Native American Ghosts

October 30th, 2014
Navajo Shaman Ceremony

Navajo Shaman Ceremony

Native Americans believed in ghosts–spirits who were not at peace. This could happen because someone who died had not been at peace, personally. Unrest could also occur because a person was not buried properly or respectfully. Disturbing or desecrating a grave could also cause spirits to become active. The Navajo believed that restless ghosts would torment the living, causing “ghost sickness.” Ghost sickness caused nausea, fever, fatigue, nightmares, and other worrisome symptoms, as well as unexplained misfortune.

The best way to avoid ghost sickness is to first perform burial rituals properly, like obliterating footsteps from around a grave and disposing of the dead person’s belongings appropriately. After that, everyone should stay well away from burial grounds, since lingering ghosts who did not vent their anger on people at the time of their death can still do so once newcomers arrive. Some archeologists have hired Navajo religious figures to perform protective rituals (the Evil Way or Enemy Way when disturbance was through non-Navajo means) when burial grounds are disturbed.

Ghost beads are another way to protect a person from ghosts. These are made from juniper berries after ants have nibbled off one end and eaten the inside of the berry. The berries are dry, and may be preserved further by smoking them. A person then makes a hole in the other end of each berry and strings them together. Because these beads create an interconnection between the earth, people, trees, and animals, they can bring peace and protection to the wearer.

Black Triangles on Dress are Juniper Berries

Black Triangles on Dress are Juniper Berries

Navajo Hogan

Navajo Hogan

Prepariing Sand Paintings

Preparing Sand Paintings

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Unfired Foods

October 26th, 2014
George Julius Drews

George Julius Drews

As generations move away from them, old ideas become new again. Just as foraging has become popular in the past few years (see last post), so has the idea of eating raw foods. George J. Drews wrote about “unfired food” in 1912 in Unfired Food and Trophotherapy. (Troph simply means “preparing and combining provisions for the unfired diet.”) His ideal dinner consisted of soup, salad, a “brawnfood” (such as two ounces of unfired wafers with nut butter or three ounces of unbaked bread or cake) nibblers, and fruit. Drews also anticipated today’s juicing craze with his “health drinks.” Besides typical “ades” like lemon and limeade, he suggested a tonic drink of beet juice, rhubarb juice, honey and water. A bit more unappetizing was his suggestion for oatmeal fruit soup: 6 1/2 ounces of grape juice, 1 ounce oatmeal, and 1/2 ounce of olive oil, beaten together and left to soak for five minutes before serving.

Drews was convinced that natural foods could prevent disease and help heal the body; he also had a high distrust of medical drugs and their effects on the body. He scoffed at people who ate unnatural cooked foods and who were then willing to swallow “nauseating drugs irrespective of the dangerous after effects the expected cure may lead to.”

Drews may have been an unwitting feminist, since he characterized housewives as “imprisoned vassals” who were tied to the kitchen because of the unnatural American diet. “She must stand over a miniature furnace for an hour in the morning and breathe the poisenous [sic] odor of broiling flesh, and spend another hour among the grease and slime of pots . . . . ”

Grocery Stores of the Period Were Full of Unnatural Foods

Grocery Stores of the Period Were Full of Unnatural Foods

Drews' Book About His Food Beliefs

Drews’ Book About His Food Beliefs

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Native American Harvests

October 23rd, 2014
ative Americans Developed Five Varieties of Corn from a the Plant, Teosinte

Native Americans Developed Five Varieties of Corn from a Plant Called Teosinte

Many people believe buffalo was the primary foodstuff for Native Americans, but that is only a stereotype. Most Native Americans had a bountiful, healthy diet during good years, and preserved food for winter use and bad times. Some tribes grew their own food crops, while others gathered from wild sources. The “three sisters” is a famous combination planting of squash, beans, and corn in which each crop benefits the other, but Native Americans also ate a wide variety of greens, wild onions, herbs, cactui, nuts and other nutritious foods that were readily available. It is a bit ironic that one of the growing food trends today is foraging for wild edibles.

