Sunday, July 19, 2015

Indians of British Columbia Smallpox, Census Volume 1 Impact of the white man / by William Duff 1964

Indians of British Columbia   Smallpox, Census

The Indian history of British Columbia, volume 1 :
the impact of the white man / by Wilson Duff. --




Page 42 of 116

The most terrible single calamity to befall the Indians of British Columbia was the smallpox epidemic which started in Victoria in 1862.  Unique circumstances caused it to spread faster and farther than any previous outbreak could possibly have done, and within two years it had reached practically all parts of the Province, and killed about one-third of the native people.

Following upon the first gold excitement in 1858, it became the habit of many of the northern coastal tribes to visit Victoria in large numbers, and at times more than 2,000 "Hydahs,"  "Stickeens,"  'Chimseans, "  Bella Bellas,"  Fort Ruperts, "  and so on were camped on the outskirts of the settlement.  that was the situation in April, 1862, when a white man with smallpox arrived from San Francisco.  Before long, despite dire warnings in the Colonist, the disease reached the camps of the Indians, and they began to die in fearful numbers.   Alarmed, the authorities burned the camps and forced the Indians to leave.  They started up the coast for home, taking the disease with them, leaving the infection at every place they touched.   The epidemic spread like a forest fire up the coast and into the interior; the details of its progress can be followed in dispatches sent to the Colonist from Nanaimo, Fort Rupert, Bella Coola, Port Simpson, Stickeen, Lillooet, Williams Lake.  At Cape Mudge the Euclataws ambushed a party of Haidas heading home, and caught the disease as part of their spoils.  In the Chilcotin a white man took blankets from the bodies of the dead and sold them to other Indians, who were infected in their turn.   At Port Simpson, by good chance, William Duncan had moved with his Christian converts to establish a new village at Metlakatla, just in time to avoid the arrival of the disease.  On Bonilla Island a party of southern Haidas perished while they waited for good weather to cross Hecate Strait.  In a few places doctors or priests vaccinated the Indians and check the disease, but in most areas, as the Colonist put it, it raged unchecked until it exhausted itself for want of material to work on.  When the epidemic started, there were about 60,000 Indians in British Columbia.  When it had burned itself our two or three years later, there were about 40,000.

Smallpox was not the only disease that cut deeply into the Indian population.  Epidemics of measles, influenza, tuberculosis, and others also took their heavy tolls.  Venereal disease, a result of prevalent prostitution, killed many and rendered infertile many more.  Alcohol, introduced early as an item of trade, diluted and adulterated in various ways, was also the direct or indirect cause of many deaths.

Few Indians here, in comparison with other parts of the continent, were killed in battles with the white men.  Along the coast there were a few small but spectacular massacres of the crews of trading ships, or of Indians attempting to capture them, and several bombardments of villages by naval vessels.  In the interior there were very few attacks on trading posts, and one or two armed clashes, much too small to be called Indian Wars.*  (Accounts of nearly all of the Indians-white clashes may be found in B. A. McKelvie's little book "Tales of Conflict")

The Indians' own intertribal wars were quite another matter;  the introduction of firearms made these much more lethal affairs, and the mortality rates, especially along the coast, came to be terribly high.  It is difficult to gain an appreciation of the destructiveness of this warfare without going over, one by one, the traditional histories of each of the tribes.  Murders, massacres to avenge them, and more massacres in retaliation form a constantly recurring pattern.  Many small tribes were, in effect, exterminated.  Some of the more powerful tribes, embarked on contest of mutual annihilation.  The wars continued without abatement into the 1860's.  In the early journals we find frequent comments about the constant fighting among the Indians, but these somehow fail to convey the extent of the slaughter which was occurring just beyond the gaze of the men in the trading posts.


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