TEN THINGS THAT COULD GET YOU COMMITTED TO AN ASYLUM IN 1899 — Ada Brownell
I’m excited to welcome author Ada Brownell today as she shares some history into the asylum and talks about her book, Peach Blossom Rancher. Read through to the end and find out how to enter to win a free copy of Peach Blossom Rancher. Simply answer the question.
ACTUAL DIAGNOSES FOR ASYLUM ADMISSION
In Peach Blossom Rancher, the character, Dr. Dillon Haskill, reads a portion of the list given to me as a reporter: The Eleventh Biennial Report from the Board of Lunacy Commissioners, dated 1899 to 1900. The report lists the diagnoses for patients admitted during that time. Some diagnoses listed are what psychiatrists probably would say today were mental disorders, while others definitely would be questionable, such as paralysis, seizures, alcoholism, religious excitement, Christian Science, domestic problems, ill health, privation, jealousy, rheumatism, etc. This report is from the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo, which was on my beat as a reporter—but the asylum in the book is fictional. I placed it in Boston.
The Colorado State Insane Asylum opened on October 23, 1879 on 40 acres of land in northwest Pueblo. The Institute’s name was changed to Colorado State Hospital in 1917. In 1879 there were 12 patients. By 1961, the patient population grew to 6,100. It was a self-contained city, providing patients’ needs within 75 buildings on 300 acres of land on the main grounds, 5,000 acres at the dairy farm, and a cemetery. In 1962 philosophy and treatment were changed because of new discoveries and medications for mental disorders. Many patients moved back to their communities for treatment in less restrictive facilities. In 1991, the asylum was renamed the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo. By 2008, the patient census was fewer than 500 patients, about the average patient population today.
I’ve been there many times to gather information for newspaper stories, and they let me out!
The hospital has several divisions, including the Forensic Unit, which houses the criminally insane (Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity); General Adult; units for the Elderly and Juveniles; and a medical hospital for treatment of physical illnesses and injuries.
Units are separated into security levels.
Here are excerpts from Ada Brownell’s historical romance, Peach Blossom Rancher. This is a courtroom scene where two lawyers are trying to get three patients released from the asylum.
Dr Dillon Haskill cleared his throat and scanned the room again. “I studied mental illness along with my medical courses. My father is a minister, and he taught me about real demon possession.”
The superintendent sprang to his feet. “This imbecile doesn’t know anything. He has demons himself.”
Dr. Haskill ignored him. “As I told you before, I was sent to the asylum because I had one seizure in a public arena after hitting my head when I was bucked off a horse. I’ve never had another seizure. May I finish?”
The judge nodded, and Dr. Haskill continued. “Jimmy Cook over here has nothing wrong with him except he became paralyzed in a logging accident. A tree fell on him. He worked with a lumber mill during the summers, but he was a schoolteacher. He still can teach from a wheelchair. He is not insane, though he can’t walk. I have this longing to not only help the people thrown into asylums for every diagnosis under the sun but also to help those who don’t belong there get necessary medical treatment.”
“May I speak?” Jimmy Cook looked at Valerie, an attorney fighting for asylum patients. Since the straitjacket held Cook’s hands, she pushed his wheelchair toward the judge.
“Your honor, let me introduce you to Jimmy Cook,” she said. “He taught at Ambrose Preparatory School for nine years. Because books aren’t allowed in the asylum, Cook and Doctor Dillon Haskill taught little Pete here, and other patients, how to read and work numbers. They used only words and numbers they wrote on bits of paper or scratched on the wall with their spoons. Our lead attorney Archibald Forsythe, feels called by God, as I do, to help people wrongly held at the asylum. Archibald smuggled paper and pencils to them. Besides that, Cook told them stories from famous books, and Dillon Haskill sang hymns with them, shared Scriptures and Bible stories.”
The lawyers rattled papers. People coughed. Valerie faced the judge again. “May Jim Cook tell you his side of all this?”
The robed man nodded, obviously interested. “Go ahead. Give us your full name and address first, Mister Cook.”
Cook did, gave a short history of his education, and then he named awards he’d received in science and forestry. When Cook completed his testimony, the judge looked around the room. “Any more witnesses?”
“Yes!” The superintendent’s voice boomed and echoed against the high walls. “I call Doctor Henry Blackburn.”
