The First Smallpox Journey of Franics Poole - MapAt about 9:00pm on July 4, 1862, Francis Poole and eight men from what had begun as a party of 40 straggled into Ft. Alexandria in the geographic center of colonial British Columbia. Poole would say in his memoir that his party had been in hourly dread of attack by “hostile savages,” that one of his party had been killed by the Tsilhqot’in and that his party left a “sorrowful trail of blood.”

Poole’s party also had “left behind” two men infected with smallpox at Nanaimo; two more at Ft. Rupert on Northern Vancouver Island; he admitted that his party was the agency of smallpox introduction at Bella Coola; and it would leave two more men infected with smallpox at Nautlieff in the upper Bella Coola Valley and two more with smallpox among the Tsilhqot’in community at Chilcotin Lake along the proposed Bentinck Arm Road.

In addition to the admitted introduction of smallpox at these locations, six others from this party of 40 were said to have had smallpox and smallpox did also break out contemporaneously at Nagwentlun and Puntzi. And there was what seems a failed attempt to introduce the disease to natives at Ft. Alexandria itself. At Puntzi, an eye-witness reported the death toll at 500 and local tradition has it that there were only two survivors. At Bella Coola, an eye-witnesses said there were 1500 dead or dying out of an immediate population of 2000 after only about 22 days. Overall, the Nuxalk and Tsihqot’in death tolls were in the many thousands.

Yet the Center for Disease Control says smallpox epidemics, natural smallpox epidemics, develop slowly, take months to reach a climax and a common death toll is only about 30 percent of a population which has suffered an epidemic episode. While everything about the admitted introduction of smallpox by Poole’s party reeks of pre-mediation, organization and planning, colonial apologists in the history departments of Canadian universities somehow still manage to see in this activity “natural causes.”

Want to learn the full story? Check out Tom Swanky’s book: “The True Story of Canada’s ‘War’ of Extermination on the Pacific.”