Did the US Army Distribute Smallpox Blankets to Indians?

Painting of a Mandan village by George Catlin, ca. 1833
Painting of a Mandan village by George Catlin, ca. 1833

At least one telling of the story has been determined to be false. And considering the source, that shouldn’t be surprising. Beginning in the early 90s, Ward Churchill told several versions of atrocities committed by the US Army at Fort Clark against the Mandan Indians in 1837.

You may remember that Churchill wrote an essay shortly after 9/11 asserting “the little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers” deserved their “penalty.” Churchill, a professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado Boulder from 1990 to 2007, was fired for research misconduct. Some scholars believed that his firing was retaliation for the “little Eichmanns” comment, but his lawsuit to that effect was ultimately unsuccessful.

In an article, Did the US Army Distribute Smallpox Blankets to Indians? Fabrication and Falsification in Ward Churchill’s Genocide Rhetoric, Thomas Brown details how Churchill “habitually committed multiple counts of research misconduct.”

Brown, an assistant professor of sociology at Lamar University, summarizes it this way:

The “preponderance of evidence” standard of proof strongly indicates that Churchill fabricated events that never occurred—namely the U.S. Army’s alleged distribution of smallpox infested blankets to the Mandan Indians in 1837. The analysis additionally reveals that Churchill falsified sources to support his fabricated version of events, and also concealed evidence in his cited sources that actually disconfirms, rather than substantiates, his allegations of genocide.

The paper is long, but detailed. It’s worth the time, though, to learn that America’s history isn’t quite as bad as some want us to believe.

Read the article here, or download a PDF for printing.

In short, there is no evidence at all to support the key elements of Ward Churchill’s tale. There is no evidence that U.S. Army officers or doctors were anywhere in the vicinity in June 1837. There is no evidence that any blankets were shipped from a military smallpox infirmary in St. Louis. There is no evidence that anyone passed out infested blankets to Indians with genocidal intent. Ward Churchill has invented all of this.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *