cover image

Vanished in Hiawatha

The Story of the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians

Carla Joinson

Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
Imprint: Bison Books
Published: 06/2016
Pages: 400
Subject: Social Science
eBook ISBN: 9780803288249


Begun as a pork-barrel project by the federal government in the early 1900s, the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians 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 and what went on 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 patients. Vanished in Hiawatha is the harrowing tale of the mistreatment of Native American patients at a notorious insane asylum whose history helps us to understand the broader mistreatment of Native peoples under forced federal assimilation in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.


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, a selection of the 2008 Amelia Bloomer Project from the American Library Association.


"[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  

"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