Valerie wheeled Cook out of the way. The rotund doctor toddled forward. As he sat facing the crowd, he straightened his white cotton jacket over his bulging belly and then smoothed the pocket with his name boldly embroidered on it. He raised his face, but his two chins didn’t budge. His bushy white eyebrows stuck up, and his bald head shone like a big ball bearing. Dr. Blackburn stated his name and address, arched those bushy brows, leaned forward, and growled, “You might as well stop this circus now, judge. When we admit someone to the asylum, we’ve a reason for it.”
He eyed Dillon, Pete, and Cook as if he wanted to peel the skin off their faces. “Have you ever seen a person have a fit like Dillon Haskill did? When people have those fits, they fall down, jerk all over, foam at the mouth, gnaw on their tongue, and some can hurt you even though they don’t know what they’re doing. I don’t believe a little bump on the head can cause such behavior.”
“What about this ten-year-old kid called Pete?” the superintendent bellowed. The doctor puffed up the body that already threatened to blow the buttons off his white jacket. “Ever seen a Mongoloid who could read? These folks are making you a laughingstock, judge.”
“Dillon Haskill, as a medical doctor, how do you view insanity and the diagnoses of patients at the asylum?” asked Archibald, the lead attorney.
Dillon looked straight at the judge. “Let’s start with my problem. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, believed epilepsy is a physical disease and can be treated through natural methods. We know seizures can be caused by a birth defect, a brain injury, but also by a high fever, and if the fever goes too high, it could damage the brain.”
“How do you know?” Archibald asked.
“Because a normal child or even a completely intelligent, normal adult who has an extremely high fever for an extended length of time often is mentally disabled afterward, if he lives. But seizures also result from injuries to the head, or an abnormality in the brain such as a tumor. But we sometimes don’t know what causes the convulsion.”
Archibald folded his arms and looked at the doctor. “So what do you believe causes some people to lose their minds and become dangerous to themselves and to other people? What are your personal views of demon possession?”
Dillon tried to move in the tight straight jacket, then sighed. “My father had a theory, and I’m sure it’s true. Demon possession is a spiritual problem. Much of what they call insanity today is a physical malady. It could be caused by variations in the chemicals in the brain, which some doctors call humors. Mental disability might be a birth defect such as Down’s syndrome, which affects Pete here. You call them Mongoloids. They have mental limitations, but they are not insane or demon possessed.”
FIRST PARAGRAPHS OF CHAPTER 1
Peach Blossom Ranch March 1904
“Come on boy, your hard life is over.”
The sleek stallion pulled, snorted, grunted, yanked his head upward and tried to whirl away. John Lincoln Parks held the reins tight. “Come on. The judge isn’t here. The whip’s in your past.”
Bringing the animal all the way from Colorado’s Eastern Slope after the judge’s death hadn’t been easy. The judge, John’s uncle, was murdered near Yucca Blossom and would never return to the horse ranch and acres of peach orchards he expected to inherit from John’s father.
“He look like he a good un to breed,” Abe said, sweat glistening on his crinkled chocolate brow, “But an animal abused like ‘im usually is disobedient or loses his spirit.”
John rubbed the stallion’s neck and extended a hand with sugar cubes in it. “I don’t want to give up on him yet. Come on, boy. We’re going to be friends. You should be tired and hungry after that train trip.”
About Peach Blossom Rancher
You won’t believe the work required to run a peach and horse ranch, or the types of diagnoses that could get you committed to an asylum in the early 1900s.
To write this historical romance the author drew from her experiences growing up in Fruita, Colo., near Palisade’s peach country, and from her years as a journalist covering the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo, a former asylum.
In this Historical Romance, a handsome young man inherits a ranch in ruin and hopes to marry a beautiful young widow who is an attorney. But she takes up the case of a brilliant doctor committed to an asylum because of one seizure. Will the rancher, the attorney, and the asylum patient achieve their dreams?
Suspense, romance, humor, murder, insanity, hope, fun, wrapped in an inspiring Western you won’t forget.
You’ll enjoy this book. Read a sample! http://ow.ly/4ETL302QdhW
Published by Elk Lake Publishing, a new traditional Christian small publisher.
Ada Brownell blogs and writes with Stick-to-Your-Soul Encouragement. She is the author of seven books, and more than 350 stories and articles in Christian publications. She now lives in Missouri, a beautiful state except for tornadoes and chiggers.
Amazon Ada Brownell author page: https://www.amazon.com/author/adabrownell
Question: Why do you, or why don’t you believe spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ can help prevent mental illness and demon possession?
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