1853-1854 Smallpox Visitation to the Moqui

The Moquis have been frequently scourged with epidemics the one accompanied by famine in 1775 was frightful. The severe modern smallpox scourge among the Moquis (which came from Zuñi) was in 1853-1854. Lieutenant Whipple refers to it in his Pacific Railroad Survey Report. He was en route from Zuñi to explore as a side trip the Colorado Chiquito and needed guides. He sent some Zuñians to the Moqui Pueblos for them. In his journal he writes:

November 28, 1853

José Maria, Juan Septimo and José Hacha were the guides sent to us by the caciques of Zuñi. They described the country to the Colorado Chiquito as being nearly a level plain with springs of permanent water at convenient distances. This is their hunting ground. Of the country west of that river they know nothing. Moqui Indians are however supposed to have knowledge of the region and we intend to seek among them for a guide. José and Juan are to go as bearers of dispatches to the Moqui native with the understanding that after having accomplished their in mission they will report to us upon the Colorado Chiquito.

November 29, 1853

Tomorrow José Marie and Juan Septimo leave our trail and proceed to Moqui At our request they traced a sketch of the Moqui country and the route they propose to travel. They say that the population of the 7 towns of Moqui has been greatly diminished lately and now is about the same as that of Zuñi that is according to our previous estimate 2,000 persons. But it is it difficult matter to determine satisfactorily the population of an Indian pueblo without an examination more minute than would have been agreeable to us in Zuni during the prevalence of the smallpox. The houses are so piled upon each other that they can not he counted nor does any one seem to know how many families occupy the same dwelling. Different authors therefore vary in their estimates for this place [Moqui] from 1,000 to 6,000 persons. Mexicans say that in joining them in expeditions against the Navajos there have been known to turn out 1,000 warriors. Leroux agrees with me that this is doubtless an exaggeration.

December 5, 1853

José Hacha took leave of us this morning to return to Zuñi. Ho had despaired of meeting those sent to Moqui but this evening they came prancing into camp. Everyone was glad to see them and their arrival created quite an excitement. Their mission had been performed but no Moqui guide could be obtained. The smallpox had swept off nearly every male adult from 3 pueblos. In one remained only the cacique and a single man from 100 warriors. They were dying by fifties per day and the living unable to bury the dead had thrown them down the steep sides of the lofty mesa upon which the pueblos are built. Their wolves and ravens had congregated in myriads to devour them. The decaying bodies had even infected the streams and the Zuñians were obliged to have recourse to melons both for food and drink. The young of the tribe had suffered less few cases among them having proved mortal Juan Septimo brought for us several excellent robes of wild cat or tiger skin such as the Moquis wear in the winter.

Department of the Interior. Report on Indians Taxed and Indians not Taxed in the United States, Except Alaska at the Eleventh Census: 1890. Washington DC: Government Printing Office. 1894.

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