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Timeline / Colonizers and Resistance / 1775: Smallpox strikes again in North America

1775: Smallpox strikes again in North America

As the American Revolution begins, epidemic smallpox spreads across North America, killing hundreds of thousands of whites and Native peoples, from the Eastern Seaboard to the Mississippi River and from the Gulf Coast into Canada. In Mexico City, smallpox erupts and moves north to the Niuam (Comanche), who carry it north to the Shoshone. The epidemic devastates Native populations from the Pacific Northwest to Alaska.

Arctic, California, Great Basin, Great Plains, Northeast, Northwest Coast, Plateau, Southeast, Southwest, Subarctic

The Lakota marked the passage of time by drawing pictures of memorable events on calendars called winter counts.This picture, titled “The eruption and pains in the stomach and bowels; smallpox used them up winter,” is by Battiste Good Year, and was created in 1779–1780. Winter counts were physical records used in conjunction with oral history. The events used to name the years were not necessarily the most important things that happened, but ones that were memorable and widely known within the community.

Courtesy National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution