The Tainted Gift: The Disease Method of Frontier Expansion

The Tainted Gift: The Disease Method of Frontier Expansion

The Tainted Gift: The Disease Method of Frontier Expansion

The Tainted Gift: The Disease Method of Frontier Expansion


The speculation that the United States did infect Indian populations has long been a source of both outrage and skepticism. Now there is an exhaustively researched exploration of an issue that continues to haunt U.S.-Native American relations.

Barbara Alice Mann's The Tainted Gift: The Disease Method of Frontier Expansion offers riveting accounts of four specific incidents: The 1763 smallpox epidemic among native peoples in Ohio during the French and Indian War; the cholera epidemic during the 1832 Choctaw removal; the 1837 outbreak of smallpox among the high plains peoples; and the alleged 1847 poisonings of the Cayuses in Oregon. Drawing on previously unavailable sources, Mann's work is the first to give one of the most controversial questions in U.S. history the rigorous scrutiny it requires.


The Tainted Gift: The Disease Method of Frontier Expansion examines longstanding Native American allegations that disease was knowingly and deliberately spread as part of the immigrants’ intent to reduce Native peoples in North America and ease land seizure. Dr. Barbara Alice Mann has selected four instances to determine what degree of evidentiary support exists for such assertions: an asserted exchange of smallpox-laced blankets at Fort Pitt in 1763; the 1832 Choctaw Removal; a smallpox epidemic on the High Plains in 1837; and the 1847 allegations of the poisoning of the Cayuses in Oregon. She examines documentary and traditional evidence, without preconceived ideas. Her findings reveal a damning degree of complicity in all four cases. In other words, natural pathogens and sometimes, European medicines, were used as deliberate weapons in the battle for the land, often with what an attorney might deem malice aforethought.

Going through primary sources is the scutwork of historians and thus sometimes evaded. Far from evading the scutwork, however, Dr. Mann’s work provides a rare, incisive analysis of primary sources scattered among records that are often incomplete, unorganized, and un-indexed, compiled by people who had little interest in documenting the horrors in which they participated. Sometimes, as Mann points out, records were deliberately mangled to facilitate fraud. The convenience of future historians was not considered.

Later document sanitation almost certainly occurred around the 1763 smallpox distribution out of Fort Pitt examined in chapter 1. Mann tracks down and puts into context extant, high-level documents and memos that allude to now-missing letters and reports. Just as importantly, she finds previously overlooked Fort Pitt journals that unequivocably demonstrate that the smallpox distribution was a deliberate act, later commended by high British officials. She also presents Ohio oral traditions published in 1912 that corroborate the events portrayed in those fort records.

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