December 1781 17th Monday. I received the Disagreeable News of that Devouring Disorder the small pox rageing amongst the Natives & is carrying all off before It…

“Copy of a Letter received from Mr William Walker, Hud- sons House [built by William Tomison in 1788, 370 km up­stream from Cumberland House on the North Saskatchewan River], Decr 4th 1781… the small pox is rageing all round Us with great Violence, sparing very few that take it. We have re­ceived the News of above 9 tents of Indians within here, all Dead, the tents left Standing & their bodies left Inside Unbur- ied. … the Indians lying Dead about the Barren Ground like rotten sheep, their Tents left standing & the wild beast De­vouring them.”

18th Tuesday those that arrived last Night smoaking every thing belonging to them with the Flour of Sulpher [sic] to pre­vent any effect from them to the Natives.

25th Tuesday … late at Night two Indian Boys … brought the low Country lad on a Sledge. He was taken bad last night with a Violent pain in his breast & Belly…

26th Wednesday… The low Country Indian still continues very ill.

27th Thursday… This Morning we could Observe the small pox coming out very thick upon the sick lads heads & thighs.

30th Sunday… The Indian still continues very bad, he has a great stoppage in his throat…

1782.1stJanuary Tuesday. The Indian lad still very ill. He turn’d blind last Night…

5th Saturday. … one man making a Coffin & one man dig­ging a Gravefor the Indian lad, he Died last night between 9 & 10 oclock & was for 24 hours delirious.

15th Tuesday. Late in the Evening a Distressed Woman & her Child came here, these are all that is alive out ofone Tent, & has not yet been ailing. The News she brings is still more & more alarming… the small pox rageing amongst them with its greatestfury, & carrying all before it, they chiefly Die within the third or fourth Night, & those that survive after that time are left to be devoured by the wild beasts.

25th Friday … Two men Digging a Grave & burying a Woman that Died last Night. There is still nine more ailing, four of which I have in the House & they have due attendance [sic, attendants]Night & Day &yet there is but little hopes of their recovery.

31st Thursday… sentfourMen to Bury four of the Indians … Late in the Evening three Young Indians arriv’dfrom the U’Basquiau Leader, one of which was taken bad last night…. Out of a number that has died, there is only one Woman that has recovered.

1st February Friday. Indeed it is hard labour to keep the House in fuel and bury the Dead.

2d Saturday… One [man] digging a Grave and burying an Indian that Died in the Night after having been taken care of in the Housefor these ten Days past. There is something very malignant, that we are not sensible of, either in the Constitu­tion of the Natives or in the Disorder, those that Die before the small pox breaks out is tormented with great pains and many of them Die within 48 hours. …

Febry 19th… here we have buried Upwards of30for Which Number there is only two recovered & they are but Children. The U’Basquiau Indians are all Dead & ten tents ofPegagamy and Cowinetow Indians that was pitching towards this place all Died…. am of Opinion that it has come from the snake Indi­ans & has been conveyed to them by those that trade in the Mississipi [sic].

March 23 Saturday … a Boy & Girl arrived from the Swampy River, having left one man behind, these is all that is alive out [of] 10 tents…

The following are excerpts from the York Factory journal of Matthew Cocking, 1781 and 1782.

2d July Tuesday. Mr. William Tomison and 22 Englishmen … arrived. …Charles Isham [at Hudson’s House] had been ill of the Small Pox but happily recovered. … The whole tribe of U’Basquia Indians are deceased except one young Child… the many different Tribes of Southern Assinne Poet and Yatchith- inue Indians are also almost wholly extinct as I am assured by Messrs Tomison and Longmoorfor they say that they really be­lieve of young and old not one infifty of those Tribes are now living.

It seems a party of those Indians who were at war having met with a Tent ofKenspick Athinewack [ie Snake] Indians who were all ill of the Small Pox (and were supposed to have received it from the Spaniards whom tis said those people trade with) killed them all and scalped them to carry away with them, by this means they received the infection and al­most all of them died on their return. Whatfew reached their own Country communicated the disorder to their Friends and it spread through the whole Country. … Numbers died through want of Food or starved with cold having no atten­dance [sic, attendants]for as the complaint became general there was none left in many Tribes able to huntfor or admin­ister to the wants of each other. Many put an end to their own existence to end their pain and others for grief at the loss of their friends.

Mr Tomison’s information is additionally distressing …he met two Canoes of the Lake Indians who arrived here the 10th Ulte and went away the 14th. These he assures me are all that remain of that Company, the rest 14 canoes being all dead of the Small Pox.

Towards noon six Canoes arrived with Furs to trade, five of them are Sahsahnew Indians, the sixth Lake Indians. Three of this Company are now ill of the Small Pox which seized them on the way down. I put them all immediately under the sur­geons care; one of them died in the evening, the others have spots coming out on them very thick which the surgeon says have been an unfavourable appearance [they died within days] and their throats are excessive sore.


The smallpox epidemic among Cree Indians in western Can­ada describes the first major health impact of their contact with Eurpoeans. Over two centuries later, the health of Cana­dians Aboriginal people still compares unfavourably with that of non-Aboriginal Canadians. This is due in large part to infec­tious disease such as tuberculosis and, increasingly, HIV, as well as noninfectious conditions such as diabetes and sub­stance abuse. These persisting health problems are, at least in part, the effects of European contact.
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Category: Diseases / Tags: Cree Indians, Disease outbreaks, Fur trade, Smallpox

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