Revisioning Smallpox, ver. May 17, 2000 Revisioning smallpox in Mexico City-Tenochtitlán, 1520-1950



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MUÑOZ Luis, 1872, Resumen de los trabajos sobre la vacuna humana y de las observaciones recogidas durante el año de 1871 presentado a la Sociedad Médica de México en la sesión del día 3 de enero del presente año. Mexico DF.

MUÑOZ Miguel, 1840, Cartilla, ó breve instrucción sobre la vacuna, escrita por Miguel Muñoz, profesor cirujano y comisionado por la superioridad para la conservación y propagación de este precioso antidoto. Guadalajara.

OLDSTONE Michael B.A., 1998, Viruses, Plagues and History. Oxford.

OSTERHOLM Michael, 1998, Interview: Plague War, PBS Frontline. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/plague/interviews/osterholm.html

PANI Alberto J., 1917, Hygiene in Mexico. New York.

PESCADOR Juan J., 1992, De Bautizados a fieles difuntos. México DF.

PREM Hanns J., 1991, Disease in Sixteenth-Century Mexico, in Noble David COOK and W. George LOVELL (eds.), Secret Judgments of God: Old World Disease in Colonial Spanish America. Norman OK.

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RISSE Guenter B., 1992, Medicine in the Age of Enlightenment, in Andrew Wear (ed.) Medicine in society: historical essays. Cambridge.

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SAHAGÚN Fray Bernardino de, 1956, Historia general de las cosas de Nueva España, Angel Maria GARIBAY K. (ed.). México DF.

SAHAGÚN Fray Bernardino de, 1979, Códice florentino. Mexico DF.

SAHAGÚN Fray Bernardino de, 1955-1975. Florentine Codex: General History of the Things of New Spain, Charles E. Dibble and Arthur J.O. Anderson (eds.). Santa Fe NM.

SMITH J.R., 1987, The Speckled Monster: Smallpox in England, 1670-1970 with particular reference to Essex. Chelmsford.

SOMOLINOS D’ARDOIS German, 1982, Las epidemias en México durante el siglo XVI, in Enrique FLORESCANO and Elsa MALVIDO (eds.), Ensayos sobre la historia de las epidemias en México. Mexico DF.

SOUSA Lisa, Stafford POOLE, and James LOCKHART, 1998, The Story of Guadalupe: Luis Laso de la Vega’s Huei tlamahuiçoltica of 1649. Los Angeles.

STEARN E. Wagner and Allen E. STEARN, 1945, The Effect of Smallpox on the Destiny of the Amerindian. Boston.

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Endnotes



1 LOCKHART, We People Hear, p. 182.

2 PREM, Disease, p. 24.

3 There is much confusion among historians about the actual date of eruption in Tenochtitlán, although the native sources are completely consistent on the matter. The problem is that all eyewitness accounts are written in Nahuatl, and the cycle of months changes from year to year in the Mexica calendar. Then too, Nahua annals generally report the 20-day month in which events occurred, rather than a precise date. Finally, “[i]n the Nahua tradition of historical writing, it is the calendar that marches along step by step with no abbreviation or deviation, while actions that occur are individual episodes inserted somewhere in the framework” (LOCKHART, We People Here, p. 12).

Disease determinists favor Spanish sources (usually in English translation) which often ascribe the outbreak of the deadly scourge to the Christian god, who mercifully succored his chosen people in their darkest hour—a comforting myth that arose among the Christians decades after the event. Diseaseologists mistakenly claim that the pox entered the City as the Spanish and their native allies fled, on the “noche triste,” June 30, 1520 (McNEIL, Plagues and People, p. 2; OLDSTONE, Viruses, pp. 3, 32). CROSBY (Columbian Exchange, p. 48) telescopes these events with agreeable rhetoric and obscures the dating by giving voice to one of Cortes’s party: “‘When the Christians were exhausted from war, God saw fit to send the Indians smallpox...’” (perpetuated in COOK’s recently published Born to Die, p. 68). WATTS expansively places the outbreak between the noche triste and the fall of the City more than four hundred days later, on August 13, 1521 (Epidemics and History, p. 89).

