The bubonic plague that killed one out of three in Europe
arrived by the ancient silk route at Kaffa in the Crimea
in 1347. From there, rats, fleas, and men
carrying the germs of pasteurella pestis
set out on their Grand Tour of Europe:
Constantinople, Greece and the Balkans, Italy,
France, the Iberian Peninsula - broad
successive waves carrying them up through the
British Isles, Scandinavia, and Eastern Europe,
by the year 1353.
It is not known whether the plague reached the Americas.
Probably it did, be it from Asia or Europe.
Evidence that a terrible plague has struck will disappear
almost completely unless a written record is preserved.
There is some slight indication of such a plague in
the hundreds of untended large mounds,
the size of football stadiums, that dot the
vast Ohio-Mississippi drainage basin.
Used for religious rites and burials, their mysterious
builders might have been practically extincted by plague.
No one could remember when the mounds were built and
last employed, though some seemed recent.
I noted, in the second chapter above, the many
possible intruders upon the Americas. Some of these,
if they landed, would have handed over their germs to the
Americans whom they encountered. So depopulation
could have begun then and there, before Columbus.
Additionally we hinted at another possibility.
Claims were made in the worst of plague times,
the 1300's, that rare atmospheric and
celestial disturbances were occurring, and that vermin falling
from inner or outer space (sic) produced plague on Earth.
If so, the Americas might not have been spared the infestations.
Nor would infectious mammals be needed as carriers.
Whether again, or for the first time, poxes and influenzas struck
America devastatingly in the century of "discovery." They
accompanied not only the voyages of Columbus, but also the many
landings before and after him, up and down the coasts of the
continents and around the Caribbean Sea. The susceptibility of
Indians to European disease was the greatest ally that the
Europeans possessed when it came to seizing and
occupying North America. Even the most peaceable
European group engaged perforce in biological warfare.
So quickly had pox and fevers spread to the farthest
reaches of the land that the earliest expeditions
following upon the very first contacts
found their path cleared by death. When
Hernando de Soto's company arrived at the Mississippi
River early in the sixteenth century, they came upon the
Indian city of Cahokia, near the present city of
St. Louis. Cahokia had numbered 40,000
persons sometime before, as large, therefore, as
London and Paris. But it had been greatly reduced by
plague and it could afford no opposition to strangers
coming and going on its territory.
Jacques Cartier in his voyages up the St. Lawrence River
in the 1530's had visited several large towns,
including Stadacona and Hochelaga.
By the next account, rendered in 1603,
they had disappeared.
Pilgrims of 1620 came upon a land of empty huts,
and upon cleared but vacant fields. Many of the Wampanoag,
Massachusetts, and Pequot peoples had died of disease.
The Iroquois related that before the Christians came
their population had been ten times as great as it was afterwards.
Their number was estimated at 75,000 in the
mid-1600's. Therefore, they would have
once numbered 750,000.
The widespread Cherokee nation, with original territory of
100,000 square miles, would figure prominently in
history well into the 1800's. But it would be gravely
injured by smallpox. Earlier plagues had reduced
its numbers greatly. Then six successive
plagues in the 1830's reduced its population
from 30,000 to 10,000, just as its
relations with the State and National Governments
reached a crisis. The last plague came with a
slave-carrying boat that also held trade goods
thereafter exchanged with the Indians.
One of the Indian survivors, reputed the most handsome
warrior of his tribe, fell sick, recovered, but was so
disfigured that he swore undying enmity to the Whites;
they had, he felt, tried to destroy him, and he did
in fact lead his people into futile battle. (There were
known instances of English plotting, if not using,
biological warfare against the Indians, notably
in 1763 the case of Lord Jeffery Amherst,
whose idea was pox-laden gift blankets;
in his honor Amherst College was named.)
Had their numbers not been so severely diminished,
there would have been little chance of successful settlements
except upon terms acceptable to the Indians.
This is deducible from the difficulty which French and English
had in pushing back the Iroquois and Algonquin nations,
not to mention the resistance offered by the non-affiliated
independent tribes along the whole of the Coast. It took almost six
political generations (10 biological generations)
to cast out the Indians East of the Appalachians or
bring them into subjection. It took only
one political generation to move them almost
entirely to West of the Mississippi.
It took only one more political generation to reduce
all remaining nations "within" United States territory to
White government rule.
Historians have been reticent lately, possibly to placate
Indian pressure groups, about the continual warfare
among the Indians themselves as a factor in their general decline.
Despite all the troubles inflicted upon them by
the Europeans, the tribes were all too ready to join
with Europeans against another Indian nation.
Not only tribes, but individuals and gangs:
the typical European-American stuck to
his tribe more than the typical Indian. Furthermore, as
Indian morale generally fell, and Indian
social bonds became weaker with diminished numbers
individuals could be bribed or persuaded into treason.
Moreover, the decentralized tribes of the North did not
ordinarily recognize and in fact unconsciously denied that the
defeat of one tribe meant the defeat of the other.
Nor was the fighting between Indians any less ferocious than
struggles between White and Red. Indeed the Indians'
methods of fighting among themselves were generalized into the
methods of frontier warfare followed by all parties in the
vast areas of North America that could contain it.
Glancing over at the conduct of warfare in Europe as the
1600's moved into the 1700's, one can
perceive a lessening of butchery and massacre, including of
women and children, proceeding down the years.
The usual remark at this fact is,
"The Enlightenment! That's the reason."
At any rate, in the colonial struggles, participants
behaved rather like the Serbs, Croats and Bosnians in their
civil wars of the 1990's.
Scalping was only one of the gruesomeries of battle.
Many tribes practiced cutting off a large hair-bearing
portion of the headskin of a downed enemy;
this would be exhibited to all and sundry who had not
the good fortune to witness the battle. Eastern
Woodlands Indians would appear to be stuck with the infamous
invention, which, however, diffused successfully to their
European opponents, who evidently exulted in collecting such
trophies as much as did their ruddy enemies.
During a century or more, cash bounties were paid
in certain settlements for Indian scalps.
Consider the rapidity of Spanish conquests of heavily
populated and well-organized nations of
Central and South America:
why would this not have been the case with the
invaders of New England and Virginia?
The Spanish conquistadors and their companies were
state-of-the-art fighting machines,
capable of devastating blitzkriegs.
Pilgrims, Puritans and Virginians were amateurs at battle,
save for the few mercenaries and Cavaliers among them.
Some would have liked to hunt for gold and did,
but the main effort went into taking up and
consuming the resources of the earth, while acting only as
nasty toward the Indians as might be required
to get what one wanted.
Could it be that something else, also intangible,
lay behind the quickness with which the Spanish and, also,
the French, came to lasting terms with Indian nations?
Could it have been a factor, call it the racist factor, or
perhaps the rigidity factor, which is not far
removed in psychogenesis from racism, that brought about
this contrasting set of results?
