Douglas Bear’s Death | File Hills
The story of Douglas Bear’s illness and his parent’s struggle to bring him home. The archived letters tell the story of a dying boy, Douglas Bear, whose parents wanted to bring him home in December of 1912, but because he wouldn’t have a nurse (other than his mother), discharge was considered “barbaric.” After many attempts by the parents to have him released, Douglas Bear was finally returned home just a few days before his death. It seems from the letters, that their suffering was due to a struggle between Dr. Hall and Mr. Graham, and a lack of clarity on who had decision-making authority in such matters.
Dec. 7, 1912, Dr. W. Hall writes to Chief Inspector, Glen Campbell
“I have a case in the File Hills School, a boy 17 years old. I saw him first on Oct. 21st, suffering with measles and during his illness he developed Tuberculosis and has had several hemorrhages from the lungs and is in a vary weak condition, he has also a fistula in anus and [m-], which all requires good nursing. This boys parents want to take him home where he will not have a nurse to look after him, in other words to die from want of care and the proper diet. It is only a matter of time until he will die, the boy would have to be carried out on a stretcher. …It looks to me cruel to let the parents take the boy away….The principal has been worrying me over the phone to know if I will let him go; they do not feel that they are able to stand expenses of a nurse so long. Please write me soon what actions I am to take in this case and also what I am to do in the future with such cases.”
December 20, 1912. From W. Hall to Glen Campbell, Chief Inspector Indian Agencies
Dear Sir, Following my letter of a few days ago re. Douglas Bear in the File Hills School, Mr. Graham called me up over the phone and said that the Father and mother of the boy was bothering him every day about taking the child home, and that he wished that I would give my consent to allow him to go. I told him that I thought it was a piece of barbarism to allow the boy to go, but that he could do as he liked, so the boy was removed.Please give me instructions how I am to act in future cases. Your obedient servant. W. Hall.
On January 9, 1913 J. D. McLean, Asst. Deputy and Secretary contacts Mr. Graham.
Sir, Mr. Chief Inspector Campbell forwarded to the Department two communications from Dr. Hall, medical attendant at the File Hills Boarding School, in which he states that Douglas Bear was granted his discharge from the institution by you, notwithstanding the fact that he was in such a state of health that he required careful nursing owing to the development of tuberculosis following an attack of measles. The doctor’s correspondence would tend to show that this boy should not have been discharged from the school unless proper provision was made for his care in his home and the Department would like to have a report from you in the matter as soon as possible.
June, 1913 From Mr. Graham, the Inspector of Indian Agencies to the Chief Inspector (note: 5 months have passed)
I am in receipt of your letter of the above date and number stating that you had received through Chief Inspector Campbell, two communications from Dr. Hall, in which he states the Douglas Bear was granted his discharge from the school by me notwithstanding that he was in such as state of health that he required careful nursing. Your letter states further that the Doctor’s correspondence tends to show that this boy should not have been discharged from school unless proper provision was made for him in his home, and that the Department would like a report from me on the matter as soon as possible.
I am sorry you have not favored me with copies of the Doctor’s letters so that I would be in a better position to reply to any statements that he has made regarding this particular case.
If Dr. Hall has led you to believe that this pupil was discharged from the school without his full consent all I can say is that he is telling you a deliberate untruth.
The circumstances of the case are as follows, — Douglas Bear was ill, more or less, since early Spring. On Oct. 3rd last Dr. Hart of Indian Head was at the Agency looking after a private patient and I had him go up to the school to examine the boy (at that time Dr. Hall had not been attending the school). Dr. Hart stated it was a case of tuberculosis.
When the boy got worse Dr. Hall was called in and made four trips to the school between Oct. 12th and Nov. 19th, during which time and in fact up to Dec. 11th, there was a trained nurse in charge who reported the case to the Doctor every day or so over the phone.
