The Ottawas were greatly reduced in numbers from what they were in former times, on account of the smallpox which they brought from Montreal during the French war with Great Britain.
This smallpox was sold to them shut up in a tin box with the strict injunction not to open the box on their way homeward, but only when they should reach their country—and that this box contained something that would do them great good, and their people! The foolish people believed there was really something supernatural in the box that would do them great good. Accordingly, after they reached home they opened the box, but behold there was another tin box inside, smaller. They took it out and opened the second box, and behold, still there was another box inside of the second box, smaller yet. So they kept on this way till they came to a very small box which was not more than an inch long, and when they opened the last one they found nothing but moldy particles! They wondered very much what it was, and a great many closely inspected to try to find out what it meant. But alas, alas! Pretty soon burst out a terrible sickness among them. The great Indian doctors themselves were taken sick and died. The tradition says it was indeed awful and terrible. Everyone taken with it was sure to die. Lodge after lodge was totally vacated—nothing but the dead bodies lying here and there in their lodges—entire families being swept off with the ravages of this terrible disease. The whole coast of Arbor Croche, where the principal village was situated on the west shore of the peninsula near the straits, was entirely depopulated and laid waste. It is generally believed among the Indians of Arbor Croche that this wholesale murder of the Ottawas by this terrible disease sent by the British people was actuated through hatred—and expressly to kill off the Ottawas and Chippewas because they were friends of the French government or French king, whom they called “Their Great Father.” The reason that today we see no full-grown trees standing along the coast of Arbor Croche, a mile or more in width along the shore, is because the trees were entirely cleared away for this famous village, which existed before the smallpox raged among the Ottawas.
From History of the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians of Michigan. Published in 1887, Blackbird’s history of the tribes includes descriptions of hunting practices, oral stories, and grammar guides. From the sixteenth century to the nineteenth, smallpox rendered entire tribes extinct and, along with other Old World pathogens, was responsible for killing around 80 percent of the American Indians.
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