Devastation of Smallpox on American and Canadian Indians
Prehistoric Native Americans:
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Native populations of the Americas lacked immunity to the infectious diseases that had ravaged Europe and Asia for centuries. Sparse populations on the Plains and the pristine valleys of the Rocky Mountains prevented a buildup of communicable diseases. The “white man” diseases…measles, chicken pox, typhus, typhoid fever, dysentery, scarlet fever, diphtheria, and after 1832, cholera…devastated the American Indian. Lumped together, these diseases did not equal the havoc of smallpox in terms of number of deaths, realignment of tribal alliances, and subsequent changes in Canadian and American Indian Cultures.
Smallpox in the New World:
Some of the African slaves brought by Columbus to be used on the sugar plantation of the West Indies carried the smallpox virus. In 1495, fifty-seven to eighty percent of the native population of Santa Domingo, and in 1515, two-thirds of the Indians of Puerto Rico were wiped out by smallpox. Ten years after Cortez arrived in Mexico, the native population dropped from twenty-five million to six million five hundred thousand a reduction of seventy-four percent.
Prior to the arrival of Europeans, various sources estimate native population in North and South America at ninety to one hundred million. It is impossible to arrive at the number of Indians in the Americas killed by European diseases with smallpox the deadliest by far. Even the most conservative estimates place the deaths from smallpox above sixty-five percent (Bray).
It was inevitable European diseases would run rampant through the indigenous populations of the Americas. The native populations of North and South America had no immunities, or genetic tolerance, to any of the European diseases, and not all white Americans had immunities to them either. The estimate is about twenty-five percent of the emigrants lacked immunity to the smallpox virus.
Stearn and Stearn estimated there were approximately one million Indians living north of the Rio Grande in the early sixteenth-century. By the end of the sixteen hundreds, smallpox had spread up and down the eastern seaboard and as far west as the Great Lakes. Bray estimated by 1907 there were less than four hundred thousand Indians north of the Rio Grande. This precipitous decline was not due to smallpox alone. Other diseases played a role, as did intertribal warfare and conflicts with the United States army.
The first major outbreak of an infectious disease on the eastern coast of North America was between 1616-19. The Massachusetts and other Algonquin tribes in the area were reduced from an estimated thirty thousand to three hundred(Bray). When the Pilgrims landed in 1620, there were few Indians left to greet them. Many observers believe this infectious disease was smallpox. Researchers believe smallpox reached the Atlantic Coast of what was to become the United States either from Canada or the West Indies.
With the exception of man’s oldest disease, Malaria, the scourges of mankind have resulted from dense populations living in small compact areas…overcrowded cities with little or no sanitation. Before the arrival of the white man, the Plains Indians as primarily hunter-gatherers were free of communicable diseases.
Smallpox passes through the air in droplets discharged from the nose and mouth. It spreads from the lungs of an infected person into the lungs of a susceptible person. Smallpox can survive years on the clothing and bedding used by smallpox victims. In the early seventeen hundreds, a smallpox outbreak in Quebec resulted in many deaths. In 1854, a pipeline laid through where the victims had been buried resulted in another smallpox outbreak.
It is commonly believed syphilis spread from Native Americans to Europeans, but with the new DNA testing in Native Americans, this has become questionable. There is developing DNA evidence to suggest syphilis (Yaws) was in Europe prior to Columbus’s time.
History of Smallpox Vaccination:
An English physician, Edward Jenner observed dairymaids with a relatively mild disease called cowpox were immune to smallpox. On May 14, 1796, Jenner infected James Phipps with serum taken from a dairymaid, Sarah Nelmes. After being infected with the cowpox, Phipps survived repeated attempts to infect him with smallpox.
Despite Jenner’s vaccination procedure, smallpox still took its toll during the next hundred years; 800,000 Russians died from smallpox in the eighteen hundreds (Bray). By 1840, smallpox vaccination in Britain was free for all infants, but the mortality rate in vaccinated infants was so high many mothers would not vaccinate their babies. Vaccination was made compulsory by an Act of Parliament in the year 1853; again in 1867; and still more stringent in 1871. Deaths from smallpox in the first 10 years after mandatory vaccination was 33,515, and from 1864 to 1873, the figure more than double to 70,458 deaths (Compulsory Vaccination in England by William Tebb).
Eighty-eight years after Jenner’s first use of serum (lymph) for vaccination, William Tebb wrote:
The lymph used [for vaccination] was of unknown origin, kept in capillary glass tubes, from whence it was blown into a cup into which the lancet was dipped. No pretense of cleaning the lancet was made; it drew blood in very many instances…..no one can estimate the number of healthy, innocent children, as well as adults, who are inoculated with syphilis or other foul disease…an article in the Glasgow Herald for March 4th, 1878 stated: it is, indeed, a most serious matter to find that the deaths from the 15 diseases have increased in England and Wales from 124,799 in 1847, to 217,707 in 1875, whilst the population has only risen from 18 millions to less than 23 millions.
Vaccination in America:
Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse introduced vaccination to the United States in 1800. Due to contamination and lack of preservation, the vaccines were often infected with bacteria., An article in the New York Times for June 19th, 1880, stated:
A former surgeon of an immigrant steamer informs me that it is the usual custom of steamship surgeons to get a large supply of vaccine virus at one time, and use it until it is gone, however long. This will serve to account for the serious and fatal cases of septic poisoning following Vaccination, so common in the United States, according to the information communicated by correspondents, and also for the various efforts now being made in several States to get the Vaccination Laws abolished.
