August 10, 2009 by winter rabbit
Plains Indian Smallpox
Indian genocide is a controversial subject on the internet and on this site. Genocide and Holocaust are words that are easy to throw around, often to grab a reader’s attention, but proving them is something else. What one group calls genocide, another group may call progress.
This statement is used in the same context as the saying…one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.
The argument for Indian genocide is based primarily on letters written by General Jeffery Amherst during the French and Indian War.Letters by General Amherst and Colonel Bouquet mentioning spreading smallpox to Indians does not mean that this was ever carried out.
Assumptions derived from letters and oral traditions are not proof of anything.
Those who condone the above statement must also believe that such indigenous tribes as the Mandan-Hidatsa are liars and incorrect in their oral histories, but what they cannot deny is the intent to commit genocide was in fact there (all bold print is mine).
(c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life designed to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part
By the second half of the century, many of the combatants in America’s wars of empire had the knowledge and technology to attempt biological warfare with the smallpox virus. Many also adhered to a code of ethics that did not constrain them from doing so. Seen in this light, the Amherst affair becomes not so much an aberration as part of a larger continuum in which accusations and discussions of biological warfare were common, and actual incidents may have occurred more frequently than scholars have previously acknowledged.
“Fort Pitt is in good State of Defense against all attempts from Savages,” Bouquet reported, but “Unluckily the small Pox has broken out in the Garrison.”3 By June 16, then, from sources unknown, smallpox had established itself at Fort Pitt. It is likely that Amherst knew of the situation by the end of June.
Bioterrorist Threats: Potential Agents and Theoretical Preparedness
Dr. John Bartlett filled in for Peter Jahrling of USAMRIID for a segment devoted to one of the likely potential bioterrorist agents, smallpox. The use of this agent to intentionally cause human disease dates back to 1754 during the French and Indian War, when infected blankets were given to Native Americans as a “token of good fortune.”
American Indian Prophecies. Kurt Kaltreider, PH.D. pp. 66-67
In 1779, George Washington sent orders to General John Sullivan concerning the need to attack and destroy the Iroquois Nations.
“The immediate objects are total destruction of their settlements, and capture of as many prisoners of every age and sex possible -“
Washington was also an advocate of germ warfare, first introduced by Sir Jeffery Amherst after whom the town of Amherst, Massachusetts, and Amherst College are named. The idea of germ warfare with smallpox was suggested to Colonel Henry Bouquet, after which Colonel Bouquet wrote back:
“I will try to inoculate the [Indians] with some blankets that may fall into their hands, and take care not to get the disease myself. As it is pity to expose good men against then, I wish we could make use of the Spanish method, to hunt them with English dogs, supported by rangers and some light horse, who would, I think, effectually extirpate or remove the vermin.”
About 60 years later, Andrew Jackson took Colonel Bouquet’s advice in his war against the Seminoles.
During the Seminole War the Federal Soldiers used germ warfare weapons, such as leaving small pox infected blankets for the Seminole to take and catch the disease.
This was a tried and true tactic of warfare in the Americas. The British attempted this against Washington’s troops at Yorktown and Europeans used germ warfare against native Americans in New England. At Yorktown, the National Park Service explains the role of Slaves as germ warfare weapons in the plaque reproduced here. I guess the incentive for slaves was ‘you’re free if you go cause small pox among American forces … if you survive.’
The fact that Europeans brought the deadly diseases with them, through ship rats who found their way to the indigenous tribes for example, is well established.
Historical Viewpoints. “American Indians And European Diseases.” Alfred W. Crosby pp. 48-49
Whether plague or typhus, the disease went through the Indians like fire. Almost all the seventeenth-century writers say it killed nine of ten and even nineteen of twenty of the Indians it touched –
In short, one does not necessarily have to accept a 90 percent death rate for a given village or area to accept a 90 percent depopulation rate.
So, the European settlers (not all were vicious like this) and General Jeffery Amherst knew what smallpox and the deadly diseases were already doing:depopulating the indigenous people.
First Nation History. Daniel M. Paul
The following is an excellent example of their racist mentality in action. In July 1763, General Jeffery Amherst, the Commander-in-Chief of British forces in North America, sent a memo to Colonel Henry Bouquet, a Huguenot in the service of England, asking:
“Could it not be contrived to send the Smallpox among the disaffected Tribes of Indians?”
Bouquet replied: “I will try to inoculate the Indians with some blankets that may fall into their hands, and take care not to get the disease myself.”
General Jeffery Amherst and those settlers who thought likewise must have asked themselves some very disturbing questions –
Siege of Fort Pitt
(Wikipedia source, read accordingly)
Bouquet agreed, writing to Amherst on 13 July 1763: “I will try to inoculate the bastards with some blankets that may fall into their hands, and take care not to get the disease myself.” Amherst responded favorably on 16 July 1763: “You will do well to inoculate the Indians by means of blankets, as well as every other method that can serve to extirpate this execrable race.”
