The Native Peoples Of North America: A History 0275987213, 9780275987213

Covers the history of the North American Indians from their arrival on this continent to the present.

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Table of contents :
1 Early Indigenous North America: An Overview
2 Mexico and Mesoamerica: Beginnings to European Contact
3 Native America Meets Europe: The Colonial Era
4 The Transfer of Ideas: Native Confederacies and the Evolution of Democracy
5 The Explosion Westward: The Accelerating Speed of Frontier Movement
6 The Northwest Coast and California
7 The Frontier Closes on the Southwest and Great Plains
8 The Rise of the "Vanishing Race": Native American Adaptions to Assimilation
9 A People's Revival—1961 to 1990: Native Self-Determination
10 Majority Culture Borrowings from Native American Peoples and Cultures
11 Contemporary Issues in Native America
Selected Bibliography
Cumulative Index
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The Native Peoples o f N orth Am erica

Recent tides in Native America: Yesterday and Today Bruce E. Johansen, Series Editor

George Washington's W ar On Native Am erica Barbara A lice Mann

The Native Peoples o f North Am erica A HISTORY


Bruce EJFohansen

Native Am erica : Y esterday


T oday

Bruce E. Johansen, Series Editor

W estport, Connecticut London

Library o f Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Johansen, Bruce E. (Bruce Elliott), 1950The native peoples o f North Am erica : a history / Bruce E. Johansen. p. cm.— (N ative America: Yesterday and Today, ISSN 1552-8022) Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 0-275-98159-2 (set : alk. paper)—ISBN 0-275-98720-5 (voL 1 : alk. paper)—ISBN 0-275-98721-3 (voL 2 : alk. paper) 1. Indians o f North America—Study and teaching. 2. Indians o f North America—History. 3. Indians o f North America—Social life and customs. L Title. IL Native America (Praeger Publishers) E76.6.J65 2005 970.004'97— dc22


British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data is available. Copyright © 2005 by Bruce E. Johansen A ll rights reserved. N o portion o f this book may be reproduced, by any process o t .technique, without the express written consent o f the publisher. Library o f Congress ISBN: 0-275-98159-2 0-275-98720-5 0-275-98721-3 ISSN: 1552-8022

Catalog Card Number: 2004028732 (set) (vol. I) * (v o l II)

First published in 2005 Praeger Publishers, 88 Post Road West, Westport, C T 06881 A n imprint o f Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc. Printed in the United States o f America

The paper used in this book complies with the Permanent Paper Standard issued by the National Information Standards Organization (Z39.48-1984). 10

9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Every reasonable effort has been made to trace the owners o f copyrighted materials in this book, but in some instances this has proven impossible. The author and publisher w ill be glad to receive information leading to more complete acknowledgments in subsequent printings o f the book and in the meantime extend their apologies for any omissions.


VOLUM E I Preface

v ii




Early Indigenous N orth Am erica: A n O verview


M exico and M esoam erica: Beginnings to European Contact


N ative Am erica M eets Europe: The C olon ial Era


The Transfer o f Ideas: N ative Confederacies and the E volution o f D em ocracy


1 55 101


The E xplosion W estward: The Accelerating Speed o f Frontier M ovem ent


Cumulative Index


VO LUM E II Introduction

v ii


Th e N orthw est Coast and C alifornia



The Frontier Closes on the Southwest and Great Plains



The Rise o f the “Vanishing Race” : N ative Am erican Adaptations to Assim ilation



VI 9 10


A People’s R evival— 1961 to 1990: N ative Self-D eterm ination


M ajority Culture Borrow ings from N ative Am erican Peoples and Cultures


Contem porary Issues in N ative Am erica


Selected Bibliography


Cumulative Index




Æ . his book is a revival o f a rather old tradition— an attem pt to survey N ative

Am erican history in N orth Am erica. This tradition has been represented adm irably in the past by, am ong others, Brandon (1961), C o llier (1 94 7), M cN ick le (1 9 4 9 ), D river (1 96 9), and M axw ell (1978). The idea o f a single historical treatment is being revived by other authors as w ell, including Robert W . Venables’s Am erican Indian History: Five Centuries o f C onflict and Coexistence (2 0 0 3 ) and Steve Talbot’s Contemporary Indian Nations o f N orth Am erica: An Indigenist Perspective (T alb ot, 2004). A need for such a w ork exists for the many students at university level w ho take introductory classes in N ative Am erican studies. M y ow n institution, a state university o f m iddling size in the M idw est, offers six to eight sections o f this class each semester, w ith thirty-five to fifty students in each section. The field is interdisciplinary, so content depends on the academic origins o f in­ structors: One may hail from religion , but others are from history, literature, sociology, law, and other fields. G iven the lack o f general texts, students often are told to read a broad survey o f books, such as those by O swalt (2002), W ilson (1998), Stannard (1 99 2), Garbarino and Sasso (1 99 4), Kehoe (1992), N abokov (1 99 1), and W righ t (1992). M y scope is historical, m ainly across the continental U nited States, w ith occasional forays into M exico and M esoam erica. The cultures are so fasci­ nating that I feel no book o f this type could be com plete w ithout a description o f them. I also occasionally take up subject m atter in Canada, m ainly con­ cerning contem porary affairs, such as the pligh t o f Pikangikum , one o f the m ost desolate native settlements in N orth Am erica, as w ell as Canadian N ative peoples’ efforts to w in com pensation for abuses suffered in residential schools. M y w ife, Pat K eiffer, asked me once if this book w ou ld be “com plete.” N o, I answered, not in the sense that it w ill encompass all that is know n about



