Category Archives: Indian tribes

More than 50 Indian tribes with different languages sent members to Canton Asylum for Insane Indians. The Five Civilized Tribes were eastern tribes, but most of Canton’s patients came from the West.

Fry Bread

Navajo Woman and Baby at Bosque Redondo, 1866, courtesy New Mexico State Monuments

Navajo Woman and Baby at Bosque Redondo, 1866, courtesy New Mexico State Monuments

Fry bread (or frybread) is associated with Native American cuisine, but it is not a traditional food for native peoples. The food originated during hard times, and is a symbol of both pride and pain.

In 1863 Gen. James Henry Carleton, commander of New Mexico Territory, rounded up Navajos and Mescalero Apaches in the Four Corners region and forcibly marched them from Ft. Defiance in Arizona to a camp called Bosque Redondo at Fort Sumner. Around 10,000 men, women, and children (including the elderly) walked 450 miles into this eastern New Mexico encampment. Many died along the way or were shot as stragglers. This tragic event is known as The Long Walk.

Once in Bosque Redondo–which was 40 square miles of shortgrass prairie and desert that wouldn’t support farming–at least 2,380 people died of exposure, disease, and hunger. The U.S. government finally issued commodity rations like white flour, lard, sugar, and canned goods to alleviate the misery. Fry bread was a filling meal these prisoners could make, though it was not a nutritious one.

Today fry bread is still a common food which is also popular and prominent at celebrations and powwows. The bread has been eaten for many years by Native Americans and represents a shared culinary experience among many tribes, but more importantly, it represents their perseverance and resiliency. Fry bread is a subsistence food that represents repression and hard times on one hand, yet speaks to triumph and tenacity on the other.

In 2005, the Bosque Redondo Memorial center opened as a place to mourn the dead and to celebrate survival.

Survivors of The Long Walk, 1864, at Fort Sumner

Survivors of The Long Walk, 1864, at Fort Sumner

Navajo at Bosque Redondo

Navajo at Bosque Redondo

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Eating to Live

Native American Woman Using a Scaula Hoe in North Dakota circa 1912

Native American Woman Using a Scapula Hoe in North Dakota circa 1912

Autumn and harvest-time go hand in hand, and many people today are paying far more attention to their food than they have in the past. We are beginning to recognize that our food has changed dramatically over the years in terms of nutrition and safety; many families are trying to to get away from modern processed food and return to foods that are actually healthy.

Native Americans who lived off the land before they were displaced were probably healthier, with less degenerative diseases than people today. Foraged produce like dandelion greens have far more phytonutrients (natural chemicals found in food that aren’t essential to health but have many benefits to human nutrition, such as carotenoids) than spinach. The traditional colored corn types that Native Americans grew were rich in the anthocyanins that protect against cancer, high blood pressure, inflammation, and cholesterol. Today’s common grocery-store sweet corn has far fewer of these phytonutrients and much more sugar.

Native Americans ate regional foods, meaning that desert dwellers did not eat seafood and coastal dwellers did not eat prairie chicken. Locally grown fruits, vegetables, and grainsĀ  produced seeds with traits that were well-suited for that region, leading to better crop success. Earlier foods were more bitter, less tender, and more fibrous than foods today; farmers have spent hundreds of years breeding crops for sweetness and tenderness, to the detriment of nutrition.

The growing interest in heritage foods may bring many forgotten foods back into the mainstream. Organic methods will also recall Native practices and enhance food safety. Native peoples lived in environmental balance and prove that it can be done.

Dandelions

Dandelions

Native American Farmer

Native American Farmer

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Other Ills at the Asylum

Blankets Infected With Smallpox Were Distributed to Native Americans to Start an Epidemic, courtesy sphtc.org

Blankets Infected With Smallpox Were Distributed to Native Americans to Start an Epidemic, courtesy sphtc.org

Though there is no mention of any smallpox epidemics at the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians, the threat of this terrible disease was very real. Smallpox had devastated Native American communities once Europeans arrived, since native peoples had no immunity to a disease they had never encountered. Mortality estimates range from 50% for the Cherokee, Catawba, and Huron, and as high as 90% for the Mandan after first contact.

Native Americans did not immediately connect smallpox to the Europeans who brought it. Plains tribes thought the disease was the Bad Spirit appearing, while the Creeks and Cherokees thought it came to them because they had violated tribal laws. Missionaries and Jesuits were later blamed for smallpox because of their religious paraphernalia and concern about dying, and they may well have carried infection to the various peoples they visited in the course of their work.

By the early 1900s, Native Americans were well aware that Europeans had brought this tremendous disaster with them. In 1914, Dr. Harry Hummer vaccinated 48 patients and five employees against smallpox. (Another five employees had previously contracted smallpox, and 13 refused the vaccination.) Hummer askedĀ  the Commissioner of Indian Affairs what he should do about the employees who had refused the vaccine, and he had a right to be concerned. Considering the frail health that many of his patients endured, smallpox would have been an overwhelming illness for them to fight.

Smallpox Prevention Poster Distributed by the Minnesota Department of Health, circa 1924

Smallpox Prevention Poster Distributed by the Minnesota Department of Health, circa 1924

A Navajo Hogan is Burned After Occupation by a Smallpox Victim, Leupp Indian Reservation, circa 1890 to 1910, courtesy National Library of Medicine

A Navajo Hogan is Burned After Occupation by a Smallpox Victim, Leupp Indian Reservation, circa 1890 to 1910, courtesy National Library of Medicine

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A Full Time Job

Chiefs of the Yankton Sioux With Their Indian Agents, courtesy S. J. Morrow Collection, the W. H. Over Museum, University of South Dakota

Chiefs of the Yankton Sioux With Their Indian Agents, courtesy S. J. Morrow Collection, the W. H. Over Museum, University of South Dakota

Indian inspectors had their hands full trying to ensure that laws and policies were properly carried out within all the reservations (see last post).

But, it was the Indian agent who actually made things tick at the local level. Almost all reservations had an agent, who wielded enormous power over the lives of the Native Americans who were living on them as wards of the U.S. government.

Continue reading

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Too Much to Inspect

Board of Indian Commissioners, courtesy Library Company of Philadelphia

Board of Indian Commissioners, courtesy Library Company of Philadelphia

The federal government has long provided for inspection in most areas over which it has control, and Indian reservations were no exception. In 1904, the legislature published Laws and Treaties, Vol. I, which outlined laws, policies, and procedures pertaining to its “Indian Affairs” responsibilities. Continue reading

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New Reasons for Insanity

Blackfoot Family

Blackfoot Family

Many (white) observers over the years believed that insanity was rare among Native Americans. Their conclusion was born out during the Indian Bureau survey that tried to assess the need for a special asylum for insane Indians; among the thousands and thousands of Indians living on reservations, fewer than a hundred could be identified with mental problems. Continue reading

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Another Sad Twist

A Bedridden Patient With Visitor at Blackwell's Island Hospital for Incurables

A Bedridden Patient With Visitor at Blackwell’s Island Hospital for Incurables

The argument can certainly be made that very few patients at the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians were what might be called “classically insane,” with complete disassociation from reality, a complete change in personality, or a complete inability to function within their traditional society. Continue reading

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Food Scarcity

Cheyenne-Arapaho Ration Card Used During the Time of the Land Run, courtesy Oklahoma HIstorical Society

Cheyenne-Arapaho Ration Card Used During the Time of the Land Run, courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society

Winter had always been a time of scarcity for both agricultural and nomadic peoples. Even when crops were good and supplies safe, winter generally meant fewer food choices and dwindling stores of edibles that could not be replenished until spring arrived.

Native Americans faced extreme threats to their food supply by the twentieth century: Continue reading

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Winter As a Time of Reflection

Rosebud Indian Agency, courtesy South Dakota State Historical Society

Rosebud Indian Agency, courtesy South Dakota State Historical Society

In most earlier cultures, life slowed during the winter months; people could not plant seed in frozen ground, days were short and dark, and most agricultural tasks were complete. As in today’s practice of contemplation at the New Year, native peoples used winter as a time to reflect on the important events of the previous year. Continue reading

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Searching for Canton Asylum Patients

This is an out-of-schedule post to ask for information about Canton Asylum patients transferred to St. Elizabeths in 1933, for a projected memorial. If you have any information about them, particularly about their lives before they were in Canton Asylum, we would both appreciate it. If you’d like to provide any details, you may simply reply to this post or send information to a private email at: deet84803@mypacks.net.

Joanna, Augusta

Bear, Frank

Charlie (only name)

Charley or Charles, Creeping

Dauphinais, Madeline

Ensign, Meda

Fairbanks, Richard

Jackson, Robert

Kalonuheskie, Edith

Rising Fire, Bessie

Shortwoman, Sarah

Tsinnjinnie, Mabel

Vigil, Fidel

Yazza, Zonna or Sonna

Yazzie, Hoskee

Thank you.

 

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