1.12.2016

Fabrication and Falsification - Did the U.S. Army Distribute Smallpox Blankets to Indians? No.

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Coffeetalking adds:  the bold text is mine.

Did the U.S. Army Distribute Smallpox Blankets to Indians? Fabrication and Falsification in Ward Churchill's Genocide Rhetoric

In this analysis of the genocide rhetoric employed over the years by Ward Churchill, an ethnic studies professor at the University of Colorado, a "distressing" conclusion is reached: Churchill has habitually committed multiple counts of research misconduct—specifically, fabrication and falsification. While acknowledging the "politicization" of the topic and evidence of other outrages committed against Native American tribes in times past, this study examines the different versions of the "smallpox blankets" episode published by Churchill between 1994 and 2003. 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. 

All historians believe in honoring the integrity of the historical record. They do not fabricate evidence. Forgery and fraud violate the most basic foundations on which historians construct their interpretations of the past. An undetected counterfeit undermines not just the historical arguments of the forger, but all subsequent scholarship that relies on the forger's work. Those who invent, alter, remove, or destroy evidence make it difficult for any serious historian ever wholly to trust their work again. American Historical Association's Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct. 
 
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Ward Churchill tells a shocking tale of war crimes committed by the U.S. Army at Fort Clark against the Mandan Indians in 1837. Fort Clark stood perched on a windswept bluff overlooking the Missouri River, in what is today North Dakota. Churchill reports that in early 1837, the commander of Fort Clark ordered a boatload of blankets shipped from a military smallpox infirmary in St. Louis. When the shipment arrived at Fort Clark on June 20, U.S. Army officers requested a parlay with Mandan Indians who lived next to the fort. At the parlay, army officers distributed the smallpox-infested blankets as gifts. When the Indians began to show signs of the illness, U.S. Army doctors did not impose quarantine, but instead told the Indians to scatter, so that the disease would become more widespread and kill more Indians. Meanwhile, the fort authorities hoarded smallpox vaccine in their storeroom, instead of using it to inoculate the Indians.

Every aspect of Churchill's tale is fabricated. Between 1994 and 2003, Ward Churchill published at least six different versions of this accusation against the U.S. Army. While the Mandans and other Indians of the Upper Plains did suffer horribly from a smallpox epidemic in 1837, Churchill presents no evidence whatsoever to indicate that the infection was anything but accidental, or that the U.S. Army was in any way involved. Fort Clark was a privately owned fur trading outpost, not a military base, and there were no U.S. troops in the vicinity. The closest U.S. military unit was an eight hundred mile march away at Fort Leavenworth.

In telling his fantastic tale, Churchill has fabricated incidents that never occurred and individuals who never existed. Churchill falsified the sources that he cited in support of his tale, and repeatedly concealed evidence in his possession that disconfirms his version of events.

Ward Churchill is currently a Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado. The university granted Churchill tenure in 1991 in spite of the fact that he lacks a Ph.D. and had not served the normal probationary period as an untenured assistant professor. Churchill holds a M.A. degree in Communications from Sangamon State University. Documents from the University of Colorado archives indicate that Churchill obtained his tenured position there under a program designed to "recruit and hire a more diverse faculty" (Clark, 2005). In early 2006, the University investigated Churchill on seven allegations of research misconduct, one of which was Churchill's smallpox blankets hoax.  The committee unanimously found Churchill guilty on all seven counts, and the Chancellor has recommended his dismissal from the university.

Given the politicization of this topic, it seems necessary to acknowledge at the outset that far too many instances of the U.S. Army committing outrages against various Indian tribes can be documented. A number of these were explicitly genocidal in intent. It is not the intention of this author to deny that simple fact. However, as the eminent Cherokee sociologist Russell Thornton has observed of Ward Churchill's fabricated version of the 1837 smallpox epidemic: "The history is bad enough—there's no need to embellish it" (Jaschik, 2005). That the U.S. Army is undoubtedly guilty of genocidal outrages against Indians in the past in no way justifies Ward Churchill's fabrication of an outrage that never happened.

