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The Genocide That Wasnít: Ward Churchillís Research Fraud
Lamar University Sociology Dept ^ | Thomas Brown

Posted on 02/08/2005 7:54:20 AM PST by freespirited


This is a work in progress that I am making available due to the current interest in Ward Churchill’s writings. I show that Churchill has committed research fraud, and very possibly committed perjury as well. This article analyzes Churchill’s fabrication of a genocide. Churchill invented a story about the US Army deliberately creating a smallpox epidemic among the Mandan people in 1837 by distributing infected blankets. While there was a smallpox epidemic on the Plains in 1837, it was entirely accidental, the Army wasn’t involved, and nearly every element of Churchill’s story is a total invention. My goal here was to show how and why Churchill engaged in such blatant fraud, and why no one has challenged him on it until now. --

Did the U.S. military ever carry out a genocidal assault on American Indian peoples by means of biological warfare—i.e., distributing infected smallpox blankets? Few historians would dispute that during the Plains Indian wars, selected U.S. military forces did perpetuate massacres that can easily be construed as genocidal in intent. Furthermore, it is well-established that the British general Lord Amherst at least considered distributing smallpox-infected goods to Indians in 1763—with explicitly genocidal intent—and that his plan was carried out independently by his subordinates.

But did the U.S. military ever deploy smallpox blankets? Ward Churchill says they did. In a series of essays written during the 1990s, Churchill gradually elaborates his story of the origins of the smallpox epidemic that broke out on the northern plains in 1837, which probably killed at least 20 to 30,000 people. Churchill charges the U.S. Army with deliberately infecting the Mandan tribe with gifts of smallpox-laden blankets, withholding treatment, and thus causing an epidemic that Churchill says killed more than 125,000 people.

Ward Churchill’s habit of plagiarism and research fraud was well-documented by John Lavelle.[1] Churchill’s tale of the Mandan genocide is but one more example. The first goal of this article will be to set the historical record straight, by comparing Churchill’s deliberately falsified version of events against the evidence, and by attempting to determine the actual cause of the 1837 smallpox epidemic. More crucially, I want to examine the political and cultural influences that lead to frauds such as Churchill’s, and to ask why Churchill’s fantasies take root among scholars who should know better.

Ward Churchill’s Version of the Smallpox Outbreak among the Mandans

Churchill first advanced his tale of the Mandan genocide in 1992, in the context of “a brief supporting a motion to dismiss charges” against Churchill and other activists, who were being tried for having disrupted a Columbus Day parade in Denver the year before. In Churchill’s trial brief, he claimed immunity from the state laws under which he was being prosecuted. Churchill made the argument that protesting the parade was tantamount to combating genocide, and was thus his legal duty under international law. Towards that end, in his trial brief Churchill described several historical examples of genocide against Indians, including this one:[2]

At Fort Clark on the upper Missouri River…the U.S. Army distributed smallpox-laden blankets as gifts among the Mandan. The blankets had been gathered from a military infirmary in St. Louis where troops infected with the disease were quarantined. Although the medical practice of the day required the precise opposite procedure, army doctors ordered the Mandans to disperse once they exhibited symptoms of infection. The result was a pandemic among the Plains Indian nations which claimed at least 125,000 lives, and may have reached a toll several times that number.[3]

The only source that Churchill cites in support of this contention is Russell Thornton.[4] It is enlightening to compare Thornton’s rendition with Churchill’s. Thornton locates the origins of the epidemic in “a steamboat traveling the Missouri River” (94):

Steamboats had been traveling the upper Missouri River for years before 1837, dispatched by Saint Louis fur companies for trade with the Mandan and other Indians. At 3:00 P.M. on June 19, 1837, the American Fur Company steamboat St. Peter’s arrived at the Mandan villages after stopping at Fort Clark just downstream. Some aboard the steamer had smallpox when the boat docked. It soon was spread to the Mandan, perhaps by deckhands who unloaded merchandise, perhaps by chiefs who went aboard a few days later, or perhaps by women and children who went aboard at the same time.[5]

Note the discrepancies between Churchill and Thornton. Thornton locates the site of infection at the Mandan village, not at Fort Clark. Nowhere does Thornton mention the U.S. Army. Nowhere does Thornton mention “a military infirmary in St. Louis where troops infected with the disease were quarantined.” Nowhere does Thornton mention the distribution of “smallpox-laden blankets as gifts.” On the contrary—Thornton clearly hypothesizes the origins of the epidemic as being entirely accidental.

