Death Stalks the Yakama: Epidemiological Transitions and Mortality on the Yakama Indian Reservation, 1888-1964

Death Stalks the Yakama: Epidemiological Transitions and Mortality on the Yakama Indian Reservation, 1888-1964

Death Stalks the Yakama: Epidemiological Transitions and Mortality on the Yakama Indian Reservation, 1888-1964

Death Stalks the Yakama: Epidemiological Transitions and Mortality on the Yakama Indian Reservation, 1888-1964

Synopsis

Clifford Trafzer's disturbing new work, Death Stalks the Yakama, examines life, death, and the shockingly high mortality rates that have persisted among the fourteen tribes and bands living on the Yakama Reservation in the state of Washington. The work contains a valuable discussion of Indian beliefs about spirits, traditional causes of death, mourning ceremonies, and memorials. More significant, however, is Trafzer's research in heretofore unused parturition and death records from 1888-1964. In these documents, he discovers critical evidence to demonstrate how and why so many reservation people died in "epidemics" of pneumonia, tuberculosis, and heart disease.

Death Stalks the Yakama takes into account many variables, including age, gender, listed causes of death, residence, and blood quantum. In addition, analyses of fetal and infant mortality rates, as well as crude death rates arising from tuberculosis, pneumonia, heart disease, accidents, and other causes are presented. Trafzer argues thatNative Americans living on the Yakama Reservation were, in fact, in jeopardy as a result of the "reservation system" itself. Not only did this alien and artificial culture radically alter traditional ways of life, but sanitation methods, housing, hospitals, public health, education, medicine, and medical personnel affiliated with the reservation system all proved inadequate, and each in its own way contributed significantly to high Yakama death rates.

Excerpt

The present work is an outgrowth of my previous research on various Indian tribes living on the Columbia River Plateau. in 1977, I began research on a book dealing with the history of the Palouse Indians of eastern Washington. During the course of my research, I traveled west with my colleague, Richard D. Scheuerman, to the Yakama Reservation where we interviewed descendants of the Palouse people. As a result, we met Mary Jim and Andrew George, and our association with these and other elders enriched our research and our lives. This was my first acquaintance with the Yakama Reservation, and it is one that has developed over the years. in addition to researching on the reservation, I traveled to Seattle to conduct research at the National Archives, Pacific Northwest Region. There I met the gracious and helpful archivist, Joyce Justice, who introduced me to the papers of the Yakama Indian Agency, and I was impressed with the large collection of materials available dealing with the Yakama Reservation. After becoming acquainted with the collection, I determined that when I finished the Palouse book, I would begin a study of the Yakama Reservation. in 1986, Washington State University Press published Renegade Tribe: the Palouse Indians and the Invasion of the Inland Pacific Northwest, and after the book was released, I started work on a study of the Yakama Reservation.

Originally, I intended to write a history of the Yakama Reservation, and I began reading the letters found in the voluminous letter books kept at the National Archives. However, the more I read, the more I realized that the Yakama Reservation was little different from other reservations in terms of administrative history. I asked Joyce Justice if I could review some other documents, including records of the Indian court, birth records, death certificates, bills of sale, and marriage . . .

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