How effective was vaccination?:
Poor sanitation and nutrition laid the foundation for diseases, but the compulsory smallpox vaccination campaigns in the late 19th and early 20th centuries played a major role in decimating the populations of: Japan (48,000 deaths), England and Wales (44,840 deaths, after 97 percent of the population had been vaccinated), Scotland, Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland, Holland, Italy, India (3 million — all vaccinated), Australia, Germany (124,000 deaths), Prussia (69,000 deaths — all re-vaccinated), and the Philippines. The epidemics ended in cities where smallpox vaccinations were either discontinued, or never begun, and after sanitary reforms were instituted.
Historians and many others have asked, “Why weren’t the Indians vaccinated against smallpox?”
To understand the problems associated with any vaccination program in the eighteen hundreds, the efficacy of the vaccine and the dangers of introducing other diseases must be considered. Completely unknown at the time were such health safeguards as sterile procedures, sterile instruments, sterile vaccine, refrigeration, attenuated viruses, overnight transportation, etc, etc. During the eighteen hundreds, many Americans feared vaccination more than they did the risk of catching smallpox.
In 1832, Congress appropriated twelve hundred dollars to begin the fight against smallpox in Indian country. One year later, actual expenditures were down to seven hundred and twenty-one dollars. Based on this, there are those that believe the Government deliberately withheld smallpox vaccine from Native Americans, and thus committed Indian Genocide.
If this is what you believe, consider this….why is there a controversy raging today over the safety of vaccinating large numbers of Americans with the smallpox virus. With a perceived danger from vaccination based on today’s medical technology, what would have been the danger in the early eighteen hundreds to vaccinating American Indians with no immunity to European diseases?
Smallpox vaccination of the Native Americans could have had disastrous results. Contaminated serum and the cowpox virus could be as deadly to Native Americans as the smallpox virus. Native American Indians lacked immunity to European diseases and to the domesticated animals of the Europeans.
Lack of funding for a smallpox vaccination program and the Amherst letters have been taken by some writers and organizations to justify the cry of Indian Genocide. To this charge, I have one question…how many Native American Indians, with a well-founded distrust of the white man, were going to have their arms scratched with something out of a bottle which had previously wiped out entire Indian villages? If the Indian Nations had been vaccinated with the cowpox virus, the ensuing death loss among Native Americans would have raised a hue and cry across the land…then the cry, and rightly so, would have been the Government is committing genocide by vaccinating Indians with the cowpox virus.
A reader referred me to this site on an interesting and unique vaccination program by the King of Spain, Carlos IV, to vaccinate Spanish subjects around the world.
Francisco Xavier Balmis, (1753–1819), was a pioneer of international vaccination. Born in Alicante, Spain, a physician and army surgeon Francisco Xavier Balmis, was the author of the first translation into Spanish of Moreau de La Sarthe’s book on vaccine. In his edition, Balmis added a foreword to make the book more complete and understandable to the Spanish readers of both hemispheres.
Recognition of his work in this translation and his previous travels in America to collect plants and medical data, made him the best candidate to conduct his own project of spreading the vaccine in all Spanish territories from Spain and through America to the Philippines.
By order of King Carlos IV, an expedition sailed from La Coruña with the aim of sailing round the world and spread Jenner’s vaccine overseas. On board the corvette “María Pita” were Balmis as commander of what was already called “Real Expedición Filantrópica de la Vacuna”, Antonio Salvany as second in command, three surgeons, two first aid practitioners, four male nurses, and 22 orphan children.
Besides the usual medical items the expedition carried two thousand copies of Balmis’ translation of Moreau de La Sarthe’s book, which were to be handed to the medical and political authorities everywhere they were to stop along their journey.
The vaccine was maintained during the journey by sequentially vaccinating arm to arm every 9 or 10 days the 22 children who thus constituted a living transmission chain.
The expedition and the men who took part in it were an example of the spirit of that century of enlightenment, philanthropy, and a faith in science and ability of men to know and change the world. It took almost four years to complete the voyage round the world, and that task can now be considered the first global campaign in what we now call public health, and a success in spreading world wide Jenner’s vaccine that cannot be praised enough. http://jech.bmjjournals.com/cgi/content/full/56/11/802
The efficacy and mortality rate from Balmis’ vaccination program would be interesting to know. The procedure used by Balmis was far superior to the use of the non-sterile cowpox virus, but Balmis technique was basically used by Larpenteur on Indian women at Fort Union.
Smallpox and the Plains Indians:
A smallpox outbreak in 1780-82 followed the distribution and trade route of the Indian Horse (Haines). An outbreak in 1800-02 spreads from the Plains Indians to the Indians along the Pacific coast. Despite heavy losses during these periods, the most devastating outbreak of smallpox was yet to come.
In 1832, the first steamboat, a small side-wheeler named, Yellow Stone, reached Fort Union at the mouth of the Yellowstone River. The use of steamboats on the Missouri allowed large quantities of trade goods to move up and down the river. The buffalo hide trade now become more important than the trade in furs. Remote Indian villages brought their buffalo hides to the American Fur Company posts. This set the stage for ensuing disaster.