Quite possibly. Under the circumstances,
Indians as well as Anglo-colonials became more racist.
There were cooperative and pluralist elements in both populations,
but generally and increasingly the dominant attitude on
both sides became, "It's them or us."
Gradually, for the Indians of all the tribes, a sickening
despair arose with the thought,
"It will be us!"
The Indians would not bend; the English and Scots-Irish and the
continental sects would not bend; Presbyterians do not bend,
Protestants in general do not bend culturally.
This has to do, of course, with miscegenation,
as well as flexibility in all kinds of interrelations;
the French home government even promulgated a policy
favoring intermixture of the French and Indians. And the
Spanish policy was evident in the large mixed racial groups that
flourished everywhere in the presence of priests, and -
who will say no? - with their cooperation.
Protestantism overall did not pretend to the
universal membership that Catholicism claimed.
This allowed Protestants, more than Catholics,
to believe that whoever was not of their sect was strictly foreign.
There was a tightness and newness in feeling Protestant,
a sharpness of distinction between those who gave evidence of
being saved and those who were without hope of salvation.
Catholics were long habituated to dwelling among passive
believers and skeptics. The Jesuits went to live
among the Indians from the Arctic down to Patagonia.
Protestant ministers and missionaries living
among the heathen in the English colonies were rare.
Moreover, English Protestantism was tied into a
pronounced enhancement of nationalism. The destruction of the
Spanish Armada after a century of fear and envy
sent the patriotic spirit soaring.
England joined France, Portugal and Spain as a
modern nationalist state. This could only bode ill for
other peoples and races. England moved, as
historian Benjamin Nelson once labeled the process,
"from universal brotherhood to universal otherhood."
The lower social orders were most affected by the transition.
They were afforded a new self-respect,
simply by being permitted, even encouraged, to
define themselves as part of an aggregate that
included the King and Queen and their ilk;
and they could consign to the nether regions,
figuratively and literally, all those
who might be "otherhood."
This process, often ignored by historians, should be well-marked.
Every low-brow immigrant aggregate that was to land
upon our shores from 1565 onward was
infected by its own nationalism; the
universality of the middle ages had passed.
So, in reacting to their own frustrations upon coming ashore,
each and every immigrant group,
whether from the slums of Belfast or of Naples,
had its vocal element who claimed to incarnate
in themselves the glories of the Old Country and would
demand recognition as representatives of the Old Country.
There was no turning to the disunited Protestant
churches, or relying upon the Church for protection against
secular misrule, as might be the case in the
larger part of the Americas that were under
French and Spanish rule. Oviedo and De Las Casas and
the rest: where were their counterparts in the English colonies,
or even in the new American states?
Puritan and other Protestant types felt alienated from the
State often, but then it was their peculiar version of the
Divine that became their Mentor; and He would not truck
with Indians on any but rigorous terms.
The Quakers once more are exceptional, and their influence in
Pennsylvania and elsewhere and into the future was
phenomenal, especially in consideration of their sparseness.
They may be justly accused of resigning from politics
in order to make more money (although the excuse was
usually their aversion to force and domination in human affairs).
Even Ben Franklin, friend of the Indians,
by virtue of exhorting ever more European immigration,
and by promoting huge land sales such as the Vandalia scheme
that would have his syndicate owning much of the
hither Midwest, helped push the Indians
out of their ancestral grounds faster.
Because of the exceedingly decentralized manner of
extending the colonies' decatriapodal tentacles,
and because of the innumerable different boatloads and tribes
involved, we should be describing the recession of the Indians
in statistical terms over time. But the data are not to be had yet;
the job remains to be done. What is left is
a series of generalizations illustrated by incidents,
compiled by darting in, here and there, and
plucking them out.
Very well. The Europeans came ashore all along the line from
Nova Scotia to Key West, in dribs and drabs,
sometimes heavily armed and aggressive, at other times
so peaceful as to invite martyrdom from the
not necessarily benign natives. In all cases there were
Indians around, and contact was made, usually in a
curious and apprehensive spirit on both sides.
Then the Whites would have to subsist, so they traded with the
Indians for necessities and got information from
them as to how to survive in an indifferent natural setting.
Trading pepped up as the months and years passed, and a
number of conflicts had to be settled. Since neither
knew what standards of legitimate action the other practiced,
each assumed that its own rules would be the rules of the game.
Also, since Indians had everything and Europeans nothing,
save a few axes, beads and misfiring muskets, Europeans were
the more determined about trading and acquiring.
How Europeans Appropriated Land
This was especially true of land. I have heard of few incidents when a
conflict came about because Europeans fished where the Indians
fished; so generous were the Indians. Nor did Whites fall into a fury
when an Indian decided to take something back, like a buckskin shirt,
that the White man thought he had been given, but the Indian evidently
believed was part of himself that could only be lent out considerately
until a feeling of wanting it back arose. Thus, "Indian-giving," the term
of reproach of the Whites for Indians and children who haven't had
rigorous discipline in the theory of conveyance of property
according to the Roman or common law.
But when it came to land-grabbing,
settlers went into a veritable feeding frenzy,
such as can only come to men who have been booted off
somebody's land in the Old Country too many times to mention.
In the non-slave areas, there was little else
worth buying and selling except for timber and furs that
Indians began to bring in. There was to be no concession to
"Indian-givers" here, not for at least two hundred years.
The foreigners misunderstood what territoriality
meant to Indians, a sense of collective sovereignty
over a stretch of land, never with papers,
until Whites introduced documentation
(often false and in any event non-binding when it suited them),
to replace oral agreement or 0mutual shoving
until a settlement was arrived at. Yet, early
maps of America dutifully drew in the boundaries of
Indian nations, as if the Whites did regard
Indian country as having a legal foreign status.
Can we distinguish the several guises in which land was
transferred from the Indian to the White, here, there and
everywhere for three hundred years? Possibly.
First, the" Virginia sale." It is doubtful that Virginians
paid anything, although some small objects were handed over as
gifts or payment. The Pilgrims cannily chose a spot that
looked as if it were vacant. Again a few
exchanges would suffice, to their way of thinking.
The Manhattan sale had the Dutch Director, Peter Minuet,
paying the famous 24 thalers (Dutch dollars)
worth of tchotchkes (Dutch for trinkets) to
certain naive Indians, who,
for all we know, may have been impostors.
Too, if they had entrusted the sum to a reliable bank
at 6% interest compounded annually (more fantastic
than the true story) they would be able to
buy back Manhattan today.
William Penn, who managed to be both a Quaker
and persona grata at the Royal Court, obtained an
enormous tract of land that was named then perchance
"Pennsylvania" and acquired fairly strong claims to the
plains and marshes going down to the sea that were to be
called New Jersey. Even so, Penn paid the Indians
what they considered a fair price, and did not
chase them off afterwards, and did many a deed that
makes him an outstanding candidate for the greatest and best of
American colonial leaders, alongside
John Winthrop and Benjamin Franklin.
