Category Archives: Canton Asylum for Insane Indians

Canton Asylum for Insane Indians in South Dakota was also known as Hiawatha. It opened in December 1902 and closed in 1934 after charges of neglect and abuse were validated. Dr. Harry Reid Hummer and Oscar Sherman Gifford were its only two superintendents. Its only patients were Native Americans, typically called Indians. It was the only federal insane asylum created solely for an ethnic group and served only Indians.

Podcast For Vanished in Hiawatha

For anyone who has not read–or doesn’t want to read–my book about the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians, there is now a podcast (on New Books Network) about it. During this interview with my host from the University of California, Santa Cruz, listeners can get some of the highlights and/or get a feel for what the book is about:

Carla Joinson, “Vanished in Hiawatha: The Story of the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians” (U. Nebraska, 2016)

You can download the podcast from the bottom left of the screen.

 

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Announcement

I would like to thank everyone who has checked out my website or followed my blog for these past few years. I created it to support my recently published book, Vanished in Hiawatha: The Story of the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians, which was published in June 2016.

I am beginning a new research project and will no longer post (or will post very infrequently) to this Canton Asylum website. Instead, I invite you to follow my new blog about American insane asylums at http://hhhasylum.com. This site will support the new book I hope to write: Healing, Hell, and the History of American Insane Asylums, and will contain interesting information about asylums and the history of mental health treatment. I’m excited about it and hope you will be, too.

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Farming and Food

Zuni Waffle Garden, circa 1911, courtesy Zuni Pueblo

Zuni Waffle Garden, circa 1911, courtesy Zuni Pueblo

As harvest time grows near, all peoples who cultivate the land hope for good crops. Today’s technology can help farmers produce great quantities of food, but that doesn’t mean that older techniques were not as good–or better–on smaller scales. Native Americans were the New World’s farmers, and they were better at it than history generally credits them. They knew about companion planting for pest deterrence, for instance, and the well-known “three sisters” method of planting corn, squash, and beans used the attributes of these plants to add nitrogen (from beans) to the soil while using corn to trellis them and squash leaves to provide shade for the first two.

Wide Spacing Between Plants is Part of the No-Till Method

Wide Spacing Between Plants is Part of the No-Till Method

April 1938: A dust bowl farmstead in Dallam County, Texas, showing the desolation produced by the dust and wind on the countryside adding to the problems of the depression in the USA. (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images)

Over-tilling Was a Major Contributor to the Dust Bowl, April 1938, Dallam County, Texas, courtesy Three Lions/Getty Images

Native Americans also used a “no-till” method, which the USDA is now encouraging all farmers to use. Instead of plowing up acres of land and destroying the soil ecosystem in the process (along with encouraging soil erosion and poor water absorption), no-till farming disturbs the smallest area possible needed for planting. Home methods might include using raised beds or straw bales to garden, or digging individual holes for plants or seeds. Plenty of mulch suppresses weeds and keeps the ground moist. Larger farmers switch from plows to no-till planters; these create narrow furrows in which to plant seeds, and leave the rest of the soil intact.

 

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Preserving Food for Winter

Klamath Woman Grinding Corn, 1923, by Edward S. Curtis

Even in modern societies with their convenient grocery stores, many people continue to can or dry food from their gardens for winter use. Canning was not an option for native peoples, but they still needed to preserve food for times when game was scarce and/or vegetation was sparse.

There were few universal preservation practices, but drying food was an option available to almost everyone. Drying also had the advantage of making the harvest easier to store and transport: Drying not only concentrated nutrients, but the resulting product also weighed less because so much water was lost in the process. Some foods like beans could dry naturally on the vine, but other foods like corn, berries, and mushrooms were usually gathered first and then dried. Sun-drying was one way  to preserve all types of food.

Over thousands of years, Native Americans cultivated a wild grass called Teosinte, which originally grew in Central America. Over time the small kernels on this grass became larger and were spaced closer together until what we know as maize developed. These first ears were only a few inches long and had about eight short rows of kernels (today’s ears have about 600 kernels). Eventually maize became an important food source for many tribes.

Native Americans grew corn in mounds and harvested great quantities of it, compared to other gathered foodstuffs. They dried maize in the sun on mats, let the maize dry on its stalks, or picked ears and let them dry in the sun. Drying was essential because the loss of moisture made it harder for microorganisms and enzymes that spoil food to grow. Later, the maize would be stored in underground pits lined with grass to prevent mildew and spoilage; some tribes stored enough to get them through two crop-less seasons.

Boy (son of Wolf Chief) Drying Corn, circa 1914, courtesy State Historical Society of North Dakota

Ojibwa Farmer Near Cass Lake, Minn. Drying Corn Harvest, circa 1920, courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

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Native American Cookery

James Adair's Book

James Adair’s Book

Early European observer, James Adair (who spent time among southeastern native peoples from 1700 to about 1735), wrote that native peoples ate little raw food beyond berries and fruits. As versatile as Europeans, they baked, boiled, fried, and roasted their food, using local ingredients to make extremely healthy dishes.