Citing Thornton, Churchill holds that “the pandemic claimed at least 125,000 lives, and may have reached a toll several times that number.” But Thornton counts only 20,400 dead from a variety of tribes, plus “many Osage”, and “three fifths of the north-central California Indians (probably an exaggeration)”. In other words, Thornton counts no more than 30,000 dead at most.[6]

Considering that Churchill wrote this initial story as part of a trial brief, it would appear that he may well have committed perjury, which is a felony under Colorado law.[7]

Churchill would go on to invent new details for his story. Churchill published his 1992 trial brief as part of an essay collection in 1994. In 1998, Churchill revisited his Mandan genocide story in a new collection of essays, A Little Matter of Genocide. Churchill addresses the Lord Amherst affair of 1763, in which British colonial forces may have indeed distributed smallpox-infected goods to Indians in New England. Churchill argues that Amherst:

…was by no means a singular incident, although it is the best documented. Only slightly more ambiguous was the U.S. Army’s dispensing of ‘trade blankets’ to Mandans and other Indians gathered at Fort Clark, on the Missouri River in present-day North Dakota, beginning on June 20, 1837. Far from being trade goods, the blankets had been taken from a military infirmary in St. Louis quarantined for smallpox, and brought upriver aboard the steamboat St. Peter’s. When the first Indians showed symptoms of the disease on July 14, the post surgeon advised those camped near the post to scatter and seek ‘sanctuary’ in the villages of healthy relatives…there is no conclusive figure as to how many Indians died…but estimates run as high as 100,000.[8]

In this version, Churchill elaborates on his initial version, adding new details. A new character appears: the post surgeon. Churchill implies that this character strategically encouraged the Indians to scatter and thus spread the disease. Churchill has also downgraded his outside estimate of the number of victims to only “as high as 100,000.”

Another example of Churchill’s difficult relationship with the truth can be found in a footnote. [9] Here Churchill charges Howard Peckham with “suppressing” the Amherst story during the 1930s. What Churchill fails to explain is how a historian in the 1930s could possibly have suppressed a story that has been in print since 1851, when Francis Parkman first reported it. Churchill attributes the suppression story to Donald Grinde, another neo-Indian historian.[10] One wonders how Churchill—a supposedly expert author of a book on Indian genocide—could be so totally ignorant of such a well-known source as Parkman.

What Really Happened?

Churchill’s tale of genocide by means of biological warfare is shocking. It is also entirely fraudulent. The only truth in Churchill’s version of the pandemic is the fact that a smallpox outbreak did occur in 1837, and that it was probably carried into the region on board the steamboat St. Peter. Every other detail of Churchill’s story must have come from his imagination, because his own sources contradict him on nearly every point.[11]

None of the sources that Churchill cites make any mention of “a military infirmary…quarantined for smallpox.” None of the sources Churchill cites make any mention of U.S. Army soldiers even being in the area of the pandemic, much less being involved with it in any way. Churchill’s own sources make it clear that Fort Clark was not an Army garrison. It was a remote trading outpost that was privately owned and built by the American Fur Company, and manned by a handful of white traders.[12] It was not an Army fort, nor did it contain soldiers. Not being an Army fort, it did not contain a “post surgeon” who told Indians to “scatter” and spread the disease. Churchill’s own sources make all of this abundantly clear.

According to Churchill’s own sources, the only government employee present anywhere in the region was the local Indian Agent, who according to eyewitnesses did not distribute blankets or anything else at the time of the pandemic, “as he has nothing to give his red children.”[13] The government agent functioned to serve the interests of the trading company, and had no independent incentive to infect the Indians.[14]

Journals and letters written by the fur traders who did man Fort Clark make it clear that they were appalled by the epidemic, in part because they had Indian wives and children and were thus a part of the Indian community. The traders also had economic interests in keeping the Indians healthy. The trader Jacob Halsey—who himself contracted the smallpox—lamented that “the loss to the company by the introduction of this malady will be immense in fact incalculable as our most profitable Indians have died.”[15] Obviously the traders had no incentive to wage biological warfare on their own families and their “most profitable Indians”, much less put their own lives at risk.

