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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: nicollo; freespirited

Best of the Web Today - February 7, 2005

Great Moments in Higher Education
A second college has canceled a planned appearance by Ward Churchill, the pro-fascist University of Colorado professor of "ethnic studies" who cheered on the Sept. 11 attacks. Like upstate New York's Hamilton College, Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Wash., is citing "safety and security" as an excuse rather than forthrightly admitting it was a mistake to invite Churchill in the first place. Stephen Jordan, EWU's president, issued a statement Friday:

Two speakers invited to the EWU campus, Ward Churchill and Ron Jeremy, provide this university with a difficult challenge. . . .

We do not see this cancellation as a curtailment of Mr. Churchill's free speech right. Indeed, Supreme Court decisions raise legitimate question as to whether speech that incites panic or an immediate breach of the peace is protected by the First Amendment.

We are canceling an event, not an idea.

Mr. Churchill still has multiple venues for the outlet of his ideas. Neither this University nor the state's taxpayers are under any obligation to provide an appearance venue for Mr. Churchill if his presence threatens the safety and security of this campus.

Mr. Jeremy's appearance is not a security or safety issue, but we did recognize that the program, in its initial conception, inadequately served what the title Eastern Dialogues denotes, as a single viewpoint presentation is not dialogue.

With that in mind, Eastern has enhanced the discussion by providing a more comprehensive discussion of the issues at hand by giving a forum for alternate views before, during and after Mr. Jeremy's program.

With that in mind, Eastern has enhanced the discussion by providing a more comprehensive discussion of the issues at hand by giving a forum for alternate views before, during and after Mr. Jeremy's program.

So who is this Ron Jeremy fellow? The press release doesn't say, but you may remember him from such films as "Buttman at Nudes a Poppin' 7" and "What's the Lesbian Doing in My Pirate Movie?" That's right, EWU is standing up for "free speech" by bringing a porn star to campus.

Blogger Richard Posner (who sunlights as a federal judge and a University of Chicago law professor) has a comment on the Larry Summers kerfuffle that seems apt here:

No one who has spent much time around universities thinks they've ever "encourage[d] uncircumscribed intellectual explorations." The degree of self-censorship in universities, as in all institutions, is considerable. Today in the United States, most of the leading research universities are dominated by persons well to the left of Larry Summers, and they don't take kindly to having their ideology challenged, as Summers has now learned to his grief.

There is nothing to be done about this, and thoughtful conservatives should actually be pleased. As John Stuart Mill pointed out in On Liberty, when one's ideas are not challenged, one's ability to defend them weakens. Not being pressed to come up with arguments or evidence to support them, one forgets the arguments and fails to obtain the evidence. One's position becomes increasingly flaccid, producing the paradox of thought that is at once rigid and flabby. And thus the academic left today.

Or as reader Jay Lesseig puts it, "Freedom of speech makes it much easier to spot the idiots."

61 posted on 02/08/2005 11:54:57 AM PST by Helms
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To: nicollo
This paper of Mr. Brown is very powerful.

That's what I love about real scholarship. When you put it side by side with the schlock that Nancy Rabinowitz calls scholarship, there is no contest.

62 posted on 02/08/2005 11:55:23 AM PST by freespirited
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To: Eric in the Ozarks

Hey, I'm 1/128ths Cherokee. Seriously.

63 posted on 02/08/2005 12:07:26 PM PST by Lee'sGhost (Crom!)
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To: Psycho_Bunny
In her suit she claimed she was unjustly fired because she is actually 1/23 indian.

Uh... What?


What kind of combination could come up with this number?

64 posted on 02/08/2005 12:15:48 PM PST by Harmless Teddy Bear ( At least now we know that migrating elephant herds react badly to flaming motor homes...)
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To: LauraleeBraswell
and I wondered how it was possible for the US army to know that diseases spread this way.

It was known. You find methods for dealing with the positions and housing of people with leprosy for example as far back as the Torah.

They did not know why but with diseases that spread from physical contact either direct or indirect they did know how they spread.

The puzzlers were the diseases that did not do so.

65 posted on 02/08/2005 12:23:56 PM PST by Harmless Teddy Bear ( At least now we know that migrating elephant herds react badly to flaming motor homes...)
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To: bvw

Maybe she was 89/2048th Indian and was just approximating.

66 posted on 02/08/2005 1:16:59 PM PST by murdoog
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To: Destro
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.

It's more useful than that. The story about smallpox-infected blankets has been around for a long time and a lot of people believed it. It's good that it is being debunked.

Also, this makes a case that Churchill is not only an offensive anti-American lunatic, but also a fraud. As other posters have pointed out, academia will tolerate offensive opinions from the left but take a very dim view of academic fraud. So this will turn people against him who might have been in his corner before.

67 posted on 02/08/2005 1:23:36 PM PST by murdoog
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To: freespirited; Helms
Did you see this? Bob Paquette to the rescue, and in the Washington Times:
Of liberty and license
His term for practitioners of oppositional identity is "infantile transgressives and unabashed cultural subversives."


68 posted on 02/08/2005 1:27:46 PM PST by nicollo
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To: murdoog

Like any of us needed to be told that here on FR? Preaching to the choir - I for one don't want to increase his speaking fees by turning him into a counter culture free speach martyr - ignoring is sometimes the best punishment.

69 posted on 02/08/2005 1:33:23 PM PST by Destro (Know your enemy! Help fight Islamic terrorism by visiting and
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To: nicollo; Helms; hedgie; eastsider; eb35

Yes thanks, I did see that. Did you see the one by Stephen Goldberg? There is a link to it here:

Warning: this guy has an opinion or two about the state of things.

70 posted on 02/08/2005 1:38:07 PM PST by freespirited
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To: Lee'sGhost

I think I am, too.

71 posted on 02/08/2005 1:52:59 PM PST by Eric in the Ozarks
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To: freespirited
"infantile transgressives and unabashed cultural subversives."

This is right on. Some garlic for the vampires. Transgression and subversion.

72 posted on 02/08/2005 2:14:51 PM PST by Helms
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To: Destro
Some voices you can ignore. Others deserve to have their throat stepped on.
73 posted on 02/08/2005 2:27:51 PM PST by Eric in the Ozarks
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To: Eric in the Ozarks

In America that leads to riches.

74 posted on 02/08/2005 3:44:56 PM PST by Destro (Know your enemy! Help fight Islamic terrorism by visiting and
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To: freespirited; EveningStar

Wait! Was Ward Churchill the source of this? This "infected blankets" stuff was referenced in a South Park episode!

75 posted on 02/08/2005 3:47:35 PM PST by AmishDude
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To: freespirited
Thanks for the link to the Hoopla blog. I like that image of Ward Churchill trying to get through the Denver airport with his AK-47.

Btw, I see from the Hamilton website that there exists a Eugene M. Tobin Distinguished Professorship. I wish I could say I was surprised by this. The friggin school just doesn't know the word "disgrace."

Got plagiarism?

Rather than ramble on here, if you want, my latest thoughts on the Hamilton thing are here (including an unprintable classic regarding one of the Kirkland feminazis as uttered by an old school Hamilton professor):

Nicollo unmasked: Bromleyisms here

76 posted on 02/08/2005 4:09:34 PM PST by nicollo
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To: AmishDude

77 posted on 02/08/2005 4:44:08 PM PST by EveningStar
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To: Peach

Calling a Leftist "mentally unstable" is...what's that term...redundant?

78 posted on 02/08/2005 4:50:50 PM PST by Ghost of Philip Marlowe (Liberals are blind. They are the dupes of Leftists who know exactly what they're doing.)
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To: freespirited
Excellent article. Thanks for posting it.

Even if everything Ward claimed (I won't sully Winston's last name) is true, how does that justify him interrupting a Columbus Day parade? How can he equate a Columbus Day parade with a genocide he alleges occurred over 150 years ago?

His intellectual dishonesty is so ingrained, he ought never hold a teaching profession again.

And yet, sadly, he is not alone. I have met many Leftists who have such misconstrued thinking ingrained in their reasoning.
79 posted on 02/08/2005 5:20:03 PM PST by Ghost of Philip Marlowe (Liberals are blind. They are the dupes of Leftists who know exactly what they're doing.)
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To: Bernard Marx
Thank you for those informative web sites. I think we all can thank that 1940 original 1970 revised "Tenure and Academic Freedom" professional assoication guide for the mono-cropped (idea wise) tyrannically politically correct play-pen-like institutions that our Univerisities have become today. That and Brennan's 1967 ruling -- yet another egregious, no-basis fiat judicial overreach.

These kind of things just get me so upset I empty my jar of adjectives right out spilling them all over.

80 posted on 02/09/2005 5:58:24 AM PST by bvw
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