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.

Sugar Camps

Building a Birch Bark Tepee at a Maple Sugar Camp, Mille Lacs Reservation, courtesy firstpeople.us

Building a Birch Bark Tepee at a Maple Sugar Camp, Mille Lacs Reservation, courtesy firstpeople.us

Native peoples who had access to trees with sweet sap (such as the sugar maple) made sugar products just as later Europeans did in New England states like Vermont. In the spring,¬†Chippewa families or groups of two to three families enjoyed working together at sugar camps. The families worked their own sugar bushes, which were stands of maple trees measured by the number of “taps” available. Each tree, for instance, might have two or three taps, and a bush might have 900 taps.

Each sugar camp usually contained a permanent lodge, which would be cleared of snow and repaired each spring, sometime around March. Women went early to examine their sugar-making utensils, like bark dishes for gathering sap, makuks (birchbark containers) for storing sugar, syrup buckets, and troughs where the buckets of sap were poured. When the equipment was ready, women went back to their home camps to fetch large kettles for boiling the sap; they also got the rest of their family ready to move to the camp. Both men and women were involved in setting up these sugar camps.

Native Americans Making Maple Sugar, Cass Lake, 1905, courtesy University of Minnesota Duluth

Native Americans Making Maple Sugar, Cass Lake, 1905, courtesy University of Minnesota Duluth

My next post will explain the Chippewa’s sugar-making process.

Ojibwe Woman Tapping a Sugar Maple, 1908, courtesy Elder Nmenhs-Arthur McGregor of Whitefish River First Nation

Ojibwe Woman Tapping a Sugar Maple, 1908, courtesy Elder Nmenhs-Arthur McGregor of Whitefish River First Nation

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Still A Prisoner

Asylum Ward, New York, 1866, courtesy History of Disability in America

Asylum Ward, New York, 1866, courtesy History of Disability in America

One of the best reasons reformers gave for creating asylums was that the insane were often housed in jails despite having committed no crime. With this argument, reformers in the 1830s pleaded for more humane places (and ways) to treat people who were merely sick rather than criminal. For a period, patients likely reaped the benefit of this new stance; they were taken from prisons and punitive treatments and given the rest, wholesome food, and attention they needed to get well. Then, conditions changed.

Sometime in the 1870s, a female patient named Adeline Lunt gave her perspective on asylums. In discussing the so-called convalescent galleries, which had a pleasant appearance to visitors, Lunt said: “To-night that lady will be bound, chest, arms, hands, will be compressed, tied into a sleeved corset . . . ” When the miserable woman doesn’t sleep well as a result, Lunt said, her attendants report that she has had no sleep and the patient is consequently locked into the building the next day.

Types of Restraining Devices

Types of Restraining Devices

In Lunt’s opinion, patients were detained far too long, merely against the possibility that something negative could happen to them or that they might do something risky. However, the detention itself could bring apathy, hopelessness, or an inability to function. In her words, there should be a dictionary entry that said:

Restrained Female Patient, courtesy LIFE

Restrained Female Patient, courtesy LIFE

“Insane Asylum. A place where insanity is made.”

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Prodded to Action

Some Physicians Were Patients' Advocates, courtesy Peoria Historical Society

Some Physicians Were Patients’ Advocates, courtesy Peoria Historical Society

Dr. Harry Hummer, superintendent of the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians, absorbed any number of inspections conducted by the Indian Service. Unless recommendations fell in with his own desires (such as recommendations for new buildings and equipment, for example), he seldom changed any of his practices to accommodate findings. Hummer was faulted early on for “managing from his desk” instead of getting out of his office and into the wards, where he could see and supervise his staff and patients. Apparently, he was still managing from his desk in 1927.

In a memo to employees written in January of that year, Dr. Hummer told them that he had been “criticised by Dr. Emil Krulish, the Medical Inspector for this district, for the honor system which I have had in effect at this place for many years past.”

Doctors Visit Patients Who Are Kept in Restraints

Doctors Visit Patients Who Are Kept in Restraints

Hummer told employees that he would now be making more frequent inspections to see if they were carrying out his instructions. He had “already discovered that collectively you are off your wards entirely too frequently.”

Dr. Hummer May Have Used a Similar Medical Bag

Dr. Hummer May Have Used a Similar Medical Bag

Hummer told his staff that they would need to give him a satisfactory reason for being off the ward; for the first offense they would receive a warning, and for the second, “summarily dismissed from the service.”

Employees had to sign and date that they had read the instructions. However, since conditions continued to deteriorate, it seems improbable that Hummer actually followed through with his promised crackdown.