“Weeds” such as purslane, ramps chickweed, watercress, and dandelions supply nutritious greens to modern diets, while mushrooms have always been treasured gifts of nature. Experienced foragers are welcome lecturers at organic food conferences and similar venues, and books abound on the topic. Foraging appeals to those who want to lessen their carbon footprints, eat organically, add adventure to their food experience, or prepare for a doomsday scenario. Unfortunately, even this ancient gathering system can create problems in the environment if its practitioners are not careful. Native Americans foraged a wide variety of foods and were careful to leave enough behind to regenerate. Over-enthusiastic gathering today could well play out the way buffalo hunting did, and simply eradicate certain particularly valued wild food. Foraging experts urge newcomers to follow Native American practices of conservation and stewardship so that these wild sources of food remain viable.

Buffalo Skulls

Buffalo Skulls

Indian Woman Working in Cornfield, 1906, Edward S. Curtis

Indian Woman Working in Cornfield, 1906, Edward S. Curtis

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Harvest at the Asylum

October 19th, 2014
Western North Carolina Insane Asylum

Western North Carolina Insane Asylum

Non-urban communities had always held the harvest season in high esteem: good crops meant sufficient food for the winter; there was satisfaction in seeing hard work pay off; and perhaps not least, harvest meant an end to the constant labor involved with maintaining a healthy garden. Asylum patients who worked in institutional gardens–sometimes through force–undoubtedly felt the same mixture of relief and pride as any other agricultural worker. From the ranks of only 139 patients at Southwestern Lunatic Asylum in 1887, those who were able-bodied enough to work produced 12,000 heads of cabbage, 1,102 dozen cucumbers, and 4,524 ears of green corn, among other items. The 512 patients at Western North Carolina Insane Asylum helped produce 1,849 bushels of sweet potatoes, 639.5 bushels of turnips, and 335 bushels of snap beans in 1888.

Gardening served several purposes for asylums: it gave patients exercise in the fresh air, kept them occupied to both help pass time and divert their thoughts if they were obsessive in nature, and helped contain food costs. The latter practice may seem exploitative, but most farming was on a near break-even basis. At Western North Carolina Insane Asylum, the proceeds of the farm ($8,967.88) outpaced the cost of running the farm ($7,471.28) by only $1,496.60. Considering that total expenditures for the year came to over $68,000, the savings/profits from patient-grown produce would not have warranted the expenses required for the farming operation if cost-saving were the only consideration.

Typical Farming in North Carolina Had Low Yields, courtesy North Carolina Department of Agriculture

Typical Farming in North Carolina Had Low Yields, courtesy North Carolina Department of Agriculture

 

Patients Working on the Grounds at the Buffalo State Asylum, circa 1890s, courtesy Buffalo Psychiatric Center

Patients Working on the Grounds at the Buffalo State Asylum, circa 1890s, courtesy Buffalo Psychiatric Center

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Too Much Change

October 16th, 2014
Rosebud Indian Agency, courtesy South Dakota State Historical Society

Rosebud Indian Agency, courtesy South Dakota State Historical Society

The federal government had sought to integrate, or assimilate, Native Americans into the larger white culture for some time before the Canton Asylum opened. Policy-makers did not try to achieve this goal by meeting Native Americans halfway or by gradually introducing them to white values. Instead, their programs tended toward an immersion experience. Children were forced to attend boarding schools where staff tried to cut all ties to their previous cultural experience so they could more easily adopt the white way of life. Similarly, reservation life was permeated with federal influences on food, child-rearing, clothing, medical care, etc.

The government carried this immersion mentality–though probably not with any particular intention–into the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians. Though everyone involved in its physical planning strove to make the facility as nice as possible, authorities gave little consideration to how strange the asylum’s environment and routine would be to its residents. Everything from range toilets (see last post), electric lights, congregate meals in a dining room, sharing rooms with strangers, eating at set times, and so on, would likely be unfamiliar to them. Instead of impressing or delighting patients, these things very likely contributed to at least an initial sense of disorientation. Many older patients would never have experienced the type of regimented days that the asylum imposed and which would have chafed anyone unused to appointed times for every activity. Very little at the asylum met its patients emotional and cultural needs, and probably contributed to its ineffectiveness in curing anyone who was not there with the mildest of issues.