Native peoples used stones as slabs for cooking or as bowls for grinding food like maize into flour. They hollowed out and then dried gourds to use as spoons, bowls, and storage containers. Women also made cooking pots from woven materials coated with clay for insulation. They would put (usually wood) coals in the basket to roast meats; they could cook or heat other foods with hot stones.

Corn Mush in a Basket, Cooked With Hot Rocks Heated by the Fire

Corn Mush in a Basket, Cooked With Hot Rocks Heated by the Fire

A simple dish like succotash, would be easy to cook and created a complete protein from a combination of corn and beans.

Succotash Recipe:

2 cups of fresh corn

2 cups of fresh beans

1 T fat

Simple Cooking

Simple Cooking

Mix all the ingredients into a pot and bring to a boil until done. For additional flavor, add green onions, tomato, garlic, peppers, etc.

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What’s Cooking?

The First Known American Cookbook

The First Known American Cookbook

As harvest time draws near and meals become heartier, many home cooks turn to tried-and-true recipes that deliver great taste from familiar ingredients. Settlers in the New World could not always do this, even though cookbooks had been around for several hundred years. One big problem? New World foods were not mentioned in these European volumes. Another problem was that no New World cookbook existed until twenty years after the United States became a nation. Amelia Simmons introduced the country’s first cookbook: American Cookery, or the art of dressing viands, fish, poultry, and vegetables, and the best modes of making pastes, puffs, pies, tarts, puddings, custards, and preserves, and all kinds of cakes, from the imperial plum to plain cake: Adapted to this country, and all grades of life. By Amelia Simmons: An American Orphan, in 1796.

Simmons was serious in her quest to help demystify cookery: her notes on “how to dress a turtle” are both detailed and graphic. Her recipe for a squash pudding is one example of adapting New World ingredients to common Old World (particularly British) dishes.

Native Americans Grew Maize, Beans, and Squash

Native Americans Grew Maize, Beans, and Squash

A Crookneck, or Winter Squash* Pudding.

Core, boil and skin a good squash, and bruize it well; take 6 large
apples, pared, cored, and stewed tender, mix together; add 6 or 7
spoonsful of dry bread or biscuit, rendered fine as meal, half pint
milk or cream, 2 spoons of rose-water, 2 do. wine, 5 or 6 eggs beaten
and strained, nutmeg, salt and sugar to your taste, one spoon flour,
beat all smartly together, bake.

The above is a good receipt for Pompkins, Potatoes or Yams, adding
more moistening or milk and rose water, and to the two latter a few
black or Lisbon currants, or dry whortleberries scattered in, will
make it better.

Colonists Grinding Corn

Colonists Grinding Corn

*Squash is a New World food.

 

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Model Law for Commitment of the Insane

Mrs. Packard Was a Well-Known Victim of Coerced Commitment

Mrs. Packard Was a Well-Known Victim of Coerced Commitment

One of the great tragedies for people judged insane was the ease with which they could be committed to institutions. During certain periods in some states, all it took was the word of family members or “respectable citizens” to commit people to asylums–a practice certain to be abused for personal gain, spite, or control. In 1876, Dr. Alexander E. MacDonald, superintendent of the New York City Asylum for the Insane, explained the way that the state of New York had improved its commitment laws.

Referencing other states that didn’t require physicians to examine the person in question, or only required one doctor to determine insanity, MacDonald cited New York’s requirement that two reputable physicians had to testify that the person was insane and “unfit to be at large.” The latter provision was to protect “harmless” lunatics and chronic cases who weren’t endangering themselves and others. Additionally, the doctors called in to make the examination had to have been in practice at least three years. Though neither of these requirements could curtail all unjust commitments, they seemed to be a step in the right direction.

Illustration from Nellie Bly's Ten Days in a Mad-House

Illustration from Nellie Bly’s Ten Days in a Mad-House

Furthermore, the form physicians completed required them to state their reasons for determining that the person in question was insane. Theoretically, this forced doctors to give a somewhat in-depth examination to back up their opinions, and additionally, their remarks would help the doctor at the asylum decide what initial course of treatment to begin.

Hammond May Have Been an Alcoholic or Heavily Medicated

Hammond May Have Been an Alcoholic or Heavily Medicated

Though any of these requirements seem both obvious and fundamental, they came at a time when many doctors simply rubber-stamped family decisions for commitment. Any obstacles to easy, painless commitments had to be a good thing for the helpless people who were often shipped off to asylums for convenience.

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Additional Markers of Insanity

Images of Different Types of Insanity by J.E.D. Esquinol, courtesy Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.u

Images of Different Types of Insanity by J.E.D. Esquinol, courtesy Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.u

In the April, 1879 issue of the American Journal of Insanity, Dr. Judson Andrews gave some tips for family physicians to use in monitoring the possible development of insanity in their patients (see last post). The physical symptoms were disturbingly commonplace, but Dr. Andrews seemed to hit a bit nearer the mark when he described certain mental signs that might indicate the development of insanity. (In general, he thought these mental symptoms would develop after the physical ones.)

— Emotions might be exaggerated (a little or a lot) or the person might be unable to control expression of the emotion even when he tried.There might not be a cause for laughing or crying in a situation, or the reaction might be out of character for the individual.

An Emotional Patient, Seacliff Lunatic Asylum, New Zealand

An Emotional Patient, Seacliff Lunatic Asylum, New Zealand

— Depression might develop, either as a loss of spirits or a “shading off from the natural cheerfulness of disposition.”

— Patients could experience “forebodings of some indefinite, indefinable evil impending, from which no way of escape lies open.”

–Later, patients would begin to be overly introspective; in reviewing their actions, they would judge themselves far too harshly and negatively.

— Patients could develop difficulty making decisions about simple tasks (like what to wear) and important ones alike; any course they decided upon then yielded to “agonies of doubt” or vacillation.

Other changes might be in personality, dress and personal appearance, and “exaltation or exaggeration.”

Insanity Continued to be a Misunderstood Subject, from a Toronto Newspaper, circa 1915 - 1919

Insanity Continued to be a Misunderstood Subject, from a Toronto Newspaper, circa 1915 – 1919

Unfortunately, many of these symptoms could develop so slowly they would be hard to detect; in other cases they might just be an intensification of the person’s normal personality and also hard to spot. At least, though, concluded Dr. Andrews, insanity had lost its mystery and dread, and “the insane man stands forth simply as a sick man: one, who by reason of cerebral disease, is unable to use his brain.”

This viewpoint was undoubtedly kinder than the fear and judgment insanity had faced in the past.

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A Medicine Show

Goodnight Is Credited With Inventing the Chuck Wagon

Goodnight Is Credited With Inventing the Chuck Wagon circa 1866

Medical care on the frontier came in a variety of forms. Doctors could provide care (see last post), but people also relied on their own herbal concoctions and traditional Native cures. Charles Goodnight (who with his partner established the first cattle ranch in the Texas panhandle) believed firmly in the power of buffalo fat. He and his wife made buffalo soap that Goodnight felt would cure almost anything: “I am satisfied it will relieve rheumatism. Try it for tuberculosis. I do believe it will work.”

Medicine shows provided more fun, though, and were always popular when they reached town. These shows might be only one-wagon affairs, or they might contain several wagons and a tent. Even the one-wagon show could cram in plenty of supplies and bottled “cures.”

A Small Medicine Wagon

A Small Medicine Wagon

The wagons were usually brightly painted and splashed with the name of the particular show, but it was mainly up to the pitchman to move products. This person might be a doctor, clergyman, or learned professor–or at least call himself one–and usually enhanced his character by dressing in a fancy long-tailed coat and tall silk hat. The voice was everything, and most pitchmen could whip a crowd into a passion for the alcohol-laden line of remedies they peddled.

Medicine Show Wagon

Medicine Show Wagon

Medicine shows were also shows, often featuring a female who might dance, sing, or play an instrument. A man might do magic tricks like eat fire, trade dialogue with the pitchman in a comedy routine of sorts, or show off with tricks like rope spinning. Early showmen often attacked the competency of the local doctor(s) in order to secure their own business; doctors countered by trying to get the shows run out of town. Later, the two entities learned to co-exist. Doctors quietly allowed the show to run its course, then sold the same (leftover) stock that had so impressed the locals.

 

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Rough and Ready Medicine

Office of Doctors Charles Hathaway and Ross Bazell, 1902, in Winslow, Arizona, courtesy Old Trail Museum

Office of Doctors Charles Hathaway and Ross Bazell, 1902, in Winslow, Arizona, courtesy Old Trail Museum

Medicine in the eastern United States was often hit-or-miss in the early 1800s, but those who pushed to the edge of the constantly changing western frontier were even more apt to suffer at the hands of physicians.

Frontier physicians often took on a variety of jobs: treating horses, pulling teeth, and concocting medicines, in addition to more traditional medical tasks like setting bones and performing simple surgeries. Many physicians were self-taught and consulted a medical manual or two for anything complicated. They relied heavily on substances like morphine; calomel, a compound containing mercury (which the World Health Organization has declared unsafe at any level); and tartar emetic, a toxic laxative containing the carcinogenic, antimony.

Dr. H. M. Greene at Right, in a LaCrosse, Washington Saloon and Pharmacy, courtesy Oregon Health and Science University

Dr. H. M. Greene at Right, in a LaCrosse, Washington Saloon and Pharmacy, courtesy Oregon Health and Science University

Because they typically had few credentials, doctors in the West tried to impress patients with seemingly exclusive or “inside” evidence of their expertise. Doctors’ offices frequently displayed medical instruments and splints; jars of leeches; body parts bottled in alcohol; and beakers, flasks, and perhaps tubing that implied scientific experimentation or the ability to make mysterious concoctions.

Distilling Devices Known as Alembics Impressed Patients

Distilling Devices Known as Alembics Impressed Patients

The local populations would be impressed, but they were equally impressed by Native American remedies and tonics touted in traveling medicine shows. The medical profession itself did not have any kind of a monopoly on public trust or faith.

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