In June of 1837, the St. Peter arrived at Fort Clark which was sixty miles north of present day Bismarck, North Dakota. Knowing there were men aboard the boat with smallpox, F. A. Chardon and others of the American Fur Company tried to keep the Mandans away from the boat, but to no avail. The two Mandan villages providing aid to Lewis and Clark during the winter of 1804-05 were devastated. Thirty-one Mandans out of a population of sixteen hundred survived the epidemic…these figures vary, but needless to say, it was devastating to the Mandans.
The 1837 smallpox outbreaks were initially confined to the Indian tribes living by, or had come to trade at, the upper Missouri River trading posts. The Mandan and the Assiniboine nations suffered the highest number of deaths. The 1837-40 smallpox outbreaks were said to have a ninety-eight percent death rate among those infected (Bray).
Hundreds of lodges like the one above stood as mute testimony to the devastation of smallpox. As Chittenden wrote:
No language can picture the scene of desolation which the country presents. In whatever direction we go we see nothing but melancholy wrecks of human life. The tents are still standing on every hill, but no rising smoke announces the presence of human beings, and no sounds, but the croaking of the raven and the howling of the wolf interrupts the fearful silence.
The St. Peters continued on to Fort Union arriving there on June 24, 1837. The only Indians at the post were the Indian wives of thirty employees. Hoping to control the infection before the Assiniboine arrived for the September trade, Larpenteur noted:
…prompt measures were adopted to prevent an epidemic.” The measures taken were to vaccinate the Indian women.
…“their systems were prepared according to Dr. Thomas’ Medical Book and they were vaccinated from Halsey himself.
…the operation proved fatal to most of our patients.
…About fifteen days afterwards there was such a stench in the fort that it could be smelt at a distance of 300 yards. It was awful–the scene in the fort where some went crazy, and others were half eaten by maggots before they died.
The smallpox outbreak was during the hottest part of the summer. Jacob Halsey, who was in charge of Fort Union, had been infected coming upriver on the boat. Five months later, he claimed only four died from the attempted vaccination. Halsey statement is in contrast to Larpenteur comments, and his account seems highly unlikely based on the virulence of the smallpox virus.
Assiniboine arrived at the post while the “controlled infection” was in full force. Infected Assiniboine carried smallpox back to their lodges in Canada. From Fort Union smallpox spread to Fort McKenzie near the junction of the Marias and the Missouri rivers. Basically, the same story was repeated with the Blackfeet. There is no way to know how many Indians of the upper Missouri, the Plains, and Canada were infected with smallpox. Estimates on the number killed range from sixty thousand to one hundred and fifty thousand.
The American Fur Company traders can certainly be criticized for the handling of the 1837 smallpox outbreak, especially the vaccination of the Indian women. However at the time and under the prevailing circumstances, the traders did the best they could. Even though the Indians were repeatedly warned to stay away from the posts, they insisted on trading their goods. It is hard to believe there was any malicious intent on the part of the fur traders when the fur company’s economic survival depended on the Indian buffalo robe trade.
The Indian Culture played a part in the high death rate. The use of the sweat lodge-cold water plunge may well have doubled the fatalities among the Plains tribes (Haines). This is not meant as criticism of the Sweat Lodge which was, and is, extremely important in the Indian Culture, but to point out the Plains Indians had little or no concept of the dangers involved with the white-man diseases.
Despite warnings from the traders, Hidatsa, Arikara, Blackfeet, and Sioux warriors played a significant role in the spread of the smallpox. Warriors saw this as an opportunity to take lodge items, clothing, and even scalps from corpses in enemy villages, and thus carried the smallpox virus back to their own people.
Added Note: I have had a lot of emails from liberal activists on Indian Genocide. Most of them were so ridiculous I didn’t post them. Here is my position on Indian Genocide…there is absolutely no question some settlers, some military leaders, some government officials, and some states i.e., Georgia and especially California would have exterminated all Indians…But…There is absolutely no evidence the American Government had an official (or as some claim unofficial) policy of exterminating all Indians…Or …the American military distributed smallpox blankets to any Indians. Those complaining about Indian genocide have not offered any referenced piece of evidence…oral histories and newspaper articles are not factual evidence.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines genocide as the systematic and planned extermination of an entire national, racial, political, or ethnic group. Based on this definition, genocide was not carried out by the United States Government against the Indian Nations. It can be argued Government policy was directed toward wiping out an ethnic culture, but not genocide of an ethnic group. President Jefferson believed the American Indians were fully capable of being integrated into the American way of life, but not in the savage state. President Jefferson wrote:
The Indian of North America was as ardent as the white man, free, brave, preferring death to surrender, moral and responsible without compulsion of government, loving to his children, caring and loyal to family and friends, and equal to whites in vivacity and activity of mind.
Based on the broad definition of genocide used by the United Nations, www.preventgenocide.org, genocide was carried out against the American Indians. Based on the UN definition if a man or woman murders their family, they are guilty of genocide, but this is not the view of most people, including me.
The argument for Indian genocide is based primarily on letters written by General Jeffery Amherst during the French and Indian War (1754 – 1763). Correspondence between General Amherst and Colonel Bouquet mentioning spreading smallpox to Indians does not mean this was ever carried out. Assumptions derived from letters and oral traditions are not proof of anything. Oral traditions tend to change over time and with the times. The stories also tend to change in a manner convenient to the tellers…if you tell a story long enough, it acquires the semblance of fact.
