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Canton Indian Insane Asylum

Updated on December 13, 2014
Canton Indian Insane Asylum in Canton, South Dakota
Canton Indian Insane Asylum in Canton, South Dakota

What to do with the red man....

Richard R. Pettigrew wasthe brainchild that pushed for the opening of the Canton Indian Insane Asylum. With his diligence came the existence of funding and the creation of the asylum also known as the Hiawatha Indian Asylum.

From it's inception, it was slated to be filled to capacity. In 1898 South Dakota was awarded $30 per acre- not to exceed that amount and up to 100 acres of land and $55,000 for a building. The building was formed in the shape of a Maltese Cross- 104 ft. long and 144 ft. wide in the center. By 1903, it was ready to open.

At it's closing the asylum had grown to to 320 acres of farm land, factories and housing valued at half million dollars.

The institution was to house the red man, blaming the ghost dances and religious fanaticism for their mental state, the government opted to take control.

Not everyone felt that way; an article in the Canton paper stated that it was odd that there was practically no insanity among the red man until their association with the whites. It was also pointed out that half breeds instead of being better because of the infusion of white mans blood, actually showed more insanity issues.

In 1905, the white man is still trying to convince their people and the community that they are doing good because now the red man has a place to put their brothers who have gone insane. Some they claim are full of evil spirits who have been shunned and neglected by their own. Now they have the opportunity to have the same care as the white man.

First Administrator for the Hiawatha Asylum
First Administrator for the Hiawatha Asylum

From the beginning

I will refer to the poor souls as patients because it is more humane, but they were referred to as "inmates", because that was what they were seen as and that is how they were treated; nothing more than a prison inmate who would not conform to the white man and was tortured and mistreated until their spirit and their mind broke.

Most patients arrived there sane and quickly lost their minds once they were there. In 1933 a student touring the asylum commented on a patient that was now in his late 20's, possibly early 30's and how when he had come to the asylum at the age of 4; he had been very bright and and quite an accomplished violinist and now all he would do is sit and beat himself with his fists.

At one given time there would up 60 patients in one of the buildings; the hospital of the asylum. They were watched and cared for by 6 employees; 2 nurses, 2 men and 2 women. The students that observed them said they were so child like that it didn't take many to watch over them.

The 1st Superintendent of the asylum was Oscar S. Gifford, a politician without any medical experience or background. A carpetbagger from NY, ended up in South Dakota where he held political offices before becoming the superintendent of the asylum. Rumors surfaced that the patients were being mistreated and he was quickly replaced by Dr. H.R. Hummer.


Dr. Harry Reid Hummer

Dr. Hummer was an intern at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Washington D.C. and worked his way up the ladder very quickly. Chosen to take the helm at the Canton Indian Insane Asylum and remaining there until his dismissal in 1934, when he decided to retire.

In 1947, he became a consultant for the Sioux Falls Veterans Hospital, a member of several boards, a Mason and Grand Commander of the Scottish Rite of South Dakota. At the age of 78, he passed away and not a mention was made of his turbulent years at Hiawatha Insane Asylum.

Injunctions filed

The Canton Asylum investigation leads to injunctions. South Dakota files an injunction to keep them from shutting down the asylum and the Representatives for the Indians file in D.C. to move them out of the asylum and into St. Elizabeth's Hospital for care.

The investigation found the following:

  • Many of the patients are not insane.
  • Conditions were unbelievably bad.
  • Facility and patients were poorly kept.
  • Patients were cruelly treated.

Do you believe things have gotten better in asylums today?

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How did he do at Canton....

In 1908, Dr. Hummer testified before an investigating committee saying that patients gambled secretly and were punished, by losing privileges. Agnes Staples, a waitress at the asylum reported that the food served was not clean, sometimes having roaches in them. The most problem they had she said was patients throwing and breaking dishes or throwing prunes at each other. An attendant named W. H. Tyson testified that in the 15 months he worked there he did not see the doctor in any ward. It was learned from the investigation that they had 69 nurses for 650 patients, 2 nurses for 40 in another ward of which 20 were violent.

A few more years passed an again he came under investigation, now 1910, the charges were cruelty to patients and mismanagement. It was said that the charges came from Canton by someone who wanted him removed from his position. He was cleared from any wrong doing by investigators and the unnamed gentleman that brought forth the charges was not reached afterwards; as he was out of the country.

April of 1909, Bicody; a Navajo Indian charged with assault to kill after randomly stabbing 3 people in the Union Central Station was placed in the Canton Indian Asylum, showing that some of the patients were actually prison inmates.

Sept 1923, Jerome Court was captured at Dell Rapids and brought back to the asylum. Miss Dunn a former employee was arrested for assisting in his escape.

Karma may have been catching up with Dr. Hummer, as his home was struck by lightening leaving considerable damage to the walls and plaster.

