British Captain Simeon Ecuyer, portrayed by Ken Treese, second from right, offered blankets infected with smallpox to the Indians besieging Fort Pitt. From left, interpreters Christopher Jones, Ted Boscana, Treese, and Patrick Andrews.

American History Myths Debunked: The Indians Weren’t Defeated by White Settlers

ICTMN Staff
5/20/12

When the “6 Ridiculous Lies You Believe About the Founding of America” was posted May 15 by Cracked.com is started something of an Internet sensation; and a spike in people searching for things like “who discovered America?” More than 1.5 million people have viewed the story thus far.

So we’ve decided to go a step further and offer our own take on their six myths, see where they got their information and see what else we can find.

Myth number six says “The Indians Weren’t Defeated by White Settlers,” it instead says Native Americans were wiped out by a plague.

This plague was smallpox, something Native Americans had never seen because it came from living in close proximity to livestock, something farmers in Europe had been doing for thousands of years.

Cracked.com sited a PBS series titled “Guns, Germs and Steel” based on the book by Jared Diamond that details how Europeans brought that disease and others like the flu and measles with them, killing some 90 percent of the Native American population between the time Columbus showed up and the Mayflower landed.

“More victims of colonization were killed by Eurasian germs, than by either the gun or the sword, making germs the deadliest agent of conquest,” says PBS.org.

And reports of the British then using biological warfare to gain an edge in subsequent battles against the American Indians abound. One of the most prevalent examples of its use came from Lord Jeffrey Amherst, who was commanding general of British forces in North America during the final battles of the French & Indian war (1754-1763).  The town of Amherst, Massachusetts was later named for him, as was Amherst College.

Historical stories point to Lord Amherst requesting that smallpox infected blankets be sent to the Indians, like this one in Carl Waldman's Atlas of the North American Indian about a siege of Fort Pitt by Chief Pontiac’s forces during the summer of 1763: Captain Simeon Ecuyer had bought time by sending smallpox-infected blankets and handkerchiefs to the Indians surrounding the fort—an early example of biological warfare—which started an epidemic among them. Amherst himself had encouraged this tactic in a letter to Ecuyer.”

To push their point home, the Cracked.com post sites the book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann in which Giovanni de Verrazzano, an Italian sailor, describes first seeing the East Coast of North America in 1523. “He observed that the coastline everywhere was ‘densely populated,’ smoky with Indian bonfires; he could sometimes smell the burning hundreds of miles away.”

The Cracked.com post says there were between 20 million and 100 million people here before the plague, and the entire population of Europe was 70 million, so let’s face it, the settlers couldn’t have defeated the Native Americans without the diseases they brought with them, especially if the Vikings hadn’t been able to before them. Read more about that in yesterday’s post, “American History Myths Debunked: Columbus Discovered America.”

Also check out the first in ICTMN’s series based on the Cracked.com post, “American History Myths Debunked: No Native Influence on Founding Fathers.”

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Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
bullshit

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
I just stumbled across this after reading the original Cracked.com article. Thank You for telling the truth!!! I was looking for something that my students could read that was accurate about the founding of America, and was incensed when I read both the article "6 Ridiculous Lies You Believe" and the comments beneath it.

LeoTalus the Great's picture
LeoTalus the Great
Submitted by LeoTalus the Great on
Bullshit. It wasn't smallpox.. that didn't come until later. they said it themselves.. smallpox is from living in close quarters with livestock. Well, livestock didn't travel on boats here until Plymouth Rock. Columbus sure didn't bring 'em.

genericjohnny's picture
genericjohnny
Submitted by genericjohnny on
What a terribly written article. So you're saying you agree with cracked.com and Jared Diamond? Why not say so more clearly. The author is too clever for their own good. I had to read the article like 10 times to finally understand that you agreed with cracked.com that they had successfully debunked the "superior culture and technology" myth.

genericjohnny's picture
genericjohnny
Submitted by genericjohnny on
Actually, I think the writers are confused what myths were being debunked at cracked.com. Did you even read the article at cracked.com? It agrees with a statement in your last paragraph: " so let’s face it, the settlers couldn’t have defeated the Native Americans without the diseases they brought with them, especially if the Vikings hadn’t been able to before them."

