Irresponsible and Unaccountable

Lee Moorhouse Was an Indian Agent for the Umatilla Indian Reservation

Lee Moorhouse Was an Indian Agent for the Umatilla Indian Reservation

The United States government always knew that native peoples were important–whether as friends or foes. Early federal practice was to interact with tribes as the country would with other independent nations, but this soon proved cumbersome and restrictive for the domestic policy U.S. leaders wanted to pursue. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (known more generally as the Indian Office or Office of Indian Affairs) shifted its role from negotiating with Indian nations to simply enforcing its will on them.

In 1849, Congress transferred the BIA from the War Department to the Department of the Interior and began to greatly increase its intrusiveness into native affairs. Tribes which had been removed to reservations and forced to farm arid, nonproductive land, soon faced extreme poverty. The BIA distributed food and supervised many services on reservations, but unscrupulous agents took advantage of the people they were supposed to help. Many accusations of fraud and abuse hit the agency, which never suffered a loss of power even after investigations proved many accusations to be well-founded.

Sioux Indian Women Receiving Rations, Pine Ridge Reservation, 1891, courtesy Library of Congress

Sioux Indian Women Receiving Rations, Pine Ridge Reservation, 1891, courtesy Library of Congress

Tulalip Indian School Learning Modern Farming Methods, 1912, photo by Ferdinand Brady, courtesy californiaindianeducation.org

Tulalip Indian School Learning Modern Farming Methods, 1912, photo by Ferdinand Brady, courtesy californiaindianeducation.org

Eventually the BIA became responsible for Indian schools, the issues involved in allotting land, all the contracts associated with providing supplies and service to Indians, and even with  providing justice. Tribal governments were weakened and shunted aside, giving the BIA and particularly its Indian agents dramatic power on reservations. Needless to say, there were agents who did not hesitate to use their power for selfish ends, rather than for protecting people who had been stripped of their own power and rights.

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An Easy Way to Grab Land

Indian Inspector George Wright, courtesy Oklahoma State Digital Library

Indian Inspector George Wright, courtesy Oklahoma State Digital Library

Many whites wanted access to Indian lands, and there were plenty of politicians who were glad to help them. Guy P. Cobb was typical. He held a position as the Creek Revenue Inspector (appointed through the recommendation of Commissioner of Indian Affairs William Jones, 1897-1904) and had served under Indian Inspector George J. Wright.

While he was a revenue inspector, Cobb was also general manager of the Tribal Development Company, which Cobb said “helped” Indians manage their land. How? Cobb’s company negotiated rental agreements with Indians–with the option to buy their land as soon as any restrictions were removed. He further assisted them by helping them find “good” allotments. Additionally, (and, of course, quite usefully) Cobb was one of the directors of the Bank of the Chickasaw Nation.

Cobb was not the only politician involved in trust companies, and Samuel M. Brosius of the Indian Rights Association named names in his special report on the land speculation. Dawes commissioners Thomas Needles and C. R. Breckinridge, U.S. District Attorney E. Pliny Soper, assistant U.S. District Attorney for the Northern District of the Indian Territory James Huckleberry, Indian Inspector Wright, and many other politicians and Indian Office employees were involved in various trust companies.

Clifton Rodes Breckenridge of the Dawes Commission, courtesy Biographical Directory of the United States Congress

Clifton Rodes Breckenridge of the Dawes Commission, courtesy Biographical Directory of the United States Congress

Indian Land Was Highly Desirable

Indian Land Was Highly Desirable

These companies typically induced Indians to rent their allotted lands for about five years, but then wouldn’t surrender the land after that period and/or refused to pay rent on it. Any heirs of the allottees were then manipulated into selling the land for little money. Even though allotted land was not actually vested in title for 25 years, the courts generally looked the other way at these dealings.

The losers in these arrangements were always the very people the Indian Office and Interior Department had been charged with protecting.

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Your Land is Our Land

Ojibwe Girls in a Classroom at the St. Benedict's Mission School, White Earth Reservation, circa 1900

Ojibwe Girls in a Classroom at the St. Benedict’s Mission School, White Earth Reservation, circa 1900

The Bureau of Indian Affairs’ mission was always to “manage” Indian relations, but its mission changed over time until “civilizing” Indians through the reservation system became its primary one. Part of the Indian Office’s (which the agency was more generally known by) policy included dismantling traditional tribal governments and assimilating native peoples into the broader white culture.

