Tag Archives: Harry Hummer

Hummer’s Advantages

Commissioner Charles Rhoads, on left, courtesy Library of Congress

At the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians, superintendent Dr. Harry R.  Hummer was far enough away from the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to avoid direct supervision. Hummer outlasted five commissioners: Francis Leupp, Robert Valentine, Cato Sells, Charles Burke, and Charles Rhoads before commissioner John Collier threw him out of the asylum and the Indian Service.

One advantage Hummer had–as did other superintendents elsewhere–was that locals wanted the asylum to remain open and running. Insane asylums represented huge boosts to  local economies. Most towns or cities where asylums were located were quite happy about having them, and were proud of the work they did. Canton was no different. Locals enjoyed the employment and local contracts that came from the asylum and usually spoke of it quite enthusiastically.

When Hummer began to finally receive less than glowing reports, he managed to have some friends in Sioux Falls appointed as an inspection committee. They came through for him in a report to Commissioner Charles Burke early in 1929. “We went through the plant thoroughly from top to bottom and . . . found everything in first class condition.” The writer then concluded, “I consider Dr. Harry Hummer a wonderful superintendent of this institution and he has many fine employees.”

Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs

Sample Asylum Report, courtesy University of North Carolina

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Insane Asylums and Economics

Lakota Camp, 1891, probaby near Pine Ridge Reservation, courtesy Library of Congress

Lakota Camp, 1891, probably near Pine Ridge Reservation, courtesy Library of Congress

Though insane patients were not always embraced by the communities around asylums, communities were often glad to have the institutions near them. Asylums meant jobs, and even small ones could have an economic impact. When the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians opened, residents desired the available positions.

Andrew Hedges, a full-blooded Santee Sioux Indian and the asylum’s first patient, arrived to the delight of the asylum staff on the last day of 1902. They met him at the train station, though this was probably the only time the entire staff turned out for a new patient. The greeters were Mrs. Seely (the financial clerk’s wife) was the matron, Mrs. Turner (the assistant superintendent’s wife) was the seamstress, W.F. More was the attendant, and Hannah Mickelson was the cook.

Canton’s newspaper noted that “Notwithstanding the most specific promises and a petition largely signed by prominent republicans of our city, and county, Mrs. Naylor was not given a position at the asylum.”

By 1927, 21 people were employed at the asylum besides the superintendent. Though Canton residents appreciated the asylum’s jobs, the work was often unpleasant. Attendants came and went with regularity. Dr. Hummer found the lack of trained, dedicated professionals a particularly frustrating aspect of running the asylum.

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