Churchill claims that vaccine was deliberately withheld by “the army”, but this is once again pure fabrication on Churchill’s part.[16] The very source that Churchill cites in support of this fabrication contradicts him, describing how “great care was exercised in the attempt to eliminate the transfer of the smallpox” by the traders, and how “a physician was dispatched for the sole purpose of vaccinating the affected tribes while the pestilence was at its height.”[17]

Contrary to Churchill’s claims, there was no post surgeon to tell the Indians to scatter. The trader Halsey complained that he:

…could not prevent [the Indians] from camping round the Fort—they have caught the disease, notwithstanding I have never allowed an Indian to enter the Fort, or any communication between them & the Sick; but I presume the air was infected with it…[18]

What if the U.S. Army had been active in the region? Given the opportunity, would Army officers have had any motive to use biological warfare against the Mandans? Five years earlier, in 1832, Congress passed an act and appropriated funds to establish a program for vaccinating Indians on the Missouri River.[19] Given this Congressional mandate to protect Indians from smallpox, given the lack of hostilities between the U.S. military and the Mandans or any other Plains Indians at that time, and given the military’s lack of presence in the area of the Mandans at the time, Churchill’s version of events does not seem at all plausible, even in the context of counterfactual speculation.

Churchill’s sources make it abundantly clear that the disease’s vector was not Churchill’s mythical smallpox blankets given as gifts. Not a single source mentions any such blankets. The disease’s vector was the trader Jacob Halsey himself, who arrived on the St. Peter already infected. The disease was entirely accidental, and as unwelcome by the local whites as by the Indians.[20]

The Mandans do seem to have developed suspicions about the traders as the source of the disease. But the contemporary Mandan grievances did not involve the Army or even mention it. Furthermore, Churchill does not cite Mandan oral history. He cites documentary sources that radically contradict his version, and that show Churchill to have fabricated all of the crucial details.

Legitimating Indianness in Terms of Oppositional Identity

One has only to read the sources that Churchill cites to realize the magnitude of his fraudulent claims for them.[21] We are not dealing with a few minor errors here. We are dealing with a story that Churchill has fabricated almost entirely from scratch. The lack of rationality on Churchill’s part is mind-boggling. Why would a tenured professor decide to make up data—perhaps the most scandalous possible abuse of the academy’s norms—especially when in the Amherst affair, Churchill had a verified example of precisely the type of incident he wanted to invoke for his polemic purposes? How did Churchill expect to get away with a fraud that is so easily detected simply by reading the sources he cites in his own footnotes?

The answer comes into focus when you consider that Churchill is not writing for a scholarly audience. He originally wrote this story to inflame the emotions of a jury. Churchill publishes the bulk of his essays in small left-wing presses or in obscure journals that lack a rigorous peer review. He is writing for a non-specialist audience that takes him at his word. Mainly, Churchill is writing for other Indian activists, and for the broader reading population of leftists.

In Indian activist circles, prestige and legitimacy often accrues to those who most successfully express an oppositional identity. The way the equation works within the movement is that the more opposition you express, the more Indian you become. Anti-white racism within AIM is largely perpetrated by people—such as Churchill—who are insecure in their own Indian identity. Hence Churchill indicts the U.S. Army by fabricating a new, even more disturbing atrocity, thus raising the stakes on Indian grievances, in order to garner acclaim as a real Indian activist whose legitimacy is beyond question. Given the movement’s anti-intellectual environment, few are likely to bother tracking down Churchill’s citations, especially considering that his core audience is already primed to believe such accusations against the U.S. government.[22]


Is it conceivable that one could become a holocaust denier by denying a holocaust that never happened? Is it possible in today’s political climate to deny a non-existent genocide, and retain your reputation within the academy?

Ward Churchill has carefully framed his smallpox blanket canard in precisely these terms. Anyone who would speak truth to fraud must be willing to face Churchill’s trademark firestorm of ad hominem accusations. Churchill accuses his white interlocutors of being neo-Nazis, his Indian interlocutors as being hang-around-the-fort sellouts.[23]

It is obvious how research fraud harms the academy, which is why it is the ultimate sin among scholars. But do frauds such as Churchill’s also do damage to the efficacy of Indian political activism, especially activism on behalf of historical memory?

Ultimately, yes. Ward Churchill has attained status as the most prominent voice currently articulating Indian political interests to the broader left. When Churchill’s credibility is shredded—a process begun in the pages of Wicazo Sa Review by John LaVelle, one that is being continued in this article, and one that will certainly not end here—what will be the result in the way the broader polity views Indian issues—especially considering that many interested readers were first introduced to Indian issues through the writings of Ward Churchill?

The fable of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” comes to mind here. True historical instances of genocide may well become delegitimated by the promiscuous promulgation of mythical genocides such as Churchill’s. The triviality of Churchill’s falsifications comes into sharper focus when you consider that he originally invented his story of the Mandan genocide in order to evade an indictment that carried a maximum penalty of a $1500 fine and six months in jail.

