Did you ever wonder what happened to mentally ill individuals in the Old West? Something made me start thinking about that, maybe because Halloween is coming and abandoned asylums are supposed to be among the most haunted places one can find. Or, maybe because my great grandfather, James Knox Polk Leggett, died in such a place.
|General Henry Gray, 28th Regiment commander
J.K.P. as he was called, enlisted in the Confederate Army in 1862, in Bienville Parish, LA; 28th Regiment, Louisiana Infantry (Gray’s). He was captured and released by Union forces. After the war, he married my great grandmother, Mary Leggett. From ancestry research, I concluded they were first cousins. Such marriages were not uncommon in those days.
|Bessie Mae Leggett Horner & William Daniel Horner; 50th Anniversary photo
The two had eleven children, my grandmother, Bessie Mae, among them. Her folks moved to Van Zandt County, Texas, where she was born in 1882. Sadly, her father had mental issues. According to information I received from a distant cousin, J.K.P. even threatened suicide. At some point, Mary or someone else, had him committed to the
for the Insane, formerly
named the North Texas Lunatic Asylum. Later, the name was changed
again to the North Texas
for the town where it is located. Terrell
|Terrell State Hospital 1909
From the Texas State Historical Association, I learned the first State Lunatic Asylum (now
) opened in 1861,
when twelve patients were admitted. Before then, “individuals with a mental
illness or mental retardation were kept at home, sent out of state for
treatment or custodial care, or confined in almshouses or jails.” The second
facility, in Terrell, opened in 1883. A third asylum, The Southwestern Lunatic
Asylum, opened in Austin State
in 1892. San Antonio
Did other western states open mental institutions in the 1800s? They sure did. In Gold Rush days, dangerous criminals and mentally ill individuals were imprisoned on a ship called the Euphemia, docked offshore from
In 1850, 12 people judged to be "insane" were locked in the
Euphemia's hold. San Francisco
You can read the full story of the Euphemia here: http://www.foundsf.org/index.php?title=The_Prison_Ship_'Euphemia'
Several other asylums opened in
over the next decades. One, the California Patton State
Hospital in , opened in 1893. Known simply
as "The Insane Asylum" to the public, by 1898 the facility was so
overcrowded that the staff could not properly care for patients. Between1893
and 1934, it is believed that over 2,000 patients died and were buried on the
hospital grounds. San Bernardino
These are only a few examples proving that mental disease was just as big a problem in the “good old days” as it is today. The major difference lies in how the mentally ill were treated back then. They were often victims of neglect and downright cruelty. Many of the “treatments” they were subjected to, including lobotomies, electric shock and isolation in restraints, are consider brutally inhumane today. But back then, such things were standard operating procedure.
Lyn Horner is the award-winning author of western historical and romantic suspense novels packed with high adventure, sizzling romance and flashes of paranormal powers.
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