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.

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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Local News

1904 Sioux Valley News

1904 Sioux Valley News

The Sioux Valley News, Canton’s weekly newspaper, delivered both national and local news. It kept its readers abreast of world affairs, and also reported the goings-on of Canton citizens in detail, going far beyond important events like births and deaths. On February 10, 1913, the paper reported:

— A blue card on the A. B. Carlson residence notifies the passing public that “Laddie” has the measles.

— I. O. Steensland and John Marston on last Monday shipped sixty head of extra fine cattle to Chicago.

— Rev. F. G. Wood pastor of the Baptist church held a religious service at the Indian Asylum on last Sunday afternoon, which was very much enjoyed and appreciated by the Asylum management and inmates as well.

— E. D. Warner has been entertaining LaGrippe [the flu] for a week. So attentive has he been to his guest that he has not been out of the house during his guest’s stay.

— The Misses Marguerite Brethorst, Susanna Avery, Tena Gedstad and Grace Lewison, of Lennox, were in Canton Monday, and took in “A Comedy of Errors” at the Kennedy opera house.

East Side of Main Street, Canton, SD circa 1912

East Side of Main Street, Canton, SD circa 1912

5th Street, looking east, Canton, S.D., 1907

5th Street, looking east, Canton, SD 1907

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Canton in the News

East Side of Main Street, Canton, SD around 1912

East Side of Main Street, Canton, SD around 1912

Canton, SD was a bustling town at the turn of the twentieth century (see last post), and its newspaper, the Sioux Valley News reported its activities in depth. Very little negative reporting went on; instead, the paper discussed the daily activities of its residents, cheered on business enterprises, and pushed an agenda to present Canton as a wonderful place for both working and living. A prominent grocery story created “Chraft & Hansen’s Canton Coffee,” which the proprietors said was a line of coffee “as good as any in the land.” They took out an ad in the March 4, 1904 edition to invite townspeople to partake of complimentary servings of Canton No. 25 in its line.

The coffee was probably needed, since a month later that same year, the paper raged that “after eighteen years of existence without open saloons Canton has opened her door and invited the saloon to enter.” The columnist was not ready to assert “that all who voted for license, did so because they were evil minded,” but it was clear that the paper’s position was solidly opposed to the move.

Arbuckles' Was a Famous Brand of Coffee

Arbuckles’ Was a Famous Brand of Coffee

Saloon, early 1900s

Saloon, early 1900s

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A Nice Place to Visit

Canton-Asylum-Main-Building-P6 600 dpiThe city of Canton, SD was proud of its asylum, and it was certainly a building that looked good. With electric lights, indoor plumbing, and coal heat, the building was probably a step up from what many residents enjoyed themselves. The town itself already had an impressive courthouse building, a railway depot, a college, hotels, a large Chautauqua auditorium for lectures and public programs, and an expansive fairgrounds.

The town was a popular tourist destination, and a relocated shipbuilder named M. M. Hanson built passenger boats that allowed pleasure-seekers to take excursions down the Sioux River. His first boat (The City of Canton) held 100 passengers, and his second (Sioux Queen) held 200. Hanson also owned 30 row boats he hired out.

Canton’s population of around 2,000 (in 1900) could not have supported all the activities and institutions it hosted, and the city relied on tourists to help bring in dollars. The Canton Asylum for Insane Indians was itself a tourist attraction, and visitors to the area were urged to stop and tour it while they were in town. Spoons, plates, postcards, and small cloth items were a few of the souvenirs tourists could pick up in town; they could also buy bead work and other craft items at the asylum from patients who earned money by creating and selling their handiwork.

It would have been an economic blow, indeed, for the town to lose the institution. This was especially true during the Depression (it closed in 1933), when many people depended heavily on the wages that the asylum generated.

Hiawatha Fence from Advertisement

Hiawatha Fence from Advertisement

Canton, S.D. Masonic Temple, 1912

Canton, S.D. Masonic Temple, 1912

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Insanity is Lucrative

Oscar Gifford

Oscar Gifford

Early alienists tried to keep their profession closed from outsiders, both to maintain prestige and to ensure adequate salaries. They were very successful for many years, and superintendents of insane asylums were among the highest paid physicians in the field of medicine.