The following information comes from the Peter d’Errico website.
Indian forces under the command of Chief Pontiac laid siege to Fort Pitt (June 22, thru July, 1763). Several weeks before the siege (May 24th, 1763), William Trent, commander of the local militia, wrote:
“Out of our regard for them (two Indian chiefs) we gave them two blankets and a handkerchief out of the smallpox hospital. I hope it will have the desired effect.
The above paraphrased quote from William Trent’s Journal has been taken as the major evidence for using smallpox blankets…but…the full quote by Trent is subject to a different interpretation.
“[May] 24th  The Turtles Heart a principal Warrior of the Delawares and Mamaltee a Chief came within a small distance of the Fort Mr. McKee went out to them and they made a Speech letting us know that all our [POSTS] as [at] Ligonier was destroyed, that great numbers of Indians [were coming and] that out of regard to us, they had prevailed on 6 Nations [not to] attack us but give us time to go down the Country and they desired we would set of immediately. The Commanding Officer thanked them, let them know that we had everything we wanted, that we could defend it against all the Indians in the Woods, that we had three large Armys marching to Chastise those Indians that had struck us, told them to take care of their Women and Children, but not to tell any other Natives, they said they would go and speak to their Chiefs and come and tell us what they said, they returned and said they would hold fast of the Chain of friendship. Out of our regard to them we gave them two Blankets and an Handkerchief out of the Small Pox Hospital. I hope it will have the desired effect. They then told us that Ligonier had been attacked, but that the Enemy were beat of.”
The full quote indicates the giving of the blankets could be thought of as gesture of gratitude towards friendly Indians. At this time, there is no evidence Captain Ecuyer, Commander of Fort Pitt, knew the blankets were infected with smallpox. Several weeks later, June 13, 1763, Captain Ecuyer wrote to Colonel Bouquet:
Fort Pitt is in good state of defense against all attempts from Savages, who are daily firing upon the Fort; unluckily the Small Pox has broken out in the garrison, for which he has built an Hospital under the Draw Bridge to prevent the Spreading of that distemper.
The above quote from William Trent’s Journal was written two months before the exchange of letters( July 13-26, 1763) between Amherst and Col. Bouquet. In a footnote of a letter (July 16, 1763) to Colonel Bouquet, Lord Amherst wrote:
“Could it not be contrived to send the Small Pox among those disaffected tribes of Indians? We must on this occasion use every stratagem in our power to reduce them”.
Bouquet replied he could use infected blankets as a means of introducing the disease among the Indians, but was wary of the effects it would have on his own men:
…at least twenty-five percent or more of Bouquet’s soldiers were susceptible to the smallpox virus.
The Amherst-Bouquet letters have been used to support the proposition of germ warfare against native populations. Amherst may have discussed it in correspondence with Bouquet, but there is no evidence Colonel Bouquet carried it out. As he mentioned in his reply, Bouquet was afraid of what it would do to his own men and with good reason. Amherst-Bouquet letters written in 1763 were twenty-three years before Jenner’s work on vaccination, and one hundred years before Pasteur advanced his germ theory. The only thing known about smallpox in 1763 was…age, color of skin, social status meant nothing to the smallpox virus…an infected person died or, if lucky enough to survive was often disfigured for life. No matter how bad Amherst wanted to be rid of the Indians, it seems doubtful if Bouquet would unleash a disease on his soldiers which had already killed millions of his own countrymen.
The greatest source of the smallpox virus among Indians was from the infected blood of mutilated soldier, raids on surrounding settlements, scalps, clothing, and utensils. Returning from Fort Pitt to Indian villages up and down the East coast, many warriors carried smallpox infected war trophies. Contaminated warriors spreading the smallpox virus is never mentioned by proponents of Indian Genocide; it does notfit their biased agenda.
My interest in smallpox is its relationship to the fur trade. In 1837, the major trade item was buffalo hides at the upper Missouri River posts, which were supplied almost exclusively by Plains Indians. Needless to say, the buffalo hide trade came to a screeching halt for the next few years.
What I do have an interest in is historical truth and accountability. A University of Colorado professor, Ward Churchill, published an article on the United States Army giving out smallpox blankets to the Upper Missouri River tribes leading to the smallpox outbreak of 1837. Churchill’s article is not a matter of a different interpretation of the facts. It is an outright lie…there were no army posts on the Missouri River in 1837. Churchill fabricated his article without a shred of evidence to back up his claims. References Churchill cited to support his article totally disagreed with what he wrote. No college professor should be able to publish an article of lies, or plagiarize a painting, like Ward Churchill did and remain a university teacher, and as far as I and many others, are concerned the same applies to the liberal college professors that defend Churchill.
Churchill’s defenders would like to make this a first amendment issue, but it is not. Churchill is guilty of plagiarism, falsifying publications, lying about his ancestry, and possibly academic standing…his masters thesis cannot be found at Sangamon State in Illinois. Deep down what irks me the most about Churchill is the stupidity of the “enlightened liberal activists” defending him.
The picture on the left is from Thomas Mails’ book The Mystic Warriors of the Plains. When Churchill sold the painting on the right, he claimed it was an original painting.
Why does this matter:
The use of smallpox blankets as a means of Indian genocide by the Unites States Army and the Government is in current textbooks used in the educational system (see responses).