TOPICS: News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: 911; academia; academicfraud; aim; alf; america; americahaters; americanindian; americans; anarchist; campus; campuscommie; campuscommies; cherokee; churchill; cigarstoreindian; colorado; cu; curegent; elf; fraud; genocide; hate; indians; leftist; leftistwackos; littleeichmans; michaelcarrigan; nazi; professor; radicalleft; radicalleftists; reparations; satya; slavery; ucolorado; university; uofcolorado; usmc; veterans; wacko; warchurchill; ward; wardchurchill; waronterror; wisconsin
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To: GarySpFc
Not really. It is well documented what was done to the Indians and what some of the Indians did to us.

No good story here for either group.

41 posted on 02/08/2005 9:32:53 AM PST by Destro (Know your enemy! Help fight Islamic terrorism by visiting and
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To: freespirited

Professor Churchill is The Pig...

42 posted on 02/08/2005 9:33:43 AM PST by martin gibson
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To: freespirited
Why elevate this obscure academic with a discussion on his views? Some love to seek putrage just so they can sound off and be outraged. His 9/11 essay needed to be attacked and his opinion called to question. I don't feel the need to go back in time and read his past works to find more thinks to sound outraged against and in turn make this man a counter culture super star.

By fueling the need to Jerry Springer this guy we are probably increasing his profile and speaking fees.

No thanks - I'm out.

43 posted on 02/08/2005 9:46:45 AM PST by Destro (Know your enemy! Help fight Islamic terrorism by visiting and
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To: freespirited

In those days people were scared to death of smallpox, almost like fear of AIDS today. I would think any commander telling his troops to handle "smallpox blankets" would have a mutiny on his hands.

44 posted on 02/08/2005 9:50:34 AM PST by colorado tanker (The People Have Spoken)
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To: Destro

"No good story here for either group"

Good story for the American government

My Title: US Government actively inoculating Indians against small pox 1838

Title: Letter from Dr. Joseph R. DePrefontaine To Indian Agent, Upper Missouri (Joshua Pilcher)
Date: 1838-07-09 Volume: G Page: 135
Author(s): Dr. Joseph R. DePrefontaine
Recipient(s): Joshua Pilcher (Indian Agent, Upper Missouri)
Contents: Verifies letter from Pilcher to Clark dated Sept, 1838 as to the difficulty in estimating the number of Indians vaccinated for smallpox. Does estimate that 3,000 were inoculated.
Description: Copy of letter. 1p.
Comments: Dr. DePrefontaine was hired to innoculate Indians in the fight against smallpox.

45 posted on 02/08/2005 9:50:38 AM PST by Soliton (Alone with everyone else.)
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To: LauraleeBraswell
I was actually thinking about the smallpox blanket myth the other day (when I didn't know it was a myth) and I wondered how it was possible for the US army to know that diseases spread this way.

Well, that's not quite right either. While the precise details of viral transmission weren't known, it was known that you could get sick from close proximity to other infected people and their garments, blankets, etc. But the idea that there was any wide effort to do this to American Indians with smallpox-infected cloth is AFAIK not well-supported.

46 posted on 02/08/2005 10:01:18 AM PST by untenured
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To: bvw
Academic tenure has nothing at all to do with the First Amendment

I don't think I made that exact assertion but the Supreme Court disagrees with you, Professor Katz's comments notwithstanding Academic Freedom You might also check out Tenure

47 posted on 02/08/2005 10:09:58 AM PST by Bernard Marx (Don't make the mistake of interpreting my Civility as Servility)
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To: massgopguy

Well they knew enough about smallpox to inoculate by the end of the 18th century. Washington had the troops in the Continental army inoculated during the Revolutionary war.

48 posted on 02/08/2005 10:28:56 AM PST by justshutupandtakeit (Public Enemy #1, the RATmedia.)
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To: Peach
The more I read about this guy, the more I believe he's mentally unstable.

Consider all the leftist liberals you know and know of. Can't that be said about them all? To live in a land of fantasy, avoiding unpleasant facts and denying those you bump into, would indicate mental and emotional instability by its very nature.

49 posted on 02/08/2005 10:37:25 AM PST by Mind-numbed Robot (Not all things that need to be done need to be done by the government.)
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To: Mind-numbed Robot

Tammy Bruce describes the liberal mindset so beautifully in her book The Death of Right and Wrong.

She calls them malignant narcissists who are trying to work out their problems through societal experimentation.

50 posted on 02/08/2005 10:38:39 AM PST by Peach
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To: colorado tanker

I was thinking the same thing thing.

