Though it would be impossible to name all the prominent citizens who supported the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians at at the turn of the century, a few stand out.
Among the town’s early professionals was Oscar Sherman Gifford. Settling in Lincoln County in 1871 after passing the bar, Gifford was a practicing attorney, district attorney, merchant, and surveyor before he established a law office with partner Mark Bailey in 1875.
Gifford became a Territorial delegate, Canton’s mayor in 1881 and 1882, and South Dakota’s Congressional representative in 1889. Gifford wholeheartedly supported Senator Richard F. Pettigrew’s efforts in 1898 to open an insane asylum for Indians, and pushed to have it located in Canton. When the facility opened its doors, Gifford became its first superintendent.
Newman C. Nash, his son, George, and S. B. Averill, were also stalwart supporters of the asylum. The elder Nash edited the town’s weekly (Friday) newspaper, The Sioux Valley News until his death. A New York state native, Nash served during the Civil War and then located to Wisconsin.
Like Gifford, he arrived in Lincoln County in 1871; unlike Gifford, he moved west to settle a 160-acre homestead claim. Nash moved to Canton in 1876, bought a half partnership in The Sioux Valley News, and then became its sole proprietor in April, 1877. He was an enthusiastic “booster” during his time as editor, and grew his newspaper to an impressive circulation of 1,400 by 1904. After his father’s death in 1905, George Nash owned the paper only until 1912; however, he sold it to another enthusiastic asylum booster. All three men steadfastly maintained that the asylum was a wonderful institution, and Averill angrily opposed its final investigation and closure.