1pahogg@gmail.com's picture
1pahogg@gmail.com
Submitted by 1pahogg@gmail.com on
Shalom, I was born in Wales and our history is also clouded to say the least, my Grand Father showed me stuctures that date back way before the common era, ie b4 bc. I am the same colour as the people who wrote my /our history, they r the same people who wrote most of ur history too. Real good to find ur site, I found Quiet Buck and his music, Mind Blowing,,,,,,,,,, U r All Friend Right :))

Mike Baldwin's picture
Mike Baldwin
Submitted by Mike Baldwin on
A small and maybe a silly point but if, as stated, the settlers brought various plagues with them that infected the indigenous people, then white people did indeed defeat them.

RichJ's picture
RichJ
Submitted by RichJ on
It was a class of cultures. I am certain that there were people capable of such intentional deeds on both sides. I don't doubt that the commander of the British forces, Amherst was capable of such an act. If some of the Native Americans had thought of it they would have done the same. I think the final analysis will reveal that the truth is close to this, the people with the most robust immune systems prevailed. I am convinced that the settlers of Plymouth treated the Native Americans as neighbors as much as possible.

JAN BOWMAN's picture
JAN BOWMAN
Submitted by JAN BOWMAN on
the most accurate history is told by the Indians themselves. The ones who survived 500 residential schools know more about there history than any one. How many very old grey haired Indians do you know on a very personal basis?

Fyodor's picture
Fyodor
Submitted by Fyodor on
What appallingly bad "journalism". The influence of disease in "Guns, Germs and Steel" is well known, but only a contributing part of the general thesis of the work which starts with the question "If Europe and North America were so similar, why was North American essentially helpless to repel European invaders". Go read the book. The other factors might surprise you (not surprisingly including geography, which is Diamond's field). Citing "Cracked.com" as a credible historical source? Really?

stinklebrink's picture
stinklebrink
Submitted by stinklebrink on
There is no evidence small pox was purposefully used against the Native Americans. Furthermore they had a poor understanding of how the disease spread, you can't give small pox to another person without direct contact.

candyapple's picture
candyapple
Submitted by candyapple on
Smallpox can be spread via contaminated objects or clothing. http://www.bt.cdc.gov/agent/smallpox/overview/disease-facts.asp

candyapple's picture
candyapple
Submitted by candyapple on
Smallpox can be spread via contaminated objects or clothing. http://www.bt.cdc.gov/agent/smallpox/overview/disease-facts.asp

Hawki56's picture
Hawki56
Submitted by Hawki56 on
@ Jan Bowman: What a crock of crap! "the most accurate history is told by the Indians themselves.". You don't need to go farther than the kids campfire game of gossip - 20 people in a circle, the first whispers a story in to the next person's ear and so on - the end story is markedly different from the original. Sports stories about the big game where the feats grow with the telling. Hunters and fishermen stories about the one that got away. Stories passed on shed minimal light on the truth and almost always benefit the point the story teller is trying to make.

Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
Explaining away the genocide of Native Americans as the result of disease certainly DOES NOT make it any less of a genocide. I am almost positive many of the Jews who suffered at the hands of the Nazis also died of diseases, does that make the Nazi holocaust any less of a genocide?

Juliet's picture
Juliet
Submitted by Juliet on
All the people saying that it could not have been smallpox because it didn't come over until the Pilgrims arrived seem to forget that the disease had a hold throughout Europe. The Spanish brought their germ-laden selves to the New World, interacted with the locals in ways from friendly to homicidal, and spread those diseases. People fled the death stalking their towns and villages, spreading the diseases further.

Juliet's picture
Juliet
Submitted by Juliet on
Genocide includes not only killing members of a group, but also denying them their language, religion, and culture. The children who came out of 'Indian schools' unable to speak their own language and knowing nothing of their religion and culture were as much victims of genocide as the ones who were starved and beaten to death or massacred.

ArrowD's picture
ArrowD
Submitted by ArrowD on
Just for the record small pox is not related to living near cattle. People transfer small pox from person to person and it tended to run in 10 to 15 year cycles through communities, some times longer and it was the great population reduction disease, that kept society at a cultural and economic standstill though out much of the world. Typically it would enter a community and do its killing, leaving behind those who were either naturally immune or who survived the disease and were then made immune. Cow pox is transferred from cattle to people and the early on realized that people who had had the less serious cow pox were immune to small pox, hence a small pox vaccine was made from cow pox, vacca, meaning cow is the root word for vaccination, as it was the first man made vaccine. Previous to vaccination inoculation technique was used, where the pus of the disease was given to the person seeking resistance to it. I agree with Jared's views as disease had been used as a form of weapon through out history. His books are well worth reading as well as his film found on netflx called Guns Germs and Steel
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