Asylum gone but not forgotten

  • March of 1935, HB96, authorizes the state to accept the Canton Indian Insane Asylum as a gift from the federal government.
  • 1946, the Asylum is sold to the city- the main body is torn down. A new building is erected and the Canton-Inwood Hospital is opened.
  • 1971, the asylum gates are found at the Inwood, IA town dump. Ornate gates for the town dump, if they could talk, what a tale they'd tell.
  • 1984, the asylum is given to the state to be used as a state penitentiary for juveniles and first offenders. 50 - 100 men to be quartered. Using inmates for labor on the farm and distribute their growth.
  • 1989, Indian reburial underway. The cemetery in Canton Indian Insane Asylum stand with unmarked graves for all but two. From 1903-1934, approximately 120 patients died there. Many were not insane but resisters of government policies.

Saying Goodbye

1933, Dr. Hummer is dismissed from the Canton Indian Insane Asylum. He believed that the investigations were politically motivated and that they wanted to shut down the asylum because it was the only one of it's kind and the government was tired of dealing with it.

Sept 1933, Officials confer to discuss the closing of the asylum.

October 1933, Dr. Hummer in his arrogance said that Howard Ickes had not authority to have him removed and demanded a hearing. Charges were made by Dr. Samuel A. Silk, after spending several days investigating that conditions were intolerable, sickening and patients were neglected. Hummer called them "Lie's, all lies" and that they wouldn't get away with it.

Without warning on Dec 20, 1933, 7 coaches and 1 baggage car arrived in Canton. Seventy one patients were soon on their way to Washington D.C.'s St. Elizabeth's Hospital. Seventeen of them were found to be sane, treated and released to family.


Patients at Canton aka. Hiawatha Indian Asylum

Patient
Birth
Tribe
Stands by Him (Luke)
1889
Sioux
Masten (John)
1893
Klamath
Owl (Allen)
1888
Cherokee
Nakai Yezza, female
unknown
Navajo
Amyott (Emerise), female
1897
Chippewa
Pima, male
1908
Pima
Banks, Cylde Cecil
1901
Lower Yanktonai Sioux
Bigmane (Joseph)
1886
Sioux
Blackdeer (Bruce)
1879
Ho Chunk
Blair, Andrew Bray
1904
Sioux- orphan
Eldridge (Emily), female
1861
Blackfeet
Enos (John)
1892
Pima
Lula L. Vicente Hall, female
1903
Jicarilla Apache
Hayes (Robert)
1911
Ojibwe
Houle (Cinya) female
1863
Ojibwe
Houle (Trefle)
1900
Ojibwe
Houle (Isadora) female
1902
Ojibwe
Kalonuheskie (Edith) female
1908
Cherokee
Zimmerman (Alex)
unknown
Sioux
Sweet Medicine (Jacob)
unknown
Cheyenne
Podilla (Fidel)
unknown
Pueblo
Romero (James)
unknown
Sioux
Brown (John)
unknown
Sioux
Carpenter (Joseph)
unknown
Sioux
Gray Blanket (John)
unknown
Sioux
Hawk (Charles)
unknown
Sioux
Howling Horse (John)
unknown
Sioux
Littlewind (Alfred)
unknown
Sioux
Marlow (George)
unknown
Sioux
Moccasin Top (Oscar)
unknown
Sioux
Moore (Aloysins)
unknown
Sioux
Red Rock (Benjamin)
unknown
Sioux
Ree (Amos)
unknown
Sioux
Two Teeth
unknown
Sioux
Blackeye (James)
unknown
Chippewa
Fairbanks (Richard)
unknown
Chippewa
Graves (Anson)
unknown
Chippewa
Hayes (Robert)
unknown
Chippewa
Henry (George H)
unknown
Chippewa
Root (Jack)
unknown
Chippewa
Turpin (Peter)
unknown
Chippewa
Creeping Charley
unknown
Piute
Scott (Robert, Jr)
unknown
Piute
Clafflin (Peter)
unknown
Menominee
Mahkimetass (Earl F)
unknown
Menominee
Wauketch (Edward)
unknown
Menominee
Wauketch (Seymour)
unknown
Menominee
Davis (George)
unknown
Creek
Harrison (Steve)
unknown
Sac & Fox
Kentuck (Peter)
unknown
Hoopa
Leve Leve (Earl)* had been a Chief and took part in the Battle of Cherum Peak
unknown
Walapai
McCarter (Watt)
unknown
Cherokee
McEwin (Joe)
unknown
Cherokee
Shepard (Richard)
unknown
Cherokee
Meachem (Abraham)
unknown
Makah
Mendoza (Juan)
unknown
Papago
Scabby Robe (Sam)
unknown
Blackfeet
Smith (Matt)
unknown
Chemehueve
Thompson (Robert)
unknown
Quapaw
These are the names of patients from the beginning to the end. Not all names are available or legible in the census.
A markercanton south dakota -
Canton, SD, USA
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Home to the Hiawatha Indian Asylum

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