Were Native Americans Defeated by Colonization or by Disease?
Diseases mainly caused the decay in the Native American population in the New World. According to Native American Roots, there were an estimated 18 million Native Americans living north of Mexico at the beginning of the European invasion. Prior to the arrival of the Europeans, American Indians were remarkably free of serious diseases. People did not often die from diseases. As the European explorers and colonists began to arrive, this changed and the consequences were disastrous for Native American people. The death tolls from the newly introduced European diseases often reached 80-90 percent. Entire groups of people vanished before the tidal wave of disease. The biggest diseases to hit the Native Americans were smallpox, measles, influenza, whooping cough, diphtheria, typhus, bubonic plague, cholera, and scarlet fever. The source of many of the infections was the domesticated animals which lived in close proximity with the humans. Out of all of those diseases, smallpox hit them the hardest. It had very high mortality rates because the hosts of the diseases had absolutely no immunity to it.
According to Native American Roots, traditional Native American curing techniques were not effective against smallpox and many of the other European diseases. One of the primary ways of dealing with disease among most of the tribes was the sweat bath which actually increased Indian mortality from febrile diseases such as smallpox, measles, and chickenpox. Thomas Sydenham, a physician recognized as a founder of clinical medicine and epidemiology, suggested that heat therapy in the form of both steam and warmed blankets made sores worse. With that being said, a stay in the sweat lodge was usually followed by submerging oneself into cold water, which often caused shock, cardiac arrest, “violent fevers”, and generally lowered immune resistance to infection. Noble David Cook in his book “Born to Die” makes the claim that the Native American population decreased only due to diseases. Cook is not entirely true, although disease played a big role, what the colonizers did to the igneous people cannot be ignored. After all of these treacherous diseases hit the Native Americans and killed so many of them, they were weaker from when the Europeans had landed. Some people say that the colonizers were the main cause of the Native Americans population decrease, but they have to consider that without the spread of diseases the Native Americans were strong enough to fight off the Vikings.
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The Europeans would have stood no chance against all of the Native Americans if the diseases had not weakened them. It was not the natives’ fault for catching these diseases, they had no immunity plus they were already very healthy communities before the arrival of the white man. Now of course disease was not one hundred percent the reason for the decrease in population, we can not ignore what the colonizers did the Natives. People like Noble David Cook incorrectly say that the Native American population decreased purely because of the diseases that hit them, but some people like Mark Wisniewski, ignorantly believe that genocide is the main factor but also thinks that the stress put on the Native American women affected the population. All of the brutality that Wisniewski is referring to, started from the “ first” European to reach the Americas, Christopher Columbus. Christopher Columbus was an Italian explorer and navigator. He was able to convince Spanish monarchs Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile to give him ships to set out on a voyage. Columbus wanted fame and fortune so he set out on a journey hoping to reach India.
Ferdinand and Isabella wanted the same fame and fortune, the only way to reach wealth in those times were gold, silver ,and spices. Columbus was convinced that he could sail from Europe to Asia, he believed this due to the fact that he thought the circumference of the earth was smaller than others thought. He was wrong, which is why, when he set sail with the Nina, Pinta and the Santa Maria, he didn’t land in India, he didn’t even land in Asia, he landed in the Bahamian islands. According to Historians on his first day in the New World, he ordered six of the natives to be seized, writing in his journal that he believed they would be good servants. Right off the bat, he was enforcing slavery, and the trend continued. According to Historians throughout his years in the New World, Columbus enacted policies of forced labor in which Natives were put to work for the sake of profits. Later, Columbus sent thousands of peaceful Taino “Indians” from the island of Hispaniola to Spain to be sold. Many died en route. Those left behind were forced to search for gold in mines and work on plantations. When Columbus returned in 1493 he brought a force of 17 ships. He began to implement slavery and mass-extermination of the Taino population of the Caribbean. Within three years five million were dead. Fifty years later the Spanish census recorded only 200 living. Wisniewski also believes that the Europeans not only decreased the Native American population by warfare and disease, but they also put extreme stress on the tribes.
Wisniewski in his article states that “It is documented that Native American women routinely chose not to have children, after witnessing what might become their fate. Many women even chose to abort their fetuses or drown their infants, knowing they could neither provide for them nor protect them from danger.” Not only were the people dying, they were watching their families die, but also included in this was many tribe leaders. Without tribe leaders the structure of the tribe will crumble, forcing the remaining survivors to join other tribes. How can people trust the numbers or even just the stories that have been circulating throughout the mouths of many historians for centuries? Well, there was a man by the name of Las Casas, he was the main historian of the Columbian era. Las Casas wrote about the numerous accounts of the horrendous acts that the Spanish colonists inflicted upon the Natives, which included hanging them by the hundreds, roasting them on spits, hacking their children into pieces to be used as dog food, and the list continues. That type of torture cannot be ignored, but neither can the diseases that infected the Natives. The tribes spread across North America before the Europeans arrived, were well off.
So well off that they could fight of Vikings, According to the Smithsonian, Archaeologists have found arrowheads with the remains of buried Norse explorers. Meaning that if they wouldn’t have fought them off, there would have been several more Norse colonies when the Europeans arrived. If the Natives can bring Norse men to their knees, they sure would have been able to do the same to the Europeans, especially if all the tribes had all come together. Saying that the possibility of just the warfare between them would not have been enough to decrease the population by that much. The diseases killed many but not all, which leads to the conclusion that both the disease and the warfare is what overall decreased the Native American population.