Native elders have always taught that settlers intentionally introduced smallpox to take control of their land at the founding of British Columbia. Learn what happened in Nuxalk Territory.

This detailed presentation and analysis of land records, newspaper accounts, government documents and local traditions enables the reader to make his or her own judgement about whether the Nuxalk People were the target of a biological weapons attack in June 1862.


In 2014, British Columbia exonerated six Tsilhqot’in leaders hanged in 1864/65. The Premier acknowledged that these men had been martyred, among other things, for defending their territory from settlers spreading smallpox intentionally.

This book shows that those same settlers repeatedly and systematically created artificial epidemics in Nuxalk territory. Eyewitnesses reported a sudden catastrophic population collapse exceeding 70 percent of all the People. Thousands died within just nine months.

Through the documentary record, responsibility for this intentional mass killing can be traced to the administration of Governor James Douglas and especially to Attorney General George Cary. Cary led a group of speculators seeking interests in these territories.

This tragedy gave birth to the modern Nuxalk Nation. It also allowed B.C. to occupy this territory with little other violence, to impose British institutions without consent and to assert control over the resources still collectively owned by the survivors.

Nuxalk and Tsilhqot’in Elders have always taught that these mass killings were genocide. This book shows that the same conclusion can be proven through the written record.

Where the indigenous voice includes sincere accounts of genocide, reconciliation between Canada and its indigenous hosts requires that this telling must be honored. Perhaps this work may serve as some contribution toward a more unified account of Canada’s founding.

Comparative death toll estimates.

  • World Health Organization (estimate for a smallpox epidemic, susceptible population) 30% 30%
  • Tsimshian at Victoria after six weeks (April 1862) 5% 5%
  • Tsimshian at Fort Simpson after whole epidemic (May to December 1862) 20% 20%
  • Nuxalk at Q’umk’uts / Bella Coola after 21 days (July 1862) 75% 75%

Includes original artwork, maps and timelines.

Excerpt from The Ormsby Review.

I cannot seem to find words strong enough. With each conversation I’ve had summarizing Tom Swanky’s “The Smallpox War in Nuxalk Territory” in preparation for this review, I’ve found myself incapable of communicating the dismay I felt as I followed him down the rabbit hole.

I read “The Smallpox War” twice. I took notes. I found Swanky’s narrative of egregious breach of public trust by Governor James Douglas’s regime in the founding years of what is now British Columbia so distressing that I explored his earlier and more expansive “The True Story of Canada’s ‘War’ of Extermination on the Pacific,” and I took notes on that book too….

Overwhelmed by the suggestive darkness, I wondered how deep the well might go as I tumbled down through Swanky’s well-researched analysis: he supports his arguments with 450 footnotes in “The Smallpox War” and nearly 1,000 endnotes in “The True Story,” the culmination of his ten-year research odyssey.

His synthesis dovetails legislative and public archives, memoirs, and newspaper articles covering the period under review, as well as pertinent case law, legislation, scholarly works and hundreds of hours listening to impacted First Nations’ oral historians. Swanky mounted his broad charge of genocide against the Douglas regime in “The True Story” and now narrows his analysis to the Nuxalk in “The Smallpox War.”…

(T)he corroborating written historical record identified by Swanky may be extremely important evidence in future restitution conversations between afflicted First Nations and the Crown, and indeed his research has already had some practical political results. His first expose of the Douglas regime in “The True Story” was followed by an apology offered to the Tsilhqot’in Nation by Premier Christy Clark on behalf of the B.C. legislature….

While the premier of B.C. has acknowledged that there are reliable historical accounts of smallpox being spread deliberately, it remains to be seen what the ripple effect will produce as British Columbians — the settler-state beneficiaries of the actions Swanky recounts — come to terms with the implications of his work. Like tsunamis waves with a causal epicentre an ocean away, time and depth of analysis will be the predictor of the scale of impact.

– Courtney Kirk, “Tainted Blankets, Tainted History,” The Ormsby Review, March 13, 2017.

A note from the author.

“When I completed The True Story of Canada’s ‘War’ of Extermination on the Pacific, I knew parts of the larger story deserved more attention than I could give them there,” Tom says. “The people of the Bella Coola valley were as greatly affected by the intentional spreading of smallpox in 1862, for the same reasons and by the same people, as the Tsilhqot’in. The way in which the Chilcotin War affected the Nuxalk is also always underplayed. I am very grateful for the encouragement offered by so many people familiar with the history of the land as I worked through this project.”

Learn more about Tom here.

The Smallpox War in Nuxalk Territory

Available in print and digital editions.
Starting at $19.95