Fillers One hundred years ago

Medicine men as scapegoats

BMJ 2002; 325 doi: (Published 06 July 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;325:36

SOME Indian tribes in America have an uncomfortable custom, when they are visited by an epidemic, of offering up a medicine man as a propitiatory sacrifice for the expiation of the sins of his tribe which are held accountable for the outbreak. In accordance with this custom, “Padre,” a “big medicine man” of the Yuma Indians, who live on a reservation near Yuma, Arizona, was recently offered as a sacrifice on the occasion of an epidemic of small-pox. The “medicine man,” divining the Indians' intention, fled to the mountains, but wandered back to the Indian village in a half-starved condition, and pleaded for mercy. He was promptly bound and conveyed by a delegation of Indians to Mexico, where he was tied to a tree and tortured, death ensuing after several hours of suffering. We have among us fanatics whose views as to the etiology of small-pox are even more absurd than those of the untutored Indians of Arizona, and who, if we may judge from the truculence of their invectives against the medical profession, would not be sorry to have the opportunity of treating the doctors as scapegoats in times of epidemic. (BMJ 1902;ii:205)

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