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PostIndigenous Populations in US vs Latin America (Richard Hancock, USA, 08/16/20 4:55 am)
I would like to comment on Eugenio Battaglia's post (August 12th) on US mistreatment of Native Americans compared to that of the Spanish in Mexico, Peru and Bolivia. The important subject that Eugenio does not bring up is that in Mexico, Peru and Bolivia, the Spaniards encountered relatively advanced and more stable populated civilizations compared to the tribes in the US. In conquering those tribes in the South, the Spaniards simply took over the leadership from the native elite.
In contrast, the US Indian tribes did not have nearly so well developed civilizations as those in Mexico, Peru, and Bolivia. The most advanced civilizations in Mexico were the Mayans and the Aztecs. In Peru and Bolivia, the advanced tribe was the Incas. In the US, there are no archeological ruins that can compare with those of the Mayans and Aztecs in Mexico and with those of the Incas in Peru.
To get an impression of the more primitive level of US Indian societies, one should read Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca's "Adventures in the Unknown Interior of America," which gives an account of his travel (in 1527-1537) with two other Spaniards and an African Slave, Esteban, who were shipwrecked in Florida and traveled from there through the south, crossing the border near present-day El Paso, Texas, to the west coast of Mexico somewhere in Sinaloa on the Gulf of Lower California. They found that the Indian groups that they encountered during this perilous trip lived on the verge of starvation, in constant conflict with each other.
The only Indians in the US that could be considered as a somewhat modern civilization at the time under discussion would be the Pueblo Indians in New Mexico. They lived at a permanent location, in relatively modern houses. In fact, the Taos Pueblo in New Mexico has the oldest permanent human residences in the US. When Spain conquered New Mexico in 1595, the Pueblos were the only sedentary tribes in the country. They lived by the produce of irrigated farms, although they did some hunting at times. The other Indians that lived in the US were wandering tribes that lived through hunting and plundering other tribes.
In making these observations, I do not mean to approve of the bad treatment of Indians either in the US or Latin America. I merely wish to state that conditions were different in the US than in Mexico, Peru and Bolivia where the population of Indians was and is much more dense than in the US.
JE comments: Richard Hancock makes an essential point, not only about "developed" civilizations in the Americas, but also the question of population density in North vs Mexico and Central/South America prior to the Europeans' arrival.
I first encountered the venerable Álvar Núñez as a freshman in college. His is a fascinating story, although what intrigued me most as an 18-year-old was his second surname: Cabeza de Vaca/Cow Head. He traveled an extraordinary distance on foot, although not quite from today's Florida to Sinaloa. The region known as La Florida was much larger then. The best estimate is that he was shipwrecked near Galveston Island, Texas.
Cabeza de Vaca faced starvation numerous times during his wanderings, but he also sampled turkey nearly a century before the Pilgrims did. Here's a Thanksgiving 2007 comment: