A Cherokee grandmother recently recorded the story that our ancestors were given blankets infected with smallpox during the Cherokee removal (Trail of Tears). Though thousands died during the removal west, there’s not hard evidence of a major smallpox outbreak along the many trail. Whether it happend on the trail or not, there’s reason to believe that the Cherokee and other tribes had been attacked with this biological warfare in the past.
In 1738, a major disaster struck the Cherokee when their towns were swept by an epidemic of smallpox. The Cherokee Chief Oconostota, accused the British of deliberately planting smallpox germs in the trade goods, they had shipped to the Cherokees. He was probably right.
In 1763 General Jeffery Amherst asked Colonel Bouquet if he could do this very thing. Bouquet replied that he would try.
What wasn’t mentioned was that they had already done it. Five days before Amherst wrote to Bouquet, William Trent the commander of the militia at the fort penned in his journal that Chief Mamaltee and The Turtles Heart, a principal warrior of the Delaware came to warn of a massive Indian attack. They said they had asked the Six Nations to hold off and let the military abandon the fort instead. The colonel replied that the soldiers would remain there. In response to the two Native Americans’ attempt to save the soldiers’ lives Trent wrote, “we gave them two Blankets and an Handkerchief out of the Small Pox Hospital. I hope it will have the desired effect”.
It proved particularly effective because the Ohio tribes had little immunity having missed the 1757-58 epidemic among the French allies contracted during the capture of Fort William Henry (New York). The Shawnee were fighting the Cherokee in Tennessee at the time, and they carried the disease to them, and then the Shawnee living with the Creek Confederacy. From there it spread to the Chickasaw and Choctaw, and finally the entire southeast. Before it had run its course, the epidemic had killed thousands, including British colonists.
Today as people search genealogy sites for their Cherokee ancestry they may not realize how ethnic cleansing could easily have wiped out their entire family tree. Genocide did destroy hundreds of smaller tribes and left it’s effect on all that were left. Today as large corporations make money from running oil pipelines across sacred lands and waters, few people comprehend the historical significance.