51 posted on 02/08/2005 10:42:35 AM PST by Lion in Winter (grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr... LION IS HERE... I DESPISE BIGOTS AND TROUBLE MAKERS!!)
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To: freespirited

Mandan had earlier exposure and was in decline by 1837 (only 350 men alive).

“After the smallpox reduced the villages on the west to five, the five went up to where the others were, in the neighborhood of some Arikara, and settle in two villages. A great many Mandan had died and they were no longer strong and fearless. They made an alliance with the Arikara against the Sioux. All this happened before 1796 and is chronicled in Henry and Schoolcraft. Lewis and Clark found the two villages one on each side and about fifteen miles below the Knife River. Both villages consisted of forty to fifty lodges and united could raise about three hundred and fifty men. Lewis and Clark describe them as having united with the Hidatsa and engaging in continual warfare against the Arikara and the Sioux.

The description given by Lewis and Clark agrees with the conditions two years later when Henry visited them. In 1837, smallpox attacked them again, raged for many weeks and left only one hundred and twenty-five survivors.”

52 posted on 02/08/2005 10:45:28 AM PST by Soliton (Alone with everyone else.)
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To: freespirited; EdReform; TBarnett34; leftyontheright; albertp; TexasTaysor; IDontLikeToPayTaxes; ...
From the College Front Ping!

I'm maintaining a running log of the controversy here at my blogsite.

53 posted on 02/08/2005 10:50:01 AM PST by NorCoGOP (
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To: Destro
No thanks - I'm out.

Agreed, although I never knew you were in.

54 posted on 02/08/2005 10:57:25 AM PST by Mind-numbed Robot (Not all things that need to be done need to be done by the government.)
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To: Mind-numbed Robot

I was pinged

55 posted on 02/08/2005 11:11:18 AM PST by Destro (Know your enemy! Help fight Islamic terrorism by visiting and
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To: freespirited
I emailed each of the Board of Regents for CU with the following:


Please take a serious look at the research conducted by Thomas Brown in the attached document. If the attachment was blocked for some reason, please read the same paper here: In it, you will find ample reason to terminate Ward Churchill from the employ of Colorado State University. His comments regarding the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States notwithstanding, he simply shouldn't be a professor of anything.

Ward Churchill is a fraud. He is not deserving of association with the name of Colorado State University, nor certainly of tenure among honorable academic professionals. I urge you to remove Mr. Churchill from the faculty of CU immediately to begin repairing the stain he has placed upon the reputation of your institution. No legal action of which he is capable can compare to the damage being done by his continued employment there.

I know they have been hounded pretty hard already, but they deserve it at this point. :-)
56 posted on 02/08/2005 11:14:22 AM PST by TChris (Most people's capability for inference is severely overestimated)
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To: freespirited; hedgie; ken21
Great find!

As, ken21, I especially liked this:

...prestige and legitimacy often accrues to those who most successfully express an oppositional identity.
"Oppositional identity"! I hadn't realized there was a name for the disease, which I've always attributed just to being a self-loathing ass.

This paper of Mr. Brown is very powerful. Churchill flaunts his acquittal in the disruption case, and Mr. Brown has just pulled the rug on it. Shall we assume that the Regents have a copy of this? Just in case, I sent one off, and another copy to my uncle in Denver, a UC graduate and son of a 1950s regent, who will make sure they see it.

Thanks, freespirited!

57 posted on 02/08/2005 11:17:12 AM PST by nicollo
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To: Soliton

I don't want to be responsible for raising this guy's speaking fees and adding to his wealth. Ignoring is sometimes the best punishment.

58 posted on 02/08/2005 11:20:22 AM PST by Destro (Know your enemy! Help fight Islamic terrorism by visiting and
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To: freespirited

There is a degree of momentum here that I never would have imagined. I would not be surprised if Ward Churchill
is dismissed at CU. Ever since the Rosenberg debacle, Hamilton was on notice and yes they chose to do it again, oops.

59 posted on 02/08/2005 11:41:47 AM PST by Helms
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To: All
From Franklin's Autobiography:
In 1736 I lost one of my sons, a fine boy of four years old, by the small-pox, taken in the common way. I long regretted bitterly, and still regret that I had not given it to him by inoculation. This I mention for the sake of parents who omit that operation, on the supposition that they should never forgive themselves if a child died under it; my example showing that the regret may be the same either way, and that, therefore, the safer should be chosen.

60 posted on 02/08/2005 11:44:10 AM PST by nicollo
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