Timeline of European Disease Epidemics Among American Indians

The number of American Indians in precontact North America has been difficult to determine. The two most recent estimates are a population of 3.8 million by geographer William M. Denevan and 10 million by archaeologist Paul E. Pettennude. Many scholars believe that as many as 75 million people lived in the Americas as a whole.

The decline in the number of America Indians was very rapid after contact with Europeans. This population decline was not due to European intelligence or superior weaponry. It was caused by something less glamorous and heroic. The infectious diseases that Europeans brought with them killed so many American Indians

Smallpx had a devestating effect on Native American populations. HWC528


Columbus lands for the second time on the island of Hispaniola bringing livestock in order to start a colony there. Influenza, probably from germs carried by the livestock, sweeps through the native people, killing many of them. Modern researchers believe that American Indian traders carried the disease to Florida and throughout the Caribbean.


Two waves of smallpox kill from a third to a half of the American Indians in what are now Cuba, Haiti (Hispaniola), and Puerto Rico. Canoe traders carry the disease to the Yucatan Peninsula of what is now Mexico, where it kills many Maya.


Smallpox reaches what is now Guatemala. An American Indian who survived, recorded: “Great was the stench of the dead. After our fathers and grand fathers succumbed, half of the people fled the fields. The dogs and the vultures devoured the bodies.”


By now about three million Arawak people in the Caribbean have died from European diseases.


Smallpox enters what is now Mexico at the port of Veracruz on the ship of Panfilo de Narvaez on April 23. It quickly spreads to Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital. A citizen of Tenochtitlan later wrote: “A great many died from the plague, and many others died of hunger. They could not get up to search for food, and everyone else was too sick to care for them, so they starved to death in their beds.”


Smallpox spreads south through Mesoamerica and South America.


Smallpox arrives in the Inca Empire. The ruler Huayna Capac dies from it. As many as 200,000 Inca people are killed by the disease.


A measles epidemic sweeps through Sonora, Mexico, south of what is now Arizona. It is believed to have spread northward.


The Spanish explorer DeSoto travels through the Southeast. It is believed diseases spread by his party and the animals that they brought with them for food eventually killed about 75 percent of the American Indians in the Southeast.


Coronado explores the Southwest. Diseased livestock that his company brings with them carry germs that transmit disease to American Indians.


An epidemic that is believed to have been pneumonic plague and bubonic plague (black death) or typhus covers Mesoamerica killing thousands of Indian people.


The Portuguese bring the first smallpox germs to Brazil. Large numbers of Native people die.


An influenza epidemic kills many Indian people in Mesoamerica and the Caribbean.


Another wave or smallpox kills so many Native people in Brazil that the Portuguese can no longer rely on Indian slaves to cut sugar cane. They import slaves from Africa.


Two million South American Indians die from typhoid fever.


Thyphoid fever kills thousands of American Indians in Mexico.


English settlers on what is now Roanoke Island in Virginia spread diseases and many Indian people living nearby die.


The Seneca Indians in what is now central New York state suffer from an epidemic of measles.


Half of the Timucuan people of what is now Florida have died from European diseases spread from the Caribbean.


Missionaries report Bubonic plague kills half of the Christian Indian people in Florida.


A disease that is thought to be smallpox sweeps through what is now the Massachusettes Bay. Nine out of ten die. The disease is thought to have been brought by a fishing crew or the crew of Thomas Hunt’s slaving expedition in 1615. Because they are so few in number, the Indian people cannot stop the Mayflower from landing in 1620.


By now 90 percent to 95 percent of the Mesoamerican Indians alive in 1519 have been killed by European diseases. The bubonic plague that began in Florida has spread to New England


A small pox epidemic strikes the Huron of Ontario.


English settlers carry germs that set off another wave of smallpox and possibly that kill many of the remaining Indian people of what is by now called New England. Smallpox spreads westward to the tribes living near what are now the Great Lakes. Over 10,000 Huron die.


Dutch traders introduce smallpox to what is now Connecticut. Ninety-five percent of the American Indians living along what is now the Connecticut River die. The epidemic moves north to what is now Canada.