Except for the two blankets given out at Fort Pitt, I challenge anyone to offer documented proof of smallpox infected blankets being deliberately given to Indians as a means of spreading smallpox, and reading the full text of the letter makes this questionable.
The smallpox virus created havoc all over the world for hundreds of years, but for a one- or two-year period, influenza killed as many people as any known virus. The influenza outbreak of 1918-1919 killed approximately forty million people. An estimated six hundred and seventy-five thousand Americans, including Native Americans, died of influenza. This was ten times as many Americans as were killed during World War I. Of the U. S. soldiers who died in Europe, half of them fell to the influenza virus, not to the enemy…nobody claims this was genocide.
Government treaties, bureaucratic bungling, the Washita, Sand Creek, Wounded Knee, and Bear River massacres along with forced relocation resulting in the Trail of Tears and the Navajo Long Walk created some of the darkest chapters in this country’s history. However, this does not mean the United States Government conducted a systematic and planned extermination of the American Indians.
American history is what it was and should be accurately portrayed. Good and/or bad, America’s roots is its history. To over emphasis the good or bad in terms of political correctness, or a political agenda, destroys the very foundation of America. For America to remain great, Americans must have pride in the history of America…destroy American pride and you destroy America.
As some of the replies to my comments illustrate, I have been criticized for my remarks on Indian genocide by radical activists. I am opposed to anyone distorting our historical heritage be they radical left wing liberals, or radical right wing conservatives.
The Indian Smallpox article was written by Ned Eddins of Afton, Wyoming.
Permission is given for material from this site to be used for school research papers.
Citation: Eddins, Ned. (article name) Thefurtrapper.com. Afton, Wyoming. 2002.
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Excellent Reader Response (Good and Bad) are listed below.
The allegation of the deliberate infection of the Mandans by U.S. Army soldiers in the 1830s is completely at odds with other accounts I have read (e.g., DeVoto), which state that the disease reached the Mandans via a steamboat carrying infected passengers. This allegation is one of many shocking revelations contained in “The State of Native America,” which apparently is being used as a textbook for Native American studies courses at least two colleges I know of and some students (namely, my kids) are reading it and accepting the allegation (along with many others) as gospel.
In a collection of essays titled “The State of Native America — Genocide, Colonization, and Resistance,” a contribution from a writer named Simon J. Ortiz (quoted from his “From Sand Creek”) states the following:
“The situation [genocidal treatment of Indians] is compounded by such apparently willful early experiments in biological warfare as Lord Jeffrey Amherst’s inculcation of smallpox among the Ottawas in present-day Pennsylvania during the late 18th century and the U.S. Army’s introduction of blankets laden with the same disease among the Missouri River Mandans during the 1830s.”
The statement vis-a-vis the Mandans is supported by a footnote citing “Son of the Morning Star — Custer and the Little Big Horn” by Evan S. Connell.
Reply: Ortiz was a poet, and there were no soldiers stationed on the Missouri River in the 1830s? It is this kind of responses from website users that makes me believe the greatest threat to America is from bigoted college teachers who are re-writing American History based on total fabrication and unsubstantiated “facts”. The teaching of a revised political correct American History, and the spoon-fed, mindless left-wing activists that regurgitate it, is what will bring an end to America’s greatness, not dirt-squatting Muslim terrorists. Muslim terrorists can and should be wiped out, but ideas instilled in students minds by bigoted teachers and writers are more difficult to wipe out. The Indian belief is to:
Remember the 7th generation in all you do. The decisions you make and the actions you take today will still be felt seven generations from now.
Dr. Bob Canada
I think your criticism of “liberal” academics and their influence is way over-the-top. I am a left wing Canadian academic. I know this has become an issue in the U.S., but I don’t see it happening in the same way in Canada. I do see “political correctness” distorting history. I find that frustrating, and I object to it when I see it. But many of the rants against it are distorting in themselves.
I teach fur trade history and First Nations history. I lecture about the spread of smallpox. In terms of the Amherst and 1837 situations, what I say in my lectures is much the same as what you say on your website. You are right, and Ward Churchill is very badly wrong. There is no question.
I want to elaborate on a comment made by someone who responded to you. That person quoted Simon Ortiz as misrepresenting the 1837 affair. Ortiz is a poet. I don’t like to see history too badly distorted under color of artistic license, but at least Ortiz is not a historian.
More importantly, your reader said that Ortiz cited his statement to Evan Connell’s “Son of the Morning Star,” a book I like very much.Your reader did not say what Connell actually wrote. Here it is (pp.15-16 of the 1984 North Point Press edition):
“Whatever the causes, American response to aboriginal treachery and barbarity was devastating, although inadvertent. On June 20, 1837, the steamboat St. Peter’s unloaded at Fort Clark, delivering goods the Indians cherished along with something unexpected. A Mandan stole a blanket contaminated by smallpox, which started the plague in that area, and upriver at Fort Union the Indians refused to disperse, even after being warned away from the boat by whites who now understood the danger. They refused to leave because they assumed that once more they were about to be swindled. Jacob Halsey, in charge of the Fort Union depot, thought the best thing to do was to vaccinate everybody and he is said to have been surprised when a number of his subjects began vomiting, bleeding, and dying. Halsey himself caught the pox. He got over it, but his Indian wife did not.”
