Saturday, February 28, 2015


Welcome 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.

Here’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.

Jump 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.

Even 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.

The 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.


  1. Intentionally collapsing a lung on a 17 year old girl is as bad as burning a puppy alive. You wouldn't think our country would allow such things, but I'm becoming cynical as I grow older. I can believe almost anything that is dark and held in secret.
    These testimonies given by those who suffered cannot change what has happened, but it certainly serves to remind what to never do again.
    Though these terrible acts may go unpunished on Earth, I know there will be a reckoning in the Hereafter. I wouldn't want to have to stand before my Maker with such terrible deeds on my hands.
    I did not know about the TB hospital for Indians out west. This was such an interesting, as well as shocking, history Cheryl. I'm so glad the Choctaw woman managed to live through that horrible experience. Thank you for this very informative blog.

  2. Sarah, I never knew about these things either until I met her, and I have lived here all my life! I imagine there's a huge effort to just cover it all up and hope that in time it'll just go away and be forgotten as these people die. But like you, I would sure hate to have to stand before God and have to answer YES I DID THAT to Him.

    Thanks so much for your comment, Sarah. These are awful events to read about and think upon, but how can we not? It would be horrible to forget what happened, even though there's nothing to be done about it now--we forget, and it's liable to repeat itself.


  3. Lord have mercy. What a horror story. It's unimaginable what is in the minds and hearts of those committing such atrocities. Part One was bad this.
    I hope "Emma" finished her book.

  4. Celia, I hope she will finish it and get it published! What a tale! Yes, it is a horror story. I have to take some time in between these posts to work on the next part. I have not yet brought myself to start researching the orphanages as much as I should. It is so think of treating little children like this--how could people do it?

  5. Cheryl, I had never heard of this dark part of our history, but it doesn't surprise me too much. This nation has a terrible history of mistreating our Native American peoples.

    Thank you for sharing your research.

  6. You're welcome, Lyn. I'm sure there's much much more--this is just the "tip of the iceberg"--and something I had some personal reference to. When you think of all the other hospitals and boarding schools (and my next section will be about orphanages) across the country where these things were going on, it's pretty mind-boggling, isn't it?

  7. Hello Cheryl,
    Thank you for this post. So many wonderful people suffered and died in that place. My first foster mother was Native American. She took me in when I was a baby. I lost her to Cancer when I was 9. I remember overhearing her tell her friend about the time she was in the TB sanitarium. She was young at the time and so ill they placed her in the Angel's Ward. She almost died there. She said God saved her so she could raise her little cotton-headed girl(me). Thinking back to my mommy my heart breaks because of all the pain she suffered. But you know, you would never have known it. She was the sweetest, most loving and thoughtful person.

  8. Mary, thank you SO MUCH for stopping by and commenting. Your foster mother definitely had a purpose in life--YOU. What a wonderful person she must have been. I know you must miss her so much--that had to be hard to lose her at such a young age. You were so lucky to have had her.

  9. My grandfather was a patient there and I am desperately seeking information. He was a young man at the time and I am having trouble verifying a few things, especially involving a particular doctor.

  10. My great grandmother was a nurse there. She has since past away. Wish I could have asked her about her time there. I live in this area and the buildings and scenery are breathtaking.


Thank you for visiting Sweethearts of the West! We are very sad to require comment moderation now due to the actions of a few spam comments. Thank you for your patience.