Blog Posts - Canton Asylum For Insane Indians



Were Cures Worse Than the Condition?

By the middle and late 1800s, so-called “heroic” medicine (in which extraordinary measures to cure a condition often endangered the patient) had been abandoned. However, patients were sometimes little better off calling a doctor than if t...

The Price of Convenience

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 tru...

Many Thanks

Though the majority of the U.S. population celebrates an official day of gratitude called Thanksgiving, Native Americans have always had a deep tradition of routinely giving thanks. They have particularly given attention and gratitude to the animals...

A Remarkable Woman

Susan La Flesche Picotte was born in 1865 to the last recognized chief of the Omaha Indian tribe, Chief Joseph La Flesche (Iron Eye). She went to the Elizabeth Institute for Young Ladies in New Jersey and then returned to her reservation to teach at...

A Look Inside Hummer’s Home

Dr. Harry Hummer, superintendent of the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians, made sure that he and his family got the choicest rooms in the asylum for their living quarters. His selfishness in the matter of living arrangements contributed to a divisive...

A Home of One’s Own

Many people in today’s workforce complain that it’s difficult to get away from the job–they’re available to their employers through phones and email almost constantly. Superintendents and other staff at insane asylums were als...

An Impossible Job?

Though the rules and duties of each asylum position had been formulated by 1903, they were not initially given to employees at the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians. Its first superintendent, Oscar Gifford, told an inspector that he hadn’t done...

No Consequences

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 fro...

He Didn’t Even Try

By the end of what might be called the “asylum era,” most superintendents or administrators were buried under mountains of paperwork. Almost all public facilities were overcrowded and understaffed, which meant poor care and  more problem...

Reasons and Rationalizing

When the U.S. government first dealt with native peoples, its position for the most part was that they were sovereign nations with whom the U.S. needed to negotiate treaties. Once some time had passed and more Europeans crowded into the new land, tha...

How About Asking?

Native peoples and European immigrants have had varied relationships. At one time, native tribes were treated as independent nations and trading partners, then later as enemies who needed to be destroyed, and even later, as childish wards who needed...

Canton Celebrates Its Long History

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 D...

Fourth of July

The Indian Bureau was never culturally sensitive, especially when it came to Native American celebrations. It actively discouraged or forbade ceremonial dances, feasts, and other gatherings, fearing that they might unite tribes or keep them from assi...

Trauma Care for the Insane

Many asylum patients were ill with various chronic conditions, but accidents and self-inflicted injuries also kept doctors busy. In How to Care for the Insane by Dr. William Granger (1886), the author discusses some particular issues that nurses migh...

Common Sense

Laypeople were interested in mental health, and by the early 1900s had recognized that their lives might be happier if they could overcome and control some of the mental distress which seemed rampant in their complex and hurried world. Annie Payson C...

You Get What You Pay For

The superintendents at most asylums had the best of intentions when it came to patient care. They understood (for that era) what kind of help patients needed and what kind of attendants could best provide it. Most asylums had rules of conduct for sta...

Off to the Poorhouse

Though early American society embraced self-sufficiency, people in authority did recognize that some people could not provide for themselves (widows/orphans/disabled) and that a person could fall upon hard times despite their best efforts. Churches a...

A Rational Solution

Wealthy families with an insane member could usually afford to pay someone to care for their unfortunate relative; they also had accommodations for him or her. It was an entirely different matter for the poor or even the middle class, whose homes wer...

Social Interests

Throughout history, social ties have been important. Citizens in small towns certainly kept tabs on their neighbors, but even in large cities, prominent people were reported on in the “society pages.” Many small-town newspapers kept tabs...

Honoring Ceremony for Canton Asylum Patients

This is an out-of-cycle post. Below is information about this year’s honoring ceremony for the Native patients buried in the Canton Asylum cemetery. (You will need to double-click on the link “honoring.”) I hope that we can all reme...


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