The Mexican authority, Dr. Miguel E. BUSTAMANTE, narrows the window to sixty days, between noche triste and September 7, wholly discounting the testimony of the only source cited (La viruela en México, p. 68), which is reproduced here in paragraph 2.2. The translation of the annals of Tenochtitlan (Cronica Mexicanayotl) by the accomplished native linguist, Fernando Alvarado Tezozomoc, who wrote in Latin and Spanish as well as Nahuatl, does not date the epidemic, but his account narrows the chronological window. Alvarado Tezozomoc places the accession of Cuitlahuactzin to the rulership of the City on 16 September and his demise from pustules (“totomonalliztli”, “ampollamiento”) eighty days later, on the third of December (at the end of the month “Quecholli”; pp. 159-160). The epidemic lasted sixty days, according to native chronicles. If Cuitlahuactzin’s death came at the very end of the epidemic then the date of eruption would be the beginning of October, or, if stretched to ninety days, September at the earliest (McCAA, Spanish and Nahuatl Views). THOMAS dismisses as “extravagant” the notion that smallpox affected the outcome of the struggle for the City (Conquest, p. 741 n. 78). He favors late October (Conquest, p. 445).


4 LOCKHART, We People Hear, p. 182.

5 STEARN and STEARN, The Effect of Smallpox, p. 15; JENNINGS, The Invasion of America, p. 22; BUSTAMANTE, 400 años de viruela, p. 71.

6 BLACK, Why Did They Die?, 1739; BIANCHINE and RUSS, The Role of Epidemic Infectious Diseases. Bustamante, an ardent advocate of the genetic immunity thesis, reiterates the fallacy in his publications on smallpox. The following is representative of his thinking: “Human beings isolated in America for thousands of years formed an immunologically autochthonous population, with factors of susceptibility and resistance different from those of the people of the Ancient World” (BUSTAMANTE, La viruela en México, p. 71).

JENNINGS crudely reduces the story to a matter of the survival of the fittest: “...the Europeans’ capacity to resist certain diseases made them superior, in the pure Darwinian sense, to the Indians who succumbed.” And, “smallpox was smallpox...the Indians on the north [bank of the Rio Grande] had as little biological immunity to this epidemic scourge as the Aztecs had” (The Invasion of America, p. 22). CROSBY is more restrained: “those creatures who have been longest in isolation suffer most, for their genetic material has been least tempered by the variety of world diseases” (Conquistador y Pestilencia, p. 322). The Stearns also discern evolution at work: “even in the nineteenth century when some immunity had already been acquired by this race...” (p. 15). Unfortunately genetic immunity has become standard fare in English language colonial Latin American history texts.

WATTS challenges the genetic hypothesis by citing examples of catastrophic smallpox mortality in Europe, such as Iceland and Foula Island (Epidemics and History, p. 102). GORODEZKY’s Genetic Difference is a technically sophisticated discussion of the battle between foreign antigens and T-cell receptors, but no direct evidence is presented regarding smallpox.

The contemporary relevance of the issue continues. The campaign to destroy remaining stocks of the virus (abruptly terminated when President Clinton ordered, wisely I think, their continued preservation) was motivated by the fear that should the virus escape, a great pandemic would ensue among an increasingly, immunologically naive global population (BARQUET and DOMINGO, Smallpox; OSTERHOLM Interview; PRESTON, Demon in the Freezer). If peoples of Old World origin developed genetic immunity is it so readily lost? McNEIL (Plagues and People, p. 8, 49) insists that both acquired and hereditary immunity is necessary to explain the heavy die-off.



