Smallpox Epidemic of 1862 among Northwest Coast and Puget Sound Indians PART TWO The Extermination Was Almost CompleteSOURCE HERE Smallpox in the Puget Sound Region
Victoria was the largest town in the vicinity of Puget Sound and Vancouver Island, with a population of between 2,500 and 5,000. There was regular steamer service and canoes and sailboats plied between the United States and Canada. It is unknown whether news of the smallpox outbreak affected travel between Vancouver Island and Puget Sound or to what extent these boats carried smallpox across the United States border.
There is evidence that the smallpox epidemic reached the Puget Sound region. On April 19, 1862, The Daily British Colonist reported that a Port Townsend resident perished from the disease. In early May, one group of Tsimshians who left their encampment at Victoria headed south, crossed the straits, passed Port Townsend, and camped at Port Ludlow. On May 19, 1862, news reached Victoria that many of these Tsimshians “have died and nearly all are down with the disease” (The British Colonist, May 19, 1862, p. 3). These two reports were not published in any Puget Sound papers that have survived.
From mid-March till the end of October 1862, the four weekly Puget Sound newspapers (Olympia (2), Port Townsend, and Steilacoom) wrote a total of 16 articles that mention smallpox. Nearly all summarize articles that appeared in the Victoria newspapers. Only one article alluded to smallpox in Western Washington. On April 10, 1862, Steilacoom’s Puget Sound Herald published an article titled “Whisky’s Doings” about a fight between drunken Indians. In it appear the words, “Between ‘fire water’ and the small-pox, (which we learn has already got among the Indians of the Sound) the red men of this region, promise soon to disappear entirely” (April 10, 1862, p. 2).
Eugene Casimir Chirouse (1821-1892) was the Catholic missionary at the Indian Reservation at Tulalip (near the future site of Everett, Washington). In four letters written between early May and late September 1862, Father Chirouse reported on the epidemic. He stated that about 400 Indians (1862 p. 405-406)] were vaccinated and that by early August only three Indians at Tulalip perished from the disease. He also stated that Indians were ravaged by the epidemic a few miles away from the Tulalip Reservation. It is unknown whether the "few miles" referred to Indians at Victoria located more than 65 miles from the Tulalip Reservation, the Tsimshians at Port Ludlow 25 miles away, or some other Puget Sound tribe or tribes (Boyd, p. 184).
Further evidence that the epidemic prevailed in Puget Sound is provided in correspondence from the Indian Agent in charge of the Makah Reservation, located near Cape Flattery, the northwest point of Washington. Apparently writing in August 1863, Agent Henry Webster in his yearly report stated, "I was apprehensive that the small-pox, which was prevailing among the Indians at Victoria and other places on the Straits of Fuca and Puget’s sound, would make its appearance here [at the Makah Reservation] ..." The Makahs were spared because of their isolated location and, according to the reservation physician Joseph Davies, because "the greater number of them" were vaccinated" (Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for the Year 1863).
According to Indian Agent S. D. Howe, there were a few fatal cases of smallpox among the Noot Sacks (Nooksacks), located just south of the U.S. boundary. He stated that Indians from the Noot Sacks to the Tulalip Reservation were "fast being depleted in numbers by sickness of various kinds." A later report by F. C. Purdy noted that the Skallam (S'Klallam), located along the north shore of the Olympia Peninsula, were "fast diminishing." He did not give the causes (Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for the Year 1863). Joseph Crow's Account
Father Chirouse at the Tulalip Reservation possibly was referring to the infected Indians living 30 miles away near Seattle. More than 60 years after the 1862 smallpox epidemic, Joseph Crow gave an eyewitness account of a smallpox outbreak amongst Elliott Bay Indians. In 1860, when Joseph Crow was a boy, he moved with his family to Seattle. He stated that close to Seattle the local Indians had a “Tomanus House” that measured 60 feet long and 30 to 40 feet wide. It was located on a point at 1st Avenue S and S King Street, later part of Pioneer Square. According to his recollection, the epidemic occurred in 1864. It is likely that Joseph Crow is recalling the 1862 epidemic. Following is a transcription of his account given to Hilman Jones:
“At the time of the small pox epidemic among the Indians in 1864 they used the Tomanus House as a hospital and built little houses along the bay, in which they dug a hole in the ground fille[d] it with rocks and built a fire on them.
When they were red hot they would throw water, put the paitent [patient] in the room and get him to sweating hard and then cause him to jump into the bay, which would always cause death.
"The[y] would then lay the patient out on the ground of the Tomanus House and get two boards laid with blocks at each end and pound the boards with clubs and yell at the top of their voices, keeping this up all day and night making hideous noises.
"The doctor would be working on the patient all the time, biting him on the head and neck to blede [bleed] him, in fact biting al over his body, and would be continually mumbling and would shake his head and spit the blood from his mouth.
"The Doctor was only allowed to have three patients in succession and if the three died the doctor was killed.
"After the epidemic I never saw any more Indian Doctors in Seattle so you can conclude what became of them” (Hilman F. Jones Papers).
In a June 30, 1863 annual report, C. H. Spinning, physician at the Puyallup Reservation, wrote that during the year he had 254 Indian patients. Their aliments included scrofula, syphilis, "gonorrhoea," rheumatism, colds, and consumption that resulted in seven deaths. Smallpox was not mentioned. In September 1863, it was reported that during the year there were 12 deaths at the Nisqually Reservation (1863, p. 471-472). It is unknown whether or not smallpox vaccines were administered at either reservation.
It is unknown how far south the smallpox virus traveled, but it apparently did not travel beyond Puget Sound. At the Chehalis Reservation, located between Olympia and the Columbia River, Indian Agent A. R. Elder reported that the Indians health was "much better than that of those tribes who live adjacent to Puget’s sound, from the fact of their being further removed from the vices of whites ..." (1863, p. 469). Ignoring the Truth?
Smallpox was more widespread in Puget Sound than newspaper reports indicate. Perhaps one reason the papers did not report it was fear that news of smallpox would create alarm and keep people away. San Francisco, the point of origin of the Victoria epidemic, delayed reporting on it. A Port Townsend paper stated, “The San Francisco papers avoid any reference to the existence of the small pox in that city ...” (North-West, March 29, 1862, p. 2). An Olympia paper received word of the California epidemic by letter. The paper speculated that the reason for the lack of reports was because the California papers were “fearful of creating undue excitement and alarm” and until recently “have almost entirely ignored the truth” (Washington Standard April 5, 1862, p. 2).
Two Puget Sound newspapers reported authoritatively that “it has been demonstrated that fear superinduces disease, especially epidemic, in otherwise healthy persons” (North-West [Port Townsend], March 29, 1862, p. 2; Overland Press [Olympia], April 7, 1862, p. 2).
When news reached Puget Sound of the first smallpox cases in Victoria, Western Washington residents were warned to take preventive measures in case the epidemic reached the sound. It was recommended that they get vaccinated “as expeditiously as possible” (Puget Sound Herald April 3, 1862, p. 2) and that “cleanliness” was “preessential to health in such a time” (North-West, March 29, 1862, p. 2; The Overland Press April 7, 1862, p. 2). Residents were also warned to exercise due caution when traveling to “afflicted localities” (Washington Standard [Olympia], March 29, 1862, April 5, 1862).
Local papers stated that smallpox was “far more terrible” among Indians than among whites and inferred that many Indian deaths would result. Instead of recommending preventive measures for Indians, the Puget Sound weeklies recommended preventive measures from the Indians. From the beginning, there was general agreement in the press that removing the Indians away from white man’s towns was the best policy. Their removal would protect (white) town residents from getting infected. Getting rid of the Indians would also improve Puget Sound towns both “morally and socially” and be a boost to their “growth and prosperity” (North-West [Port Townsend], March 29, 1862; Ibid., May 24, 1862, p. 2; Overland Press, April 7, 1862; Puget Sound Herald, April 10, 1862).
One paper stated that "an added benefit" would be reducing the number of “licentious whites” from towns. The North-West (Port Townsend) made the following statement:
“The Indians are a loathesome and indolent race, of no earthly use to themselves or anybody else in the community save the doctors
and their presence gathers and retains a set of graceless white vagabonds, who ... get a precarious living by peddling villainous whisky among them. ... These social lepers are far worse than the small pox. In ridding ourselves of one, we no longer encourage the other. Let the Indians be sent to the Reservations where they belong ... [and then] our natural resources would rapidly develop, society would improve and strengthen, and free-love and atheism find fewer endorsers on the shores of Puget Sound” (May 24, 1862, p. 2).
