Smallpox Introduced to American Natives

A Summary of “Smallpox fears stir memories of heavy toll Indians suffered” by Donna Healy

A Billings Gazette article from 2003 discusses how smallpox was spread among Native Americans especially the Blackfeet and Crow tribes. Significant to our present situation with COVID-19, smallpox was a disease well-known and constantly present in Europe, but deadly to native Americans who had no prior exposure and no immunity.

One myth about the spread of smallpox to Native Americans is debunked. “Intentional infection” is not documented says Michael Casler, a park ranger for the Fort Union Trading Post National Historical Site, but it seems not much aid was provided either. Warnings to natives to stay away were misinterpreted and at least one inoculation attempt proved disastrous.

Native Americans had their own methods for coping with smallpox: isolation, suicide, and sending their children on spirit quests. Those whose tribes were wiped out by the disease might have joined other tribes.

Billings Gazette Jan 24, 2003

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