7 McCAA, Spanish and Nahuatl Views.

8 QUIÑONES KEBER, Codex Telleriano Remensis, f45v, p. 236.

9 CHIMALPAHIN, Relaciones, v.2:184-5. MOTOLINÍA describes it as measles (“sarampión”), transmitted by a Spaniard (Memoriales, p. 22):

Despues, dende a once años, vino un otro español herido de sarampión, y de el saltó en los indios, e si no que hobo mucho aviso que se les mandó y defendía, y aún se les predicaba que no se bañasen y otros remedios contrarios a esta enfermedad; y con esto plugó al Señor que no murieron tantos como de las viruelas; y a este también llamaron el año de la pequeña lepra, y al primero el año de la grande lepra.



10 GIBSON, Aztecs, pp. 448-450; PREM, Disease; MARQUEZ MORFÍN, La evolución cuantitativa.

11 STEARN and STEARN, Effect of Smallpox, p. 42.

12 GIBSON, Aztecs, p. 448-450; MARQUEZ MORFÍN, La evolución cuantitativa.

13 FERNANDEZ DEL CASTILLO, Los Viajes.

14 AACM, vol. 3678, leg. 19, 20.

15 CIUDAD DE MÉXICO. AYUNTAMIENTO. Manifiesto, p. 7; for 1779, see BNM Raros, Ephemeris astronómica, f. 141; AACM vol. 3680, exp. 67, 76.

16 AACM Vacunas, vol. 4776, exped. 8

17 MUÑOZ, Resumen de los trabajos, p. 18.

18 AHSS, Salubridad Pública, box 1, exp. 51, Oficios de remisión del Gobierno del Distrito Federal al Consejo Superior de Salubridad, para aplicar las medidas pertinentes para contrarrestar una epidemia de viruela and box 1, exp. 29, Informe del Inspector General de la Vacuna Luis Muñoz, 27 de febrero de 1872. To combat ignorance and lassitude of parents (“ignorancia y flojera”), Dr. Muñoz employed roving vaccinators, paid them bounties, and required detailed records be kept for each child vaccinated, including, in addition to name, date, place of vaccination, name of parents and address, the origin of the vaccine (name of the child donor—essential to trace any cases of suspected transmission of syphilis), and, a detailed description of the reaction determined by a follow-up visual inspection 8-12 days later. Donors were selected with extreme care to prevent the inadvertent transmission of syphilis or other communicable diseases. These lists, many of which still survive in the archives, testify to the humanitarian and scientific spirit of Dr. Muñoz and his assistants. Dr. Muñoz received his lancet and lymph from his father, Dr. José Miguel Muñoz, in 1842, and was chief vaccinator in the City for thirty years. In turn, his father received “el grano vacuno y la lanceta” from Dr. Balmis in 1804 (MUÑOZ, Cartilla, p. iii).

19 México, Boletin Demografico, p. 787.

20 AHSS, box 5, exp. 2, Convención sanitaria internacional.

21 PANI, Hygiene, p. 192; or 159 according to the Anuario Estadística, 1907, p. 27.

22 AHSS, Salubridad Pública Epidemiología, box 11, exp. 1-2.

23 AHSS, Salubridad Pública Estadística, box 10, exp. 27.

24 LANDA, Apuntes; Fernandez del Castillo, La Viruela; BAXBY, Jenner’s smallpox vaccine, p. 180.

25 BUSTAMANTE, La viruela en México; México, Anuario Estadístico, 1939, p. 177, 1942, p. 273.

26 México, Anuario Estadístico, various years. The victory against smallpox in Mexico was officially declared won on June 12, 1952, but smallpox deaths continued to occur over the next two years, according to the Anuario Estadístico (1954, p. 86 and 1955-56, p. 89; BUSTAMANTE, La viruela en México).

27 VELÁZQUEZ, Códice Chimalpopoca, pp. 58, 59, 60. Fr. Bernardino de Sahagún’s monumental ethnolinguistic encyclopedia of the Nahuatl contains two proverbs on great pestilences:

The sea, the conflagration. This saying was said when there befell a great war, or a great pestilence [vei cocoliztli]. It was said: ‘It is as if there came upon us, or there passed over us, the sea, the conflagration’—that is, pestilence [cocoliztli] or this same war (Sahagún, Florentine Codex, vol. 6, p. 244).



