Tag Archives: Indian Office

Irresponsible and Unaccountable

Lee Moorhouse Was an Indian Agent for the Umatilla Indian Reservation

Lee Moorhouse Was an Indian Agent for the Umatilla Indian Reservation

The United States government always knew that native peoples were important–whether as friends or foes. Early federal practice was to interact with tribes as the country would with other independent nations, but this soon proved cumbersome and restrictive for the domestic policy U.S. leaders wanted to pursue. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (known more generally as the Indian Office or Office of Indian Affairs) shifted its role from negotiating with Indian nations to simply enforcing its will on them.

In 1849, Congress transferred the BIA from the War Department to the Department of the Interior and began to greatly increase its intrusiveness into native affairs. Tribes which had been removed to reservations and forced to farm arid, nonproductive land, soon faced extreme poverty. The BIA distributed food and supervised many services on reservations, but unscrupulous agents took advantage of the people they were supposed to help. Many accusations of fraud and abuse hit the agency, which never suffered a loss of power even after investigations proved many accusations to be well-founded.

Sioux Indian Women Receiving Rations, Pine Ridge Reservation, 1891, courtesy Library of Congress

Sioux Indian Women Receiving Rations, Pine Ridge Reservation, 1891, courtesy Library of Congress

Tulalip Indian School Learning Modern Farming Methods, 1912, photo by Ferdinand Brady, courtesy californiaindianeducation.org

Tulalip Indian School Learning Modern Farming Methods, 1912, photo by Ferdinand Brady, courtesy californiaindianeducation.org

Eventually the BIA became responsible for Indian schools, the issues involved in allotting land, all the contracts associated with providing supplies and service to Indians, and even with  providing justice. Tribal governments were weakened and shunted aside, giving the BIA and particularly its Indian agents dramatic power on reservations. Needless to say, there were agents who did not hesitate to use their power for selfish ends, rather than for protecting people who had been stripped of their own power and rights.

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An Easy Way to Grab Land

Indian Inspector George Wright, courtesy Oklahoma State Digital Library

Indian Inspector George Wright, courtesy Oklahoma State Digital Library

Many whites wanted access to Indian lands, and there were plenty of politicians who were glad to help them. Guy P. Cobb was typical. He held a position as the Creek Revenue Inspector (appointed through the recommendation of Commissioner of Indian Affairs William Jones, 1897-1904) and had served under Indian Inspector George J. Wright.

While he was a revenue inspector, Cobb was also general manager of the Tribal Development Company, which Cobb said “helped” Indians manage their land. How? Cobb’s company negotiated rental agreements with Indians–with the option to buy their land as soon as any restrictions were removed. He further assisted them by helping them find “good” allotments. Additionally, (and, of course, quite usefully) Cobb was one of the directors of the Bank of the Chickasaw Nation.

Cobb was not the only politician involved in trust companies, and Samuel M. Brosius of the Indian Rights Association named names in his special report on the land speculation. Dawes commissioners Thomas Needles and C. R. Breckinridge, U.S. District Attorney E. Pliny Soper, assistant U.S. District Attorney for the Northern District of the Indian Territory James Huckleberry, Indian Inspector Wright, and many other politicians and Indian Office employees were involved in various trust companies.

Clifton Rodes Breckenridge of the Dawes Commission, courtesy Biographical Directory of the United States Congress

Clifton Rodes Breckenridge of the Dawes Commission, courtesy Biographical Directory of the United States Congress

Indian Land Was Highly Desirable

Indian Land Was Highly Desirable

These companies typically induced Indians to rent their allotted lands for about five years, but then wouldn’t surrender the land after that period and/or refused to pay rent on it. Any heirs of the allottees were then manipulated into selling the land for little money. Even though allotted land was not actually vested in title for 25 years, the courts generally looked the other way at these dealings.

The losers in these arrangements were always the very people the Indian Office and Interior Department had been charged with protecting.

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Your Land is Our Land

Ojibwe Girls in a Classroom at the St. Benedict's Mission School, White Earth Reservation, circa 1900

Ojibwe Girls in a Classroom at the St. Benedict’s Mission School, White Earth Reservation, circa 1900

The Bureau of Indian Affairs’ mission was always to “manage” Indian relations, but its mission changed over time until “civilizing” Indians through the reservation system became its primary one. Part of the Indian Office’s (which the agency was more generally known by) policy included dismantling traditional tribal governments and assimilating native peoples into the broader white culture.

