Vanished in Hiawatha


Vanished in Hiawatha

The Story of the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians

Carla Joinson

426 pages
20 photos, 3 appendixes, index


November 2020


$24.95 Add to Cart

June 2016


$35.00 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

June 2016


$24.95 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

June 2016


$24.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

Begun as a pork-barrel project by the federal government in the early 1900s, the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians (also known as the Hiawatha Insane Asylum) quickly became a dumping ground for inconvenient Indians. The federal institution in Canton, South Dakota, deprived many Native patients of their freedom without genuine cause, often requiring only the signature of a reservation agent. Only nine Native patients in the asylum’s history were committed by court order. Without interpreters, mental evaluations, or therapeutic programs, few patients recovered. But who cared about Indians in South Dakota?

After three decades of complacency, both the superintendent and the city of Canton were surprised to discover that someone did care, and that a bitter fight to shut the asylum down was about to begin. In this disturbing tale, Carla Joinson unravels the question of why this institution persisted for so many years. She also investigates the people who allowed Canton Asylum’s mismanagement to reach such staggering proportions and asks why its administrators and staff were so indifferent to the misery experienced by their patients.

Vanished in Hiawatha is the harrowing tale of the mistreatment of Native American patients at a notorious asylum whose history helps us to understand the broader mistreatment of Native peoples under forced federal assimilation in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.


Author Bio

Carla Joinson is a freelance writer who lives near Johnson City, Tennessee. She is the author of A Diamond in the Dust and Civil War Doctor: The Story of Mary Walker.


"Anyone interested in ethnohistory, social history, and the evolution of public health and medicine will glean much value from this work."—Ken Zontek, Annals of Wyoming

“[Carla Joinson] exposes the notorious Canton Asylum with balance and compassion. Long overlooked, the story of this asylum has at last found a lucid, discerning, and worthy chronicler.”—Philip Burnham, author of Song of Dewey Beard: Last Survivor of the Little Bighorn

"A valuable resource for a number of different fields of scholarship, as well as for the average reader looking to learn about this unique institution."—John Truden, South Dakota History

“Just when we thought we had heard the worst about our treatment of Native Americans, along comes Carla Joinson with Vanished in Hiawatha. The story is painful, but Joinson’s elegant narrative and prose get us through it. This powerful book is about Indians—and ourselves.”—Catherine Robbins, author of All Indians Do Not Live in Teepees (or Casinos)

“Carla Joinson’s fine history of a harsh institution offers compelling glimpses of those forced to live there and a detailed look at the people who made it hell.”—LLyn De Danaan, author of Katie Gale: A Coast Salish Woman’s Life on Oyster Bay

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1. Where Will All the Insane Indians Go?
2. Life in an Asylum
3. The Bad Start Begins
4. Helpless
5. A Superintendent in Trouble
6. Which Way to Canton?
7. The Reign of Harry Reid Hummer Begins
8. Reforms and Canton Asylum
9. Let the Investigations Begin
10. Life among the Indians
11. Another Sort of Prison
12. The World Outside
13. Hummer Can’t Keep Up
14. Ripples in the Waters
15. The Winds of Change
16. The Gale Blows
Appendix A: Patients Treated at Canton Asylum
Appendix B: Patients Interred in Canton Asylum Cemetery
Appendix C: Patients Transferred to St. Elizabeths

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