Tag Archives: Canton

Canton Celebrates Its Long History

Canton Main Street, about 1907

Canton Main Street, about 1907

The city of Canton, South Dakota–which existed before South Dakota became a state in 1889–celebrates its 150th year (1866 – 2016) this July.

Canton was founded in a spot called Trapper Shanty. The shanty had been built by trappers Dutch Charley, Bill Tunis, Old Ross, and his two sons, between Beaver Creek and the Sioux River. This small dwelling was an ideal place to capture game, and for several years, this shanty was the only structure in Lincoln County.

Nobody liked the name Trapper Shanty and the townspeople eventually decided to name the settlement Canton for a couple of reasons. Some people thought the spot was directly opposite Canton, China. Others thought it meant gateway in Chinese.

Canton Asylum, Main Building P6

Canton Asylum, Main Building P6

Even so early in its history, Canton’s citizens wanted and expected their city to be important and prosperous. It quickly became a little boom town as pioneers moved through it, or settled and stayed, on their journey west. Canton residents were always ready to embrace bigger and better things, such as an insane asylum built exclusively for Indians. They were sure that this institution—the only one of its kind in the world—would make the city famous. Though worldwide fame eluded the city, its leaders fought to keep the asylum open despite its many critics.

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Canton’s Early Roots

A Trapper’s Shack

Though the city of Canton was small compared to East Coast standards, it was an up and coming community for the far West. Almost as soon as Congress created Dakota Territory,  its new territorial legislature began establishing counties. The legislature established Lincoln County (where Canton is located) during its first session in 1862. Continue reading

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Insane Asylum Oversight

Canton Main Street

Just as in other workplaces, insane asylums had personnel problems that administrators had to deal with. Though some superintendents tried hard to find the best attendants possible, they had to ultimately accept the kinds of employees available in the marketplace. In 1895,the superintendent at  Kentucky’s Eastern Lunatic Asylum mentioned that he had been able to employ “four bright young men from the State College.” Other institutions, and probably Eastern Asylum as well, had to sometimes accept attendants who were just a step above criminals. With its demanding schedule and lack of freedom, a job as an asylum attendant was not likely to appeal to anyone who could find something better.

Both Gifford and Hummer, while superintendents at the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians, ran into the same personnel problems as other superintendents. The work they offered was demanding and difficult, and didn’t pay well. They faced an additional problem with the size of their labor pool. Canton was not large, and even though the city of Sioux Falls was not far away, it was too far away to expect many people there to find work at the Canton asylum desirable. Attendants were required to live on the premises, which also made the work less attractive to non-Canton residents.

Staff at Ridges

Attendants at Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane, circa 1860s, courtesy University of Pennsylvania

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Clashes Between Indians and Whites

Returning War Party, courtesy Library of Congress

Dakota Territory, where the city of Canton was eventually established, embraced the Mandan, Arikara, Kidatsa, Assiniboin, Crow, Cheyenne, Cree, and Dakota (Santee Sioux) tribes. The Lakota Sioux were openly hostile to white newcomers, and even the early trappers avoided their sacred land in the Black Hills. Things changed when pioneer families came in and railroads began to snake through the countryside. Railroad workers arrived in hordes to cut through previously untouched land. People who had heard rumors about gold sometimes sneaked into the Black Hills.

The Lakota Nations were important to peace in the region, and in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, the U.S. government granted them a huge parcel of land west of the Missouri River. The government forbade settlers or miners to enter the Black Hills without permission, and the Sioux agreed to stop fighting with the newcomers.

Some people inevitably broke the treaty, and inevitably there were clashes. One Sioux retaliation tactic was to raid settlements and then retreat to the Black Hills where they were protected from pursuit by their treaty. The military wanted a fort in the area to better their chances of cutting off the Sioux before they could get to the Black Hills. That desire for a fort changed everything.

My next post will discuss what happened when the government pursued building a fort in the area.

Sioux Indians From Pine Ridge Reservation, S.D., courtesy Library of Congress

Sioux Delegation, 1891, courtesy Library of Congress

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Canton, SD Sports

Flandreau Indian School, courtesy Library of Congress

Flandreau Indian School, courtesy Library of Congress

Citizens of the small town of Canton, SD found plenty of ways to amuse, educate, and uplift themselves. Their baseball team, the Sunflowers, enjoyed a rousing game of ball and both hosted and visited nearby opposing teams.

On a fine Saturday in May of 1904, the Sunflowers played a team from Rock Valley and beat them soundly: 23 to 1. A reporter’s derisive comment was that “if they should want another game with Canton they had better play the Canton Juniors.”

Canton’s team played a game the following Tuesday with Flandreau Indian school’s students. Flandreau began the game. The pitcher began well; however, errors in the infield allowed four quick scoring runs. Canton made its own share of errors (6 to Flandreau’s 9), but won the game at 10 to 7. The paper noted that the Flandreau boys were “a splendid lot” who showed good sportsmanship.

Rain washed out that week’s Wednesday game, which was postponed until Thursday. Another regular game was scheduled for that Friday with the Flandreau school, which took place too late for the outcome to get into press.

American Indian Boys Baseball Team in Idaho, courtesy Library of Congress

American Indian Boys Baseball Team in Idaho, courtesy Library of Congress

Albuquerque Indian School Baseball Team, 1911, courtesy National Archives

Albuquerque Indian School Baseball Team, 1911, courtesy National Archives

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Insanity Among the Indians

ig Tobacco, A Dance Hall Chief, circa 1900

Big Tobacco, A Dance Hall Chief, circa 1900

The idea for the Canton  Asylum began as a simple suggestion by Indian agent Peter Couchman of the Cheyenne River Agency. In 1897, he wrote to the Indian Service about the unpleasant conditions insane Indians faced on reservations. Anyone suspected of insanity usually ended up in a jail or guardhouse because there were no appropriate facilities on site.

Most state institutions for the insane didn’t like to accept Indians because of citizenship issues and racial bias. Even when an asylum did accept a patient from a reservation, it charged the government what Couchman considered to be excessive fees.

So, Couchman asked what probably seemed to him a reasonable question: Might it be a good idea for the federal government to create an insane asylum just for Indians?

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