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Institutional Supply

Most Staff at Asylums Were Local

Most Staff at Asylums Were Local

The Canton Asylum for Insane Indians brought plenty of federal money into the local economy. However, as part of the larger Bureau of Indian Affairs, the institution also purchased many of its day-to-day items through governmental suppliers.

In a 1927 letter to the superintendent of the Warehouse for Indian Supplies in Chicago, Illinois, Dr. Harry Hummer requested a couple of staples:

Oleomargarine Was a Butter Substitute

Oleomargarine Was a Butter Substitute

— “Oleomargarine, in 60-lb containers, artificially colored–1600 lbs.” He requested a 60-lb container every two weeks for the fiscal year.

— “Hams, smoked, 600 lbs.” He requested the meat in 200 lb. increments three times a year (November, January, and March). The asylum additionally raised its own cattle and hogs to supplement this order.

Institutional Cooking Required Full Time Staff

Institutional Cooking Required Full Time Staff

Dr. Hummer also bought cots, shoes, and clothing (often excess items that were extremely inexpensive) through federal channels. What he almost never obtained through the government, though, was labor. Attendants, cooks, laborers, etc. were almost always locals, though certain positions like the matron’s (as well as his own) were appointments within the Indian Service.

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The Patient’s Voice

Reverend Chase's Book

Reverend Chase’s Book

A number of [insane] asylum patients eventually wrote about their experiences once they were released. A commonality that many of these accounts reveal is the lack of due process in the commitment process. In 1868, Reverend Hiram Chase wrote about his experience:

“. . . on the 20th of August, 1863, about 9 o’clock in the morning, I was called out of my room to dress and take a ride as far as the depot. . . I got into the wagon with three men besides myself. As I got into the wagon and saw my trunk, I enquired where they were going. Mr. Harvey told me I was going to the asylum in Utica.”*

Postcard of the Utica State Hospital for the Insane, 1907

Postcard of the Utica State Hospital for the Insane, 1907

Chase had previously described what was probably an episode of deep depression, brought on by hearing some unkind gossip about himself from church members. His own physician and another one had called upon Chase, and discussed an incident in which he had tried to get rid of a solution of silver nitrate, fearing that it would harm someone or some animal. His wife and family may have thought Chase had obtained the bottle of silver nitrate solution in order to hurt himself, though he had evidently made it abundantly clear he was getting rid of the contents. Regardless, the doctors got a warrant from the local judge after this interview, to take Chase to Utica.

Utica Crib, a Restraining Device Developed at the Utica

Utica Crib, a Restraining Device Developed at the Utica

Chase ends his first chapter with this: “We arrived there the same day, and I was locked up in the third story of the building, with about forty raving maniacs. Others may judge of my feelings when I sat down and looked around me. . . .”

*Two Years in a Lunatic Asylum; Van Benthuysen & Sons’ Steam Printing House.

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Canton Asylum a Good Value for the Government

Most Asylums Had More Amenities Than Canton Asylum

Most Asylums Had More Amenities Than Canton Asylum

When the¬† subcommittee of [the] House Committee on Appropriations met to discuss Indian monies for 1924, the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians came under discussion. Assistant Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Edgar B. Meritt, asked for $40,000 for the asylum’s equipment and maintenance.

In his presentation of expenses, Meritt added this information:

“The Canton Asylum for Insane Indians has the custodial care of 90 patients whose hospitalization, in the majority of cases, will be during the period of their lives. This institution is maintained very efficiently on the appropriations estimated for, which is the same as allowed for the last fiscal year.

Patients Offset Many Asylum Expenses by Working, Such as These Patients Sewing at the Cherokee State Hospital for the Insane

Patients Offset Many Asylum Expenses by Working, Such as These Patients Sewing at the Cherokee State Hospital for the Insane

“The average annual cost, including employees, transportation, hospitalization, clothing, burials, the upkeep of the buildings and all incidentals is something less than $400 for each patient. The cost of the custodial care in State institutions ranges from $480 to $800 a year exclusive of transportation, clothing, and burial expenses in case of death. In private asylums the expenses are still greater with a larger list of exclusions.”

Unmarked Graves at Central State Hospital in Milledgeville, GA

Unmarked Graves at Central State Hospital in Milledgeville, GA

Meritt made a convincing case for the requested amount of money. Oddly, none of the committee members asked why Canton’s expenses were so much lower than any other institution’s. They may have been afraid of uncovering something they didn’t want to hear.

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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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