmas Tree in Northern Hospital for the Insane, Oshkosh, Wis., 1895

Asylum superintendents and staff knew that their patients usually longed for home, and did their best to make asylums as homelike as possible.

Even when overcrowding and underfunding began to eat away at the effectiveness and relative comfort of asylum care, superintendents often went to great lengths to create a festive atmosphere during Christmas and other major holidays. These efforts eased the monotony of asylum life for patients as well as for staff.

 

Ward Decorated For Christmas, Fulton State Hospital, 1910

Ward Decorated For Christmas, Fulton State Hospital, 1910

 

 

At Northern Hospital for the Insane, staff decorated the chapel with a Christmas tree and placed evergreens and candles throughout the room. Many patients had received presents from their friends and family, and the superintendent, Dr. Wigginton, and his staff had purchased additional gifts to place under the tree so that no one would be forgotten.

Christmas at Morningside Hospital, Portland, Oregon, circa 1920s, courtesy Oregon Historical Society

Christmas at Morningside Hospital, Portland, Oregon, circa 1920s, courtesy Oregon Historical Society

Consequently, the tree was an impressive sight with its glowing lights and piles of wrapped gifts, and was perhaps particularly lovely to patients who seldom received visitors and longed for a bit of cheer and brightness. Patients marched into the chapel at 7:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve to attend a concert given by the staff and a small orchestra, and then to participate in the distribution of gifts afterward. According to the local newspaper, almost every patient enjoyed the evening immensely, and it was surely a festive highlight in a long succession of monotonous days.

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