Harper's New Monthly Magazine,  7 (1883–84), 364–66.

The Doctor-killing Oregons

Benjamin Alvord




Physical Geography, Anthropology, Medical Practitioners, Status, Vaccination

    Describes a region of the Columbia River full of 'rocky, misshapen ridges of volcanic rock' in which 'Theodore Winthrop (in his Canoe and Saddle) [...] locate[s] his war of the demons, whose weapons were huge rocks hurled at each other, and left up and down the Columbia for several miles, scattered about in the most fantastic manner'. In this wild region, at least until the 1850s, the local native American tribes had the 'most extraordinary custom [...] of killing their doctors, or medicine-men, if they did not cure their patients', and in the winter of 1852 'three doctors in that neighborhood had been killed for that reason'. (364) The author, who at that time was the commander of a military post in the region, attempted to explain to 'these benighted heathen' that 'our surgeons and physicians properly received from the whites the utmost consideration and gratitude' (364–65). He later hears, however, that when the 'small-pox made its appearance in one of the tribes, viz., the Wishrams' and virtually 'all the Indians on one side of the river had been vaccinated (and thus escaped)' while the rest of the tribe 'unfortunately had not been vaccinated, and thus the pestilence raged amongst them', the 'indignant tribe' took their revenge on a 'celebrated medicine man of great pretensions' by hanging him in a 'shocking manner' (365–66).

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