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Alaskan Range: A Wealth Of Information

"Turning the other cheek has proven challenging for humankind, and everyone could use more practice in that regard,'' writes columnist Greg Hill.

The sage Kahil Gibran said he “learned silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet, strange, I am ungrateful to those teachers.”

Turning the other cheek has proven challenging for humankind, and everyone could use more practice in that regard. If the intolerant make good teachers of tolerance, Dorothy M. Johnson’s “The Bedside Book of Bastards: A Rich Collection of Counterirritants to the Exasperations of Contemporary Life” would make a good textbook.

One counterirritant Miss Johnson cites is Henry Bouquet, a Swiss soldier-of-fortune who employed bacteriological warfare for the British army in 1763. Bouquet was a lieutenant colonel in the Royal American Regiment during the French and Indian War, and according to Johnson, “he fought all over the colonies, from Georgia to Michigan, and in the process didn’t acquire a high regard for either the Indians or the Colonials.”

Bouquet “had seen first-hand the results of Indian raids on outlying settlements,” and, “at the end of the French and Indian War he was pretty much an expert on Indian atrocities.”

The British army’s North American commander at the time was Jeffrey Amherst, namesake of the Massachusetts town and college, who absolutely despised all Native Americans. “That Vermine have forfeited all claim to the rights of humanity” is a typical Amherst quote on the subject, but he was notably humane when it came to European Americans and was very popular among the colonists.

Nevertheless, at the conclusion of the French and Indian War, he reneged on promises he’d made to his Indian allies for arms and supplies, and within months there was an intertribal rebellion led by the chief Pontiac. Amherst wrote that he would “put a most Effectual Stop to their very being” and assigned this task to one of his most capable officers, Henry Bouquet.

Yet another reason why I’m glad I live where and when I do, is that all Alaska residents have free access to an expensive online medical database called Health Reference Center to get in-depth information on things like smallpox when they emerge in the news. This database has a full range of reference books and the latest medical journals that can be read and downloaded for free, thanks to the Databases for Alaskans Initiative.

I visited our library’s website to consult “Mosby’s Medical Dictionary” and the “Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine” and learned “humans are the only reservoir” for the highly contagious smallpox virus, and it’s contracted “from direct contact with individuals sick with the disease, contaminated air droplets, and even from objects used by another smallpox victim.”

The eminent historian Francis Parkman discovered a letter General Amherst wrote to Colonel Bouquet suggesting, “Could it not be contrived to send the Small Pox among those disaffected tribes of Indians?” Later Amherst recommended, “You will do well to try to inoculate the Indians by means of blankets.”

When Bouquet assumed command of Fort Pitt in Western Pennsylvania, he found it crowded with refugees, some of whom were quarantined with smallpox. He saw to the distribution of some of their bedclothes to local Indians, and later submitted a reimbursement request for two blankets, a handkerchief and some linen used “to Convey the Small-pox to the Indians,” thousands of whom died.

Dorothy Johnson wrote about intolerance many times in her long authorial career, and if her name is familiar, it’s probably as a Western writer. Her short stories, with their “lean, unadorned” writing style, compelled critics to compare her with Hemingway, and she won almost every award going in her genre. Her most famous stories were made into motion pictures: “A Man Called Horse,” “The Hanging Tree” and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence.”

Johnson was raised in the West, but she said she knew little about it until she spent 15 years in New York City where she discovered the West anew in that city’s mighty libraries and museums. Johnson’s protagonists were often women, Indians, or the misunderstood, who dealt with the intolerant in life while retaining their integrity and self respect. Unfortunately, as a character in “Liberty Valence” said, “a lot of people forget that part.”


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