Cheryln100000149781632_8303Welcome to “Part 2” of my “For Indians Only” series. The last time we talked about this topic, we talked about the boarding schools our country set up for Indian children to help “assimilate” them into white American society. It was a huge failure. Part 2, Indian Hospitals, is a true horror story from our nation’s past.

I want to talk a bit about a specific hospital in my state of Oklahoma. I’m sure there were many others like this, scattered around, but this is one I have a little personal knowledge of.

Located in Talihina, Oklahoma, in a secluded area on top of a large hill in the Kiamichi Mountains, the Harper Building is one of several from the former Eastern Oklahoma Tuberculosis Sanitarium. It was built in the early part of the 1900’s, specifically to house Indians (Choctaws and Chickasaws) with tuberculosis.

Talihina Indian Tuberculosis Hospital 1Here’s a little of the article that appeared at the time in our largest state newspaper, The Daily Oklahoman, in explanation of why it was being built. (Rootsweb Ancestry)—partial article

The Daily Oklahoman Oklahoma City, Oklahoma December 22, 1917 p 4

Sanitarium Is Provided

Six years ago the Choctaws, noting the increase of tuberculosis among them, took the first step toward establishing a tubercular sanitarium, the report says. On Dec. 14, 1911, the last Choctaw council passed an act appropriating $50,000 for such a sanitarium. This act was supplemented by a later act of congress, approving the appropriation, but it was not until the present year that the institution, located near Talihina, was completed. The hospital as established is doing a general hospital work, however, and no special provision has been made for the care of tubercular patients.

Therefore, the following detailed recommendations were made:

First: The Talihina Sanitarium – This sanitarium should be devoted particularly, if not exclusively, to tuberculosis. It offers the principal and immediate remedy for existing conditions. It is centrally located in the home country of the Indians, and if it is properly conducted Indian patients may be induced to reside there, where they will be properly clothed and fed and will receive the medical and surgical attention they need. They can be provided with religious services, and open air classes can be carried on for children so that they may not grow up in ignorance.

Talihina Indian Tuberculosis Hospital 3Jump to the next century, ca. 2008-2009. I was teaching a novel writing class, a small class with only 8-10 students. One of those students was an incredible Choctaw Indian lady, who I will call Emma. She told the class that she was there to learn how to write her life story. And she proceeded to tell us some of the stories of her life.

She’d gone to an orphanage at a young age, her single mother unable to feed her and her younger brother. When she reached her teen years, perhaps 16 or 17, she was sent from the orphanage to the Talihina Indian Tuberculosis Hospital. Young Emma made friends—most of the patients there were children and teens, but there were some adults. But because of the nature of the illness, Emma lost many of her friends to death.

She told of a particular instance, after the death of one of her good friends, when the janitor, who also helped dig graves, saw her in the hallway. He gave her a slow grin and pointed a bony finger at her. “When will I be coming for YOU?” he asked.

Talihina Indian Tuberculosis Hospital 2Even worse, experiments were conducted on the patients there at the Indian hospital. Why? Because there was a white tuberculosis hospital in the same area (my dad was a patient there a few years later) and they needed to find out the best treatments to use…so the Indians were the ones they experimented on. Emma told the story of going in and having them collapse her lung—with no anesthesia—when she was around 17 or so.

Talihina Indian Tuberculosis Hospital 4The hospital still stands, but is said to be haunted by all the children and others who died there. The government now owns the property, and it’s run by Oklahoma Veteran Affairs. These pictures are of the Harper Building where the Indian hospital was, and is being considered for demolition at this time.

Talihina Indian Tuberculosis Hospital 5


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A native Oklahoman, I've been influenced by the west all my life. I love to write short stories and novels in the historical western and western romance genres, as well as contemporary romantic suspense! Check my Amazon author page to see my work:
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18 thoughts on “INDIAN HOSPITALS (FOR INDIANS ONLY–PART 2) by Cheryl Pierson”

  1. Ho Cheryl. Very interesting but horrible. I’m not surprised to hear they experimented on the Indians. They were treated awful. Who could blame them for not liking the people who came in and stole their homeland. And, treated them like animals. I don’t think very many even tried hard to be friends with them. I wish I was good at and could afford to do Ancestry on my families. I do know mom and dad said they both had Indian grandmothers way back. I sometimes wonder if they were Osage for they had headrights for the Oklahoma oil wells. I’ve never heard of any others. One of my aunts said she remembered my grandparents getting a check every month. But that’s all I know. Thanks for this post. Maxie > mac262(at)me(dot)com <

    • Maxie, I know that it’s really hard (or has been for my family, anyhow) to trace our Indian ancestry back, though we know it’s there. The reason was, because no one wanted to sign up on the Dawes Rolls because of the stigma of being an Indian at that time, and because they feared that it was another way of the government being able to track them and know where they were located. My mother told me stories about her great great grandfather who was taken by the cavalry from his village (she believed he was Cherokee, but since he was buried in a town in the Chickasaw nation here in Oklahoma, I wonder if he wasn’t Chickasaw instead.) He was given to Presbyterian minister to raise and “assimilate”–his name was changed to David Walls (we have no way of knowing what it was previously). He is the one I based my story One Magic Night on. These atrocities happened all the time, so it’s no wonder no one wanted to claim their Indian blood and that’s what makes it so hard for us to track today.

  2. Wow Cheryl, how horrible that the Indians were treated that way. Just horrible.

    Thank you for the post. It is an eye-opener.

    Cindy W.

    • Cindy, I’m sure we have no idea–this is just the tip of the iceberg, and I know about it only because of this dear woman I knew through my classes. Very sad stuff, for sure.

    • Janine, the worst thing to me is that no one even knows about it these days except the people it happened to and their descendants. It needs to be always remembered. So unfair, and so cruel.

    • Alisa, to treat any human being this way is just awful, but what breaks my heart are the children. Who could treat a little child that way? Monstrous!

    • Char, when “Emma” told her stories about her life, it was all I could do to keep from just crying right there in the class. So many awful things happened to her and those she knew, but she is still one of the sweetest, kindest ladies I have ever known, with a very gentle spirit.

    • Tanya, like I said, I know most people DON’T know of these horrors, because who would tell? So many of the patients were just children of all ages. Can you imagine living your life just scared to death as they must have been, and being sick at the same time? Heartbreaking.

    • I know, Colleen. I think of the parents of these kids and how sad and awful it must have been for them, too, to know they had to send their precious children there to live in such a hellhole.

    • Hi Mary–you hear all kinds of things, but to actually KNOW someone these things happened to just validates so much.

    • I know she really could, and she’s got quite a bit of it done, but I worry that her time is running out. My daughter illustrated a book that she wrote for children, but I would just love to see her full length life story “out there”–what a tale!

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