The Chicago Daily News, 1901

The Chicago Daily News, 1901

As it did so, the Indian Office allowed disservice after disservice to Native Americans. In 1903, a Washington dispatch to the Chicago Daily News discussed an emerging scandal which the paper then covered. The Interior Department and the Justice Department had become interested in companies trying to acquire Indian land at “ridiculously low figures and selling them at their actual values.” Bad in itself, the article also reported that: “Members of the Dawes commission are said to be implicated in the alleged efforts ‘to fleece the Indians.'”

Cartoon of Indian Agent, courtesy Library of Congress

Cartoon of Indian Agent, courtesy Library of Congress

The irony, as the paper put it, was that “in several instances the very men who are now implicated in the effort to fleece the Indians came to Washington to consult with the heads of the departments (Interior and Justice) here in devising a plan for the Indians’ protection.”

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Falling Silent

A Collection of Native American Vocabular, courtesy American Philosophical Museum

A Collection of Native American Vocabulary, courtesy American Philosophical Museum

Languages around the world have been lost over time, and this loss continues. The reference work Ethnologue lists 245 indigenous languages in the United States, with 65 already extinct and 75 near extinction.

This language loss happened in several ways. A prominent cause came from the federal government’s push to eradicate Native American culture. Children were taken from their homes to boarding schools and forbidden to use their native languages. By the time they came back home, many had forgotten it. As native peoples dispersed into cities and used English, their original languages also fell into misuse. Though there are documents that have recorded many native languages, they cannot document the vocal attributes of the language–often an important part of understanding the language’s meaning. These languages also includes concepts and culture which cannot be replicated in English.

Anthropologist Frank Speck and Delaware Lenape Chief Witapanoxwe, circa 1928, courtesy American Philosophical Society

Anthropologist Frank Speck and Delaware Lenape Chief Witapanoxwe, circa 1928, courtesy American Philosophical Society

People are making attempts to preserve languages. The Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages has partnered with the National Geographic Society to form the Enduring Voices Project to preserve particularly unique, poorly understood, or threatened indigenous languages. The  Administration For Native Americans also provides grants to native communities and nonprofits to teach young people to speak native languages.

The Smithsonian Institution’s Bureau of Ethnology collected audio recordings of Native American languages in the 19th century. You can hear digitized snippets of these languages at the Smithsonian’s site, http://siris.si.edu. In the blue box on the right hand side under “Culture & History” click “Native American Language.” In the new page, on the left hand side under “online media” click “sound recordings.”

Ethnogropher Alice Cunningham Fletcher and Chief Joseph of the Nez Pierce

Ethnographer Alice Cunningham Fletcher and Chief Joseph of the Nez Pierce

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The People Report

Yankton Insane Asylum

Yankton Insane Asylum

Early newspapers performed a social function by letting their readers know what fellow citizens were doing. Papers in larger cities usually confined their news to the well-to-do or the socially prominent, but small town papers reported on ordinary citizens–sometimes on matters that families might have preferred to keep private. On June 10, 1904, Canton’s The Sioux Valley News said: “Last Friday an attendant came up from Yankton and returned on the afternoon train, taking with him John Bergstrom and Axel Olson who will be placed in the hospital for the insane for treatment.”

On the same page, a somewhat unflattering item read: “Wm. Robinson Jr., arrived from Chicago Monday noon for a few days’ visit with his parents in his city. Billy . . . looks natural. However he has grown much heavier since becoming a resident of Chicago.”

The Railroad Depot in Canton Would Have Been the Start of Many Trips

The Railroad Depot in Canton Would Have Been the Start of Many Trips

Newspapers reported on citizens’ visits and trips much as we post items on social media today. “J. C. Neyhart left Wednesday afternoon for Maxwell, Iowa to visit his daughter . . . Ed L. Wendt took a trip up to Wolsey Wednesday in company with some prospective land buyers . . . Dr. Chas. W. Morrison went over to Inwood Monday afternoon to look after some business matters,” are typical items from a 1909 edition of The Sioux Valley News.

A Family Taking a Trip Would Have Made Been an Interesting Social Item to Report

A Family Taking a Trip Would Have Made Been an Interesting Social Item to Report

Such gossipy details about their fellow townspeople probably connected and unified the community, but newspapers could also filter their news. Because The Sioux Valley News was so upbeat and pro-Canton in its reporting, it failed to inform citizens about abuses or problems at the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians. Some specifics may have been neatly hushed by the asylum’s management, but the paper’s editor undoubtedly knew about many of its problems and failed to report on them.