“Five opportunistic Assiniboin, thinking to benefit from the chaos at Fort Union, nimbly scaled the palisade and stole two horses. They were chased and caught by a detachment of soldiers who persuaded them to give up the horses, so the incident ended in no trouble — expect that one of the soldiers happened to be infected and the Assiniboin horse thieves innocently took the disease home. Eight hundred of their people died.”
“From the Assiniboin it spread to the Cree. Seven thousands Cree died. Then it reached the Blackfoot.”
I know something about the 1837 outbreak. But I have not done much of my own primary research into it, and I do not know how much of Connell’s version is accurate. But it is obvious that Connell simply does not say what Ortiz quoted.
Reply: Thank you very much for pointing out what Connell actually wrote. This is a far cry from Ortiz statement based on Connell’s book. Based on Chittenden and Larpenteur’s account, most of what Connell states is inaccurate, but I have no objection to this. As you stated about poets, a writer of a novel should not be held to the same standard as a college professor’s published articles.
Another View Point:
I was grateful to read your rebuttal of Ward Churchill. I have recently returned to school and I find a great deal of biased revisionist history in the text books I have to read. I do want to respond to one of the replies you had. The reply stated that the Nazis used Christianity. The Nazi doctrine was one that denied all religions except Nazi beliefs. To link Christianity to the actions of the Nazis is also a great injustice. One that the liberal left would love to place in future textbooks.
Reply: My biggest complaint against radical professors and some Indian activists is they use genocide, holocaust, and extermination not based on facts, but to gain readers attention and outrage to fit a biased agenda. How many of these bigoted liberals, or even left-wing democrats, refer to the Clinton Administration’s attack on David Koresh and the Branch Davidians as genocide? Killing those people qualifies as genocide under any definition of genocide. Ask the average American what genocide is and the piled bodies from gas chambers and the emaciated survivors of Nazi Germany’s death camps come to mind. None of which happened to the American Indians.
If you are really interested in the damage done by these radical pseudo-intellects read David Horowitz book The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America. My suggesting this book does not mean everything in it is factual, but a good share of it is true.
Reader’ name was withheld by requests.
Good internet article. I would like to point out that although smallpox and other diseases may not have been intentionally spread in some huge genocidal plot, this doesn’t mean that colonists and pilgrims be they from Spain, France, England or the Netherlands, didn’t early on recognize the effects of (their) “plagues” or “pestilence”. The decree of King James the 1st in 1620 is ample evidence that an opportunistic approach was in force. That because of the plague the land was empty and free for the taking and establishing a foothold in Massachusetts. Another point not discussed is the role of carriers of smallpox (survivors of the initial infections) employed by the colonists. For example, the initial plague of 1612 (brought on by English fishermen) that wiped out the majority of small confederate Massachusetts tribes left natives like Samoset and Squanto to potentially carry the virus to outlying tribes in their roles as guides and interpreters (See: Francis Baylies “Historical Memoir of the Colony of New Plymouth” 1830, and Samuel G. Drake’s “The Aboriginal Races of North America” 1880). Thus hundreds of years before many of the events described in your article and responses (e.g. Amherst during the Pontiac war), the seeds of a policy that could be called “infect and conquer” were already well established if not intentionally then by an “act of Providence”. Even in my readings of Cortez’s conquest there are allegations (albeit in a historical novel by Gary Jennings called “Aztec”) that infected sailors knowingly and with the blessings of their superiors copulated with native women and promoted an ‘infect and conquer’ policy among the Mayan tribes that were at that time subject to the Aztecs. I don’t believe these musings to be liberal or conservative. The truth is that Europe conquered the Native Americans by whatever means and opportunities were presented to them. And they tried to do it to other Mongoloid races as well during the imperialistic era of empire building. To me the “liberal poison” du jour is not so much re-writing history (an impossible task really) but the continued influx of immigrants from 3rd world countries that have absolutely no respect for American history, ethics or civilization. Basically in our liberal collective guilt over stealing this country 200-400 years ago, we now let a sundry population of undesirables run rampant here and don’t have any balls left to stop gangs, guns and ghetto squalor due to an irrational fear of being labeled a racist. Why should a city named after a now almost extinct tribe (the Mississauga) be the demonstration ground for thousands of expatriate Tamils waving terrorist Tamil tiger flags to bitch about genocide in Sri Lanka?… Am i the only one that sees the hypocrisy of all this melting pot urbanization? Here we are still trying to rip off native lands (viz. the Mohawk land claims in Caledonia) to build more apartments, condos and track homes to house these non-natives.
Reply: The writer brings out several good points, but I seriously doubt if anyone tried to use smallpox; they would be too afraid of getting it themselves or to infect a family member.
A No Name’s Viewpoint:
“I find your site interesting and informative. However I was disappointed today to read an article by Ned Eddins (you?) where in reference to that loud-mouthed extremist Ward Churchill, Eddins lambasted all liberal intellectuals, thus aiding the conservative right-wing agenda.”
“Read up on the history of liberalism. If it weren’t for liberals then whites would still be buying the racist conservative line that Indians are inferior to whites.”
Using a phrase like “dirt-squatting Muslim terrorists” is a reflection of the current racist agenda. You may know a lot about American history, but it seems you know little about the middle-east and the people who live there and how they have been subjected to racist slurs and oppression by Europeans and people of European descent for over a century.