What Really Happened?

The High Plains smallpox epidemic of 1837 has been analyzed by numerous historians. None of the previous histories have indicated any U.S. Army presence in the vicinity, much less any military involvement in genocide. None have mentioned a word about a boatload of blankets shipped from a military smallpox infirmary in St. Louis. None have mentioned any medical personnel as even being present in the vicinity, much less deliberately violating quarantine by sending infected Indians out among the healthy population.
Historians agree that smallpox was brought to the High Plains in 1837 aboard the steamboat St. Peter's—which was owned by a fur trading company—as it made its annual voyage up the Missouri River from St. Louis, delivering goods to the company's trading posts along the way. The disease followed in the steamboat's wake, making its appearance among the southern-most tribes along the river before it spread to the Mandans at Fort Clark and tribes north (Connell, 1984; Ferch, 1983; Dollar, 1977; Hudson, 2006; Jones, 2005; Meyer, 1977; Pearson, 2003; Stearn & Stearn, 1945; Sunder, 1968; Thornton, 1987; Trimble, 1985; Trimble, 1992; Robertson, 2001).

Many eyewitness accounts of the 1837 epidemic have survived. None mention any U.S. Army presence in the vicinity of Fort Clark. Only two government employees were on board the St. Peter's as it approached the Upper Missouri. Joshua Pilcher was the Indian Bureau's sub-agent to the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Ponca (Sunder, 1968). Pilcher left the boat at Fort Kiowa, where he was posted, before the boat arrived at Fort Clark. Pilcher's letters to his superior, Superintendent William Clark, indicate that the disease was carried by a number of sick passengers on board the St. Peter's. As Pilcher began to realize the magnitude of the disease, he took steps to quarantine as many of his Indian charges as possible. Pilcher wrote Clark in June 1837 and again in July, warning of the smallpox outbreak. Pilcher advocated to Clark that an extended vaccination program should be initiated to stem the epidemic. Pilcher noted of his vaccination plan that: "it is a verry delicate experiment among those wild Indians, because death from any other cause, while under the influence of Vaccination would be attributed to that + no other cause[.]"  Still, he told Clark, "[I]f furnishd with the means, I will cheerfully risk an experiment which may preserve the lives of fifteen or twenty thousand Indians[.]"

William Fulkerson was the other Indian Bureau sub-agent on board. Under Fulkerson's purview were the Upper Missouri tribes, from the Mandans at Fort Clark to points north. Fulkerson was the only federal employee who rode the steamboat all the way up and back down the river, and the only one to meet the Mandans at Fort Clark. There is no evidence at all that Fulkerson distributed any blankets to Indians. Fulkerson's letters to Superintendent William Clark both before and after the trip complain that the government had not allocated funds for the annual annuity gifts to Fulkerson's tribes. Clark's accounting records bear this out. 

Fulkerson corroborates Pilcher's report of sick passengers on board the St. Peter's. Fulkerson requested of the steamboat captain that he put the first man to come down with smallpox off the boat.  Captain Pratte, who was a principal in the fur company that owned the boat, refused to stop or turn back because of the disease, for turning back would have interfered with his delivery of trade goods. That would have caused havoc with his business, and put his traders in danger from angry Indians who were counting on the trade goods. Thus the brunt of responsibility for the epidemic lies with Pratte, for refusing to cancel his trip upriver once the smallpox was discovered aboard. Upon William Fulkerson's return from the steamboat trip, he warned William Clark that: "the small pox has broke out in this country and is sweeping all before it—unless it be checked in its mad career I would not be surprised if it wiped the Mandan and Rickaree [Arikara]Tribes of Indians clean from the face of the earth." 