As it turned out, however, officers at the besieged Fort Pitt had already attempted to do what Amherst and Bouquet were still discussing.
Maybe they asked, “How can we help speed the process?”
General Amherst and Germ Warfare. Bernhard Knollenberg:
Public Health Issues in Disaster Preparedness: Focus on Bioterrorism. By Lloyd F. Novick:
Query and Replies: Indians and Smallpox(8 posts)
I have been reviewing the documents in the latest volume of
The Papers of Henry Bouquet which has many interesting texts
on relations with various Native American tribes, and on frontier
warfare. A number of the texts deal with the decision to use
small pox as a deliberate form of germ warfare against the
Indians in the 1760s. I recall much coverage of the decimation
of the Indians by disease during the Columbus anniversaries,
but I am not familiar with the historiography on the deliberate
use of smallpox or other diseases as a weapon–or indeed the
historiography on the origins of germ warfare in general.
Would any of you be able to inform me of sources on this subject?
Thanks in advance. Elizabeth M. Nuxoll. The Papers of Robert Morris
Queens College, CUNY
Smallpox Blankets in History and Legend. Adrienne Mayor:
The Europeans wanted land, gold, silver, coal (in the future), and slave labor.
Since using the indigenous people’s inability to cure themselves of the onslaught of disease didn’t work as well as they wished it would have worked –
A People & A Nation. 4th Edition. p.38
In the pursuit of their conversions, the Jesuits sought to undermine the authority of the villiage shamans (the traditional religious leaders) and to gain the confidence of leaders who could influence others. The Black Robes used a variety of weapons to attain the desired end. Trained in rhetoric, they won admirers by their eloquence. Seemingly immune to smallpox, they explained epidemics among the Native Americans as God’s punishment for sin, their arguments aided by the ineffectiveness of the shaman’s traditional remedies for illness against that deadly disease.
– perhaps they hoped that death would solve all of their “problems.”
See the reason of my bemusement is that I am a full blooded Oneida “Indian” (I will use that term for simplicity’s sake although “First nations is our prefferred term). For us first nations our heritage and being is well documented and it is imperative to have been listed on a government listing of Indians called the Dawles Rolls?
That the ones of us they couldn’t kill with smallpox infected blankets they packed away on a reservation, robbed of our traditions, language and land.
Colorado professor fabricates Native history – Sunday, June 18, 2006
He (Ward Churchill) then pawned his lies to other scholars.
First, the army wasn’t even posted around our villages at the time Churchill claims. And no proof exists, orally or in text, to show blankets came from a hospital.
But our tribal people have long said the spread of smallpox was intentional.
I recently talked with Gerard Baker, a Mandan-Hidatsa and leading oral historian for our tribes. Baker, park superintendent at Mount Rushmore, is a fluent Hidatsa speaker and comes from a traditional family. He’s also lived and worked at many of our historical village sites along the Missouri.
Baker has talked with tribal elders and spent countless hours looking at the journals of the fur traders. He’s convinced traders deliberately spread smallpox to eliminate us as middlemen in the trade network.
Only an informer saved the garrison at Detroit, but Forts Niagara and Pitt were surrounded and isolated. In desperation, Amherst wrote the commander at Fort Pitt, Captain Simeon Ecuyer, suggesting he deliberately attempt to infect the Shawnee, Delaware, and Mingo besieging his fort with gifts of smallpox-infected blankets and handkerchiefs. Ecuyer took this as an order and did exactly that.
It proved particularly effective because the Ohio tribes had little immunity having missed the 1757-58 epidemic among the French allies contracted during the capture of Fort William Henry (New York). The Shawnee were fighting the Cherokee in Tennessee at the time, and they carried the disease to them, and then the Shawnee living with the Creek Confederacy. From there it spread to the Chickasaw and Choctaw, and finally the entire southeast. Before it had run its course, the epidemic had killed thousands, including British colonists.
To end this, history is written by the victors and one of the “victor’s” techniques for hiding truth is hiding evidence, as it was in the case of theSand Creek Massacre.
Furthermore, to say “Assumptions derived from letters and oral traditions are not proof of anything” is calling those indigenous people who tell those oral traditions liars. So, I’m grateful for artists who have something to add to this “debate.”
Stories of disease-infected blankets deliberately given to Native Americans surfaced after the first European contact and continue to circulate. The vitality of the “smallpox blanket” story is ensured by documented examples of germ warfare but also by its resonance with the classical Nessus shirt and other poison-garment/deliberate-contamination themes. The moral tension embedded in such tales derives from ambiguous definitions of the Other and boundaries of ethical behavior toward enemies.