Hiawatha State Hospital

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Hiawatha State Hospital
Construction Began 1902
Opened 1903
Closed 1939
Demolished 1975
Current Status Demolished
Building Style Cottage Plan
Location Canton, SD
Alternate Names
  • Hiawatha Insane Asylum
  • U.S. Indian Insane Asylum


In 1903 the U.S. Government opened the Hiawatha Insane Asylum for American Indians. The purpose was to care for those members of tribes who were allegedly insane. The asylum was operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Indians who made up most of the population of the asylum were Indians seen by the Government as "trouble makers"-- spiritual leaders, medicine men, vision quest seekers, those who resisted reservation boundaries, and boarding school students who did not conform to school policies.

These individuals were termed "idiotic Indians" for what they believed and continued to believe. During the years that the asylum was in existence, tribes or tribal members were clearly a relatively powerless political group who were unable to demand anything of their interest. In 1933 the remaining patients were moved to St. Elizabeth's State Hospital in Washington D.C. after investigations into patient abuse. The property was used for a short time as a prison then by Augustana College. From 1946 to 1975 the Canton-Inwood Hospital Association took over the property, after that the remaining buildings were demolished.



The city of Canton SD redeveloped the property, including a golf course built over the patient cemetery. In between the fourth and fifth fairways one will find a split rail fence surrounding the small cemetery, a concrete monument that has seen better days sits towards the middle at the back bearing the names of those interred there. A small sign in red is posted at each entrance stating that golfers may not hit balls from inside the confines of the cemetery. The Country club maintains the cemetery, which is now on the National Historic Register.


They called it madness : the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians, 1899-1934, by Todd Leahy. Baltimore : PublishAmerica, 2009. Search WorldCat for library copy

Vanished in Hiawatha : the story of the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians, by Carla Joinson. Lincoln : University of Nebraska Press, 2016. Search WorldCat for library copy Preview version in Google Books

-includes Appendix A : Patients Treated at Canton Asylum, Appendix B: Patients Interred in Canton Asylum Cemetery, Appendix C: Patients Transferred to St. Elizabeths