The Chicago Daily News, 1901

The Chicago Daily News, 1901

As it did so, the Indian Office allowed disservice after disservice to Native Americans. In 1903, a Washington dispatch to the Chicago Daily News discussed an emerging scandal which the paper then covered. The Interior Department and the Justice Department had become interested in companies trying to acquire Indian land at “ridiculously low figures and selling them at their actual values.” Bad in itself, the article also reported that: “Members of the Dawes commission are said to be implicated in the alleged efforts ‘to fleece the Indians.'”

Cartoon of Indian Agent, courtesy Library of Congress

Cartoon of Indian Agent, courtesy Library of Congress

The irony, as the paper put it, was that “in several instances the very men who are now implicated in the effort to fleece the Indians came to Washington to consult with the heads of the departments (Interior and Justice) here in devising a plan for the Indians’ protection.”

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The Price of Convenience

Great Blizzard of 1909, Canton, SD

Great Blizzard of 1909, Canton, SD

The vast majority of employees at the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians lived on the premises as part of their compensation package. Though it could certainly be a bit restrictive to seldom leave the asylum grounds, they benefited by not having to trudge through blizzards and ice to get to work in the winter, and very likely saved a great deal of time each day by not having to add travel time to what was usually a very long work shift.

Employees' Dining Room, Clark County Insane Asylum, Wisc., 1922, courtesy Clark County History Buff

Employees’ Dining Room, Clark County Insane Asylum, Wisc., 1922, courtesy Clark County History Buffs

Dr. Hummer, the asylum’s superintendent (evidently in answer to a letter from the Indian Office about the availability of quarters), wrote a letter to the commissioner of Indian Affairs in September, 1916 about his financial clerk’s living arrangements. Hummer stated that it would be possible to furnish quarters at the asylum for the clerk, except for the inconvenience it would cause. The clerk had a wife and daughter, and the family would need three rooms to live in–which wouldn’t be possible unless Hummer gave up his office, the matron’s kitchen, or the sitting room “now used by all the employees.” The financial clerk didn’t want to cause this hardship, and asked that the government provide coal for him to use in his home in Canton.

Hummer’s position was that “I would prefer to furnish him with this coal, rather than make it unpleasant for him or any of the employees.” The commissioner’s office replied: “The Office does not believe it advisable to furnish Mr. T. T. Smith, Financial Clerk, with coal for his home at Canton.”

Jamison No 7 Mines, October 16, 1916, Barrickville, WVa

Jamison No 7 Mines, October 16, 1916, Barrickville, WVa

The price of coal was about $1.24/ton wholesale at this time, and the clerk had estimated he would need about five tons of it each winter.

 

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One Way to Canton

Downtown Albuquerque, circa 1912, courtesy National Archives

Downtown Albuquerque, circa 1912, courtesy National Archives

Admitting a patient to the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians was usually an easy–and fast–procedure. Since patients were not generally committed through legal process, a series of letters was usually sufficient to justify cause, ask for admittance, and give permission for it. Patients’ rights were trampled of course, but records show that many of those who urged a patient’s commitment felt that they were doing the right thing.

Early Class of Young Boys, Albuquerque Indian School, circa 1895, courtesy National Archives

Early Class of Young Boys, Albuquerque Indian School, circa 1895, courtesy National Archives

Lillian Burns, a young Laguna woman at Albuquerque Pueblo Day School, evidently became violent and uncontrollable on June 19, 1912. She was taken to the Laguna sanatorium, but the staff could not supervise her constantly and had to call in various teachers, police, and farmers for help. J. B. Burke, Clerk in Charge at the Pueblo Day School, asked a local doctor for help; Dr. Dillon contacted the Indian Office, and after no response, suggested taking Burns to the State Insane Asylum in Las Vegas.

New Mexico Insane Asylum in Las Vegas, 1904

New Mexico Insane Asylum in Las Vegas, 1904

In his telegram concerning this commitment, Dr. Dillon asked: “Can we bring her on number ten to-morrow. Impossible and inhumane to keep her here longer, otherwise must turn  her over to sheriff.”