By present standards of what constitutes legal title,
no legal title to U.S. land goes back for more than
several political generations without becoming shaky, and
no Indian land title was vested in an individual,
so that all sales to be legal had to be made by duly
constituted tribe officials. Title to all the land in the
United States of America is based on the practical fiction that
there was once a title, and the premise that we must not go
beyond a certain point backwards in time, this date
to be set by the prejudiced fiat of the
contemporary law-making body.
The stupendously large lands sold by the Indians for
practically nothing would incline an American court
today to void such sales on grounds that the vendor was
ipso facto and prima facie legally insane,
or drunk at the time of sale,
or selling what did not belong to him in the first place,
or had been bribed,
or had scratched his "x" on a document under
duress or fraudulent deception.
The colonial gangsters from Europe knew all this well.
Examples of these good deals in the 1700's were the
one million eight hundred thousand acres
Southeast of the Ohio River bought from the Iroquois,
another treaty with them giving away most of
western New York State along with a region between
Ohio and Tennessee, and an agreement with the Creek Indians to
move their South Carolina border West and South.
By this time, all of the aforesaid land had been
claimed several times, beginning with the cruise of
Giovanni Cabotto, and going through companies and
individuals and societies and governmental units.
Ultimately it was the jurisdiction that commanded force and
claimed legitimacy in the region of the sale
whose title was effectively conveyed.
(In the Europe of these times, governments sold and swapped
territories and peoples as well, and everywhere world-wide,
and today, too; however, the title being exchanged there
included the exercise of general rights and the powers of a
government over territory, not rights to the real property of its people.
Still, often such transactions enabled the new
government to dispossess whoever it did not like
in the newly acquired lands.)
Some American sales were so fantastic that
they must be true: Daniel Boone, famous hunter and fighter,
whose sons were killed by Indians but who was a forgiving man,
joined with a drinking buddy and, who knows, possibly
some alcoholic Indians, to purchase for a negligible sum
the territory now encompassing Kentucky and Ohio.
A deal so droll as this one quickly got out of hand, and
could be used mainly as one more implausible
argument for removing Indians from their lands
in the years to come:
"Any group so irresponsible as to sell its land
for so little should not be allowed
to have land in the first place."
A great deal of land could be identified as occupied by squatters.
They might be detected by
their suspiciousness at any sign of
Indians returning to claim the land,
or an inquiring officer of the Crown or colony,
by the rough timbered shacks they threw together,
by the smoke arising as they burnt forests to make way for corn,
and by the rooting snorting pigs.
There would be a family scattered about, a mule, and
perhaps a horse. There would be no deed,
no purchase price, never, until a man rather resembling a
lawyer would come by one day and offer to register a
title to the land for a small sum and a jug of whiskey.
Chasing away any defenseless Indians often worked to
clear the de facto title, and where that did not serve,
killing off any resisters -
what would be termed in the jargon of international lawyers
just coming into being in the universities of Europe as
"acquisition by conquest."
Thence occurred more formal ways of taking Indian lands:
They could be seized upon the declaration of a state of war
by one or more of the colonies.
They could be occupied following an official
formal declaration by one of the numerous colonial and later
State and Federal governments that would ban
Indian occupancy of an area after a certain date
(such a ban assuming that the land did not belong to the
Indians in the first place but to some public or
private owners, so designated, in vaguely defined
earlier actions or non-actions, which were usable as
precedents, once they were dressed in suitable
There might be a fine treaty drawn up, employing
flowery terms and phrases -
"Great White Father who always Thinks
of the Interests of His Deare Children.." -
such as the White Americans thought to be the proper way of
speaking to savage Americans (reminiscent of the
famous banquet scene in the film "Some Like it Hot,"
in which the mafia don's suave and complimentary
speech is followed by the execution of its subjects).
Some money would be passed to the Indians
and many rights would be "guaranteed" to them by
negotiators, who had neither the power nor the will
to fulfill the guarantees.
Too, a legislature would on occasion pass a law to
govern the Indians, although the Indians rarely gave their consent
to be governed by the intruding tribes of Whites, and
many precedents acceded to by the White Americans
assumed that sovereignty had originally rested in and
continued to be vested in the Indian tribes.
A French jurist, Jean Bodin, had not too long before
 written an influential treatise,
one highly popular, also, among rulers,
"demonstrating" that absolute final decision
over the affairs of a domain rested in the head of state
usually a King. Enthusiastic White lawyers
and politicians could readily see in this doctrine,
not a new dogma pointing to the vigorous future of the
centralized national state, but an acknowledgment of a
pre-existing reality, that is, that
"The Great White Father owns it all,
so stand out of the way!"
There were many cases where Indians let Whites
co-occupy their land and form a neighborhood
where both sets would persuade away or fight off
intervenors whatever their coloration, and
otherwise engage in mutual aid. Notable
instances of this occurred with Quakers, the Society of Friends,
who may have quaked and trembled in the presence of their God,
but were open and amiable with Indians,
much to the disgust of aggressive gentiles who,
because they were so fearful of the Indians,
became embroiled in mutual massacre.
These people forced their way into Indian territory,
outnumbered and took power from the Quaker oligarchy that
ran the state, and ended up ruining much of the
promise of Pennsylvania.
There were frequent incidents, each fascinating, of Whites going over to the
Indians and a few, mostly male, Indians going over to the Whites, but
one hears almost nothing of Whites, male or female, bringing tracts of
land into their White community as a result of marriage or
consanguinity. Even when an Indian "Princess" would enter the White
world, her dowry would be meager personal possessions and some
tobacco and useful family connections, such as
lots of bear meat on the table.
Several methods could coalesce to create large holdings. Robert
Livingston, a Scots immigrant, paid Indians a trifling sum for 2,000
acres on the Hudson River in the 1680's, and had the Governor
give him a patent on the property. He did the same for another
tract bordering on Massachusetts, and the Governor, Thomas Dungan,
then gave him the connecting land, over 100,000 acres,
for a quit-rent of 28 shillings. Much of this was Indian land, but the
Indians were not consulted, to our knowledge.
Nor was the amount of the bribe paid to the Governor made public;
a couple of thousand pounds sterling would suffice.
Governors had to live off their bribes, considering how little fees
amounted to, and how stingy the legislatures were,
and how pretentious was their life-style..
Only a century later did the Crown give governors
a fairly reliable source of income, from customs duties. A usual bribe
to a governor was a half or third share in the property being conveyed
illegally. Sir William Johnson, who was appointed by the Crown to
defend the rights of Indians in upstate New York, and indeed did take
up the Indians' cause in some important cases where they were being
threatened with fraud or expulsion, accepted from them, the very
Indians, a gift of 100,000 acres of Mohawk land; on this he paid the
government a quit-rent of two beaver skins and received an official
title. Practices in other colonies were on the average not quite so
stinking and extravagantly corrupt as in New York.
