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100 Years Ago


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Disease

At the very moment white Europeans set foot on this pristine land, they unknowingly brought with them dreaded diseases that frequently ravaged the Old World. As the white population increased so did the propensity for contagious disease epidemics such as smallpox. Many whites succumbed to the disease, although Edward Jenner’s discovery of a vaccination method in 1796 saved many lives in successive years. On numerous occasions, proud Indian villages were brought to their knees by disease they had never seen and could not comprehend. In one instance, smallpox was intentionally presented to the Indians.

All across the western frontier, in the spring of 1763, during "Pontiac’s Rebellion" British forts fell to the Indians, and many suffered unrelenting attacks. Fort Pitt (Pittsburgh) was under siege by the Shawnee, Delaware and Mingo. Lord Jeffrey Amherst the British military commander in North America wrote to Fort Pitt commander, Simeon Ecuyer, suggesting that he intentionally give the Indians blankets and handkerchiefs, that had been infected with the smallpox virus. Ecuyer took this to be an order and perpetrated the act. It proved very effective and the siege ended, but unfortunately, the story does not. The Shawnee were fighting the Cherokee at the time and carried the disease to them. The "Pontiac Rebellion" had virtually collapsed but the smallpox terror of 1763 had just begun. It soon spread to the Chickasaw and Choctaw, and finally to the entire southeast killing thousands in its wake, including many colonists.

 The following tragic statement appeared in the ‘Sidney Journal’ publication of December 10, 1897: "Speaking of the great many Indian skeletons found in the vicinity of Hardin, he says that he learned 50 years ago from an old pioneer that smallpox broke out in a band of Indians encamped near where the village now stands. Crazed by the disease, 400 of them plunged into Turtle Creek, and the shock of the cold water caused their death."

'Indian' segment written in December, 1997 by David Lodge

 

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