Category Archives: 1900s newspapers

Newspapers in the 1900s were full of opinion and misinformation. They usually contained personal tidbits about local people

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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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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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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Worthy of Report

Dakota Farmers Leader, a Second Canton SD Newspaper

Dakota Farmers Leader, a Second Canton SD Newspaper

Small-town newspapers of the last century and earlier provided a popular service to readers by extensive reporting on local news. One of Canton, South Dakota’s newspapers, The Sioux Valley News, typically ran “local interest” items in its weekly edition, and did not discriminate on the basis of age, gender, or race when reporting. A few items in the May 29, 1914 edition illustrate the breadth of coverage:

— Harry Milliman was in Canton Saturday training his eye on the needs of the grocers of the town.

— John Hall an Indian patient at the Asylum [for Insane Indians] passed away last week. He came to the Asylum from Sacaton Arizona, but his remains were buried here.

The Canton Asylum

The Canton Asylum for Insane Indians

— Will Ellingson was down from Harrisburg on Sunday, sampling his mother’s Sunday dinner.

— John Chavis, an Indian from La Guna, N.M. was in Canton last week to take home with him, his daughter, who has been receiving treatment at the Asylum, and whose complete restoration to mental health permitted of her return home.

East Side of Main Street, Canton, SD circa 1912

East Side of Main Street, Canton, SD circa 1912

— P. S. Puckett is building a garage on his Capitol Hill property. When asked why he was building one so large he said that he wanted one large enough so, should necessity require that he could move into it.

— Dr. Hummer and his family took last Monday’s train for Washington, D.C. where they will spend their summer’s vacation visiting at the homes of the parents of both Dr. and Mrs. Hummer and with other relatives and friends.

The latter item meant that the Asylum would be without a physician unless Dr. Hummer had made arrangements for a fill-in.

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Support in Powerful Places

Richard F. Pettigrew Was South Dakota's First Full-Term Senator, courtesy City of Sioux Falls

Richard F. Pettigrew Was South Dakota’s First Full-Term Senator, courtesy City of Sioux Falls

Although a few people may have genuinely believed a separate insane asylum for Indians was a good idea in light of the considerable prejudice Indians faced from the dominant Anglo society, most supporters simply recognized the economic benefits the asylum would provide the community. That was almost certainly the factor that persuaded early politicians to railroad approval for the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians through Congress. Senator Richard F. Pettigrew wanted the asylum on behalf of his constituents in South Dakota, as did other South Dakotan politicians afterward.

In 1907, a laudatory newspaper article about Senator A. B. Kittredge noted his support for the asylum. “This asylum means much to Canton, and it can be truthfully said that during the years of Senator Kittredge’s work in the senate he has never forgotten Canton or its one Federal institution,” the paper said. Then the article’s writer went on to say much more than he probably meant to:

“While the sentiment in the senate has been against it [the asylum] most strongly, the senator has stood for the full appropriation of $25,000, and has always succeeded in landing it, and with the sentiment against it he has succeeded in getting through additional appropriations; last

Kittredge Was an Accomplished Politician

Kittredge Was an Accomplished Politician

year $3,500 for the purpose of building a water plant; and on the first of March of this year an additional appropriation was secured of $6,000 for the purpose of building additional laundry facilities, which are much needed at the asylum.”

Few in Congress supported Pettigrew when he introduced his bill to fund an Indian insane asylum, and few supported it afterward. South Dakota’s politicians were the driving force behind Canton Asylum’s creation and continued existence.

Opening of 60th Congress, Dec 2, 1907, courtesy Library of Congress

Opening of 60th Congress, Dec 2, 1907, courtesy Library of Congress

 

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Maybe A Little Bit Human

Reading Circles Did More Than Discuss Books

Reading Circles Did More Than Discuss Books

For people who are familiar with the history of the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians, its second superintendent, Dr. Harry R. Hummer can seem so indifferent, arrogant, and spiteful, that it becomes difficult to understand how he ever married or made friends. However, even some of the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ own inspection reports show that Dr. Hummer could be both a good host and most charming when it suited him.

An item in the February 3, 1914 issue of The Sioux Valley News describes a Reading Circle meeting at Mrs. Hummer’s “apartments at the Hiawatha Asylum on Thursday.” After the business session, the ladies went into “the household laboratory where she had everything in readiness for serving a most tempting three course chafing dish luncheon.”

Craftsman Style Kitchen from 1914

Craftsman Style Kitchen from 1914

Dr. Hummer was already in the kitchen, trying to make whipped cream. “As we came in he announced that the cream would not thicken, of course every housekeeper was going to give him some advice but he quickly handed over his pretty white apron and disappeared and we never saw him again until Mrs. Hummer sent for him and their two fine sons with their little guest, Merle Chraft, to come and partake of some of that whipped cream fixed up with all kinds of good fruit and nuts making a dandy good salad, such a salad as even the men enjoy.”