Patient Dining Room at West Virginia Hospital for the Insane, 1912

Patient Dining Room at West Virginia Hospital for the Insane, 1912

Patients in Sewing Room at Willard State Hospital for the Insane

Patients in Sewing Room at Willard State Hospital for the Insane

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Water Closets

October 12th, 2014
An Old Outhouse, courtesy Library of Congress

An Old Outhouse, courtesy Library of Congress

Ordinary homes during the late 1800s and well into the 1900s had few conveniences (see last post); unlike homes today, a dedicated bathroom was a luxury. A largely rural population typically used an outhouse, which could be indifferently built at worst and an uncomfortable distance from the home at best. Cold in winter and hot in summer, outhouses could smell unpleasantly, attract flies and other insects, and offer little comfort in the way of washroom amenities and hygiene. In contrast, insane asylums often provided indoor toilets that included the benefit of indoor plumbing for both flushing and washing. The Canton Asylum for Insane Indians was no exception, even though it opened the last day of 1902 in a remote area of the country.

Canton Asylum’s system used range toilets, which shared a common pipe and flushed all at once. If they weren’t flushed regularly, unpleasant odors (and presumably bacteria) could build up and make the room distasteful to use and unhealthy as well. Unfortunately, attendants were sometimes lax in their flushing intervals, and the toilet area did become distasteful to use. Some patients may not have known how to use the toilet properly, and sometimes violent patients destroyed part of the equipment. The toilets and lavatory areas were a perpetual headache for asylum superintendent Dr. Harry Hummer, and surely for many of the attendants as well. In time, the washroom system degraded into the fallback use of chamber pots, which were even more unpleasant and unhealthy because they were allowed to fill to overflowing.

A Package of Toilet Paper, circa 1887 - 1900

A Package of Toilet Paper, circa 1887 – 1900

A Tenement Toilet in Douglass Flats in Washington

A Tenement Toilet in Douglass Flats in Washington

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Sharp Contrasts

October 9th, 2014
Sod Homestead Built in 1900 in Pennington County, SD, courtesy Library of Congress

Sod Homestead Built in 1900 in Pennington County, SD, courtesy Library of Congress

Much of the commentary concerning insane asylums tends toward the negative, and rightly so, since they were often places of confinement for people who were in them unwillingly. Treatments were also much too vigorous at times, and many patients must have felt a pervasive sense of potential violence within the institution. However, early alienists desperately wanted to cure their patients and sought to create an environment in which to do it. In that respect, the physical aspects of an asylum stood in sharp contrast to the experience of all but the wealthiest patients.

During the 1800s and even decades into the 1900s, the average family lived in a small home with few conveniences. Running water, electricity, telephones, and other modern amenities may have been invented by that time, but were still unavailable to many ordinary families. Households relied on an outhouse, chamber pots, a weekly bath, and fleeting washes from a pitcher and basin for hygiene. Women cooked on wood or coal stoves with uneven heat, spent all day doing laundry, perhaps another day ironing or baking, and the rest of their time with relentless chores that wore them out. City dwellers had access to a few more conveniences than their rural counterparts, but often could not afford to  own homes. Instead, they lived in boarding houses and tenements, each of which had its own problems and deprivations.

A palatial insane asylum with beautiful landscaping presented a sharp contrast to the everyday lives of many of its patients, and it was designed and built to do just that. Early thinking concerning asylum architecture held that the patient must be taken out of his former environment completely so that old associations, habits, and acquaintances would not hinder recovery. These palaces also persuaded the public that their loved ones were in a positive environment, making it just a bit easier to leave them there.

Dining Room at McLean Asylum for the Insane

Dining Room at McLean Asylum for the Insane

Albert Useful Heart Family, Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, SD, 1922, courtesy National Archives in Kansas City

Albert Useful Heart Family, Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, SD, 1922, courtesy National Archives in Kansas City

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In the Long Run

October 5th, 2014
Pliny Earle, courtesy National Library of Medicine

Pliny Earle, courtesy National Library of Medicine

Insane asylums were initially embraced because they held out the hope of curing the insane, rather than merely incarcerating them. Recovery rates were high at first, in the typically small asylums where doctors could devote themselves to patient care and set up individualized plans. That initial hope gave way to pessimism, however, as institutions became larger and alienists (psychiatrists) found themselves as involved in administration as in practicing medicine. When noted 19th-century alienist and asylum superintendent, Pliny Earle, showed that earlier “cure rates” had been inflated, alienists everywhere accepted the fact that most of their patients were not going to recover, after all.

