Tag Archives: Canton Asylum Superintendent

The Sioux Valley News

"Indians Turned Into Useful Citizens" from Sioux Valley News, May 11, 1906

“Indians Turned Into Useful Citizens” from Sioux Valley News, May 11, 1906

Newspapers are great resources for a writer; they provide a glimpse into the past that can be hard to duplicate elsewhere. However,  I’ve learned to take their news with a grain of salt.

In the newspaper account referenced on my web page, the Sioux Valley News gave a vivid description of a “bad Indian’s” escape from the Canton Asylum.  Any staff not occupied turned out for the chase, and Oscar Gifford, the asylum’s superintendent, was the chief pursuer.

Here is a quote from the newspaper: “Up and down the hill he [Gifford] walked and ran, and a cyclometer which was attached to him, registered one hundred miles of travel, during the ten hours he was out scouring the hills.”

Gifford would appear to be an athlete of the highest caliber from this account, which I cannot quite believe. What I do believe, of course, is that the chase took place, covered a good deal of territory, and ended in the capture of the runaway.

The paper’s delight in this satisfactory conclusion is evident, as is its enthusiastic support for its favorite son, Oscar Gifford. While I gleaned a great deal of useful information from the Sioux Valley News, I also read through it with the understanding that the paper’s slant would always be favorable to Canton and its residents.

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Asylum’s Biggest Booster

Oscar S. Gifford

Oscar S. Gifford

Oscar S. Gifford—Canton, South Dakota’s first mayor–was also a lawyer, merchant, surveyor, and sometimes justice of the peace. He was the kind of hustle and bustle “booster” that the city applauded. Gifford had been born in Watertown, New York in 1842, but moved to South Dakota’s Lincoln County in 1871.

Gifford was well-respected by the citizens of Canton. He had served as a private during the Civil War, studied law, taught school, and energetically looked after South Dakota’s interests as first a territorial delegate and later, the state’s first representative to Congress. In 1896 he had been nominated as the Republican candidate for governor.

When it came time for the Indian Bureau to appoint a superintendent to the Canton Asylum, Gifford seemed the obvious choice—never mind that he had no medical background. Whether it was a reward for backing Senator Pettigrew or whether no one who was actually qualified wanted the job, Gifford got it.

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