Women were elevated in status, in many Indian societies, if one can
believe the new anthropological history. This is of course hard to
measure. I have mentioned their participation in elections. Women
could become Chiefs in some Eastern tribes, sunksquas or women
sachems. Women might also hold property, it was learned when
property came to be recorded on deeds. Colonial Anglo-American
women who had experienced Indian captivity or enjoyed Indian
husbands reported no significant difference in the esteem accorded
them, in work allocations, in personal possessions, and in liberty of
local movement, by comparison with their colonial
European conditions of life.
Of all the stories of Indian collaboration in the English colonies, it
could be Squanto's that would win the prize, not Pocohontas, Indian
princess veritably, who married John Rolfe, he an early Virginian, in a
dynastic marriage to keep the peace, and went off to England, there to
catch her death of cold. Squanto, we recall, was the internationally
traveled Indian who turned up to greet the Pilgrims after they finally
made up their minds to stay ashore.
Squanto was a Patuxet. In 1615 there were an estimated 20,000 to
25,000 Patuxet dwelling in villages (that with their sprawling wigwams
looked like a later-day suburbia, if a drawing by an artist of the Cartier
expedition can be trusted) in the general area of "Plymouth Bay." In
1616, a plague - the English curse - struck the Patuxet people.
English visitors were immune, but 75% to 90% of the
Patuxet fell sick and died.
Bartholomew Gosnold had sailed in with a 1602 expedition seeking
sassafras and fish, but it could not have been his fault. It would have
been the later vagabonds, sailors and fishermen who jumped ship, men
from boats anchoring off-shore for fishing and trading. It could have
been French traders who were active all along the North Atlantic
Coast: furs were already a hot item, often traded for corn among the
Indians, but also traded for export abroad (as recorded by Captain
John Smith, who was sailing in those waters in 1614.) Again, it might
have been sick Europeans, marooned by their comrades in the
solicitous and gentle manner of the age.
By 1610 kidnaping Indians and conveying them to Europe for display
was typical English conduct. Thomas Hunt, prior to returning with a
load of fish, seized 27 Indians, among them Squanto, and sold or
abandoned him in Malaga, Spain ( of all places). According to Smith
and to Sir Ferdinando Gorges, a prominent Puritan leader, it was this
incident that turned Indians into Anglophobes.
In 1619 Squanto got back to Plymouth Bay, in time to welcome the
Pilgrims. He became their economic and diplomatic consultant, losing
some friends in the Indian communities thereabouts as a result, and
rising in influence to the point where he was taking an important part
in the decisions affecting the Puritan colony. Some say he had
ambitions to high office. A typically slippery treaty was concluded
between the Pilgrims and the Pokanoket, who then took Squanto
prisoner and released him only after the
Pilgrims paid them a ransom.
The next year, 1622, while conducting an English delegation to treat
with a Monomoy Indian village, he contracted a fever and died. It is
said that, on his deathbed, after distributing his few possessions among
his English friends, he expressed a hope of joining their God in
Heaven, forsaking, for the nonce at least, his old God Hobbamock,
who, like Yahweh, appeared better known for the harm
he caused man than the good he did.
The conclusion of New England Indian supremacy came with King
Philip's War in 1675-6; "Philip" was actually Metacomet, son of
Massasoit, the primal benefactor of the Pilgrims.
Destruction and casualties made the little war
proportionately worst of American wars.
After several victories and massacres on both sides,
combined colonial forces captured Metacomet through a
betrayal, killed him, and enslaved his family.
It is universally believed, and has been from the beginning, that
Americans are amateurs at diplomacy and statecraft, a statement
which, if assented to, is followed by the explanation: they are a new
country, without experience. That this has always been nonsense
should long ago have become obvious to the thousands of scholars
who have assumed it as fact and taught it to others.
Whatever the many mistakes of American diplomacy - which have
probably been typical of professional and non-professional diplomats
everywhere - they commonly occurred from causes
other than inexperience. Few nations exist whose people
have had the continual experience of Americans
with independent Indian tribes, autonomous colonies and
states, and bordering empires, colonies, and republics.
This is not to say that Americans lack peculiar and
characteristic behavioral flaws in the field of foreign relations
as well as in all other fields; nor for that matter, that
we can hope for better in the future.
The Indians, who had achieved a satisfactory social equilibrium in
generally analphabetic circumstances, were continually being pushed
by the White Americans to agree to wordy documents and sign them.
Like proverbial Levantines, the Indians got along well enough,
it would seem, by pow-wowing on a subject in a
collective encounter, arriving at an apparent consensus, and,
if so, adjourning with pledges of peace and performance.
There would be some admirable oratory, at which some Indians, like
Homer's ancient warriors, were champions - Conasatego of the
Onondaga Iroquois might be set up as the Demosthenes of America,
the precursor of Daniel Webster - and which same evocative skill,
along with revivalist preaching, may well have been the basis for
American Western bombast and orating style.
There would be story-telling in the course of negotiations, again a
form of conference behavior more familiar to American management
behavior than to anywhere else in the modern world. Behind the
scenes (like the lobbies to come) there might be an exchange of
promises for the private good of the diplomats of either side, bribes, in
short. It was not uncommon for Indians to turn against their leader
who had agreed to a deal, whether because of allegations of
dishonesty, or of not being cut in on the deal, or because the Indians
lacked a full idea of representation: that we are stuck for better or
worse with the decisions of our delegates.
Indian customs might have suited some medieval European warriors,
also illiterate usually, or some types that would grow up on the
frontier in the belief that a handshake would be sufficiently binding to
sustain promises. It did not suit the growing legal, bureaucratic, and
merchant classes; it particularly did not suit the lower classes who had
just learned to read and write, and were full of Bible-like covenants,
and who felt that they might lose their social standing
if they did not put things down on paper.
International relations could be complicated. After Miantonomo
succeeded his uncle as Chief of the Narragansett nation in 1636,
he allied with the colonists of Massachusetts and Connecticut
against the Pequots the following year, and signed a treaty of
perpetual peace with the white settlers and the Mohegan nation.
Five years later he broke the treaty but was defeated and
captured by the Mohegans under Uncas, and handed over to a
tribunal of white Boston clergymen for judgement.
They decreed execution and he was duly killed by Uncas.
Many agreements only promoted further conflicts, and led
to typical resolution of issues by violence - personal fights, irregular
clashes, guerrilla skirmishing begun by one side or the other or by
newcomers both on the Indian and on the European side, who would
ignore or scorn the jurisdictional competence of the accord.
