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February 28, 1996

Deadly Medicine: Indians and Alcohol in Early America

Author Affiliations

Victoria, British Columbia

JAMA. 1996;275(8):646-647. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03530320070043

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While working with alcohol-dependent Native Americans (Indians as they are referred to in this book), I have wondered about the unbearable burden their culture and race have suffered. Ninety percent of the American Indian population had died before the American Revolution. Such decimation of their numbers by war, infectious disease, and alcohol since the arrival of Europeans is impossible to comprehend. While psychiatric and anthropological studies of Indian alcohol abuse provide valuable observations and theoretical discussions, a historical and economic review adds further depth to a cogent analysis.

In Deadly Medicine, University of Kansas historian Peter Mancall supplies extraordinarily detailed documentation of colonial North American Indians' mostly ill-fated relationship to alcohol. His basic premise is as follows:

Indians' responses to liquor reinforced colonists' notions about their cultural and racial inferiority; colonists' desire to maintain the trade [in alcohol] despite its all too apparent costs reinforced Indians' notions about deeply rooted