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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