Burke wired Dr. Dillon (and evidently the Indian Office as well) to arrange for Burns to be sent to the Canton Asylum, instead. The Indian Office responded with a telegram of its own authorizing $100 to cover transportation and expenses, and Burke acted on that as permission to send Burns to the Canton Asylum.

Lillian Burns, who was taken ill on June 19, was admitted to the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians on June 25, less than a week later. Fortunately, she was a patient who, unlike most, did not spend a lot of time there. She was released in April, 1913.

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No Consequences

Dr. Harry Hummer

Dr. Harry Hummer

Anyone following the inspections and various reports made on the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians might well feel amazed that Dr. Harry Hummer managed to continue as superintendent there. Several inspectors suggested outright that he be dismissed from the place, while others pointed out personality clashes and poor management practices that led to problems in the facility. However, it wasn’t until the very end of his career that Hummer expressed much concern about keeping his job. Why was he so self-assured?

For one thing, Hummer was often able to dismiss or explain criticisms in a way that convinced superiors that there wasn’t a real problem. Secondly, for many years no one with medical expertise inspected the asylum, and so Hummer’s treatment of patients never came into question. Issues with personnel or poor farming and so on, may have been legitimately of secondary concern to Hummer’s supervisors in Washington, DC. Finally, Hummer (reportedly) bragged to some of his acquaintances that he had friends in Washington who would protect him.

Robert Valentine, Commissioner of Indian Affairs Beginning June 1909

Robert Valentine, Commissioner of Indian Affairs Beginning June 1909

In a letter dated December 13, 1909 and written to the Indian Rights Association shortly after his resignation from the asylum, Dr. L. M. Hardin seems to confirm Hummer’s belief. “There has been nothing done by the [Indian] Office to date looking towards a correction of the existing conditions at the institution by the removal of Dr. Hummer as prayed for by the employees in their sworn charges,” Hardin wrote bitterly. He continued by saying that: “such a man whose inefficiency and incompetency is supported by one of his friends in the Office, viz, Walter Fry, 1st asst, to Mr. Dortch of the Div. of Education and who evidently is sidetracking the justice that should be met out to Dr. Hummer.”

Text of Speeches from the Annual Meeting of the Indian Rights Association, December 1909

Text of Speeches from the Annual Meeting of the Indian Rights Association, December 1909

Hardin urged a congressional inquiry into the situation at the Canton Asylum, but there seems to be no evidence that one was initiated.

 

 

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More Rules

Patients Demonstrate Hand Restraints, 1915, courtesy The Burns Archive

Patients Demonstrate Hand Restraints, 1915, courtesy The Burns Archive

The Indian Office provided rules for attendants working at the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians which were thorough and explicit; similar instructions were most likely the case in all other insane asylums. Patients were supposed to “preserve order” but only by using the mildest means possible. Rule 20 stated: “No kicking, striking, shaking, or choking of a patient will be permitted under any circumstances. Patients must not be thrown violently to the floor in controlling them, but the attendant shall call such assistance as will enable him to control the patient without injury.”

This rule was broken any number of times, and at least one male attendant was fired for committing unwarranted violence against patients. Mechanical restraints like cuffs and camisoles (straitjacket) were to be used only with the consent of the physician or superintendent, but employees did not follow this rule. Instead, they got restraints from the financial clerk simply by asking for them. Dr. Hummer, who later received very harsh criticism for the asylum’s excessive use of restraints, either permitted their use (though he often said restraints weren’t used) or he abdicated his responsibilities to the financial clerk. Either way, he had to know that employees were using restraints quite freely . . . unless he wasn’t making rounds often enough to catch it. Whatever the reason for all the restraints, Dr. Hummer was responsible for the situation.

Medical Staff at Willard Asylum

Medical Staff at Willard Asylum

Staff of Arizona State Asylum, 1914

Staff of Arizona State Asylum, 1914

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Long Distance Oversight

William A. Jones was Commissioner of Indian Affairs When the Canton Asylum Opened

Few people ever wanted to enter an insane asylum, no matter how well run or up-to-date it was. And, like all institutions run by fallible human beings, asylums were not immune to mistakes and misjudgments on the part of their staffs. One problem the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians faced that St. Elizabeths and McLean didn’t (see last few posts) came as direct consequence of its long-distance oversight.

