Plagues and 19th century American Expansion

With the spreading of a new wave of Covid into Idaho, I find myself reviewing my writings about the role of plagues in nineteenth century expansion of America into the western states.

It has been difficult for us to fully appreciate the role of disease in the downfall of native societies which were conquered by the expanding Americans. Typical Western histories give coverage to American superior military weapons and the ability of the federal government to divide and conquer smaller native tribal societies. The role of disease, however, should play an equally important role in any assessment of the so-called Manifest Destiny episodes.

Consider the negative impact that Covid-19 has already had on the American and world economies. Imagine, however, that more than 90% of all people died from Covid. How would we maintain our social order and economic base? We would not.

It is in this context that my histories of California native societies contrasts with my Kalispel and Kootenai writings. The coastal people of California suffered halocaustal death rates and the complete collapse of their economies. The Kalispel and Kootenai suffered also from plagues, but managed to maintain a diminished but viable community life. Those us, like myself, who had Covid-19 this year, have a deeper appreciation of the difference.