Category Archives: Canton / Commerce City, S. Dakota

Canton is in South Dakota. It was a small town with boosters who wanted to create a bustling city. It was also called the Gateway City and Trappers Shanty.

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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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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Canton Celebrates Its Long History

Canton Main Street, about 1907

Canton Main Street, about 1907

The city of Canton, South Dakota–which existed before South Dakota became a state in 1889–celebrates its 150th year (1866 – 2016) this July.

Canton was founded in a spot called Trapper Shanty. 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 for several years, this shanty was the only structure in Lincoln County.

Nobody liked the name Trapper Shanty and the townspeople eventually decided to name the settlement Canton for a couple of reasons. Some people thought the spot was directly opposite Canton, China. Others thought it meant gateway in Chinese.

Canton Asylum, Main Building P6

Canton Asylum, Main Building P6

Even so early in its history, Canton’s citizens wanted and expected their city to be important and prosperous. It quickly became a little boom town as pioneers moved through it, or settled and stayed, on their journey west. Canton residents were always ready to embrace bigger and better things, such as an insane asylum built exclusively for Indians. They were sure that this institution—the only one of its kind in the world—would make the city famous. Though worldwide fame eluded the city, its leaders fought to keep the asylum open despite its many critics.

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Social Interests

Railroad Depot in Canton, South Dakota

Railroad Depot in Canton, South Dakota

Throughout history, social ties have been important. Citizens in small towns certainly kept tabs on their neighbors, but even in large cities, prominent people were reported on in the “society pages.” Many small-town newspapers kept tabs on the comings and goings of the locals, and reported on visits from their relatives and friends. On September 30, 1910, the Sioux Valley News reported that:

— Ed L. Wendt took a trip up to Lake Preston Tuesday to attend to some business matters

— Col. Arthur Linn went to Hot Springs last Saturday to attend a meeting of the Soldiers’ Home board

Soldiers' Home in Hot Springs, South Dakota

Soldiers’ Home in Hot Springs, South Dakota

— Mrs. C. F. Neighbors came up from Sioux City Monday to spend a few days with her friend Miss Grace Hanson

— Miss Ethel McClanahan arrived in Canton a few days ago and has been a guest of Dr. Hummer and family at the Indian Asylum. Miss McClanahan was for a number of years chief nurse in St. Elizabeth’s hospital in Washington, D. C. . . .

Unidentified Asylum Nurses

Unidentified Asylum Nurses

McClanahan was working on a special case in the west at the time, and presumably stopped in to see Dr. Hummer on her way to  “visit friends further east” as the paper reported. Still, despite Dr. Hummer’s reputation for temper and haughtiness at the asylum, he could evidently be quite cordial to those he felt were his social or professional equals.

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High Society

East Side of Main Street, Canton, SD circa 1912

East Side of Main Street, Canton, SD circa 1912

“Out West” was a remote place in the public imagination, and Canton, South Dakota was a small town compared to the population centers of the East. However, Canton was a lively place, with many shops and amusements for the public. People also enjoyed visiting each other and providing their own entertainment in the form of card games and music. In December, 1912, the Sioux Valley News reported on a social event that would have been typical for the people involved.

Parlor Entertainment

Parlor Entertainment

“On Tuesday evening of last week, in the pretty parlors of Judge and Mrs. Gifford were gathered about twenty friends for an evening at cards,” the item began. The minutes passed into hours, and at midnight, Mrs. Gifford provided a “delicious luncheon” for her guests. After eating, the guests lingered and talked, or smoked cigars. The paper mentioned that one of the guests gave a piano solo, and probably other guests sang or played a song as well. “At a late hour, all departed for their several homes,” the item noted, “bearing with them the happiest of memories.”

Parlor in the Chester Wickwire House in Cortland, New York, circa 1890 to 1900, courtesy the 1890 House Museum and Center for Victorian Art in Cortland, New York

Parlor in the Chester Wickwire House in Cortland, New York, circa 1890 to 1900, courtesy the 1890 House Museum and Center for Victorian Art in Cortland, New York

Such an evening would be enjoyable for many people even in modern times, and these events likely bonded the social ties of the town’s leading citizens. They certainly did not lead the bored, dreary lives that many “back East” probably thought they did.

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A Taste of Small Town Life

Canton, S.D. High School, 1911

Canton, S.D. High School, 1911

Newspapers can give intimate glimpses of a community and its concerns, and the Sioux Valley News zeroed in on the activities in Canton, South Dakota and its neighboring communities every Friday. On June 10, 1904, the paper reported on the efforts of the Misses Rudolph and Cooper to bring a high school alumni association into being. Interested people held a meeting in which they elected officers, listened to entertainment (singing), and then ate. The paper listed attendees, mostly alumni, as well as some of the town’s leading citizens such as Mr. and Mrs. O. Gifford (the superintendent of the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians and his wife).

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

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

Small details were the life of the paper. It further reported that Mrs. Gifford had recently been out of town to attend a meeting of the Women’s Federated Clubs, that William Robinson had arrived from Chicago on Monday for a brief visit with his parents–and that he had “grown much heavier since becoming a resident of Chicago,” and that the Wentzys had passed through Canton on their way home from the World’s Fair.

State Asylum at Yankton, SD

State Asylum at Yankton, SD

This edition also had an item that must have saddened the hearts of the people involved: “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.” At least in this respect, white citizens were not spared the publicity surrounding a commitment to an asylum any more than Native Americans.

 

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