Today is Indigenous Peoples’ Day, marking the anniversary of the beginning of European immigration to the U.S. (Who will be brave enough to suggest a further renaming of Columbus Day to “Destruction of Native Society via Immigration Day”?)
I’m in the middle of The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present, which blames smallpox, measles, and other diseases than can be transmitted from person to person for the majority of Native American deaths as a consequence of this immigration.
I recently finished The Mosquito: A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator. This book, by contrast, says that it was mosquito-borne diseases, notably malaria and yellow fever, that were responsible for most of the killing. North America had mosquitoes prior to European migration, but was free of malaria, yellow fever, and a variety of other diseases spread by mosquitoes:
The deadly yellow fever virus disembarked in the Americas with African slaves and an imported Aedes breed of mosquito that easily survived the journey on the slave ships, reproducing in the plentiful barrels and pools of water. European slave traders and their human cargo provided ample opportunity for a continuous cycle of viral infection during the voyage until fresh blood could be claimed upon arrival at a foreign port. The Aedes mosquito quickly found its niche and a suitable home in the cheerful climate of its new world and thrived both in its superiority to domestic species and in its role as a deliverer of suffering and death.
Readers: What do you think? Most of what I have read suggests that malaria and yellow fever were at their deadliest in the coastal South. Yet Native American populations were largely destroyed throughout the continent.
- our neighbors are in a panic due to a new mosquito-borne threat; “3rd Person In Massachusetts Dies From EEE This Year” (tends to prove the thesis of The Mosquito book that mosquitoes are always ready to thin any significantly packed herd of humans)