The Impact of Disease on Native American Culture

Topics: Native Americans in the United States, Indigenous peoples of the Americas, Infectious disease Pages: 4 (1086 words) Published: March 1, 2009
The Impact of Disease on Native American Culture

Though warfare and attacks on entire villages took a definite toll on the populations of Native Americans, disease was by far the biggest killer. We’ve all heard the stories of smallpox infected blankets being given to the Native Americans, and other such atrocities, but I was simply dumbfounded at the actual numbers of dead due to Old World diseases being introduced to the New World, North America. While it has been somewhat difficult for scholars to determine the exact count of Indians who died from disease, they have fairly accurate estimates.

During my internet research on this subject I came across two separate tables of information and was again shocked at what I discovered.

~In 1540 the “European Epidemic” was brought to the Southeastern United States by the Desoto Expedition and killed 75% of the native population

~Between 1592 and 1596, measles killed hundreds, possibly thousands of Seneca Indians

~1617 to 1619 smallpox killed 90% of the Massachusetts Bay Indians

~1729 to 1753, 3 smallpox epidemics hit the Cherokee Nation, cutting the population in half

~In the 1770s smallpox killed 30% of the West Coast Native Americans

~In 1820 measles struck Native American settlements in Wisconsin

~Malaria killed over 150,000 Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest 1829 to 1833

The smallpox epidemic was a tragic one, repeated multiple times within multiple tribes. The last sentence of the following quote is an especially vivid one, a personal observation from William Walker who was one of the men in charge of the Hudson’s Bay Company posts. “In 1633 in Plymouth, Massachusetts, the Native Americans were struck by the virus. As it had done elsewhere, the virus wiped out entire population groups of Native Americans. It reached Mohawks in 1634, the Lake Ontario in 1636, and...
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