Francis Chardon was the trader who commanded Fort Clark. His journal provides an eyewitness account of the events there as the disease took its course (Chardon, 1970). Jacob Halsey was the trader who commanded Fort Union, several hundred miles upriver from Fort Clark. Halsey was a passenger on the St. Peter's, and contracted smallpox himself. The letter that Halsey wrote to his superiors in the fall of 1837 gives us another eyewitness account (Chardon, 1970, pp. 394-396). Charles Larpenteur was another trader at Fort Union. Larpenteur's journal is another invaluable eyewitness record. Larpenteur's journal was later edited and published in book form (1989).
Two of the eyewitnesses at Fort Clark offer the same hypothesis of how the disease was transmitted to the Mandan Indians. William Fulkerson, the Indian agent, and Francis Chardon, the trader, both tell a story about an Indian sneaking aboard the steamboat and stealing an infested blanket from a sick passenger. Chardon relates that he attempted to retrieve the infested blanket by offering to exchange it for a new one. This stolen blanket was the theory of infection believed by Fulkerson and Chardon who were both at Fort Clark and observed the incidents there first-hand (Audubon, 1960, pp. 42-48; Fulkerson to Clark, September 20, 1837).

Indian sub-agent Joshua Pilcher, on the other hand, offered a different theory of infection. Pilcher informed his superior that three Arikara women aboard the steamboat also came down with the disease, and then left the boat at Fort Clark to rejoin their tribe. [ All modern researchers agree with Pilcher that the disease was more likely spread by human contact than by blankets. Dr. Michael Trimble's detailed epidemiological analysis draws on the relevant primary sources to give the fullest account of the epidemic's introduction and spread among the High Plains Indians around Fort Clark (Trimble, 1985). There was a party at the Mandan village the night the St. Peter's arrived, attended by many of the white passengers. Thus there were plenty of opportunities for person-to-person transmission of the infection.

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.

Defining "Research Misconduct"

Under federal law, "research misconduct" involves fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism. Fabrication means making up data. Falsification means changing or omitting data in your possession, "such that the research is not accurately represented in the research record." Just because Churchill's version of history is iconoclastic, that does not necessarily mean that he committed research misconduct. Federal law allows that: "Research misconductdoes not include honest error or differences of opinion." 

Churchill's transgressions take two forms. First, Churchill commits fabrication by inventing events that never happened and historical characters who never existed. Specifically, Churchill (2003b; 1997) claims that "the commander of Fort Clark had a boatload of blankets" shipped "from a military infirmary in St. Louis quarantined for smallpox," and that "army officers" distributed these infested blankets among the Mandans as part of a genocidal plot. Churchill offers no evidence that substantiates any of this, and no such evidence exists. Churchill indicts fictional "army doctors" and "army surgeons" with ordering the Indians to disperse, thus deliberately violating quarantine practices in order to spread the disease more quickly. Again, Churchill offers no evidence that could substantiate this claim, and none exists.

Second, Churchill commits falsification by misrepresenting the sources he does cite, and by concealing disconfirming evidence in his possession. None of Churchill's sources confirm his tale. On the contrary, all of his sources disconfirm his tale. Churchill never discloses that the authors he has cited disagree with his version of events, and never discloses that the authors he has cited offer evidence that disconfirms his own version. Churchill's manipulation and concealment of this crucial data meets the definition of falsification under federal law. While Churchill does not appear to have received any federal funding for his research, the University of Colorado—and most other American research universities—hold all their faculty to the federal ethical standards.



 You can read Churchill's various version that were debunked' here:  Source


After this close reading of Churchill and his sources, it is time to step back and look at the big picture. What Churchill has done, in at least five different essays, is to accuse the U.S. Army of committing genocide against the Mandans by deliberately giving them smallpox-infested blankets. Scholars can and do make honest errors. But honest scholars do not invent historical characters who never lived and events that never happened. 

Tailoring the facts to fit one's theory constitutes neither good science nor good journalism. Rather, it is intellectually dishonest and, when published for consumption by a mass audience, adds up to propaganda. Ward Churchill.