The Canton Asylum for Insane Indians was not the state’s first asylum; the Yankton Insane Asylum was established in 1879 during South Dakota’s territorial days. Interestingly, Canton had been considered as a site for that asylum, as well. The Territory had been served by the St. Peter State Hospital in Minnesota before that time, and by 1878, the facility housed 22 patients from Dakota. The hospital became overcrowded, and Governor William A. Howard was advised that Dakota patients would have to be removed by October of that year. By scrambling for other resources and extending Minnesota’s contract for a few more months, the governor managed to keep the status quo until early 1879.
Frugality and speed were drivers in the effort to relocate Dakota Territory’s mentally ill. Governor Howard wanted to house patients in preexisting buildings within the Territory, but had no luck finding suitable accommodations in Canton, Vermillion, or Elk Point. Yankton had two large wooden buildings which the governor secured and had rebuilt north of the city for under $2,500. He used his personal funds for the enterprise, for which he was reimbursed in 1880. The territorial legislature was similarly frugal and only appropriated enough money for the patients’ basic needs; real treatment of any kind was not available. In 1899, a fire killed seventeen female patients, and funds were finally appropriated for a more suitable building. By 1909, the institution’s Mead Building followed the norm in insane asylum architecture, and stood out as a beautiful structure.