At a time when many family doctors earned annual salaries in the hundreds of dollars, asylum superintendents almost always earned at least two thousand.

 

Dr. John W. Givens, Idaho's First Licensed Alienist

Dr. John W. Givens, Idaho’s First Licensed Alienist

The superintendency of the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians was a plum position, particularly for the sparsely-populated area in which it was located. Its first superintendent, Oscar Gifford, was appointed strictly through political favoritism, since he was not a medical doctor. With only one or two exceptions over many decades, other asylum superintendents held medical degrees that were often from prestigious universities abroad.

Bloodletting As a Treatment for Agitation in Insanity, Essex Lunatic Asylum, 1860, courtesy Burns Archives

Bloodletting As a Treatment for Agitation in Insanity, Essex Lunatic Asylum, 1860, courtesy Burns Archives

In 1901, the Sioux Valley News triumphantly announced Gifford’s appointment while noting that it “was one of the best jobs in sight.” The position paid $2,500 annually. According to one inflation calculator, that salary would translate to $69,444.44 today. For someone without the proper education, training, or experience to hold it, the position was indeed a financial windfall. Gifford must have realized quite soon that he wasn’t qualified to run an asylum, but he held onto the job for as long as he could. His lack of medical knowledge cost at least one life, however, and the consequences of his mistakes eventually forced him out.

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Material Improvements

Operating Room at Georgia State Lunatic Asylu

Operating Room at Georgia State Lunatic Asylum

For such a small institution dependent on government funds, the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians had a surprisingly robust building program. Dr. Harry Hummer constantly requested new buildings, upgrades to old ones, new farm acreage (and then new outbuildings to accommodate more livestock and feed), as well as new patient buildings. Near and dear to his heart were two buildings in particular: an epileptic cottage and a hospital.

 

Virginia State Epileptic Colony Cottage for Feeble-Minded Women

Virginia State Epileptic Colony Cottage for Feeble-Minded Women

Dr. Hummer never received his epileptic cottage, though he requested one many times. He did get the hospital, which presumably made more sense to the appropriations committee which designated money for such projects.

When the hospital was approved for construction, Dr. Hummer received full credit for it: “The entire enterprise owes its inception, development and consummation to Dr. Hummer,” said a writer for the Sioux Valley News. The paper went on to say that when the two-story, brick and concrete building was completed, “the sick will be provided with the best that science means and experience can contribute.”

Epilepsy Was Considered a Form of Insanity, so Cures Were Widely Sought

Epilepsy Was Considered a Form of Insanity, so Cures Were Widely Sought

When Dr. Samuel Silk inspected the hospital in 1929, its operating room had “no equipment whatsoever, except for a surgical table, a slop sink and two wash bowls.”

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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. Continue reading

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Canton’s Early Roots

A Trapper’s Shack

Though the city of Canton was small compared to East Coast standards, it was an up and coming community for the far West. Almost as soon as Congress created Dakota Territory,  its new territorial legislature began establishing counties. The legislature established Lincoln County (where Canton is located) during its first session in 1862. Continue reading

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Local Pride in Canton Asylum

Rudolph Hotel, 1912

Rudolph Hotel, 1912

Though insane asylums were not common institutions anywhere, citizens in most locales were delighted to have them situated nearby. Asylums meant jobs, payrolls that workers might spend in town, and an ongoing need for supplies that local merchants could try to meet. Continue reading

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Matters of Size

Bryan Hall, a Patient at St. Elizabeths Admitted in 1874 and Spent at Least 47 Years There

Bryan Hall, a Patient at the Government Hospital for the Insane, Admitted in 1874 and Spent at Least 47 Years There

In 1903, the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians‘ first year of operation, the American Medico-Psychological Association (the main U.S. organization for psychologists) met in Washington, DC.

During opening remarks, visitors were reminded of the city’s many interesting sights and activities available to them, including a association-sponsored general smoker in the Willard Hotel (a smoker was an informal meeting or a recruiting meeting used by men’s organizations) and a luncheon at the Government Hospital for the Insane (later known as St. Elizabeths). Continue reading

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