I will answer each of your comments one at a time.
No Name: Read up on the history of liberalism. If it weren’t for liberals then whites would still be buying the racist conservative line that Indians are inferior to whites.
Reply: In all cases, I am referring to radical bigoted activists. There is a great deal of difference between radical bigoted teachers and intellectual liberals, which in terms of these radicals is an oxymoron. It tickles me when you take me to task for aiding the conservative right-wing agenda, and then in your next sentence, use the term racist conservative line. Liberal policies have created a federal welfare system dooming millions of Americans to a life of poverty … in some areas, lowered our educational system to that of a third world country … and maybe worst of all “political correctness” … congratulations.
No Name: Using a phrase like “dirt-squatting Muslim terrorists” is a reflection of the current racist agenda. You may know a lot about American history, but it seems you know little about the middle-east and the people who live there and how they have been subjected to racist slurs and oppression by Europeans and people of European descent for over a century.
Reply: The vast majority of pictures on television show Osama Ben Laden squatting in the dirt. What do you want me to use…oppressed childhood, misunderstood youth, bad home life, parents didn’t care, or any other “political correct” excuse put out to justify heinous crimes. Is this racist oppression by “Europeans” why Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi clerics are teaching in the Wahhabi schools in Muslim countries and in this country…In time all mankind will accept Islam, or submit to Islamic rule. By submitting to Islamic rule, I assume they mean to achieve this through indoctrinating young kids to be self-bombers, or fly planes into buildings. These radical Muslims are dead serious. They mean to destroy our way of life, and you make excuses for them. Statements you made like…how they have been subjected to racist slurs and oppression by Europeans and people of European descent for over a century…to justify terrorism is beyond me. Only the Wahhabi, other Muslims, or “enlightened” activists can come up with excuses for the actions of these “dirt-squatting Muslim terrorists.”
I got a lot of good information from your article. However, I am dissappointed that you can take examples of Ward Churchill and describe them as typical of left wing and liberal people. Hitler used Christianity to justify killing the Jews. Would it be right to say “Look what those Chritians do.” As much as I respect and admire your work, I have to do more research, simply because of your extremely narrow view of liberals. I am surprised that someone as gifted and inteligent as yourself is so willing to cast a negative light on such large group of people based on the actions of one crackpot.
Reply: I do not denounce all liberals…only those, and their defenders, that distort information to promote political agendas. Ward Churchill is the tip of the iceberg. I singled him out because he lied about a subject I know something about. I wish it was just one crackpot, but it is not. There are major universities partially staffed by these radical crackpots…Harvard, University of California (Berkeley), Duke University, and University of Colorado (Boulder). Besides these institutions there are many other left-wing educational institutions, many of the Hollywood elite, a good share of the news media, and most activist groups spewing out the enlightened liberal garbage. My interest is in early American history, and I am opposed to anyone distorting our historical heritage be they radical left wing liberals or radical right wing conservatives.
The following comment came in an email:
Mr. Eddins, I hear that you don’t like teachers, and think that they aren’t as smart or as good as they used to be.
Reply: You heard wrong. Nothing could be further from the truth. Next to my parents, the man with the greatest affect on my life was Dr. Bill McNulty, Head of the Plant Physiology Department at the University of Utah. Teachers are the cornerstone of a free society. Thankfully, there are a great many outstanding teachers in our educational system. What I and many teachers object to is the fabrications of bigoted liberal activists disguised as “teachers”.
Another Reader’s View on Genocide:
Genocide means killing each and every member of group. The word genocide literally means killing a gene and the way to do that is to kill each and everyone who has that gene. The UN definition of genocide applies even if one member of a group is killed or mistreated. Let’s face it if you use the UN definition of any crime then US is guilty because according to the UN the US is guilty of everything.
Genocide is an official policy or an accepted policy where:
Every member of a certain group is killed in battle whether they surrender or not.
Killing every member of a certain group after they surrendered to authorities.
Preventing the escape of every member a certain group so they can be killed.
Killing any one who is a descendent of a member of a certain group.
The use of forced sterilization to prevent members of a certain group from reproducing while they are being held for eventual extermination.
It was German policy to wipe out Jews in battle. It was German policy to kill every Jew who surrendered to German authorities. It was German policy to check people’s back ground and if they had any “Jewish Blood” and kill them. Jews weren’t allowed to leave countries under German control and attempts were made to return Jews to German control so they could be killed.
Here is what Armenian genocide was like:
Able bodied Armenian men were taken into custody and immediately killed or worked to death.
Other Armenian groups were taken into custody and immediately killed.
Then the remaining Armenians were taken on a death march and executed.
Reply: None of the above was U.S. policy or happened on a regular basis. There was never an attempt to kill each and every Indian. When were Indians prevented from leaving the U.S.? When were Indians peacefully living among white people rounded up and killed just because they were Indians? None of those things happened.
The use of the word genocide to mean anything other then the systematic attempt by one group to kill every member of another group is insulting to people like Jews and Armenians who really suffered from genocide.