Considering the strong court system that developed later in America
and even took upon itself the status of a third branch of government,
one might wonder why the courts could not be used much earlier to
settled the thousand trials that should have been carried into judicial, if
not an arbitration or mediation, process.
The easy answer is that the jurisprudence to justify such a solution had
yet to develop. Besides, rare were those who would obey the courts
and hence, if they focused upon problems of Red and White,
whatever general prestige courts did possess would be attrited.
Certain of the larger statements just made can be illustrated by the
story of the French and Indian Wars that took place between 1689 and
1763, the several parts of which were given their European and
American names here above. In all of these, fighting took place along
the seaboard and the rivers, as well as in the frontier regions. Generally
the Algonquin Indian tribes sided with the French and French-colonials,
the Iroquois with the British and the Anglo-colonials.
A multitude of skirmishes, burnings, killings, and movements
back and forth typified the wars. American legend has it that the British
encountered disaster in attempting to capture Fort Duquesne in 1755
despite the diligent effort of George Washington's Virginia militia to
rescue the regular troops and their General Edward Braddock from the
folly of their rigid tactics, and that another British army under General
John Burgoyne had to surrender in 1777 near Saratoga because of
disdain and ignorance of colonial and Indian unconventional tactics.
Still, when it came down to it, and granting that their forces badly
outnumbered the French, British regulars did well enough in several
critical engagements at Louisbourg (1758, where a fort guarded the
approaches to the St. Lawrence River), Fort Wayne (1760, where
the French had maintained an old Indian town as a
fortified post for a hundred years), and Quebec (1759).
The Americans irritated their English overlords no end by avoiding
their share of the costs of the wars; nor were the numbers of American
volunteers impressive, although it was the Americans, particularly
those along the frontier, who aggravated the Indians and caused the
French to set up strong forts that were painful to capture.
One such effort to obtain American support occurred in 1755 when a
congress at Albany was called by the Boss of the Colonies, the British
Board of Trade, a notoriously bungling and corrupt office of the
Crown most of the time, but here struck by the intelligent idea of
having the assembled representatives of the colonies draw up plans for
their concerted and consistent management of Indian relations. The
delegates instead drafted a scheme to have the elected colonial
assemblies elect in their turn a grand council, presided over by an
executive who would be named by the Crown. (A plan on this order
had been originally presented to the Board in England in 1697 by
William Penn, in vain.)
The Albany Plan, proposed by Benjamin Franklin with amendments by
Thomas Hutchinson of Massachusetts, failed to win assent either in
America or England. Franklin tried to shame the colonial delegates
into a union by citing the remarkable success of the Iroquois
Confederation "savages" (his word): to no avail. It would have been an
excellent way to handle the land problem and Indian relations in
general. Instead, a Northern and a Southern commissioner were
appointed to take over Indian relations, North and South.
English policy early on took an opposite tack to the American way.
The most intense wish of most colonists was to clear the Indian
out of their future, push him West or into oblivion. (Ancient
Egyptians had the idea that the soul of the dead went West;
Americans thought West was the place to escape a poor life,
but also said of a dead person that "he's gone West.")
The Massachusetts legislature on November 3, 1755 proclaimed
the Brobscot Indians enemies and traitors; a bounty of forty pounds
was offered for every adult male scalp and half that for a
female scalp or the scalp of a boy under twelve years.
Colonial politicians, businessmen and traders, settlers, and even
scholars painted increasingly unfavorable and pessimistic pictures of
the Indians, their style of life and their conduct, their recalcitrance,
their unassimilability. They wanted Britain to supply the armed force
needed to destroy Indian resistance. But English officials, even the
military commanders, generally saw the Indians as victims of
aggression by the colonists.
They could cite the bloody Cherokee War, the larger support that
Indians gave to the French in the French-Indian Wars, and then a
three-year war (1763-6) in which Chief Pontiac of the Ottawa Indians
mobilized many tribes in a climactic effort to push back the British
colonists from the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes region: all of these
were outcomes of the maddening pressure of Whites
upon Indian nations and their lands.
Pontiac, after several victories, was deserted by some of his tribal
allies and defeated in 1764; some time later he signed a treaty of peace
with the English commander, Sir William Johnson at Oswego, but,
although he steadfastly maintained proper relations under the Treaty,
he was assassinated three years afterwards by an Indian said to be
paid by an Englishman engaged in illegal trade.
Court opinion was represented in the Royal Proclamation of 1763,
following the astonishing, for the America-centered person,
Treaty of Paris of 1763, which gave all of New France to England,
save for several rich tiny islands
(actually more productive and comfortable than Canada
and the Near Middle West at this time).
Afterwards the English commander demanded oaths
of allegiance from the Canadiens of Acadia, now become Nova Scotia,
and dispersed into the Southern colonies the six thousand souls
who refused the oath; naturally he was making
potential rebels against Britain.
The Royal Proclamation declared that Indians must be protected in
the peaceful possession of their lands, and that boundaries would be
drawn to ensure that no settlement would occur on their lands;
furthermore it was ordered that persons settling upon lands
not legally ceded by the Indians should be removed.
A Southern North-South boundary line already existed, and
in 1768 a Northern connection was made.
The Western boundary between practically all
Indian and colonial settlement would now run from the
Eastern edge of Lake Ontario straight South to the boundary of West
Florida on the Gulf of Mexico. Some of the colonies
formally acceded to this line; more than a score of
Indian nations also subscribed to it.
Still, the settlers who were already trespassing were not forced out.
The British colonial administration had no money to enforce the law,
and no central colonial administration for Indian affairs. The colonies
were supposed to supervise its observance. Within several years an
estimated 60,000 people had moved into the region between
Pittsburgh and the mouth of the Ohio River.
Indian protests went for naught.
White South Carolinians warred with the Cherokees from 1759-61.
With both sides heavily damaged, peace was made and an open
boundary area set up that soon was occupied by White settlers.
In 1776 fighting broke out and the
Cherokees, now heavily outnumbered owing to remorseless
demographic trends, lost more territory and freedom of action.
Struggles continued, with Georgia involved as well;
more territory was given up in 1791.
The situation of the Indians only worsened.
A scum of White society, gangsters, no less, were attracted
from everywhere to the approaching destruction of the Indians.
Cherokees, Creeks, and other nations of Southeast
North America had not long to live. The Cherokee,
one of the most progressive of the American nations,
had only two more political generations in which to
carry on its old life in its old territory.
The Indians were not without friends. After all,
it was an independent Congress of the United States of America,
operating under the Articles of Confederation,
that passed in 1787 the famed Northwest Ordinance
for the governance of the territories to the Mississippi River.
Among other highly important provisions, the Ordinance pledged the
"utmost good faith towards the Indians;
their land and property shall never be taken from them
without their consent..."
If laws were to be passed that would affect them, these would be only
"for preventing wrongs being done to them and
for preserving peace and friendship with them."
A truly enlightened policy.
Yet fifteen years later, a prospective President of the United States,
renowned for his distinguished relatives and his learning,
declared to a meeting of the Sons of the Pilgrims that the
"law of nature" gave the Indians only a domain
sufficient for their subsistence. For
"what is the right of the huntsman to the forest of a thousand miles
over which he has accidentally ranged in quest of prey?"
(The orator was definitely not implying that a
serendipitous Colombo conveyed no rights by his
discoveries, nor the Cabots, the Cartiers, the
Hudsons, the de La Salles, et al.)
And when John Quincy Adams went on to argue
"Shall the liberal bounties of Providence to the race of man
be monopolized by one of ten thousand for whom they were created,"
surely he would not be
intending to impugn the great wealth amassed by a few Pilgrims of his
own society, he among them? By 1802, each of this elite possessed on
the average the wealth of 10,000 Indians, and of
10,000 of the general population.
The Shawnee Tribe, with about 600 warriors, was sold 6,000 gallons
of whiskey annually by criminal traders. Its Chief Tecumseh,
son of a Chief killed in battle against the whites,
was inspired by his white lady friend's reading him of the life of
Alexander the Great. Laulewasika, a drunk and brother of the
esteemed Tecumseh, found God at a Shaker revival
meeting in 1805. He preached abstinence, and,
urged on by Tecumseh, found in his trances communing with the
"Master of Life," a message to return Indians to their
old ways, to unite them, and exterminate the White man.
(Conversions with dismaying frequency fly off the handle.)
His new name was Teuskibatawa.
At Greenville, Ohio, where they had signed a treaty with "Mad
Anthony" Wayne, whose troops had defeated them, the brothers
set up a center for agitation, propaganda, and organization,
occupying a large meeting house and many cabins for converts.
Tecumseh then traveled all the way to Lake Superior and
down to the Gulf of Mexico.
His message to the individual tribes brought some refusals,
but also many pledges of support.
However, while he was gone, Governor William
Henry Harrison, with bribery and alcohol, enticed a group of chiefs
into trading him three million acres of land for a few thousand dollars.
Tecumseh, returning, denounced the sale as fraudulent, and
resumed rallying of the Indian nations for war.
This time, while he was gone a-rallying,
Harrison collected militiamen, some regulars, and allied Indians, and
marched upon a large assemblage of Indians near Tippecanoe.
Fearing an attack, Tecumseh's followers fell upon Harrison's forces.
Although the battle could be termed an Indian victory for the
casualties inflicted, the Whites were left in charge of the field,
whereas the Indians withdrew, and therefore the victory was
assigned to Harrison, who became President later on,
with Tyler as Vice-President, under the corny catchy slogan,
"Tippecanoe and Tyler, too."
When Tecumseh returned and the War of 1812 was on in earnest,
the British-Canadian force retreated into Canada,
finally stood its ground for a moment,
rallying under Tecumseh's stern counsel, then fled again,
leaving Tecumseh and his warriors to die like the
Spartans at Thermopylae.
The Creek Indian Nation went to war, too, on the side of the British.
A large Indian force conquered Fort Sims
(near Mobile, Alabama) in August of 1813,
massacring some 500 White men, women and children,
taking a few Blacks and mestizos as prisoners. At the battle
of Horseshoe Bend, next year, General Andrew Jackson,
aided by Cherokee warriors, destroyed a
Creek army of 1,000 men, and by 1824,
various treaties had been signed giving Whites
three-fourths of Alabama and Florida, one-third of Tennessee,
one-fifth of Georgia and Mississippi,
parts of Kentucky and North Carolina -besides the
seizures and purchases of earlier years. Jackson's
role in these times, save as a war leader, was ignoble,
yet served to enhance his popularity among
With a scarcely credible hypocrisy and the rhetorical madness
typical of the times, President Jackson was soon
commiserating with civilization, saying that a
"country covered with forests and ranged by
a few thousand savages"
should be not be compared with the art, industry, cities
and prosperous farms of a country of
"more than twelve million happy people, and
filled with all the blessings of liberty, civilization and religion."
And so, when the Indians refused to sell more land,
wanting to keep a modest portion for themselves,
Georgia declared that they must bow to the will of the sovereign State.
The Cherokee Nation sued the State,
and Chief Justice Marshall declared for the Indians,
that the law of Georgia was a nullity.
Georgia ignored the Supreme Court; President
Jackson ignored Georgia; the Indians lost their land and more.
They were moved by the President under the Removal Act of 1830
all the way West across the Mississippi River,
where we shall be meeting them again later on.
It was a "death march," this march of the winter of 1838-39.
With a U.S. armed military escort and the Indians pre-figuring the
roles of the Japanese guards and the beaten U.S. Army prisoners
of the "Death March of Bataan" 105 years later,
a fourth of the Indians perished on the way -
men, women, and children. A few Cherokees
escaped the roundup, and survived in their
mountain fastnesses of the East to this day.
There was something proto-nazi about early Americans.
When one of the chief architects and organizers of the
Third Reich (Albert Speer) came to his memoirs, he wrote,
"Hitler often cited the fate of the Indians in the United States
as an entirely feasible method of territorial occupation."
Hitler was speaking of Poland, Russia, the Ukraine, Byelorussia -
Slavs in general - on such occasions, for he had in mind
to subordinate at forced labor and decimate these peoples,
meanwhile removing them beyond the Ural Mountains
to make way for Germans.
How did the Indians change under the continual bleeding of their
rights to the country?
Recall that they did not know this to be the case.
They thought part of the time that they were only being scratched, that
the Europeans were not so numerous and that their lands were far too
great to be taken up by even the most greedy of White tribes. When
the Europeans came ashore, the Indians did not panic nor charge down
upon them. They accepted the newcomers with little more ruction than
would attend three centuries later the gradual advent of a
new ethnic group into an urban neighborhood.
Rather soon, however, their life style began to change.
The clothing of the newcomers was hardly attractive;
Indian clothing was more attractive and functional.
The moccasin passed over permanently to Europeans.
The metal axe and the firearm came, iron knives and hoes.
Brass kettles supplanted earthen pots. The pig came to replace
the fattened bears and dogs. The cuisine was not so different; Pilgrims
and Indians partook of the same first Thanksgiving dinner
more or less together. Turkey was not served.
Alcohol made a stunning impression. Indians could not cope with it.
They still cannot do so. Puritans, Virginians, Americans in
general, could not handle it. It was and is the preferred drug and poison
of a considerable part of the population. Perhaps for the early Indians,
it was connected with mourning and depression over the continual
plagues that took the joy out of life. The colonists as well had
much to forget, many sorrows to drown.