Nearly half of the Huron people of what is now Canada die from European diseases brought by fur traders and missionaries.


A disease believed to be scarlet fever kills new England Indians and spreads west to the Great Lakes region.


Indians of the Northeast die from an influenza epidemic.


A smallpox epidemic kills Indian people in New England.


A measles epidemic kills New England Indians.


More than a thousand Iroquois people die from smallpox in central New York state.


Another wave of smallpox sweeps through New England and then the Great Lakes killing many Indian people.


Another influenza epidemic kills many Indians of the Northeast.


The Indian people of New England suffer a smallpox epidemic again.


Malaria reaches the southeastern part of North America. Many Indians begin to die from it.


Indians of the Northeast are hit by another measles epidemic.


A measles epidemic kills Indian people of New England and the Great Lakes.


A smallpox epidemic covers from what is now Texas to New England.


Malaria strikes the Miami people of what is now Illinois.


A smallpox epidemic stretches from what is now Texas to the Hudson Bay.


A diptheria epidemic kills New England Indians.


Smallpox kills half of the Cherokee Indians of the Southeast.


Russian fur traders spread diseases to the Aleut people of what is now southwestern Alaska. By 1800, 80 percent of the Aleut people will have died from these diseases.


Typhoid fever spreads along the mouth of the St. Lawrence River killing many MicMac in Nova Scotia.


A wave of smallpox stretches from what is now Texas to the Great Lakes.


The Cherokee suffer another smallpox epidemic.


Repeated epidemics of smalpox spread across the North American continent.


Influenza spreads across the North American continent.


People of the Southwest begin dying from a measles epidemic.


A smallpox epidemic sweeps across the North American continent. It extends from Mexico to Canada.


Measles sweeps across North America from Texas to the Hudson Bay.


A European respiratory illness, possibly influenza, kills many California Indians living in missions.


Measles and smallpox epidemics sweep across the Southern Plains, Texas and northern Mexico.


The Blackfeet of what is now Montana experience an epidemic of smallpox.


Smallpox sweeps across the Plateau region.


A smallpox epidemic kills Indians of the Artic and subarctic in what are now Alaska and Canada.


Pueblo people die from a smallpox epidemic.


A smallpox epidemic strikes central Mexico.


Smallpox kills two out of three Omaha Indians living in what is now Nebraska.Many Indians in California die during epidemics of pneumonia and diptheria.


Smallpox epidemics strike the Plains and Pueblo Indians


A disease that is believed to be either malaria or smallpox kills about 150,000 American Indians. The germs were carried by a ship that had traveled from Chile and docked in what is now Oregon.


Smallpox epidemics afflict Plains Indians and those living in the great Lakes.


At least half of the American Indian people living on the Lower Chinook river in the Northwest die from smallpox.


American Indians living near what is now the Missouri River in what is now South Dakota begin dying from smallpox. From there the disease spreads to what are now North Dakota, Montana and Saskatchewan. The epidemic kills so many Mandan people that only 150 remain. Over 17,000 die.


Smallpox has spread from Alaska to the Southwest.


Non-Indian whalers spread diseases, including diptheria, to the Inuit people of the eastern Arctic.


Smallpox affects the Aleut people of the Arctic and the Indians of the Southwest


Measles strike the Cayuse Indians of the Pacific Northwest. Hundreds die from this disease believed to have been introduced by missionaries.


Smallpox epidemics strike Plains and Plateau Indians.


Gold Rush miners infected with cholera spread it to Plains Indian people.


A major smallpox epidemic affects the Plains tribes.


A smallpox epidemic affects Indigenous people across the North American continent.


Smallpox strikes Northern Plains Indian people of Saskatchewan.


Another wave of smallpox kills Native people from St. Lawrence river to the Northwest coast.


The Inuvialuit people of the Western Arctic began dying from European diseases brought by whalers. Over a ten year period nine out of ten people die and villages are abandoned.


Plains tribes, California tribes and Southwest tribes experience another smallpox epidemic.


Tens of thousands of American Indians die of Influenza in Arizona, New Mexico, and the Rocky Mountain states. Because the U.S. Government is focusing on the war effort, little is done to stop the epidemic among Indian people.