The Hummers May Have Used a Beater Like This for Their Whipped Cream

The Hummers May Have Used a Beater Like This for Their Whipped Cream

Dr. Hummer later entertained the gentlemen who came to pick up their wives, and everyone apparently enjoyed themselves immensely. Though he was obviously in a different environment than his working one, accounts such as these show another side to Hummer which is difficult to reconcile with his professional character.

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A Powerful Platform

Selection of American Newspapers with Portraits of their Publishers, 1885, courtesy Wikipedia

Selection of American Newspapers with Portraits of their Publishers, 1885, courtesy Wikipedia

Newspaper editors at the turn of the 20th century were powerful opinion-makers who could use their papers to reach and influence a wide audience. Many newspaper articles of the period do not have bylines, but we can assume that few editors allowed writers’ pieces to go through if they did not agree with their own stance on the issues. A story from the April 22, 1904 issue of Canton, South Dakota’s The Sioux Valley News is a good example of the way newspaper editors made their biases plain.

The headline was “Goes Wet,” and began: “With feelings that cannot be expressed THE NEWS is obliged to record the fact that after eighteen years of existence without open saloons Canton has opened her door and invited the saloon to enter.” The writer complimented “the good old Third [ward]”, which had “stood its ground and beat back the friends of the saloon as it did one year ago.”

Editorial Question in New-York Tribute, March 1913

Editorial Question in New-York Tribune, March 1913

The chagrin of the writer is apparent in some of his following words: “THE NEWS is not ready to assert that all who voted for license, did so because they were evil minded.” However, he made it plain that most of the voters had to have been misguided. Saloon supporters evidently had campaigned on the idea that saloons would bring in more business and eliminate some of the illicit hole-in-the-wall establishments evidently in operation in Canton. The paper’s powers-that-be waited sarcastically “for the decrease in drunkenness and the dawn of the promised millennium which we have been assured the saloons would bring.”

An Inflammatory Sketch of a Woman Being Strip Searched Ran in a Hearst Newspaper

An Inflammatory Sketch of a Woman Being Strip Searched Ran in a Hearst Newspaper

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Spinning . . . and Spinning

Carnegie Library in Canton, South Dakota, Built With a 1904 Grant

Carnegie Library in Canton, South Dakota, Built With a 1904 Grant

The editor of the Canton, South Dakota newspaper, The Sioux Valley News, was like many people everywhere and during any time period, a great supporter of his community. The paper printed almost nothing of a negative nature about the city and its projects, and generally had glowing accolades for whatever event or institution it discussed. In an article about the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians (“Asylum Needs Larger Quarters”) from 1926, the paper’s writer gave a sanitized and spectacularly positive spin to the creation and ongoing administration of the facility.

Following a summary concerning the asylum’s creation after Senator Pettigrew became aware of the need for it, the writer briefly described its early years under Oscar Gifford’s leadership. Then he discussed the arrival of its first patients:

“A queer particular about the early admissions was that in-as-much as an asylum was a new experience for the untutored Indian, and there lurked in his mind some misgivings as to the treatment their afflicted ones might receive in an asylum, the whole family, in some cases, came along with the patient to satisfy themselves that everything was honest and above board.

Canton, S.D. Railroad Depot

Canton, S.D. Railroad Depot

“This suspicious attitude gradually gave place to an air of confidence in the good intentions of the government. Those whose fears had been thus allayed, no doubt spread the word of their satisfaction among their brethren, and of late years, these family accompanyings have about entirely disappeared.”

Young Oglala Girl In Front of Tipi, Probably On or Near Pine Ridge Reservation, courtesy Library of Congress

Young Oglala Girl In Front of Tipi, Probably On or Near Pine Ridge Reservation, courtesy Library of Congress

These latter statements are difficult to believe, since there is no evidence whatsoever that Canton Asylum held a good reputation within the Native community. It is only slightly less difficult to believe that many families had the money to accompany their loved one to the asylum unless they lived nearby.

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Attempts at Christmas Cheer

Christmas Tree in Wisconsin State Hospital, 1895

Christmas Tree in Wisconsin State Hospital, 1895

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

At the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians, patients also celebrated Christmas with a decorated tree, special meals, and stockings filled with edible treats. In 1927, the asylum received additional holiday help from the Chilocco, Oklahoma YWCA; its girls gathered (and likely contributed) gifts like dolls, games, and books to the asylum’s patients as a service project. These were delivered on Christmas Eve, to the delight of the patients. Hummer asked the coordinator to continue with the service project, and the girls evidently did so, since there is record of the asylum receiving gifts again in 1932 or 1933.

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