I may say that from the beginning, but more particularly from the time Dr. Hall took charge of the case the parents who are fairly intelligent, especially the father, insisted on having the boy at home and the Doctor was informed of this. They claimed from the beginning that nothing could be done for the boy, and as time went on they would come to my office and make demands for the boy to be released from the school claiming that instead of helping him the Doctor was doing him harm. I did everything in my power to reason with the parents, telling them that White men understood the disease and that everything possible was being done for the boy. This had absolutely no effect and they would leave my office weeping: it was quite pathetic. As the case developed the parents became all the more persistent to have the boy home. Four or five times a week they would come to my back door to see me an hour or so before I was up and I was forced to explain the same thing over and over again. Finally matters got so bad that the parents threatened to go and take the boy out of school whether I wanted it or not. I may say that at intervals all through this difficulty I would call up the Doctor and explain what was going on. I ventured to suggest that as there was no hope for the boy would it not be as well to let the poor people have him at home.
The Doctor would invariably answer me by saying that he would leave the matter to me. Of course I could not accept the responsibility and told him he was the Doctor and it rested entirely with him. He would follow this up by saying that if the boy was discharged by me he would back up the notion, which of course I would not do, and so the matter went on. Later the school people took up the matter with the Doctor and he would tell them to see me. I would talk to the Doctor with the same result: he was willing to discharge the boy but wanted me to take the responsibility.
About a week or ten days before the boy was finally discharged the Nurse came over to the office to say that she had just had a conversation with Dr. Hall on the subject of sending the boy home, and he advised her to come to see me and that he would be agreeable to anything the Principal and myself decided to do. I told the Nurse I would not consent to the boy going out without the Doctor’s authority. She could not understand this and finally wound up by asking who would find fault if I did not. The next thing I hear was that the Doctor informed the nurse that he had referred the matter to Ottawa. Why this was done I am unable to understand. All the time this wrangling was going on the unfortunate parents were around imploring to have their boy home and the boy himself expressed a dying wish that he be allowed to go to his parents and die at home. Three days before he died, ___ to the Doctor again and said I thought the boy should be allowed to go home as he had not long to live. To my surprise he consented and the boy was taken home and died. I never want to go through another experience of this kind. I think the Doctor showed a lack of good judgment in keeping the boy in spite of the strong opposition of the parents. I think to that he should have known long before he did that it was a hopeless case and that he was injuring the cause of the school by insisting on holding the boy. I am positive there is no law that would uphold such a high handed action. Every year dozens of such cases arise in the Indian schools and the Medical officers allow the children to return home: some recover for the time being, and others succumb.
The position I occupied through the whole affair was most unenviable. I could not and would not take the responsibility of discharging the boy in the face of the Doctor’s indefinite answers, and yet I felt he was exceeding his authority in holding the boy as he did. I never heard of a Doctor, in my experience with Indians, acting as he has done in this case. The parents of the boy complained bitterly to me about the manner and threats he made to them when speaking to him about their boy. My reason for being so particular about having the Doctor’s orders and making him take the responsibility was that I know Dr. Hall well and expected he would set act as he has done. If half the reports I hear are true he does a great deal of talking about what he is going to do and I came in for a good share of his abuse. Knowing this I tried to take every precaution so as not to leave myself open, but apparently I have failed, and I think it would be in the interests of the Department, if they have the slightest doubts as to the veracity of my statements, to have this case further enquired into. I am not satisfied and do not wish the matter to rest here as I consider Dr. Hall a dangerous man, which is proven by the fact of his sending just the sort of report I was so particular to guard against.
I would ask what my powers are with regard to retaining Indian children in schools when they are affected like this. Even if there were a law to hold them in school, how many parents would stand treatment of this kind?
The Medical work here is highly unsatisfactory and I trust the matter will soon be adjusted. I have dealt with this in another letter.
I may say that Dr. Hall is away at present on leave, or I should have called him up and demanded an explanation from him.