While immunological memory has long been considered the province of T- and B-lymphocytes, it has recently been reported that innate cell populations are capable of mediating memory responses. We now show that an innate memory immune response is generated in mice following infection with vaccinia virus, a poxvirus for which no cognate germline-encoded receptor has been identified. This immune response results in viral clearance in the absence of classical adaptive T and B lymphocyte populations, and is mediated by a Thy1(+) subset of natural killer (NK) cells. We demonstrate that immune protection against infection from a lethal dose of virus can be adoptively transferred with memory hepatic Thy1(+) NK cells that were primed with live virus. Our results also indicate that, like classical immunological memory, stronger innate memory responses form in response to priming with live virus than a highly attenuated vector. These results demonstrate that a defined innate memory cell population alone can provide host protection against a lethal systemic infection through viral clearance.