However, the new pessimism was almost as unwarranted as the earlier enthusiasm. One of the field’s few longitudinal studies showed that there could indeed be hope for patients. Between 1858 and 1870, Arthur Mitchell studied 1,297 patients in a Scottish asylum. He found that 53% either stayed resident at the asylum or died there during the time involved, but that nearly half of the discharged remainder (44.9%) had remained sane. This “half of the remaining half” only represents a cure rate of about 25%, but that rate might really have been higher; Mitchell could not get information concerning 32% of the discharged patients. Similarly, Dr. John G. Park  of the Worcester State Lunatic Hospital, followed discharged patients for nearly 15 years in the late 1800s and found that more than half (58%) of those who had been discharged as recovered were never again institutionalized. This may not have meant that the discharged patients never had further psychological problems, but it did show that they had been able to function suitably enough to let them remain with family or friends.

A Common Restraint for Patients Who Remained in Asylums

A Common Restraint for Patients Who Remained in Asylums

Worcester Hospital for the Insane

Worcester Hospital for the Insane

 

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Oregon’s Insane

October 2nd, 2014
Wagon Train on Oregon Trail

Wagon Train on Oregon Trail

Oregon’s settlers initially put the care of the insane up for bid, with the lowest bidder winning the job (as had been the practice much earlier in New England). Eventually, Oregonians petitioned their government for an insane asylum at at time when the territory’s population was only about 14,000. Of that number, approximately five were insane and four were “idiots” requiring care. Perhaps the territory’s citizens felt that some sort of cachet of civilization surrounded such an advanced (for the time) institution.

Though the petition was forwarded in 1853, an asylum was not built until 1862; by this time, the guardianship system was failing. (The state still had only 23 insane and 14 idiotic persons that might need institutional care.) Advocates for the asylum, mostly transplants from Eastern states, were comfortable with the asylum system and believed strongly in its usefulness to cure the mentally ill. This belief was somewhat justified, since the overcrowding that eventually changed asylums into custodial institutions had not yet occurred to any great extent.

Though it may have been admirable for Oregonians to consider the needs of the mentally ill so early on, their desire for an asylum seems somewhat premature. However, the Oregon Hospital for the Insane in Portland opened as a private hospital in a temporary building in 1861 and moved to a permanent structure in 1862.

Dr. James C. Hawthore, co-founder of the Oregon Hospital for the Insane, courtesy Oregon State Hospital Collections

Dr. James C. Hawthorne, co-founder of the Oregon Hospital for the Insane, courtesy Oregon State Hospital Collections

Oregon Hospital for the Insane

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Practicing Medicine on a Frontier

September 28th, 2014
Frontier Doctor Andrew Taylor Still

Frontier Doctor Andrew Taylor Still

Any reasonably ambitious man could become a doctor during the nation’s early years. Few licensing requirements existed, and men could choose to attend one of many substandard medical schools that were unbelievably slack in their requirements for both entry and graduation. Some men never went to school at all, but either “read” to be a doctor or served as apprentices under a practicing physician until they felt able to go out on their own. Though some aspiring doctors took these routes to avoid overtaxing themselves mentally or financially, many others simply were not able to “go East” to an established medical school. They studied earnestly–probably harder than many of their college-educated peers. In Appalachia, many doctors took an interest in herbs and local healing folklore, and incorporated this knowledge into their practices.

Because it was so easy to become a doctor, physicians in the early 1800s often saturated their markets to the extent that nearly none of them could earn a real living. (This is one reason that a well-paid superintendency at an insane asylum was initially such a coveted position.) Physicians moving into Appalachian territory often advertised their services, and sometimes offered testimonials from (supposedly) impartial and healed patients they had helped. Others made money on the side through the sale of medicines, or pulled teeth, preached, or farmed. Many physicians were paid in produce or livestock and found it difficult to actually earn cash.

Despite some undisputed charlatans and incompetents, frontier doctors in Appalachia and elsewhere were incredibly dedicated. Many doctors risked their lives to travel tremendous distances over dangerous terrain to attend patients who might pay them with fresh eggs and produce, or not at all.

Patent Medicines Thrived Despite the Availability of Doctors

Patent Medicines Thrived Despite the Availability of Doctors

Dr. Carl Hoffman, circa 1910, courtesy Orgeon Health and Science University Archives

Dr. Carl Hoffman, circa 1910, courtesy Oregon Health and Science University Archives

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