The Canton Asylum for Insane Indians was not under a trustee or board of visitors system like the other two asylums, though it is certainly untrue that this establishment was never inspected or investigated. However, the asylum was managed for the most part from thousands of miles away. The asylum’s superintendent in Canton reported directly to the commissioner of Indian Affairs in Washington, DC, and the seven commissioners who held the position during the time the asylum was open very seldom, if ever, actually visited the place.

Agents or inspectors from the Indian Office did come by fairly regularly, but none of these men were psychiatrists. They found it difficult to determine how well the patients were being treated  for mental health issues, and usually confined themselves to commenting on the state of the buildings and how efficiently the superintendent ran his farming operation. Medical staff from the Indian Office eventually began visiting much more often as the asylum grew in size and came to the notice of the commissioner through complaints. Dr. Emil Krulish became a frequent visitor and made numerous criticisms that honed in on treatment and the way the superintendent, Dr. Harry Hummer, managed his personnel and patients. However, his voice was ignored and Hummer continued to thrive in his position.

House of Indian Agent Will Hayes, circa 1920-1940, courtesy Library of Congress

Home of Indian Agent William Shelton, circa 1910, courtesy Denver Public Library

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More Hardship

Volunteers at St. Elizabeths Hospital who Worked With Shell Shocked Vets, courtesy George Washington University

Dr. Hummer faced other difficulties associated with the war effort (see last post), particularly a troublesome personnel shortage. He told the commissioner of Indian Affairs that “it is extremely difficult to fill the existing vacancies and I am compelled to keep two or three employees who should be separated.” Since Hummer was typically just fine with a bare-bones staff, his situation at this point was dire; in August, 1918, he had only one male and one female attendant on staff (he should have had three of each). Hummer suggested an increase in pay as a possible solution to his problem, to $40/month with board and lodging for male attendants, and $35/month with board and lodging for females.

A project near and dear to Hummer’s heart also gave way to the war effort: the Indian Office denied his request for an epileptic cottage. This was partly because the asylum still had some vacancies and didn’t seem to need additional rooms. More importantly, as the assistant commissioner of Indian Affairs pointed out, the administration was already in the middle of a huge building program that “will of necessity withdraw carpenters from every section of the country.” Hummer may have been able to counter this with an offer by locals to help with construction, but even he could not argue with E. B. Meritt’s second consideration: there was a need for economy elsewhere in the expenditure of public funds “in order to more successfully prosecute the war.”

U.S. Troops Cross Moselle Into Germany, courtesy Notre Dame University

Classroom of American Red Cross Students, 1917 or 1918, courtesy Library of Congress

Hummer had perhaps anticipated this emphasis on war concerns when he made the following suggestion: “It is possible that the present war will necessitate the construction of another building at this place to care for the insane Indian soldiers or sailors, provided your Office deems this proper.” One way or another, the superintendent wanted additional buildings and patients.

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Doctors and Nurses

Oregon State Insane Asylum, circa 1905, courtesy Mental Health Association of Portland

Doctors at insane asylums were recognized authorities in their fields, and most believed they should have total control of their institutions. They expected the utmost deference from staff, including their nurses. Dr. Harry Hummer had many problems with his staff, not only because of his egocentric personality, but also because of his own background and training. He had come from a large institution whose staff interaction was patterned after the etiquette and tradition of the military; he also had servants and “colored” help to whom he could speak as he wished. When he got to the more independent-minded West, his staff resented his high-handedness and bad temper. Some were terrified of Hummer, but others actively spoke against him.

When discontent at the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians prompted a thorough inspection, supervisor Charles L. Davis discussed the reasons behind some of Hummer’s problems. “He is fully imbued, as are many others who have never been east [Davis’ error] of the Allegeheny [sic] mountains, that the people of the central west are an uncouth,- ill-mannered and ignorant class.” With this attitude at the ready, Hummer could not help but rub his staff the wrong way.

Davis continued, “He has also evidently been accustomed to speaking to the help about his home and possibly in the hospital where he has served in the manner of master to servant, and has maintained a similar matter of address toward his employees.”

Not much in Hummer’s background and personality boded well for harmony within the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians.

Popular Depiction of Nursing Care at Insane Asylums

Nurses' Uniforms Emphasized Appearance Over Functionality

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