When word was received that Indians in the British colonies to the north were “dying like rotten sheep” even though “many hundred” were vaccinated, the Steilacoom paper stated: “We think the whites, guided by their superior intelligence, have little to apprehend from this dread disease” (Puget Sound Herald, May 8, 1862, p. 2). Two weeks later, hearing that the smallpox epidemic would “nearly exterminate all the tribes on the coast,” the Port Townsend paper concluded that it was better for the Indians “to die by small pox than whisky and civilised lust” (North-West, May 24, 1862, p. 3). Death of Many Nations
Long after the epidemic played itself out, death pervaded the outskirts of Victoria. Shallow graves covered the ground, and a putrid smell hovered over them. In late June 1862, because there were too many bodies to bury, heavy rocks had been tied to corpses and thrown into two nearby bays. But it wasn’t until the following year that a sense of the enormity of the destruction at Victoria was reported on. In June 1863, a local paper estimated that near the town, "the bodies of from 1000 to 1200 Northern Indians, who have fallen victims to the small-pox, lie unburied in the space of about an acre of ground ...”(Boyd, p. 182; The Daily British Colonist, June 28, 1862, p. 3).
For months or years human bones likely littered the northwest coast shoreline from above Victoria to southern Alaska. Robert Boyd estimates that before the 1862 smallpox epidemic, nearly 30,000 aboriginal people resided along this coastline, living their lives, raising families, telling tribal stories, gathering food, attending ceremonies, and so on. About a year later, after smallpox had invaded nearly every bay along the coast, just 15,000 natives remained.
Each tribe perished at a different rate. The worst devastation occurred in the southern Alaska panhandle. The mainland Tlingit, including tribal members along the Stikine and Tongass rivers, suffered about 1,450 deaths, about 60 percent of their population. The Heiltsuk (formerly called the Bella Bella) went from 1,650 to about 500. On the Queen Charlotte Islands and Prince of Whales Island, the Haida tribe was decimated, losing about 70 percent of their people (5,700 to 1,600). Almost every Haida family lost someone, entire families were eradicated, and social structures devastated. Villages were abandoned all along the Northwest Coast, especially in the Queen Charlotte Islands. The number of Haida villages went from 13 on the eve of the epidemic to seven 20 years later. By the turn of the twentieth century, only two villages remained.
During the 1850s the Northern Indians were greatly feared by Puget Sound Indians and whites alike. In large canoes they would come south from their homeland seeking employment and to trade. Before returning home, some groups of Northern Indians would raid settlers' homes and Indian villages along the sound to steal and sometimes capture natives for slaves. After the 1862 epidemic there were few if any reports of northern incursions into Puget Sound. The "Work of Extermination"
After most of the northern tribes were forced from Victoria, the (Victoria) Daily Press published an editorial titled “The Indian Mortality.” It said in part:
“... ‘What will they say in England?’ when it is known that an Indian population was fostered and encouraged round Victoria, until the small-pox was imported from San Francisco. They, when the disease raged amongst them, when the unfortunate wretches were dying by scores, deserted by their own people, and left to perish in the midst of a Christian community that had fattened off them for four years - then the humanizing influence of our civilized Government comes in - not to remedy the evil that it had brought about - not to become the Good Samaritan, and endeavor to ameliorate the effects of the disease by medical exertion, but to drive these people away to death, and to disseminate the fell disease along the coast. To send with them the destruction perhaps of the whole Indian race in the British Possessions on the Pacific ... . There is a dehumanizing fatuity about this treatment of the natives that is truly horrible ... How easy it would have been to have sent away the tribes when the disease was first noticed in the town, and if any of the Indians had taken the infection, to have had a place where they could have been attended to, some little distance from Victoria, until they recovered as they in all probability would have done with medical aid. By this means the progress of the disease would at once been arrested, and the population saved from the horrible sights, and perhaps dangerous effects, of heaps of dead bodies putrifying [sic] in the summer’s sun, in the vicinity of town ... The authorities have commenced the work of extermination - let them keep it up ... . Never was there a more execrable Indian policy than ours” (Daily Press, June 17, 1862 in Boyd, p. 182-183, endnote 7). Whites Congratulate Themselves
But, in the British settlements of British Columbia and Vancouver Island, the epidemic was quickly forgotten. On January 1, 1863, as the virus continued to infect tribes in the interior of British Columbia, The Daily British Colonist published a New Year’s editorial stating in part, “Another year has passed over our heads. ... We hope we may have to chronicle at [the beginning of 1864] ... the continuation of the progress that has characterised the past twelve months. ... No matter from what point we view our developement [sic] there is every ground for congratulation. Everything shows a rapid and healthy growth.”