Our lord bringeth cold water, icy water, upon us. This saying is said of the time when our lord brings something upon us—affliction, pain, or sickness (cocoliztli), or famine. Then it is said: ‘our lord hath brought cold water, icy water, upon us. Our ears, our flanks have been tugged. Our lord hath pierced us, hath admonished us with that which is like a thorn, a bone awl (Sahagún, Florentine Codex, vol. 6, p. 254).

28 VIESCA, Epidemiologia, 175-76;

29 THOMAS, Conquest, p. 444.

30 LOCKHART, We People Hear, p. 181-82.

31 SAHAGÚN, Códice florentino, vol. 3, book 12, chapter 29, folio 53.

32 CERVANTES DE SALAZAR, Crónica, p. 98; MOTOLINÍA, Memoriales, p. 22.

33 SAHAGÚN, Historia General, vol. 3, p. 356.

34 MONJARÁS-RUIZ, Obras, vol. 2, pp. 280-299.

35 Gacetas de México, vol. 2, pp. 177-78.

36 Although Cooper states that the Virgin of Remedios was not called upon in 1797, because of her poor performance in 1779 (Epidemic Disease, p. 142), there is contemporaneous archival evidence that the procession was held (AGN Epidemias, vol. 1, exp. 7, f. 502). In France, according to a comprehensive catalogue of saints, there were 123 for fevers, 85 for childhood illnesses, 70 for dangers of childbirth, 53 for plague, 27 for conjugal sterility, 20 for toothache, 18 for colic, 17 for rabies, 12 for leprosy and 10 for convulsions—but, apparently none specifically for smallpox (BROCKLISS and JONES, Medical World, p. 74).

37 SOUSA, POOLE and LOCKHART, Story of Guadalupe, p. 39.

38 Ibid., p. 96-7.

39 COOPER, Epidemic Disease, p. 18.

40 MOLINA DEL VILLAR, Por voluntad divina, p. 61.

41 JUNTA PRINCIPAL DE CARIDAD, Noticia, p. 8.

42 These are my computations from BNMR, Ephemeris astronomica, fol. 141; and AGI, Varios, vol. 38.

43 WIDMER, Pólitica sanitaria, p. 73; McCAA, Inoculation.

44 COOPER, Epidemic Disease, p. 106-131; PRICE, State Church Charity, p. 361; RODRÍGUEZ DE ROMO, Inoculación.

45 COOPER, Epidemic Disease, pp. 86-147; Rodríguez de Romo, Inoculación.

46 COOPER, Epidemic Disease, p. 147.

47 Inoculación; the City’s Junta Superior was the first to credit inoculation with the major role (Instruccion formada, written in 1814, published in 1824), p. 14:

Si en la epidemia inmediata pasada de viruelas del año de 1797 se socorrieron por la Junta Principal de Caridad de esta Capital, como ocho mil enfermos mas que en la anterior del año de 1779, y en esta murieron un duplo mas que en aquella, debe atribuirse el buen éxito de la de 1797 (a mas de las activas providencias que por la Junta se tomaron, y el distinto tratamiento curativo) a la inoculación de la viruela, que aunque no adaptada generalmente por capricho y timidez, con todo se verificó una gran parte de lo principal de esta Capital, y aun en muchos pobres, ratificándolos para que se dexasen inocular...

Inoculation receives unconditional credit, contrary to the above citation, from the following authors: COOK (The Smallpox Epidemic of 1797), FERNANDEZ DEL CASTILLO (Los Viajes, p. 64), BUSTAMANTE (La viruela en México), COOPER (Epidemic Disease), LANNING (The Royal Protomedicato), and PRICE (State Church Charity), among others.