 

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About Town

Conservationist President Teddy Roosevelt in the North Dakota Badlands in the 1880s

Conservationist President Teddy Roosevelt in the North Dakota Badlands in the 1880s

Newspapers provide a vivid and informative snapshot into the past which cannot be easily duplicated. In the January 29, 1909 issue of Canton’s The Sioux Valley News, an item (with no byline) appeared that urged Americans to take President Theodore Roosevelt’s conservation message seriously. The writer explained: “Everywhere our resources are being wasted. . . We are depleting our soil, wasting our native timber, allowing our streams to carry away the best of the land, half managing our mines and especially draining our wonderful artesian well supply.”

One column over is a piece titled “So Deceptive,” which begins: “Backache is so deceptive. It comes and goes–keeps you guessing. Learn the cause–then cure it. Nine times out of ten it comes from the kidneys. That’s why Doan’s Kidney Pills cure it. Cure every kidney ill from backache to diabetes.” This introduction is followed by a long testimonial from a Canton citizen.

Doan's Pills Claimed to be a Remedy for Serious Issues in This Ad From 1914

Doan’s Pills Claimed to be a Remedy for Serious Issues in This Ad From 1914

Below that is a notice of teacher examinations, and in another column, an article about Queen Victoria of Spain’s attempts to abolish bullfighting in her country. The rest of the page is filled with ads for lumber and hardware, as well as an offer for a one-year subscription to both La Follette’s Weekly Magazine (edited by Senator A. M. Lafollette) and The Sioux Valley News for $2.25 in advance.

A week later, ads show that raisins are 6 cents for a one-pound package, four cans of sweet corn are 25 cents, and two tall cans of pink salmon are 25 cents.

Grocery Ad from an Allentown, PA Newspaper, 1910

Grocery Ad from an Allentown, PA Newspaper, 1910

 

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Time and Tasking

Family Life Could Be Ovewhelming, While Still Not Comparable to Caring for Adults in an Asylum

Family Life Could Be Ovewhelming, While Still Not Comparable to Caring for Adults in an Asylum

Ward attendants were the backbone of patient care in asylums, and their attitudes and skills could make or break a patient’s experience (see last post). At the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians, attendants were never trained and very likely relied on their home experiences with raising children or being around perhaps difficult family members. The stress and tempo of caring for several children at home might mimic some of the tasks of attendants, but it made a difference that attendants were usually dealing with adults rather than children. Carrying a small child to a bath–even an unwilling one–might be stressful, but a parent would prevail. That might not be so true in the asylum setting. Here are just some of the routine tasks male attendants were expected to complete for ten or more patients each day:

— wake patients up (6:00 a.m.) and see that each patient washes his face and hand, and combs his hair

— attend the morning cleaning, bedmaking and tidying of the ward

— see that the lavatories, tubs, toilets and urinals are in good working order and not leaking. Fixtures are to be washed whenever necessary and scrubbed with a cleaning powder at least once daily. All faucets are to be polished whenever necessary

— all wood work is to be rubbed down once daily with an oiled cloth

Willard Asylum Patients Working in the Sewing Room. Structured Activities Made Supervision Easier for Attendants

Willard Asylum Patients Working in the Sewing Room. Structured Activities Made Supervision Easier for Attendants

In addition to these duties, attendants had to take patients to the dining room, feed those who could not feed themselves, bathe and change the clothing (or at least clean and change) patients who soiled themselves, take each able-bodied patient outdoors for exercise at least twice daily, shave them once a week, give them haircuts and trim their nails, and on and on. Patients were always to be supervised, and attendants were never to leave their wards except if duty required. Before doing that, they had to make sure no patient had a lighted pipe or cigarette, etc.

Agnews Insane Asylum Patients Eating Lunch, courtesy Detroit Public Library Digital Collections

Agnews Insane Asylum Patients Eating Lunch, courtesy Detroit Public Library Digital Collections

It is little wonder that being an attendant was not an attractive job, and didn’t usually draw people who could get easier work with better pay, elsewhere.

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Impossible Tasks?

Supervisor-in-Chief, Attendants & Employees, Detached Building No. 4, Willard Asylum

Supervisor-in-Chief, Attendants & Employees, Detached Building No. 4, Willard Asylum

Though superintendents and other professional staff were inherently in charge of insane asylums, attendants were the true backbones of them. What attendants did or did not do, the way they treated patients, and their attitudes in general could provide some sort of therapeutic benefit or make a patient’s stay as miserable as possible.

