James Castle, two months premature, was born deaf on September 24, 1900 in central Idaho’s isolated Garden Valley. James, as his family called him, was the fifth of eight children — two sons and six daughters — born to Mary Nora Scanlon Castle and Francis John Castle.
James was unresponsive and sickly, but the Castle family did not realize that he could not hear.
Gradually his deafness became apparent, as did his strong will. In contrast to his older sister Nellie, who became deaf after a childhood illness, James refused to learn to read, write or sign. The Castle family developed a simple system of hand gestures (‘home sign’). James, fascinated with forms throughout his life, copied alphabets, numbers, and symbols, used a personal glyph, and created his own brand to mark copyright or authorship in his books. Clearly, James was not mentally deficient. Nor was he ‘dumb’ in the sense of being mute, for he could vocalize.