Drunken orgies became common among the Indians,
these serving as well to accelerate rates of sexual promiscuity,
rape, sadistic acts, and fatal quarrels as described in
numerous reports of missionaries and colonial authorities
and in the occasional recorded sad words of Indian leaders.
No one would or could stop the ever-increasing alcoholism
among Reds or Whites. Only the Blacks were partially protected,
ironically, because it was in the interest of their owners to
prevent them from thus abusing themselves.
(There were of course many illegal whiskey stills,
possessed and operated at hideaways by African-Americans.)
Some of the Indians had known other less potent drugs,
the peyotl cactus root of the Southwest, for instance.
In 1620, the Inquisition banned its use because it was
"an act of superstition" and
"the devilwas the real author of this vice."
The coca plant was widely used in South America
but not exported to the North. Heavy tobacco chewing
and smoke inhaling were used to induce disordered visions
and to inspire stories.
The joy of the newcomers in hunting, fishing, and trapping was
rendered ecstatic by the memory of how suppressed
were these activities in the Old Country.
A man who once was jailed and whipped for snaring a rabbit
on manorial ground, or whose vision of nature was
of London rats, might now bring down deer for his own table
with prayers of praise to the Almighty and a rifle.
It is so hard not to sympathize with this man,
and his wife, when and if ever she would arrive,
for his devouring of this new life, forgiving him in turn his
trespasses against the silent removed native and
his greed and cruelty to Nature.
The Indians minded, but not so much as to destroy it,
the fresh elation of the deprived newcomers from over the sea.
They felt until the very last that they had only
to remove themselves a mile more from the direct scene
of the settler's orgy to restore their primordial equilibrium.
For that was the state of North America when Europeans
came upon it. Equilibrium may not be the proper word
for their condition. Probably there were many and great
demographic movements and advances and recessions of tribes
in the centuries before the European coming.
Within one mnemonic generation of the first landings,
there could be heard Indian voices complaining about
the sundering of their social fabric by the White man.
Yet, on the whole, the Indian civilizations seemed
to have been in balance, and the Indians themselves spoke
continually of their previous social equanimity,
and of the contrast between their own normal state of mind
and that of the frenetic British.
One would hardly find in the whole length and breadth of the
USA-to-be what could be recognized as the angst,
anomie, angoisse, dissociation, adolescent rebellion,
and other conceptualized basic societal diseases.
The Indian nations were not straining to go somewhere.
In the light of history, from a functional, anthropological perspective,
this condition could not be termed tragic,
nor deplored as going nowhere.
Some of the Indian's nostalgia became a fixture of the
larger American mind. Two centuries later,
in 1908, a great movement known as the
Boy Scouts was formed by a homosexual Englishman,
Baron R.S.S. Baden-Powell. (In 1998,
a federal court stopped the American Boy Scouts from
discriminating against homosexuals. Apropos,
the modern  Olympic Games were
first organized and promoted by a French homosexual,
Baron Pierre de Coubertin.) In America the
Boy Scouts were driven toward and effectively modeled on the
life of the Indians, with small improvements from two
centuries of scientific and industrial progress.
If the life of the Boy Scouts failed to satisfy youth's
adulthood, it was more the fault of the crowded industrial
urban or agro-industrial society,
which brought the disappearance of the birds,
fish, deer, bears, camping sites,
wilderness trails, and starry clear nights that were
part of the fantasy and ordinary being of the Indian.
But of course the Boy Scouts could appreciate only rarely and
generally little of the total Indian life, its torturing rites of passage from
boy to man, its frequent wars against neighboring tribes, and the
mutual cruelties and savagery of combat. Nor could the Boy Scouts be
quite confident that tribal knowledge of medicines and therapy would
be up to modern standards. And they might be sure that, however
satisfying the frequently fine weaving and compositions vivantes of
Indian art, the wonders of the written word and the
wide panorama of European culture might be lost to himself.
The Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts were hardly ahead of the public in
having their attention called to the destruction of the environment. Not
before World War II was played out would they address analytic
questions to concerns that they did note personally and regret when
they were tramping about town and country a generation earlier.
The environment had much deteriorated.
The Indians, too, ignored effects which they or the newcomers would
have on the environment. If the Indians had been more numerous and
used up fossil energy on an industrial scale, they would have presented
the European newcomers with a partially devastated environment.
A case has been increasingly built up to consider Indians as
nature-lovers par excellence, adorers and
conservators of Mother Earth and
all her creatures and forms of life, great and small.
Undoubtedly, many Indians, introduced to the bizarre life
of American towns, could not wait to get back home.
And in no case did a functioning Indian settlement go modern,
redesigning itself voluntarily -
unless it would be the Cherokees and Creeks,
who won the ambiguous appellation "civilized"
early in the nineteenth century.
Nor did any Indian culture take on the totality or even a
major fraction of any European culture.
Terrific rates of erosion in pre-Columbian agriculture
in Central Mexico have recently been measured.
Crude slash and burn farming was a typical technique
among Indian tribes everywhere; too much
was burned, often, and erosion was invited. It was
common to farm sunny slopes and lose the soil
to draining rains in a few years.
The so-called primeval forests that New England and colonial
reporters and poets admired were second growth, owing to
Indian de-population; the earlier forests had been cut or burned to
make way for Indian farming.
Another theory, vastly exaggerated, ascribes the loss of numerous
species of large mammals of the post-Ice Age period to Indian hunting
methods that killed far more animals than could be skinned and eaten.
The tactic of cornering more than a small herd and driving it
over a cliff was logistically non-rational, if clever and
necessary under the circumstances.
More rational and a lesson even for today,
notable in Wisconsin, Michigan and Mayan locales,
was the practice of raising terraces between water ditches
for better drainage in wet weather and hand-watering
from the ditches in drought. Too, in the semi-arid Southwest,
sophisticated irrigation systems were employed.
Spaniards and Indians built a road from St. Augustine, Florida, to Fort
Carolina, seventy kilometers distant. Indian trails guided this and the
network of roads built by the Spanish in the same and next century in
the Southwest. One road reached St. Augustine from Natchez (in
today's Mississippi). St. Augustine also acquired the first street, made
of seashell concrete around 1680. In 1632, a Virginia statute had set
forth the means of laying down roads.
The first manufactured road was constructed by the French in 1721
between Montreal and Quebec, on an old Indian route. The way to the
Ohio River was Indian; surveyed by George Washington, it was
cleared for wagons in part, and afforded the setting for the destruction
of General Braddock's British army by Indian ambush in the
French and Indian War. (Benjamin Franklin mass-produced 150 Conestoga
wagons for Braddock's expedition; Daniel Boone drove one of them.)
The route from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh used three Indian trails for
its basic alignment. So it went everywhere. The West was won along
Indian trails. Most accounts of explorers and pioneers slight the aid
given by Indians and their roads. Yet they proceeded usually by
approaching knowledgeable Indians and asking them to point out and
guide them along the proper routes to their imagined destination.
