MARCH 12, 1862


The paddle steamer Brother Jonathan pulled into Victoria from San Francisco with about 350 passengers, mostly gold seekers–one had smallpox.  Thus, began the catastrophic 1862 epidemic.  Nearly 2,000 Indians from northern Vancouver Island to Alaska camped on the outskirts of Victoria, plus at least 1,600 local Indians (Songhees) lived nearby.  Initially vaccinations were done only for the Songhees who then self-quarantined on a nearby island and largely avoided the epidemic.  Authorities chose not to initially vaccinate or quarantine non-local Indians.  Rather, they forced them back to their homelands spreading the epidemic to every Indian community in the Puget Sound area.  More than 14,000 Indians died.  The southern Alaska panhandle suffered most: The Tlingit had about 1,450 deaths (60% of their population); the Heiltsuk went from 1,650 to about 500; the Haida lost 70% of their people (5,700 to 1,600).  Social structures were devastated. 

Source:  Greg Lange, “Smallpox Epidemic of 1862 among Northwest Coast and Puget Sound Indians,”, Essay 5171, 2/4/2003.  Retrieved 11/22/2020.
Drawing:  Author unknown, circa 1862. Public Domain.

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