In 1832, the United States began an extensive program to vaccinate Indians against smallpox. The program reached roughly 50,000 Indians both friendly and hostile to U.S. authorities. The program was far-reaching because more than they feared Indians, Americans feared the smallpox virus. Their terror was palpable in narratives published in the 1830s. In addition, as narratives from the period make clear, rather than thinking of diseases such as smallpox as providential scourges that would clear the way for U.S. settlement, officials offered the smallpox vaccine to Indians in an effort to win their goodwill, and detach them from alliances with Britain or Mexico (both of whom also offered vaccine to the Indians). Finally, as the U.S. began its tentative first moves into the West, narratives about vaccinating Indians helped Americans convince themselves that they were not simply conquerors but healers.
- Isaac Knight
- Douglas Houghton
- James O. Pattie
- © 2017 by the Pacific Coast Branch, American Historical Association