Fri 12 Jan, 2018 12:39 pm
I thought I may have asked this question here (or a similar one) before.
Can the 15th and 16th Century European settlers and/or invading armies of the American frontiers be held responsible for the thousands or even millions of deaths (not by military action) but by exposing the Native American tribes/populations to the infectious diseases of Europe? Even though the concepts of germ theory of disease was bandied around for centuries but not academically recognized until the mid19th century?
No. You'd need to find instances of informed and deliberate attempts to introduce infectious agents into a healthy aboriginal population.
Buffy Saint-Marie alleged that in 1837, Native North Americans in danger of freezing during a cold winter were given blankets from a smallpox hospital at Fort Clark, and a guy called Ward Churchill said it was done deliberately, but I think that has been debunked. That doesn't mean there were no genocidal outrages.
That doesn't mean there were no genocidal outrages.
Right. There were plenty of incidents where genocidal intent was blatant and obvious. I would think those cases are more to the point.
Between diseases, bullets and the slaughter of the bison, I think the intent was clear.
The Brits used "weaponized" smallpox blankets at the Seige of Ft Pitt during the French and Indian War.
In a digression, I watched an old movie a few weeks back that purported to tell the true story of Custer's demise. In a general sort of way, I believe it did. But in every battle sequence, if an Indian came hand to hand with a soldier, he was easily shrugged off and killed. Every time a soldier fired his gun an Indian died. Mostly, a killed soldier got an arrow in the back, or a tomahawk to the back of the head. It was disgusting.
Well, edgar, that's the usual Hollywood version of things. Truth about the folks who were here when the invaders came from Europe and what happened to them (the indigenous folk) needs to be hidden. After all we don't want the kiddies to forget that Americans are all powerful as well as all knowing, so the story gets rewritten to make the Americans seem near to saintly.
The early European colonists usually fared as badly from disease as had the aboriginal inhabitants. Additionally, many, perhaps most of the early colonists were not equipped with the skills to survive. There were a host of other factors, too. The mid-Atlantic region was going through a prolonged drought when the English showed up in 1607. Giving gifts of food was cultural, but the aboriginals quickly grew to resent the starving white men, who seemed to them incapable of supporting themselves. In 1609-10, 80% of the colonists died of disease or starvation. The early French attempts at colonization in what we call Canada in the mid-16th century were doomed by this incompetence, and many of Cartier's men succumbed to scurvy, until shown by the aboriginals that they could chew on evergreen sprays.
The Spanish did not have those problems, and it is now known that smallpox, chickenpox and diphtheria made great inroads in South and Central America--but that was before small armies of conquistadores arrived. In fact, Cortés engineered a diplomatic miracle when he enlisted other Nahua to join in his conquest of Tenochtitlan. They could not have accomplished it on their own.
John Smith sailed along the coast of what is now the northeastern United States in 1616, dubbing it New England, and reported that there had been "a great mortality" there. European fishermen and whalers had built summer camps on the coasts from Massachusetts to Labrador since at least as early as the 15th century. These camps were to make salt pans to salt the cathc, and to cut timber to smoke the fish, with coopers to make casks and barrels.
There aren't many accounts because they had a good thing and didn't want the news to get out. When the so-called Pilgrims landed in the early winter of 1620, the local villages of the Cape Cod region had been laid waste by the disease that Smith had noted. At least a third and probably more the would-be colonists died that winter and half of the ship's crews from scurvy and the diseases of malnutrition. Once again, the local tribes found bands of starving beggars on their doorstep. The Narragansett had survived the recent plagues, and we don't know why, but they probably imposed a primitive and brutal form of quarantine.
Thanks to the earliest contacts, most of the more virulent diseases had already made the rounds of the tribes of the east--it was only later that disease became a major factor. I find most accounts of deliberating infecting Indians to be suspect, but there is no reason to doubt that they suffered badly from the contacts with the white men. The Mandan who had hosted the Lewis and Clark expedition in their first winter on the Missouri River were almost wiped out by disease--we don't know which diseases. They may well have simply been exposed to influenza to which the white boys were largely immune. There was no hostility between the Mandan and the white men, whom they had met almost a century and a half earlier.
Just as there is a tendency to minimize the evils of the white man, there is also a tendency to magnify them. Neither attitude constitutes proper historiography. Each case must be examined individually.
I have only read of a few cases of smallpox blankets being given to Indians, not a large scale operation, if it happened.
I would like to point out that the OP asks about disease, not intentional genocide. I would not for a moment deny that intentional genocide was practiced. Slaughtering the buffalo was a part of that. In Oregon in the 1850s, Phil Sheridan was quoted in a local newspaper as saying: "The only good Indian I ever saw was dead." He did not deny it at the time. He eventually did deny it, but that was about 20 years later, when he commanded the Army on the Great Plains and the public were beginning to question what was being done.
The Hudson's Bay Company was chartered in 1670, and was arguably the greatest corporation of its day. Their powers were summary and sovereign. They did not want settlers on their territory, because they had a vast and skillful workforce in the persons of the aboriginals, who delivered their furs and the all-important beaver pelts to them. Because of economies of scale, they made money hand over fist. The currency was the made beaver pelt. This was a pelt that had been uncut, and in use for a couple years. Most of the guard hairs had fallen out by then, and the pelt could be shaved in London and felted to make hats. Those hats held their shape well and were water-repellent. In the early 18th century, at York Factory on Hudson's Bay, an aboriginal could trade 23 made beaver pelt for a Hudson's Bay musket, a cleaning kit, a small keg of black powder, two pounds of lead and a bullet mold. Because of economies of scale, that trade was extremely valuable. A young coureur de bois was employed by HBC in the early 18th century, and he penetrated as far west at least as the Bitterroot in what is now Idaho. There, the musket alone, no cleaning kit, no powder, lead or bullet mold, traded for 200 made beaver pelt. The aboriginals had no problem getting into the capitalist swing. A gentleman at Abuzz once pointed out that the musket probably had great ceremonial value to the Blackfoot. Whatever the case, it wasn't just HBC that was making a killing in the fur trade.
The early American traders and trappers had much the same attitude. They didn't want their golden-egg laying geese disturbed, either. It was the coming of the railroads and post-Civil War settlers which doomed the plains Indians. Once again, each case must be examined individually.
Stories of the mountain men were among my favorite reading when I was young. Not so much the Canadians, but such as Jed Smith, Hugh Glass and to a lesser extent Jim Bridger. I don't have enough recall to name them any more. I sort of liked Kit Carson, but never learned a great deal about him.
If you were Navajo, you wouldn't be quite so fond of ol' Kit Carson.
As I said, I didn't read a lot about Carson.