Germ Warfare
Douglass Houghton

Some time in the fall of 1767 or 8, a trader, who had ascended the Mississippi and established himself near Leech Lake, was robbed of his goods by the Indians residing at that lake; and, in consequence of his exertions in defending his property, he died soon after.

These facts became known to the directors of the Fur company, at Mackinac, and each successive year after, requests were sent to the Leech Lake Indians, that they should visit Mackinac, and make reparation for the goods they had taken, by a payment of furs, at the same time threatening punishment in case of a refusal. In the spring of 1770 the Indians saw fit to comply with this request; and a deputation from the band visited Mackinac, with a quantity of furs, which they considered an equivalent for the goods which had been taken.

The deputation was received with politeness by the directors of the company, and the difficulties readily adjusted. When this was effected, a cask of liquor and a flag closely rolled were presented to the Indians as a token of friendship. They were at the same time strictly enjoined neither to break the seal of the cask nor to unroll the flag, until they had reached the heart of their own country. This they promised to observe; but while returning, and after having travelled many days, the chief of the deputation made a feast for the Indians of the band at Fond du Lac, Lake Superior, upon which occasion he unsealed the cask and unrolled the flag for the gratification of his guests.

The Indians drank of the liquor, and remained in a state of inebriation during several days. The rioting was over, and they were fast recovering from its effects, when several of the party were seized with violent pain. This was attributed to the liquor they had drunk; but the pain increasing, they were induced to drink deeper of the poisonous drug, and in this inebriated state several of the party died, before the real cause was suspected. Other like cases occurred; and it was not long before one of the war-party which had visited Montreal in 1750, and who had narrowly escaped with his life, recognised the disease as the same which had attacked their party at that time. It proved to be so; and of those Indians then at Fond du Lac, about three hundred in number, nearly the whole were swept off by it.

Nor did it stop here, for numbers of those at Fond du Lac, at the time the disease made its appearance, took refuge among the neighbouring bands, and although it did not extend easterly on Lake Superior, it is believed that not a single band of Chippewas north or west from Fond du Lac escaped its ravages. Of a large band then resident at Cass Lake, near the source of the Mississippi River, only one person, a child, escaped. The others having been attacked by the disease, died before any opportunity for dispersing was offered.

The Indians at this day are firmly of the opinion that the small-pox was, at this time, communicated through the articles presented to their brethren, by the agent of the Fur Company at Mackinac; and that it was done for the purpose of punishing them more severely for their offences.


Douglass Houghton in a letter to Henry Schoolcraft, September 21 1832
Narrative of an Expedition Through the Upper Mississippi to Itasca Lake by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, pages 254-255
Harper & Brothers, New York, 1834