Skip to main content
Humanities LibreTexts

1.7: “I have used my best effort in a kind way-” Smallpox among the Hopi, 1898

  • Page ID
  • “I have used my best effort in a kind way:” Smallpox among the Hopi, 1898

    By G.W. Hayzlett


    George Washington Hayzlett was a businessman and local politician from Black Hawk County, Iowa, who, at the age of 61, moved with his wife to Fort Defiance on the Navajo Indian Reservation in Arizona to serve as agent for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Hayzlett’s annual reports to the Commission of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C. reflect the paternalistic attitude toward Native Americans common to the times. However, he worked hard to improve the infrastructure of the reservation and supply the people with the things they needed to farm the land and provide for themselves.

    Moqui is the name the Hopi Indians called themselves. The Hopi are a tribe descended from the Ancestral Pueblo peoples who built the apartment-like dwellings on the mesas. Hopis had farmed for centuries and had a long-standing agricultural tradition and sophisticated methods that enabled them to subsist in a dry and inhospitable climate. They were known to be peaceful people in contrast to warring tribes that survived by raiding.

    The Moqui Reservation is located due west of the south half of the Navajo Reservation and bounded on the east and north by the Navajo Reservation, and embraces a territory of about 55 miles east and west and 65 miles north and south. The general appearance of the country differs somewhat from that of the Navajo Reservation, containing more level land, a very large portion of which is very sandy. The water supply is very limited. In some cases they have to carry the water from 1 to 2 miles; and the wood problem has been very serious with some of them, as the wood has usually been carried on burros from 3 to 4 miles. But this difficulty has been greatly relieved, as the Government in the last year has placed on the reservation for the Moquis some forty wagons, which will quite well supply them, they living as they do on top of the mesa in villages very compact, so that a great number can use the same wagon.

    The Moqui is quite provident. They seem to have a good idea that in time of plenty they should prepare for famine. This was fully demonstrated this spring after the smallpox scourge had abated and the time came for cleaning up and fumigating and disinfecting their houses. It was found they had an abundance of corn and dried peaches stored away in their houses; they claimed a supply for two years ahead. This fully demonstrates that they are not living for to-day only, but preparing for their future subsistence. They are industrious and appear to be a very quiet and peaceful people. Very seldom do they have any serious trouble among themselves. Their domestic relations are very superior to that of the Navajo. They are not polygamists—do not believe in plural marriages. However, they do sometimes separate and remarry, but not so frequently.

    Old photo of Hopi Indian dwellings built into rocks

    Picture of a Pueblo in Oraibi, Arizona

    "Hopi (Moqui) Indians snake kiva Oraibi Pueblo" by Library of Congress is in the Public Domain

    An epidemic of smallpox broke out among these people about the 10th of December, 1898, which resulted in 187 deaths. Fatalities occurred very largely among those who were obstinate and refused to receive medical aid from the Government physician. Miss M. H. McKee, M. D., who is the school physician at Keams Canyon as soon as advised of the contagion existing in the Moqui villages, accompanied Mr. Samuel E. Shoemaker, head farmer, who was in charge of the Moqui Indians

    under the direction of the agent, proceeded at once to the villages and began a general vaccination of all who would submit, and at the same time rendering medical assistance to those who were sick so far as they would submit to our manner of treating the sick. Unfortunately a great many absolutely refused either to be vaccinated or receive medical treatment. Of 632 who had the smallpox, 412 were willing to receive treatment from our physician, and out of that number of cases 24 died, and of the other 220 who would not receive treatment from our physician 163 died.

    Every precaution possible was taken to prevent the spread of the disease, it having

    broken out about the same time on the first and second mesa. To prevent further spread a quarantine was maintained by police being stationed at intervals between the second mesa and Oraibi; thus we kept it confined to the two mesas. Had they been obedient and adopted our mode of treatment the death rate would have been very much less.

    When the time came for cleaning up their villages, burning their infected clothing, fumigating and disinfecting their houses, there still existed a hostile element that refused to have this done, and to enforce the orders it became necessary to call on the Indian Office for military assistance, which was readily granted. A cavalry troop of 30 men was sent from Fort Wingate, and on their arrival at the mesa where the trouble existed the Indians were still stubborn and refused to be washed and reclothed, but the troops soon subdued them without any serious injury to anyone. Eight of the leaders in the hostile element were arrested and taken to the agency and confined in the jail. Had it not been for a few of such leaders we would have had no serious trouble, but they controlled an element, consisting of nearly one-fourth of the entire tribe, who now claim to be pleased that the leaders are punished. I have used my best effort in a kind way to teach these prisoners that they were wrong; that the Government was their best friend and guardian. They finally acknowledge that the civilized mode of treatment for the sick is best, and should another outbreak of the disease occur they would be obedient and receive treatment from our physicians.

    But they still insist that they do not believe in educating their children. This class of the Moqui have never patronized the school to any extent, but there is still hope that they may be made to realize the necessity of education.

    The Government has assisted the Indians in building 96 houses on the bottom lands where the farming is carried on. Nearly every one of these houses is occupied during the summer while the crops are being raised and harvested, after which the Indians move back to their villages on the mesa, carry their crops up and store them in their houses, and remain there through the winter. A few families remain in the houses on the farms the entire year.


    • burro - Spanish loanword for donkeys.
    • mesa - a raised plateau or mountain with a flat top with cliff-like edges.
    • provident - having great care and consideration for the future; possessing forethought.
    • Pueblo - a multistory stone building that serves as a permanent residence for a Native American population.


    1. How did the government employees help treat those Natives who had contracted smallpox?
    2. Mention is made here of a faction of Natives resistant to the recommendations being made by the government physician . Why do you think they were resistant? Could that resistance have anything to do with past relations between Native American tribes and the US government?
    3. Compare and contrast what’s going on with this outbreak with the one recorded in Peshawbestown in the previous document.


    “George Washington Hayzlett.” WikiTree , 14 Dec. 2015,

    United States, Congress, Hayzlett, George Washington. “Annual Reports of the Department of the Interior for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1899: Indian Affairs, Part I, Report of the Commissioner and Appendixes.” Annual Reports of the Department of the Interior for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1899: Indian Affairs, Part I, Report of the Commissioner and Appendixes , G.P.O., 1899.

    Public Domain Mark

    This work (Annual Reports of the Department of the Interior for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1899: Indian Affairs), ), identified by HathiTrust , is free of known copyright restrictions.