It has often been asserted that no single great good ever came to any
tribe of Indians from the invaders. Or should we consider the horse?
The Spanish brought the horse first to the desert nomads of the
Southwest, the Navaho and Comanche. The Plains Indians Culture
became the quintessence of the horse culture.
All is not as myth would have it. The Hollywood horsemen were the
Western Sioux, the Teton-Dakotas. They were not indigenous to the
great prairies. Domino-like, resembling the Germanic tribes that
invaded the Roman Empire, they were first of all far to the East
and were pushed to move West by aggressive tribes
who were being pressed by Europeans. It was the
1700's. The Sioux then ousted one after another
the tribes that stood between them and the rich buffalo lands
of North and South Nebraska, Wyoming and Montana
(all of this being already under French and Spanish claims
as recognized by "international law").
Before then, the hunting peoples of the Great Plains did nearly
everything the same as later, except that the horse was missing until
the sixteenth century. They were pedestrian and used dogs and pulled
skids carrying their portable skin lodges. The Spanish, without
knowing it, offered the fully assimilable new element to the culture.
The horse went wild and was broken and employed so
quickly by the Indians that the first Europeans coming in
reported that the culture was characteristically mounted.
Yet the evils that came ashore were more numerous -
alcohol, slaughter of beaver, bear, otter,
and other species for the fur trade, destructive lumbering,
firearms, oral cultural illiteracy, disappearance of useful arts
like canoe-building, mental dislocation, appropriation and
conversion of waterways and fishways and
animal breeding grounds into sewers and mass traps,
plus the general build-up of an alternative civilization of
machines and industry that came down with crushing force upon
Indian and European Americans alike.
There were few signs that the Indians comprehended
intellectually that they were in a love match with Nature.
They made a living, they had their good times and
bad times, they were proud of themselves,
they did not need the European, his religion, his metal pots,
his guns, his horses, nor practically anything else.
The advent and posturings of Whites presented a long-running comedy
for Indian adults and children, but one faraway day
they would be moaning with il Pagliaccio,
" La commedia e finita!"
In concluding this chapter, it may be well to recapitulate the
factors contributing to the fatal decline of the Indian nations
of the United States. Almost all have to do with demography. This is
natural; the end of a group comes with its disappearance and
fading from memory.
I note first the motive-force and tenacity of the invaders of the New
World. Tremendous forces were driving Europeans of first one ethnic
group and then another. These can even be pin-pointed: the Castillians,
not the Catalonians; the Breton, not the Savoyards; the English, not
the Irish Catholic; the Moravians, not the Prussians. No sooner did one
culture group descend upon America than another was seized by the
notion that it must go to America. This process has been going on now
for four centuries.
Disease, whether it struck before or after Columbus, invaded in
wave after wave in forms for which Indians lacked immunity:
smallpox, measles, whooping cough, chicken pox, bubonic plague,
typhus, malaria, influenza, intestinal worms, amoebic dysentery, and
diphtheria. Yellow fever may have been indigenous. The Indians had
known encephalitis, poliomyelitis, hepatitis, and syphilis.
Warfare. In the "USA" the Indian nations had lost the overall war to
contain the Europeans at trading stations and fishing places by 1700, at
which point in time their numbers were equal at the "war front" to
those of the Europeans, who numbered 110,000 in the "USA," 45,000
in New France, 5,000 Mexicans and Spaniards in the South and West
(heavily outnumbered by the surrounding Indians), and contingents of
professional soldiery from the Old World. Then in less than 2 political
generations (4 biological generations), European immigration and
birthing had arrived at three times the number of Indians East of the
Alleghenies; they counted over a million in all.
Europeans were already members of larger societies and cultures. This
had an most important effect on the conduct of warfare. Like the
technological system of interchangeable parts invented over a century
later (and it happened in gun-making), the "invention" of a society of
larger loyalties and more general affiliation permitted soldiers (whether
civilian or professional) to be fed into battles and wars
that were not necessarily parochial.
From the earliest moments, Euro-American military formations could
employ various ethnic types shoulder-to-shoulder: Welsh, Irish,
German, Bohemian, French, even Indians, in a "British" or New York
unit. The Indians were incapable of this except on rare (and effective)
occasion; the Whites were hardly capable of it at first. But the
difference was significant, increasing, and permanent.
Failing to emulate the organization and logistics of the Europeans,
Indians could use small weapons effectively, but could not readily
obtain, maintain and use artillery or even wagon trains. Indian
discipline was poor (as was the colonial), and military units
disappeared overnight upon the whim, or in panic, or
in disgust, or in victory.
Forced labor and deliberate or neglectful starvation and
malnutrition caused many Indian deaths and again de-population.
Mass transportation of Indians to suit the settlement or war plans of
the imperial authorities resulted in severe losses.
The inability to unite tribes for war or peaceful dealings was
damaging. So was inter-tribal warfare, and aiding European armies to
fight one another. An impressive united front to discourage potential
enemies was impossible. The colonists could count on this weakness.
The diminution in size of tribes reduced the potential
marriage pools, and customs of endogamous marriage
forbade reaching out to intermarry.
The heavy use of the worst kinds of alcohol - "firewater" truly -
unhinged the minds, maimed, infertilized, and killed its many
thousands. Many stories were told of tribes gone out of control
because of the social behavior resulting from alcohol abuse.
A decline of morale of substantial proportions developed, reflecting
the effects of these prior happenings. Suicide, whether actual or
psychic, was common. A loss of the will to reproduce or to
care for infants occurred. The will to rebuild
damaged tribal social and physical fabrics lessened.
All causal factors interacted with other factors. In the end, the decline
in their numbers of warriors and the inability to mobilize their
resources would appear to have been decisive for the defeat of the
American Indian nations. Ironically, through the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries, the popular pictorial image persisted of America
as an Indian Queen, then later a Prince.
Americans generally believed, as they do now, that there could have
been no accommodation between European and Indian cultures. This
conviction may be unjustified. Policies of gradual occupation and
mutual adjustment were rarely and weakly employed, and
overwhelmed by conflicts.
An outlook upon nature and wilderness, foodstuffs, plants, animals,
medications, construction techniques, canoes and rafts, clothing,
common terms, shared facilities such as roads, rivers, and fishing
places, inter-racial friendships - all of these and many
more cultural traits, processes, and transactions between
Indians and Whites were notable.
Conscientiously advanced and promoted,
they might have resulted in a civilization superior to the one
that came to prevail in America overall from the seventeenth
to the nineteenth centuries. But to begin to contemplate
what form an accommodating civilization would have taken
requires that a person feel strongly in the first place
that the oppression and near-extermination of the
five hundred Old American nations of the country was
a grave and reprehensible set of events.
The New Americans did not feel so.