At the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians, attendants were never trained. They likely watched what other attendants did and followed suit, also bringing in their own attitudes and experience to patient care. There were guidelines for attendants–provided after inspectors discovered that the asylum’s first superintendent (Oscar Gifford) had never disseminated them to staff–but they would have been difficult to follow due to the asylum’s perpetual short-staffing. In fact, any number of subsequent inspections showed that most guidelines obviously were not followed. The government did make its priorities clear, however:

A Group of the Asylum Staff, Willard Asylum

A Group of the Asylum Staff, Willard Asylum

“In the event of a fire, your first duty is to save the lives of all the patients under your charge. Your second duty is to save government property. Your third duty is to yourself. These duties are always to be considered in this order.”

Attendants at Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane

Attendants at Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane

Clearly, human staff were of least value to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. It is little wonder that the agency allowed its one asylum to fall into neglect simply because it would not provide enough people to adequately care for their charges.

My next post will discuss the enormity of attendants’ responsibilities.

 

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Could Healthy Bodies Lead to Healthy Minds?

Broughton Hospital, courtesy the University of North Carolina

Broughton Hospital, courtesy the University of North Carolina

Early specialists in mental health (alienists) firmly believed that patients’ physical environment impacted their minds. Asylum superintendents tried to site their institutions in the countryside (thought to be healthier than cities) and advocated for buildings that were spacious, well-ventilated, and accessible to clean water. They urged patients to spend time outdoors working if possible, or simply strolling through landscaped grounds if they could or would not work. Before asylums became too overcrowded for this routine to continue, superintendents seemed to get results with this idea of fresh air and a restful environment.

An 1891 article about Broughton Hospital in Morganton, NC extolled the benefits of its country environment. “The present year shows the number of its cures to be fifty per cent. of it’s [sic] admissions, which last numbered 148 persons,” the writer proclaimed. Even more astounding was the institution’s death rate of only four per cent–half the death rate at most other institutions. “No better testimonial can be offered as to the unrivaled excellence of the Piedmont climate than these simple figures furnish.”

Fire Brigade at Broughton Hospial, Staffed by Patients and Employees, courtesy Broughton Hospital Public Safety

Fire Brigade at Broughton Hospial, Staffed by Patients and Employees, courtesy Broughton Hospital Public Safety

The writer went on to say that though the managers of the Hospital used the “most advanced and scientific methods known to the moderns and utterly discard the wretched system of physical restraint,” they did not attribute their impressive success from “any marked superiority in their treatment over all the rest of their professional brethren.”

Post Card of Broughton State Mental Hospital

Post Card of Broughton State Mental Hospital

Instead, the “eloquent figures” quoted (particularly the death rate) showed “what this pure atmosphere will do for men, half dead when they come here.”

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Making Sugar at Sugar Camps

Gathering Sap in Makuks

Gathering Sap in Makuks

When sugar camps were ready (see last post), tree tapping began as soon as the sap started running. Though only experts tapped trees, these could be either men or women, and an individual could make up to 300 tappings a day.

In the Chippewa method of making sugar, workers put down sap dishes in the early morning and gathered them when they were filled. After taking the sap back to camp, workers poured the liquid into kettles or into troughs at the door of the tipi used for making the syrup. Other workers heated the sap in small kettles before pouring it into larger kettles so that all the sap could be heated gradually. The sap in the large kettles would then be boiled until it thickened, which could take all night.

Mrs. Dick Gahbowh Boiling Sap, Mille Lacs, 1925, courtesy University of Minnesota Duluth

Mrs. Dick Gahbowh Boiling Sap, Mille Lacs, 1925, courtesy University of Minnesota Duluth

When it was thick enough, the sap was strained from a full kettle into an empty one through a mat woven of basswood bark. (In later days, burlap was used instead of the mat.) After the kettles were cleaned, the syrup was reheated; women placed small bits of deer tallow in with the syrup to keep the sugar soft. At the proper consistency, the syrup was transferred to a granulating trough and worked with a paddle to make sugar.

Chippewa Indians With Maple Sugar in Birchbark Containers, 1909, courtesy University of Minnesota Duluth

Chippewa Indians With Maple Sugar in Birchbark Containers, 1909, courtesy University of Minnesota Duluth

All of this was hard work, but everyone enjoyed the end product. Women stored sugar made from the last run of sap in makuks (birchbark containers) buried in the ground. This valuable product could last for a year if properly covered with bark and boughs to keep it fresh.

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