Were infected blankets given to Native Americans?

Oct 2009
3,452
San Diego
#11
There are history book that accused a half black freedman Trapper named Jim beckwourth with giving infected blankets to indians- however- at the time he was reported to have done so, he was actually in washington DC giving testimony regarding the Chivington massacre on Sand Creek.

The sad truth is that accounts of smallpox among the indians are almost always false. Smallpox- though deadly- needs direct physical contact to spread- and it is the usual culprit that is blamed Because of the massive death toll- early historians assumed it had to be a disease that was AS deadly in white populations.

But in fact- almost all cases of smallpox among natives were actually measles. The symptoms are similar in terms of small pocks all over the body- but early white historians did not think measles because among europeans measles is not nearly that deadly, thanks to thousands of years of evolved resistance.

But Native Americans had never encountered measles and for them it was devastating. Measles is the single most infectious disease known to man and its long incubation period gives it ample time to spread before it starts to kill. Accounts of these plagues preceding white contact are the proof that it had to be measles... because measles can spread thru the air and can survive in an enclosed space for days before infecting someone else.
For europeans, a single person who has measles, and for whom the illness is no worse than an itchy rash, can infect a hundred people in a single walk thru a public space.
If that public space is a meeting place where natives are parleying with trappers, or dignitaries, they will not show symptoms in the several days it takes to return to their tribe.
 
Aug 2018
307
Southern Indiana
#12
There are history book that accused a half black freedman Trapper named Jim beckwourth with giving infected blankets to indians- however- at the time he was reported to have done so, he was actually in washington DC giving testimony regarding the Chivington massacre on Sand Creek.

The sad truth is that accounts of smallpox among the indians are almost always false. Smallpox- though deadly- needs direct physical contact to spread- and it is the usual culprit that is blamed Because of the massive death toll- early historians assumed it had to be a disease that was AS deadly in white populations.

But in fact- almost all cases of smallpox among natives were actually measles. The symptoms are similar in terms of small pocks all over the body- but early white historians did not think measles because among europeans measles is not nearly that deadly, thanks to thousands of years of evolved resistance.

But Native Americans had never encountered measles and for them it was devastating. Measles is the single most infectious disease known to man and its long incubation period gives it ample time to spread before it starts to kill. Accounts of these plagues preceding white contact are the proof that it had to be measles... because measles can spread thru the air and can survive in an enclosed space for days before infecting someone else.
For europeans, a single person who has measles, and for whom the illness is no worse than an itchy rash, can infect a hundred people in a single walk thru a public space.
If that public space is a meeting place where natives are parleying with trappers, or dignitaries, they will not show symptoms in the several days it takes to return to their tribe.

I remember that now, wasn't he an adopted Crow chief and accused of spreading smallpox to the neighboring tribes?
 
Oct 2009
3,452
San Diego
#13
I remember that now, wasn't he an adopted Crow chief and accused of spreading smallpox to the neighboring tribes?
Yes- but an investigation showed that he had signed a register at a DC hotel the very day he was 'supposedly' infecting another tribe.

Interesting guy- he is largely the reason the US never went to war against the Crow and the Crow ended up helping the US- because as an agent of a fur company- while he lived with the Crow- he taught them it was more lucrative to trade with the whites than to try and war with them.

He has also been unfairly derided for helping "guide" Chivington to the camp on Sand Creek- but in fact- he was in his 60's at the time and pretended to be confused and led Chivington on a wild goose chase- until Chivington got so frustrated that he got ahold of the Bent Brothers and threatened to kill one of them if they didn't find the camp in the next two days.

So Beckworth did his best to lead Chivington everywhere EXCEPT the sand creek camp- and it was largely HIS testimony that revealed the atrocities committed by Chivington and his men.

He also discovered the Lowest and gentlest pass thru the Sierra Nevada.

There was a biography published back in the day that many historians considered to be largely fictitious, because many of the names were unrecognizable... until someone pointed out that Beckworth spoke fluent french and was correctly pronouncing names such a St, Vrain- which his biographer spelled out as Savran. Once you take that into account it is actually a pretty reliable first hand account of the history of that part of the west.
 
Oct 2009
3,452
San Diego
#14
PS- The reason we keep hearing the 'infected blankets' story is Because smallpox is so hard to spread that it HAD to be direct contact with an infected person, or with their articles of clothing. Since Indians are stereotypically portrayed as wearing commercially made blankets- rather than shirts or pants- that was the form the canard took to explain the spread of 'smallpox'.
But you can know this is horse puckey because who the heck would be willing to HANDLE infected blankets given that smallpox was as deadly to white populations as native populations?
You would have to find someone who had survived smallpox- who was not worried about infecting anyone in his family or working environment with smallpox, and that person would have to find the blankets used by someone else who had had smallpox within the past several days.

Its true that natives were decimated by diseases they acquired from Europeans... just as native americans gave Europeans syphilis... but the infected blanket narrative is just a way to make it seem more intentional, and therefore, condemnable.
 
Likes: Ancientgeezer
#15
I read about Ft Pitt. The blankets were given as part of a treaty to get the natives to lift a siege of the Ft. No one knows if they were just giving the crap they had on hand a way or if it was early biowarfare....But by that time in history European diseases had already wiped out many of the natives. The reason the pilgrims were able to grab prime real-estate was because the local tribes had been decimated by diseases that had been spread by traders, trappers and fishermen.
 

Edratman

Ad Honorem
Feb 2009
6,468
Eastern PA
#17
Maybe a stupid question: how aware of how small pox worked, spread, were average people in the late 18th?

My guess is that very few people knew much more than quarantines worked. Pasteur and Lister, two leaders in the world of microbes and germs were a couple of decades later. Edward Jenner did work on inoculations of cow pox prior to 1800, but where this work had progressed to is unknown to me.

There is evidence that a primitive form of inoculation using the pus of an infected person was practiced in the Middle East in the early 1700's.

But there undoubtedly was a huge body of cause and effect knowledge accumulated over the ages and this likely could have included contaminated clothing.
 
Oct 2013
13,814
Europix
#18
My guess is that very few people knew much more than quarantines worked. Pasteur and Lister, two leaders in the world of microbes and germs were a couple of decades later. Edward Jenner did work on inoculations of cow pox prior to 1800, but where this work had progressed to is unknown to me.

There is evidence that a primitive form of inoculation using the pus of an infected person was practiced in the Middle East in the early 1700's.

But there undoubtedly was a huge body of cause and effect knowledge accumulated over the ages and this likely could have included contaminated clothing.
Thank You.

I suppose You guessed my question's direction: how plausible is that an "average somebody" knew enough about the disease to plot giving infested blankets?

Well, I suppose we will remain at speculation level.

but where this work had progressed to is unknown to me
(don't take it for granted, it's from far back memory) I think they dropped it, as there were cases of infesting with siphilis during the process of inoculation (the diseases where "close").
 
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Likes: Edratman

Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,659
Dispargum
#19
Likes: Edratman

Edratman

Ad Honorem
Feb 2009
6,468
Eastern PA
#20
Thank You.

I suppose You guessed my question's direction: how plausible is that an "average somebody" knew enough about the disease to plot giving infested blankets?

Well, I suppose we will remain at speculation level.
.
While germ theory was still in the future, it was understood long before 1763 that materials (like blankets) exposed to small pox could pass the disease on to uninfected persons.
Thanks Chlodio, that settles the question.
 

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