48 RODRÍGUEZ DE ROMO (Inoculación) argues that the “sanos” figure for 1797 includes any that received relief, not simply those who were “contagiados” as in 1779. I am not persuaded, because the number of “sanos” in 1797 equals about one-third of the population of the City, that would have been born since the 1779 outbreak. PESCADOR’s detailed study of Santa Catarina parish leads him to label 1779 a “super-crisis” with 700 deaths, in contrast to the ordinary “crisis” of 1797 (Bautizados, pp. 98, 103).

49 AGI, Estado 27, No. 38, Branciforte sobre extinción de la viruela en Mexico y PueblaCArta no. 598, 28/ii/798:

Es menester hallarse tan tocado, como VE. de la calamidad publica pa. percivir la dulce sensacn. qe. causan en el alma las ideas reunidas de muchos millares de infelices, que yaciendo en el olvido, en la oscuridad, en el polvo, y en la inmundicia de sus chozas, y pequeños reductos; repentinamte. fueron vuscados, sublevados, y auxiliados por los sacerdotes y primeros republicanos aqnes. se encomendo su cuidado, al abrigo qe. se daba a los unos, las medicians qe. se aplicaban a otros, los alimentos, y el aseo qe se procuraba en todos el pasto espiritual abundante, y los socorros [i.d. 59] que universalmte. se les entraban por las puertas, sin tener el trabajo de pedirlos: qe otra cosa habian de producir sino un agradable contraste de la miseria y de la abundancia, decidido al fin por el estremo mas favorable.

Con la gente de mas modo fue necesario otro govierno y tambien se hizo distincion de calidades y clases en la distribucn. de ropas.


50 BLAKE, Public Health, p. 87.

51 McCAA, Inoculation.

52 ESQUIVEL, Sermon eucaristico, pp. 19-22.

53 LANNING, The Royal Protomedicato, p. 372.

54 CREIGHTON, History of Epidemics, vol. 2, p. 454.

55 Observations, p. 36.

56 BLAKE, Public Health, p. 86.

57 For the inoculationist camp, none is better than the sophistry of MOREL’s Disertacion written to persuade the viceroy to permit inoculation in the City to combat the epidemic of 1779. The dissertation’s arguments were accepted but few people were inoculated. For examples in English, see the recent statements in: WATTS (Epidemics and Empire, p. 114: “During much of the eighteenth century, university-trained doctors steadfastly opposed inoculation” [and] “...continued to rely on the theories of the Ancients”); BROCKLISS and JONES, Medical World, p. 470-72: “The initial prejudice within the medical community to inoculation was perfectly reasonable. In a rationalist age, critics were understandably suspicious of a prophylactic that defended the patient by giving him a dose (albeit mild) of the disease, when there was no rationale underpinning the practice (which, to boot, was of Turkish origin).” RISSE, Medicine in the Age of Enlightenment, p. 190: “lower-class fatalism, fear of accidental contagion, and religious scruples based on the argument that the procedure attempted to interfere with God’s work, were all barriers to its popularization.”

For a reasoned assessment of the risks of inoculation, none is better than Francisco GIL’s Disertación (see paragraphs 40-42, 77, 84). In English, see HEBERDEN, Observations, p. 35 or the modern authority on smallpox, BAXBY, Jenner’s smallpox vaccine, p. 30. LANDERS’s assessment of the London Bills is more cautious: “The practice of inoculation in the capital itself may have reduced mortality among London-born children, but the evidence on this point is insufficient for any definite conclusions to be reached” (Death and the metropolis, p. 356).



58 cited in BLAKE, Public Health, p. 57, emphasis in the original.

59 SMITH, The Speckled Monster, pp. 44-5.

60 COOPER, Epidemic Disease, p. 115.

61 COOPER, Epidemic Disease, p. 131.

62 COOK, La epidemia de viruela de 1797, p. 306.

63 AACM Salubridad, vol. 3678, exp. 2, f. 2.
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