A Different View on the Spread of Smallpox:
The event of the siege of Ft. William Henry just a few years earlier during the French and Indian War helps to place the Ft. Pitt episode in context. The besieged British negotiated a surrender with the French, allowing their able-bodied forces to withdraw in good order and turning the fort over to the French with the understanding that the sick and wounded in the fort who were unable to withdraw would be protected by the French. However, once in control of the fort, the French showed little willingness to deprive their Indian allies of an opportunity to realize the fruits of victory just because of a pact with the British, so they “favored” the Indians with an opportunity to loot and massacre in the surrendered fort. The warriors took their spoils and then dispersed to their tribes with their prizes of victory. However, the French had reason to rue their “generosity” because among the “prizes” that the warriors brought back to their tribes was smallpox, and there ensued an epidemic among the northern tribes. I regret that I cannot recall the book on the French and Indian War that mentioned the smallpox epidemic, but a substantially identical account of the incident from the French point of view appears in the Jesuit Relations for the year, 1757 I think, but without mention of the connection to the smallpox epidemic.
While the intentions of Amherst were clearly criminal by modern standards, the Ft. William Henry episode raises the question of whether it would have been within the power of the besieged British at Ft. Pitt to have avoided the spread of the epidemic to the Indians. Clearly, it was the intent of the Indians to overrun the fort, which likely would have led to a repetition of the Ft. William Henry episode.
This reader did not leave a name.
I commend you on writing something on this subject which reflects some research as well as an objective and coherent approach to this matter. There are many who speak on this issue armed with nothing more than ill will towards truth, and an anti-white racial agenda .I encourage your efforts, yet I must point out that tuberculosis, typhus, and many other communicable diseases were present among the natives other than syphilis, and in fact were transmitted to white people from natives. These are not referred to as “indian diseases”, nor should they be. By the way smallpox does not simply look for blankets and clothes to reside. The rapid spread of this awful virus can also be attributed to its tendency to live in bird feathers.
Reply: Thank you. Could you please send me a reference to…tuberculosis, typhus, and many other communicable diseases were present among the natives other than syphilis, and in fact were transmitted to white people from natives… I would like to correct my comment on the site.
Another View Point:
I must object to the “Reader Response” on this page. It almost seems that the author of this particular response is insinuating that such diseases like TB and typhus originated from Indians, not whites. Yes, Indians probably did aid in the spreading of these “Old World” diseases, but not until AFTER the whites had already spread it to them, where they claimed many lives. Overall, I would classify this “Reader Response” as deriving from the ever present Eurocentric ideology of always trying to “down play” such tragedies as much as possible. Moreover, “leading” the reader with the final response of “bird feathers,” and further insinuating that the Indians doomed themselves by keeping such articles around. A truly educated person knows that this doesn’t represent the majority of cases when/how Indians were infected. I find these types of responses very typical but more so annoying.
Reply: I have asked for a reference to the previous readers statement.
Smallpox aside the U.S. government and state/territorial governments made many efforts to exterminate Native American tribes thru scalp bounties, destroying buffalo, and relocating tribes to desolate areas where they could not make a living. The words “extirpate” and “exterminate” were frequently used. In Calif. we have one of worst records as small, peaceful, tribes were ruthlessly butchered for sport in massacres reported in local papers in the 1850s. Native Americans of Cuba were wiped out by Spanish without help from disease-just dogs and swords.
Many honest Americans aided Native Americans, and we should be proud of their efforts just as we admit and condemn the actions of Custer, Chivington, Andrew Jackson, the Rangers and others who destroyed Native America so dishonest whites could steal the lands.
Congressman David Crockett was an American hero who spoke against the forced removal of Choctaw from their homes. He lost his seat in congress for his outspoken defense of Native American rights. Several U.S. Army officers, including Gen. Wool, also supported the Cherokee right to remain in Georgia. Most people don’t know this, they should.
Reply: I wish writers would leave their names on their post so I can give them credit. There are many good points brought out in this response. I would like to add a couple more points: the Moravian Indian Massacre [Zane Grey, one of the best early fictional history writers totally distorts the facts on the Moravian Massacre] and the Trail of Tears. The United States Supreme Court ruled the State of Georgia could not remove the Cherokee from their lands. Georgia officials ignored the Supreme Court ruling, and used military force to remove the Cherokee. The forced removal by the State of Georgia resulted in the Trail of Tears. Over one-third of the Cherokee, forced to leave their homes, starved or froze to death. The Government, General Kit Carson commanding, did the same with the Navajo Long Walk.
Bailey, Thomas A., Kennedy, David M., The American Pageant – A history of the Republic. Tenth Edition. D.C. Heath and Company. Lexington, Mass., 1994.
Bray, R. S.. Armies of Pestilence-The Impact of Disease on History. Barnes & Nobel Inc., New York, 1994.
Chittenden, Hiram Martin. The American Fur Trade of the Far West. Bison Books, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, Nebraska, Volume II, 1986.
DeVoto, Bernard. Across the Wide Missouri. Houghton Muffin Company, Boston, Mass., 1947.
Haines, Francis. The Plains Indians –Their Origins, Migrations and Cultural Development. Fitzhenry and Whiteside Ltd., Toronto, Canada, 1976.
Stearn, E. and Stearn. A. Smallpox Immunization of the Amerindian. Bulletin of the History of Medicine 13:601-13.)
Tebbel, John and Jennison, Kieth. The American Indian Wars. Castle Books. Edison, N.J. 2003.
Wallace, Anthony. Jefferson and the Indians – The Tragic Fate of the First Americans. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA. 1999.
American Indian Genocide
Compulsory Vaccination in England by William Tebb
Peter d’Errico Website