N ative Am erican history. Such a publication w ou ld be too heavy to lift. As w ith any survey o f a much larger body o f know ledge, this book is selective and is reflective o f w ork I have done and people w ith w hom I have w orked during the past 30 years. Each attem pt to survey this body o f know ledge has been different in tim e and temper. I have sought to bring m y account up to date, again being selective. Readers w ill find an emphasis, for exam ple, on new developm ents in archeology, w hich is a surprisingly fluid and lively field. For exam ple, new in­ form ation has em erged regarding the antiquity o f the Olm ecs’ (and, later, M aya’s and Aztecs’) w ritin g systems. N ew inform ation on the Incas’ w ritin g system and that o f the Iroquois is included as w ell. N ew evidence also is offered here that drought as w e ll as intensifying war­ fare played im portant roles in the dem ise o f high civilization am ong the Maya. N ew inform ation also has been described in prim ary literature regarding the antiquity o f human occupancy in the Am ericas goin g back 30,000 years or m ore, m ainly in present-day C hile and at other sites in South Am erica. The new finds generally im peach assumptions that all N ative Am ericans m igrated to the Am ericas over the Bering Strait, or that C lovis-style cultures w ere the earliest peoples in the Am ericas. N ew archeological findings (n otably re­ garding die nearly com plete skeleton of9,300-year-old Kennew ick M an) bring into question sim plistic assumptions about how human beings came to the Am ericas. Recent studies also have produced new inform ation regarding the founding date o f the Haudenosaunee (Iro q u o is) confederacy that places this im portant event at about 1100 c.e., three to fou r centuries earlier than most academics previously had supposed. I describe current controversies in Indian country, am ong them sports mas­ cots, language revival, gam bling, repatriation, land claims, and environm ental issues, such as the effects o f uranium m ining on the Navajos. M any contem ­ porary political issues have evolved from earlier events, such as the campaign to revoke Congressional M edals o f H onor awarded at W ounded Knee after the massacre there late in 1890. This book also provides in-depth surveys o f N ative Am erican contributions to general society: p olitical ideas, m edicines, foods, wom en’s rights, and so on. This area has been one o f m y specialties for m ore than thirty years. This w ork also offers analysis o f U.S. Census data for 2000, w hich indicate that N ative Am ericans, once regarded as the “vanishing race,” are n ow the fastest-growing ethnic group in the U nited States. Some o f this is actual increase, and som e is the fact that the census now allow s people to list m ore than one ethnic background. Because the census is self-defining, part o f the increase may also be “wannabes.” The fact that hundreds o f thousands o f non-Indians w ou ld lik e to be listed as such at the dawn o f the third m illennium m ight have astonished ju st about anyone livin g a century earlier. They also m ight have been astonished to know that many college students today take courses in N ative Am erican



history— hardly a vanishing race, hardly a vanishing culture, and by no means a vanishing history. Join us on a jou rn ey that is wondrous but by no means w ithou t profound pain. In com pilin g these volum es, 1 should acknow ledge m y colleague Barbara A lice M ann for extracts from her w ork on the G oschochking (O h io ) genocide o f 1782 and the Haudenosaunee origin story. I also acknow ledge Donald A. G rinde Jr.; a few sections o f what follow s are adapted from our Encyclopedia of Native American Biography as w e ll as from parts o f a prospective textbook manuscript that w e developed during the early 1990s but never published, notably parts that he contributed on John C ollier’s tenure as Indian com m is­ sioner, as w ell as som e m aterials on repatriation. In addition, I need again to thank all the people w ho keep me going, including w ife Pat K eiffer; U niversity o f Nebraska at Omaha Com m unication School D irectors Deb Sm ith-H ow ell and Jerem y Lipschultz; editor Heather Staines; and the librarians o f U niversity o f Nebraska at Omaha, w ho have gotten to know me very w ell.

F U R T H E R R E A D IN G Brandon, W illiam . The American Heritage Book of Indians. N ew York: D ell, 1961. C ollier, John. Indians of the Americas. N ew York: N ew American Library, 1947. Driver, Harold E. Indians of North America 2d Ed. Chicago: University o f Chicago Press, 1969. Garbarino, Marvyn S., and Robert F. Sasso. Native American Heritage. 3d ed. Long Grove, IL: W aveland Press, 1994. Kehoe, Alice Beck. North American Indians: A Comprehensive Account. 2d ed. Engle­ w ood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1992. M axwell, James A., ed. America’s Fascinating Indian Heritage. Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest, 1978. M cNickle, D’Arcy. They Came Here First: The Epic of the American Indian. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1949. Nabokov, Peter, ed. Native American Testimony. N ew York: Viking, 1991. Oswalt, W endell H. This Land Was Theirs: A Study of North American Indians. 7th ed. Boston: M cGraw-Hill, 2002. Stannard, David E. American Holocaust; The Conquest o f the New World. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. Talbot, Steve. Contemporary Indian Nations o f North America An Indigenist Perspective. N ew York: Prentice-Hall, 2004. Venables, Robert W . American Indian History: Five Centuries of Conflict and Coexistence. Santa Fe, NM : Clear Light Publishers, 2003. W ilson, James. The Earth Shall Weep: A History of Native America Boston: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1998. W right, Ronald. Stolen Continents: The Americas through Indian Eyes Since 1492. Bos­ ton: Houghton-MifOin, 1992.



JL r J L y sketch o f N ative Am erican history in N orth Am erica has been gathered here into tw o volum es. The first begins w ith N ative origins and ends w ith European colon ization and its explosive m ovem ent westward during the first years o f the nineteenth century. The second volum e continues the nar­ rative from the nineteenth century through N ative peoples’ present-day eco­ nom ic and cultural revival. This account begins w ith human origins in the Am ericas— an account, like m any to be considered here, which is subject to conjecture. The hundreds o f N ative peoples w ho lived in N orth Am erica before sustained contact w ith Europeans and other im m igrants have their ow n explanations o f how and when they originated. An exam ple is provided by the origin account o f the Haudenosaunee (Iro q u o is) story, by Barbara A lice Mann, o f Turtle Island’s origins, Skywoman’s descent, and the adventures o f her tw o sons. This volum e next considers origin accounts advanced by W estern scientists, prin cipally archeologists. F ifty years ago, N ative Am ericans generally w ere believed by such academicians to have arrived in the Am ericas across the Bering Strait w ith in ten thousand years o f the present, a neat m igration pattern that was said to have filled various parts o f the continent w ith a trail o f C lovis spear points. Since then, origin dates have receded; thirty thousand years is becom ing respectable now, w ith speculation reaching further back in time. The Bering Strait is still one possible route but probably not the on ly one. The first chapter o f this book details an iron y that has been receiving increasing attention: I f the prim ary m igration route was the far north, w hy are som e o f the oldest native remains being found in South Am erica, notably present-day Chile? Another com plicating factor has been the recent discovery o f Kenne­ w ick M an, a nearly com plete skeleton dated to m ore than nine thousand years o f age, w ith features closely resem bling no present-day ethnic group.



D evelopm ent o f human societies in N orth Am erica are follow ed in this account to the poin t at w hich sizable urban areas such as Cahokia (near con­ tem porary St. Louis, M O ) served com plex trading networks. Some insight is then provided into N ative systems o f agricultural production and fam ily life that may have greeted the first Europeans, the V ikings, w ho probably explored small parts o f N orth Am erica about a thousand years ago. A m ajor issue o f conjecture in scholarly circles has revolved around the number o f people livin g in N orth Am erica before sustained contact w ith Europeans began follow in g the voyages o f Columbus. This subject has sparked intense debate because various population estimates for N orth and South Am erica d iffer by at least a factor o f ten, from perhaps 12 m illion to about 120 m illion . The higher estimates provided by dem ographic historian H enry F. Dobyns have prom pted som e o f the m ost intense debate. Chapter 2 describes the fascinating histories o f early M esoam erican peoples, beginning w ith the Olm ecs, continuing w ith residents o f M exico’s Central V alley, culm inating w ith the Aztecs and the Maya. Special attention is paid to recent discoveries o f com plex w ritten com m unication am ong the O lm ecs that probably provided a basis for sim ilar w ritin g systems used by the Maya and Aztecs. Emphasis is provided for recent findings advancing archeologists’ understanding o f the Mayan language and its revelation o f frictions swathed in bloody conflict resulting in widespread war between city-states that probably ended the Maya’s classic civilization. Before their decline, the Maya produced considerable written history, a precise calendar reaching to 3114 b.c.e., and a wealth o f astronomical observations, some o f which even today are am ong the most accurate in the w orld. Chapter 2 concludes w ith the Spanish conquest o f Mesoamerica; the Spaniards m arveled at the Aztec capital o f Tenochtitlan (on the site o f today’s M exico C ity) before their diseases and gold lust destroyed i t The Spanish soon extended their influence north, west, and east as w ell, from Florida to California, the prim ary focus o f the narrative at the beginning o f chapter 3. This chapter details the expansion o f the Spanish Em pire and the to ll it took on N ative peoples, notably the cruelty chronicled by die Catholic priest Bartolom e de las Casas, the leading advocate o f inquiries into the cruel underside o f the Spanish conquest. Las Casas him self chronicled the Spanish brutality against the N ative peoples in excruciating detail, as he campaigned to end at least som e o f it. Chapter 3 continues the historical narrative o f European im m igration w ith the first substantial English colonization on the eastern seaboard o f N orth Am erica, first at Jamestown, in V irginia (1607), then at Plym outh Rock, Mas­ sachusetts, in 1620. From a Native point o f view , the story is told w ith some iron y as Squanto, w ho had been to both England and Spain before the Pilgrim s set foot in Am erica, greeted them in English. Particular attention is paid to the associations o f Roger W illiam s (dissident Puritan founder o f Rhode Island) w ith N ative peoples o f the area because these events provide a rare w indow on intercultural life at the time. W illiam s was a witness to events, such as the Pequot



W ar and K ing Phillip’s W ar, w hich m arkedly dim inished Native populations and estate in the land that came to be called N ew England. W illiam s also was one o f few European Am ericans known as a friend o f the native leader M etacom, w ho was drawn and quartered at the end o f the war named after his English name (K in g P h illip ). Chapter 4 begins w ith a description o f the Iroquois Confederacy’s influ­ ential role in the seventeenth century, detailing the confederacy’s influence in shaping im m igrant Europeans’ notions o f dem ocracy during the next century. Th e founding o f the confederacy is described in detail, w ith relatively new inform ation regarding its founding date, which is now believed to be about

c.E., about four centuries earlier than m ost dates advanced heretofore by scholars. (T h e 1142 c.E. date, advanced by Barbara A. Mann and Jerry Fields 1142

is, how ever, close to some estimates m aintained by several Iroquois tradi­ tionalists.) This chapter ends w ith consideration o f the Iroquois role in treaty diplom acy and the fur trade, as w ell as the advent o f Handsome Lake’s code, a religion that com bined traditional and European Am erican religious elements. By shortly after 1800, European Am erican m igration was explodin g west­ w ard across N orth Am erica, propelled by the deteriorating econom ic situation in Europe (especially for the low er-m iddle classes o f the British Isles, a m otor o f em igration). By m idcentury, com pletion o f cross-continental railroad links sped westward m ovem ent considerably. O nly sixty years separate intensive European Am erican settlem ent in the Southeast (w ith the Rem oval A ct o f 1830 and the Trail o f Tears eight years later) from the W ounded Knee mas­ sacre in 1890. The intensity o f con flict in the O hio V alley often has been dow nplayed in survey histories. The O hio area was key to the rush westward as several N ative alliances tried and eventually failed to stem the advance, beginning w ith Pontiac, continuing w ith Little Turtle and Tecum seh, ending w ith Black Hawk. This period included not on ly vicious genocidal attacks, such as one at G oschocking, described in chapter 5 by Barbara A. Mann, but also the largest single battlefield defeat o f the U.S. Arm y at the hands o f N ative Am ericans during 1791. In the Southeast, the Cherokees and other “civilized ” N ative nations pros­ pered for a tim e in their homelands by building European-style farms and villages until rem oval forced them westward on the many trails o f tears. This narrative includes human history’s on ly single-handed construction o f a w ritten language (Sequoyah, in C h erokee), as w ell as high drama regarding rem oval in front o f John M arshall’s U.S. Supreme Court. M arshall found for the Cherokees, but President Andrew Jackson ignored the Court, an im peachable offense under the Constitution. W h y wasn’t Jackson impeached? Rem oval had becom e a states rights issue; enforcem ent o f the Constitution could have provoked the C ivil W ar during the 1830s instead o f the 1860s. In this case, states rights politics trumped the Constitution. The first volum e o f this set ends in the m iddle o f the nineteenth century, as a young, muscular U nited States o f Am erica, em pow ering itself w ith the



national creation m yth o f “m anifest destiny,” exploded across N orth Am erica, east to west, pushing surviving N ative Am ericans westward as w ell, in one o f human history’s swiftest dem ographic movem ents. W ith in a generation o f the C ivilized Tribes’ trails o f tears, the U nited States had severed nearly h alf o f M exico, discovered gold in C alifornia, sent N ative peoples packing from the site o f Seattle, and sent its N avy to Japan to d eliver a forcefu l knock on its door, dem anding trade relationships. The speed o f U.S. expansion is illu ­ strated by the fact that the Navy’s visit to T ok yo occurred during the same decade (th e 1850s) that the governm ent negotiated treaties in the Pacific Northw est, not even a generation after the Cherokees’ rem oval. Volum e II opens in the Northw est, surveying a high civilization very much unlike those o f N ative peoples further east.

Chapter 1

Early Indigenous North America AN OVERVIEW

.■ .E x p lo ra tio n o f indigenous N orth Am erica’s prehistory can be an unex­ pectedly rocky journey, fu ll o f questions raised to challenge assumptions often based on scant evidence. It also can be a jou rn ey into a w orld o f w on­ ders, o f watching, as best w e know on lim ited evidence, how hundreds o f N ative cultures evolved over many thousands o f years. I f human beings w ere present in the W estern Hem isphere for at least 30,000 years before Columbus arrived, as now seems lik ely, they had been form ing and re-form ing societies fo r sixty tim es the length o f tim e since “old ” and “new” w orlds began shaping each other in a substantial way w ith the arrival o f Columbus. The most intriguing aspect o f this jou rn ey is that many o f us— even “experts” o f various scholarly stripes— are still discovering Am erica. O ur know ledge, especially regarding how people lived before the com ing o f Europeans and other trans­ oceanic im m igrants, is still so scanty and subject to so much debate that w e should be prepared to be surprised, and som etim es awed, by the peoples and cultures that flourished here. F or the m ost part, w e have very little know ledge that has been related by N ative peoples themselves describing how their ancestors lived before roughly 1500 c.E. Some had form s o f w ritin g, and they kept som e records, but many o f these records w ere m isunderstood for what they w ere and w ere destroyed by European immigrants. A lon g w ith shreds o f evidence provided by archaeol­ ogy, often w e have on ly verbal snapshots le ft us by im m igrants whose main purpose was not preservation and description, but plunder and destruction. Even the best-trained m odem experts som etim es have missed clues to the far past o f indigenous Am erica because o f ethnocentric biases. The texture o f prehistory in the O ld W o rld is much m ore detailed, largely because the peoples w ho provided them to us still Uve in substantial num­ bers. In Am erica, in contrast, w e often have but fragm ents o f oral history


The Native Peoples o f North America

handed dow n by obliterated generations w ho have had to struggle to m aintain their traditional ways o f life. N ative languages— entire “libraries” o f native experience— are being lost w ith the rapidity o f rare plant species. For every detail unearthed by scholars, m ore o f Am erica's earliest oral history is dying. H istories o f great value have been lost when the people w ho m aintained them through tim e dw indled to a few , then none. W e frequently have tantalizing evidence o f civilization s w ith nearly no voices from the past to explain h ow people lived , thought, fought, and died.

R E C E N T S U R PR ISES I N TH E A M A Z O N V A L L E Y M odern archeology regularly provides surprises. For exam ple, researchers w orkin g in the Am azon R iver basin during 2003 discovered a fifteen-squarem ile region at the headwaters o f the U pper Xingu R iver that contained at least nineteen villages o f 2,500 to 55,000 people each; these villages w ere spaced at regular intervals o f between one and tw o m iles, connected by w id e roads, and surrounded by evidence o f intense agriculture. This discovery upended lon gheld assumptions that the rain forest was a pristine wilderness before its first visits by Europeans, as w ell as assumptions that the environm ent o f the area could not support sophisticated civilizations. For many years, archeologists had argued w ith considerable con viction that the soil o f the Am azon V alley was too poor to support large populations. The ancient residents intensively cultivated cassava, which grow s w ell in p oor soil. These researchers, including some descendants o f pre-Colum bian N ative peoples w ho lived in the area, found evidence o f densely settled, w ell-organ ized com m unities w ith roads, moats, and bridges. Some o f the area’s precisely de­ signed roads w ere m ore than fifty yards w ide. The people o f the area cleared large areas o f the rain forest to plant orchards; they preserved other areas as sources o f w ood, m edicinal plants, and animals. M ichael J. Heckenberger, first author o f an article in Science (2 00 3), said that the ancestors o f the Kuikuro people in the Am azon basin had a “com plex and sophisticated” civilization w ith a population o f many thousands before 1492. “These people w ere not the sm all m obile bands or sim ple dispersed popula­ tions” that some earlier studies had suggested, he said (accordin g to Recer, 2003). “Th ey w ere not organized in cities,” H eckenberger said. “There was a differen t pattern o f sm all settlements, but they w ere all tightly integrated” (R ecer, 2003). The extent o f the road netw ork is unknown at this tim e. “Here w e present clear evidence o f large, regional social form ations (circa 1250 to 1650 c.E.) and their substantive influence on the landscape,” w rote Heckenberger and colleagues (2 00 3,1 ,7 10 ). “This is an incredibly im portant in di­ cator o f a com plex society,” said Susanna Hecht, a geographer at Stanford U niversity’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences; “the extent o f population density and landscape dom estication is extraordinary” (Stokstad, 2003,1,645).

Early Indigenous North America: An Overview


A ccordin g to a 2003 Associated Press account by Paul Recer, H eckenberger said that “ the Am azon people m oved huge amounts o f d irt to build roads and plazas. A t one place, there is evidence that they even built a bridge spanning a m ajor river. The people also altered the natural forest, planting and main­ taining orchards and agricultural fields, and the effects o f this stewardship can still be seen today.” Diseases such as sm allpox and measles, brought to the N ew W o rld by European explorers, probably k illed m ost o f the population along the Am azon, he said. By the tim e scientists began studying the indigenous peo­ ple, the population was sparse and far-flung. As a result, some researchers as­ sumed that the same pattern had been com m on prior to European exploration. H eckenberger’s assertions have been questioned, how ever, by Betty J. M eggers o f the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum o f Natural H istory, w ho asserted in Science (M eggers et al., 2003,2,067) that this study says little about population density in the Am azon V alley because the site is peripheral to the rain forest.

A M E R IC A N O R IG IN S A n y serious student o f N ative N orth Am erica w ill com e to appreciate a d iversity o f peoples and cultures equal to any area o f com parable size in the O ld W orld. In 1492, N ative Am ericans in N orth and South Am erica spoke an estim ated tw o thousand m utually unintelligible languages: roughly 250 in N orth Am erica, 350 in present-day M exico and Central Am erica, and an as­ tonishing 1,400 in South Am erica. This is a greater degree o f language d i­ versity than existed in all o f the O ld W o rld (Sherzer, 1992, 251). W e have, how ever, little tangible evidence o f what many o f these differen t peoples may have talked about. Although bones and pottery can be unearthed and carbon dated, ideas are as perishable and mutable as m em ory in a tim e when few things w ere w ritten and few er w ritings preserved. People in every culture on earth m aintain accounts that explain how its p eople and their ways o f life came to be. As w ith the Christian Garden o f Eden’s Adam and Eve, the N ative Am erican peoples o f the Am ericas explained their ow n origins in their ow n ways. A condensed version o f the Haudenosaunee (Iro q u o is) origin story follow s. This account and many others may be com ­ pared w ith long-held assumptions o f W estern scholarly inquiry in which nearly all investigators believe that the first people o f the Am ericas arrived from som ew here else. The most com m on poin t o f origin is still believed to have been northeastern Asia, probably parts o f Siberia. As arrival dates have been pushed back, how ever, the case for a sim ple, single m igration across one land bridge has weakened. As the date when the first Am ericans are believed to have arrived recedes, the case for several m igrations over land (as w ell as sea voyage arrivals from other continents, such as Africa to present-day B razil) w ou ld seem to becom e m ore lik ely. O rigins on the Am erican land itself, m aintained by many native peoples, also have a place in today’s literature.


The Native Peoples o f North America

The Haudenosaunee Creation Barbara Alice Mann The original ancestors of the Iroquois were the Sky People, denizens of Karlonake, ‘T h e Place in the Sky,” commonly called Sky World, a physical place that floated among the stars "o n the farther side o f the visible sky” ("M ohaw k Creation,” 32; Hewitt, 1903, 141). Sky World was well populated, with a social order that greatly resembled later Iroquoian society. The people lived in close-knit, matrilineal clans. The Sky People were greatly gifted with uki-okton power. In a Mohawk Keeping, it is said that the Sky People "had greatly developed what scientists call E.S.P.” ("M ohaw k Creation,” 1989, 32), a talent later valued by their earthly descendants, especially for tapping into dream knowledge. The geography of Sky World also resembled that of Iroquoia, with trees, crops, and longhouses. All of the flora and fauna later present in physical form on earth had spiritual counterparts (Elder Siblings) preexisting in Sky World. These animal spirit Elders took part in Sky councils and performed creative tasks (Barbeau, 1915, 41-44; Hewitt, 1928, 465). In the center of Sky W orld grew a wonderful tree that, running the length o f Sky World, held it together from top to bottom. Some say it was a wild cherry tree, and others call It a crabapple tree; still others call it a pilar. The Tuscarora call it a dogwood tree. An Onondaga version named the tree Ono, 'd¡a, or "T ooth ,” presumably indicating the yellow dogtooth violet. The tree itself was sacred, supplying food that the Sky People might gather. It sprouted from the sides and fell to the ground to be collected, just for the thinking. Several traditions speak of the conception, birth, childhood, and youth o f the girl who was to become Sky Woman, also called Awenhal (Fertile Earth), Ataenslc (Mature Flowers), Otsitsa (Corn), and eventually, lagentcl (Ancient One, or Grandmother). Sky W om an’s mother dallied with a man she did not actually love, enticing him daily by "disentangling” his hair. ("Com bing out the hair” was a metaphor for interpreting dreams, part o f making them true. It was a spiritual talent.) This unfortunate man, the father of Sky Woman, died before she was born and was "buried” high in the tree of Sky World. His was the first death ever to occur in Sky World, a spirit sign. Sky Woman grew up quickly (another sign of spirit power), in constant mourning for the father she never knew, prompting her grand­ mother to show her where her father had been buried (Hewitt, 1903, 141149, 256-265). In another version, the deceased was not a sperm father, but the girl’s maternal uncle (Hewitt, 1928,470). This cultural tidbit seems authentically old because the mother’s matrilineal brother, not an out-dan biological father, was traditionally the male authority figure of a longhouse and often was called "Father.” Sky W om an’s husband is usually called the Ancient. She was soon with child through the sharing o f breath with her husband (Hewitt, 1903, 167).

Early Indigenous North America: An Overview

Skyw om an on T u rtle’s back. (C ou rtesy o f John K ahion hes F ad den .)

In one Seneca version, Sky Woman gave birth to her child in Sky World, but this seems anomalous (ibid., 223). In nearly every other collected version, she was pregnant when she arrived on earth, delivering her daughter there. The Ancient was the presiding officer of Sky World, who lodged in the shade of Tooth. Dreams were very important to the Sky People. It was necessary not only to understand them, but also to reenact them, thus continually cre­ ating reality. One day, the Ancient had a troubling dream, which made him ill. In a Seneca version, he had dreamed that a great “ cloud sea” swam around under Tooth, the ocean of a restless and unlit world. Its spirit was calling out to the Sky People for aid in overcoming its extreme loneliness (Converse, 1908, 33). All of the Elders of the later plants and animals, as well as the heavenly bodies and elements associated with earth, came to peer over the edge at the water world. Deer, Spotted Fawn, Bear, Beaver, the Moving Wind, Daylight, Night, Thick Night, the Sun, Spring Water, Corn, Beans, Squash, Sunflower, Fire Dragon, Meteor, Rattle, Otter, W olf, Duck, Fresh Water, Medicine, Aurora Borealis, and of course, the Great Turtle, visited the window onto earth (Hewitt, 1903, 17 3 -175). Some add that the Blue Sky, the Air, the Thunderers, the Tree, the Bush, the Grass, the Moon, the Star, and the Sun looked as well (Hewitt, 1928, 473). The hole at the base of Tooth became a regular Sky W orld tourist destination.



The Native Peoples o f North America Skywoman Falls to Earth Having uprooted the tree, the Ancient was thus able to fulfill the second part of his dream, that his wife was to fall through the hole in Sky World, down to the water world below. Occasionally, it is said that she fell be­ cause o f her own curiosity, having leaned too far over the edge for a better look at earth (Parker, 1913, 6). Some Wyandot Keepings depict the illness as Sky W om an’s, not the Ancient’s, stating that, to cure her, an aged shaman uprooted the tree, laying Sky Woman as near as possible to its medicinal roots— too near, as it turned out because the soil was unstable, and the sick girl was sucked down into the hole and rolled into the void (Barbeau, 1915, 37). In yet another variant, this one Mohawk, her husband was considerate, not cruel, and gathered the living bark o f Tooth for tea to calm the cravings o f his pregnant wife. It was his kind deed that caused the Sky tree to collapse, opening the window onto earth below and occasioning her slip (’ ’Mohawk Creation,” 1989, 32). Most Haudenosaunee keep the version of the bad-tempered Ancient, however, attributing Sky W om an’s tumble to his jealousy. In several versions, the Ancient was irrationally jealous o f the Aurora Borealis, the Fire Dragon, and especially o f Sky Woman, who was more gifted with ukl-okton than he. Although unable to climb back up the ledge, she did acquire seeds from the munificent Tree. In her right hand, she garnered the Three Sisters: Corn, Beans, and Squash. Some say she also laid hold of Tobacco in her left hand. A Seneca version claimed that the white Fire Dragon or the Blue Panther— an okton spirit jealously sought by the Ancient—was at the root hole just as Sky Woman fell. In this version, it was the Blue Panther who gave her Corn, mortar, and pestle (Hewitt, 1903, 224, and 1928,481 ; Cornplanter, 1928, 9, 13). jesse Cornplanter said that it was the Ancient, himself, who threw the Elder plants (com , beans, squash, sunflower, to­ bacco) along with the Elder Animals (Deer, W olf, Bear, Beaver, etc.) down the abyss after her in a final frenzy o f rage ([1938] 1992, 10). In all versions, however, Skywoman slid down, down, down through space and into the atmosphere of Earth. (The suggestion of tradition is that the strong spirit of Sky W om an’s father had foreseen all o f these events so necessary to the beginning of human life on earth, and that this was why he had urged his daughter on to such an unfortunate marriage, with all of its character-building trials and tribulations.) Sick of the disruption in Sky World, on her fall through the hole in Sky World, the Sky People set Tooth, the Tree of Light, back into its socket (Hewitt, 1928, 480). Now, the Elder creatures of earth, alerted first by the far-sighted Eagle, saw Sky Woman falling. For the first time, lightning (the Fire Dragon or Meteor Man) streaked across the sky o f earth at her side as she hurtled through the atmosphere (Parker, 1912, 6). Sweeping into action, Heron and Loon caught and held the frightened Sky Woman aloft on their interlocking wings while, in an amusing portion of the tradition, the Great Tortoise sent around a moccasin; that is, he called an emergency council

Early Indigenous North America: An Overview of Elder animals to see what was to be done. (For a sprightly Wyandot version of the Elder animals’ Creation Council, see Barbeau, 1915, 38-44.) Knowing that she was a Sky Woman, unable to live on their watery planet, the Elder Spirits of earth creatures all quickly agreed that she should not be dropped into the waters to die. The O rigin o f Turtle Island

In every version, the great Snapping Turtle offered his carapace, vowing to carry the earth above him forever as he swam. The idea gained ready assent, and the council of earth Elders assembled Its divers. Usually, the divers were said to have been Muskrat, Otter, Toad, or Beaver. In some versions, the Muskrat and Otter die in the attempt to bring up dirt in their mouths, with Beaver finally bringing it up on his tail, or Toad in his mouth. A Mohawk version has poor, dead Muskrat floating to the surface, his mouth smeared with the dirt that was to become earth (Hewitt, 1903, 287). A Seneca version says that it was Sky Woman, herself, who arrived with the dirt o f Sky World on her hands and under her fingernails, gathered as she frantically clutched at the tree roots during her fall (ibid., 226). A tad of dirt now ready to accept her, the Birds were able to set Sky Woman down on her new abode, Turtle Island. Looking around forlornly, alone and torn from everything she had ever known, Sky Woman wept bitterly (ibid., 225). Wherever Sky Woman went, every kind of plant sprouted up before her. Now, she planted the Three Sacred Sisters she had brought from Sky World. Some say that she found potatoes here (Hewitt, 1903, 226), al­ though potatoes are usually attributed to the little daughter, soon born to her on Turtle Island. The land was full with the harvest, on which Sky Woman lived As the land was full of growth, so was Sky Woman. She prepared her birthing hut and delivered herself of an Infant daughter. They were at that time, the only two human beings on earth. The Birth o f the Twins: Sa p ling and Flint

Sky Woman continually refused the Earth Elders as consorts of her daughter until one day the matter passed out of her hands. An engaging man-creature came along, his bark robe tossed rakishly over his shoulder, his black hair pulled up, and his handsome eyes gleaming. He was so gorgeous that the Lynx forgot to ask her mother but lay with him imme­ diately. Some assert that the two did not engage in coitus, but that the young man simply lay an arrow next to her body (Hewitt, 19 0 3 ,2 9 1-292). In an Onondaga version, Sky Woman consented to, rather than resisted, this final match (Hewitt, 1928, 384-385), but most versions showed Sky Woman was dismayed by the Lynx’s unauthorized infatuation. Young love won out, however, and soon the Lynx was pregnant, a fact that caused her mother to tremble. Sky Woman was fearful of the result o f a pregnancy between two such different creatures as a Sky Girl and an earth Man-Being. In the very oldest Keepings of Creation, the Lynx



The Native Peoples o f North America was pregnant not with twins (the common Keeping today), but with quadruplets, analogous to the four sacred messengers of the Calwhyo and connected with the Four Winds or cardinal directions (Hewitt, 1928, 468). An interesting, potential echo of this ancient Keeping is found in a Seneca version that told the puzzling story of four children— two male and two female— who were Man-Beings (Hewitt, 1903, 233). The story of the quadruplets, however, is almost completely lost today. The four children of the Lynx were eventually compressed to two, with the personality traits of the four redistributed between them. As told in modern times, the Lynx overheard twin sons in her womb discussing their plans for the earth life they were about to live. One already knew that he was to create game animals and new trees, but the other was more vague on specifics, merely announcing that he, too, would create in one w ay or another (Hewitt, 1928,486). Labor pains overcame the Lynx a few days before her time, and she again overheard her sons holding forth, this time in a discussion over how best to be born because neither precisely knew how to do it. In an Onondaga version, one infant pointed toward the birth canal and said, ‘ T il go that w ay,” and he did, being first born. The Elder Twin became known as Tharotthiawakon, Odendonnia, loskaha (Sapling), meaning roughly the Spirit o f Life (Hewitt, 1903, 138). Sapling was perfectly formed in the eyes of Sky Woman. The Younger Twin protested his brother’s path. “ But this other way is so near,” he said, pointing in some versions to the armpit and in others to the navel of his mother. “ I shall leave that w ay,” he said, and he did, killing his mother in parturition (Hewitt, 1903, 185). Some Mohawks say that the second son, Tawiskaro" (Flint) was born with a comb of flint on his head, by which means he had cut an exit path through his mother’s armpit (ibid., 185). Some Senecas say that he leapt forth from her navel, all covered with warts (ibid., 231). However it happened, by armpit or caesarean section, when Sky Woman saw that her beloved daughter was dead, she sat on the ground and wept inconsolably. She buried her daughter most tenderly, and from the Lynx’s grave sprang all the plants of life: Corn, Beans, and Squash grew from her breasts; potatoes sprang from her toes and tobacco grew from her head (Thomas, 2000). The Lynx had transmuted into Mother Earth, a living entity (Hewitt, 1928, 542). Despite the continued spirit existence of her daughter, Sky W om an’s grief almost undid her. It was then that Sky Woman grew suddenly old, becoming known in her turn as the Ancient or Grandmother. Her grief soured into a bitterness o f temperament that she had not possessed. She became grumpy and impatient in her old age. Like Sky Woman and the Lynx before them, the Twins grew rapidly, showing their great spirit power. They soon began to complete the pro­ cess of creation, although there were many disagreements between the brothers as to what final creation should look like. While Sapling was bringing forth his trademark strawberries, Flint was littering the landscape with brambles and briars. If Sapling created peaceful game animals, Flint responded with a spate o f roaring, clawing, dangerous beasts.

Early Indigenous North America: An Overview

M o th er Earth. (C ou rtesy o f John K ahion hes F ad d en .)

Creation of the Sun, M oon, and Stars The creation of the sun, moon, and stars is variously attributed to Sky Woman and Sapling. The oldest W yandot and Onondaga versions give Sky Woman or the Elder Earth animals credit for creating the sun, moon, and stars, especially the Milky W ay (Barbeau, 1915, 41). A Seneca version has Sky Woman creating the heavens almost immediately after her arrival on earth (Hewitt, 1903, 226-227). Hewitt also recorded a Mohawk story of Grandmother using dead Lynx’s body parts as the material of the heavens (ibid., 295-296), but the Lynx is emphatically Mother Earth in all versions and the Moon is Grandmother, leaving the origin of this version vague and questionable. Yet other versions, following the postmissionary trend of


The Native Peoples o f North America

giving Sapling sole credit for creation, showed him hanging the heavens, after the fashion of the Christian god (Hewitt, 1903, 208; 1928, 542-543). One thing became immediately apparent in nearly every version of Creation: Flint was not nearly as skillful a creator as his brother. This was apparent not only in the animals that each brought forth, but also in their attempts at creating humanity. Some say that whereas Sapling created humankind, Flint in a rival bout of creation only managed to bring forth monkeys (Barbeau, 1915, 51; Hewitt, 1903, 214). Others contend that one day Flint noticed that Sapling had made human beings. Marveling at the feat, he sought to replicate it, going through inferior and unworkable models before he managed a viable version, with the kindly advice of Sapling, who stopped by periodically to check on his little brother's progress. Flint’s first human was mostly made o f water and therefore failed to breathe. On his second try, Flint added samples of his own mind, blood, spirit, and breath and finally succeeded in creating a living being, although his creation still lacked luster compared to Sapling’s model. It is uncer­ tain just what this creature was intended to have been in the older traditions— perhaps a bear— but postcontact, the Iroquois quickly realized that Flint’s water man was the European. By contrast, Sapling had created the True Humans or Native Americans (Hewitt, 1928, 523-525; for a late version of Flint’s creation of Europeans, see Parker, 1913, 16- 19.) An older Mohawk version ended the creation story by engaging the brothers in a tit-for-tat spat that escalated into a lethal confrontation. The two lived together in a lean-to, one with a side taller than the other. Flint dwelled at the shorter end and Sapling at the taller. One day, Sapling stoked their shared fire to perilous intensity until it began to chip the chert from Flint’s flinty legs. When his complaints did not persuade Sapling to lessen the flames, Flint saw that his brother meant him harm. He ran outside swiftly, looking for a cutting reed and a cattail spear, both of which he knew were harmful to his brother. The fight then spiraled out of control, with the two furiously chasing each other across Turtle Island, leaving huge chasms and water-filled depressions where their feet landed in their hurry. In this version, Sapling killed Flint, whose prone body transmuted into the Rocky Mountains. His spirit dwells to this day inside those mountains (Hewitt, 1903, 328-332). Flint was not permanently dead, however (Hewitt, 1928,547). All spirits continue to live, often in renewed bodies (Hewitt, 1903, 218-219). Throughout iroquoian history, Sapling continued reincarnating, most no­ tably as the Peacemaker, creator of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Con­ federacy, to aid his favorite creations, human beings; the Lynx became Mother Earth, and Grandmother became the smiling face o f the Moon.

Early Indigenous North America: An Overview



How OM A re N orth Am erica’s First Cultures? A logical starting place in an exploration o f Am erican prehistory m ight be a question: H ow lon g have the first Am ericans been here? From there, our in ­ qu iry broadens to the follow in g: W here did N orth Am erica’s first peoples com e from and why? These questions are fraught w ith debate today, w hich seems to intensify as w e learn m ore about First Nations’ cultures. The Bering Strait theory, an assumption that all o f the first N ative Am ericans crossed a land bridge over the Bering Strait follo w in g the last m ajor Ice A ge, perhaps 10,000 to 11.000 years ago, has taken its lum ps recently. G iven new know ledge, this theory now seems as sim plistic and smug as the folk history that maintains a singular “discovery” o f Am erica by Christopher Columbus. The reality may be much m ore com plex. By 2003, the prim acy o f the Bering Strait theory had been scorched by the discovery that the Siberian site lon g thought to be the ju m pin g-off poin t fo r the peopling o f the Am ericas (a t Ushki, Kam chatka) dated later, by about 4.000 years, than its proponents had thought. Thus, the Siberian site was no older, at 13,000 years, than the m ost ancient C lovis sites in N orth Am erica, n ot to m ention the M onte V erde sites in South Am erica. Som eone may have m igrated to Am erica over the Bering Strait, but they w ere not the first (G oebel, W aters, and D ikova, 2003, 501; Stone, 2003,450). Early in 2004, Russian scientists reported the discovery o f a 30,000-yearo ld site where ancient hunters had lived on the Yana R iver in Siberia, some three hundred m iles north o f the A rctic C ircle. “Although a direct connection rem ains tenuous, the Y an a. . . site indicates that humans extended deep into the A rctic during colder (Ic e A g e) tim es,” the authors w rote in a study that appeared in Science (P itu lk o et al., 2004, 52). The researchers found stone tools, ivory weapons, and the butchered bones o f mammoths, bison, bear, lion , and hare, all animals that w ou ld have been available to hunters during that Ice A ge period. The site was tw ice as old as any previous A rctic settle­ m ent, indicating that “people adapted to this harsh, high-altitude, late Pleis­ tocene environm ent much earlier than previously thought” (P itu lk o et al., 2004, 52). The researchers determ ined that artifacts w ere deposited at the site about 30.000 years before the present. That w ou ld be about tw ice as o ld as M onte V erde in C hile, the m ost ancient human life know n in the Am erican continents. D onald K. Grayson, a paleoanthropologist at the U niversity o f W ashington in Seattle, said the discovery is very significant because it is so much earlier than any other proven evidence o f people livin g in the frigid lands o f Siberia that w ere used as one path to the Am ericas (R ecer, 2004). “U n til this site was reported, the earliest site in Bering land bridge area was dated at about 11,000 years ago,” said Grayson. “Every other site that had been thought to have been


The Native Peoples o f North America

early enough to have som ething to do w ith peopling o f the N ew W o rld has been shown not to be so” (R ecer, 2004). A t the tim e o f the Yana occupation, much o f the high latitudes on the earth w ere in the grip o f an ice age that sent glaciers creeping over much o f what is now Europe, Canada, and the northern U nited States. The Yana R iver area was a dry floodplain w ithout glaciers, how ever. The area was roam ed by mam­ moths, w ild horses, musk oxen, and other animals that provided food for the human hunters w ho survived the A rctic’s clim ate. “Abundant game means lots o f food,” said Julie Brigham -Grette o f the U niversity o f Massachusetts, Am herst, in Science. “It was not stark tundra as one m ight im agine” (R ecer, 2004). Am ong the artifacts found at the Yana site w ere weapons that resem bled som e found at a C lovis, N ew M exico, site dated around 11,000 years before the present. Grayson and others said, how ever, that existing evidence lin kin g those im plem ents to the tool and weapon techniques used by the C lovis people is weak. Sim ilar artifacts also have been found in Europe and western Asia, Grayson said. “The sim ilarities [in the tools and weapons] are not enough to prove they w ere ancestral to the C lovis people in the N ew W o rld ,” said Grayson (R ecer, 2004).

Native American A rrival Estimates Recede in Time W e do know that Am erica’s indigenous cultures evolved for many thousands o f years before perm anent European settlem ents began in N orth Am erica, but w e do not yet know for how long. The academ ically accepted date for origin al human origin or arrival has been steadily pushed back in tim e. By 1900, it was acceptable to assert that Am erica’s first human occupants had been here 5,000 years. By 1960, for exam ple, an origin o r arrival date preceding 8000


(alm ost double the 1900 figu re) was considered credible. By 1990, that date was considered conservative. Today, the date o f origin or arrival that one is w illin g to accept depends on the quality o f evidence that is demanded. Am erican archeology now reaches roughly 30,000 to 40,000 years into the past, rem inding us again that pre­ history holds much yet to be discovered. The fact that accepted dates o f human arrival in Am erica have receded so rapidly in the recent past has been part o f an evolu tion o f know ledge that reflects fieldw ork o f increasing intensity and sophistication over time. U ndoubtedly, m ore discoveries w ill enrich this debate in years to com e. The origin date o f hum anity in the Am ericas has been debated for centuries. O ften, the earliest European settlers thought that the people they m et here had resided in the Am ericas on ly a few hundred years before their arrival. Fierce debates raged over whether they had m igrated from Asia (a view first put forth in 1589 by the Spanish scholar Jose de A costa), o r whether they w ere the remnants o f Israel’s ten lost tribes. This interpretation was especially pop­ ular between 1600 and 1800; W illiam Penn and Cotton M ather, am ong others,

Early Indigenous North America: An Overview


subscribed to it. James A dair popularized the same idea in a landmark study o f Am erican Indians ([1 7 7 5 ] 1930). Science’s best guess regarding the date o f the first human footfalls in the Am ericas has always been som ething o f a rubber figure, even as defenders o f various sites and dates have, at different tim es, defended their favorite dates and places w ith dogm atic intensity. Three decades before the C lovis finds rearranged archaeology’s Am erican tim eline, som e scholarly debate centered on the w id ely accepted biblical tim eline, which held that the earth was cre­ ated by the Christian G od in 4004 b.c.e. A t the same tim e, various academic schools o f thought contended that N ative Am ericans m ight have descended from seafaring Egyptians, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, W elsh, Chinese, or Japanese o r even from the residents o f Atlantis, the lost continent o f European im agination. Thom as Jefferson doubted that all the Am erican Indians could have crossed over the Bering land bridge as recently as the last m ajor Ice Age. As a student o f N ative languages, Jefferson thought that their variety and com plexity re­ quired a m ore com plex origin story, coverin g m ore tem poral territory. By 1800, Jefferson was preparing to publish what w ould have been the m ost extensive vocabulary o f Indian languages in his tim e. It also was the year Jefferson became president, so his w ork was delayed until he left office in 1808. Jefferson packed his research papers at the presidential residence and ordered them sent to M on ticello. Contained in the cargo w ere Jefferson’s ow n fifty vocabularies, as w ell as several others assembled during the Lew is and Clark expedition . Boatmen p ilotin g Jefferson’s belongings across the Potom ac R iver ripped them open and, disappointed that they could find nothing salable, dum ped the priceless papers into the river (Boyd, 1982, 20:451-452). The tim eline o f human occupation in the Am ericas has becom e m ore fluid as new discoveries shatter earlier assumptions. A few researchers now argue that N ative Am ericans have been present here from 100,000 or m ore years ago. Support for this thesis is said to com e from a site at C alico M ountain in Southern California: crude bits o f broken rock that may have served as tools fo r these ancient peoples. One problem is that the artifacts— i f that is what they are— are on the surface o f an alluvial fan, soil and debris washed from h igh er hillsides, and not buried in an undisturbed layer that can be safely dated to an earlier tim e. The chipped stones found at C alico M ountain may be o f much m ore recent vintage. They are also so crude that they may not be human tools at all. In 1992, a cave site was discovered in N ew M exico that was said to have been occupied by human beings 35,000 years ago, m oving back (b y 23,000 years at one shot) the arguable date o f the earliest occupation o f that area by human beings. Richard S. M acNeish o f the A n dover Foundation for Archae­ o lo gica l Research (H onolu lu, H I) reported that the O rogrande Cave contained rem ains o f hearths, butchered bones, stone tools, and even a human palm print. As w ith m ost findings o f such antiquity, experts disputed M acNeish’s finds.


The Native Peoples o f North America

O ne school o f thought held that he had m ixed up stratigraphic layers and thus m isdated his finds ( “Peopling the Am ericas,” 1992).

W H Y AR E S O M E O F TH E O L D E S T S ITE S I N S O U T H A M E R IC A ? One o f the largest cred ib ility problem s for the Bering Strait theory may be a grow in g realization that the oldest human remains are n ow found, for the m ost part, in Central and South Am erica, w hich w ou ld have been expected to be the last stop for peoples arriving from the north. In The Settlement of the

Americas (2 00 0), Thom as D. D illehay, professor o f anthropology at the U n i­ versity o f Kentucky, illustrated in rich detail (and in many cases for the first tim e) the number and com plexity o f archaeological finds in South Am erica that are underm ining long-tim e support for exclusive diffusion o f human cul­ tures in N orth Am erica from the north. Hum anity’s prehistory in the Am ericas, contends D illehay, is older and m ore com plex than that. D illehay observed that no m ajor region o f South Am erica is w ithout Ice A ge sites. In som e places, such as the eastern highlands o f Brazil, the Andean footh ills on the north coast o f Peru, and the steppes o f southern C h ile and Argentina, such sites can be found in profusion (D illeh ay, 2000, 89). Some o f these cultures developed sophisticated weapons, including the sling stone and grooved bola stone, both o f w hich can be hurled from a thong or w h irled over a hunter’s head before release. A number and variety o f such weapons have been found in Chilean and Brazilian sites. For scholars seeking p rojectile points, D illehay provides a rich variety from across the continent. Some o f these points (an exam ple is called the Fishtail P rojectile P oin t) may have diffused from South Am erica to N orth Am erica. “M any books have been w ritten about the archaeology o f the first N orth Am ericans and the process that led to their arrival and dispersion throughout the Am ericas,” w rote D illehay. “N o such book exists for South Am erica” (D il­ lehay, 2000, x iii). Carrying differen t assumptions and speaking differen t lan­ guages, N orth and South Am erican scholars searching for the earliest human origins in the Am ericas often have failed to com m unicate w ith each other. D illehay’s w ork has rem oved any excuses for such academ ic isolation. D illehay’s book includes a lengthy appendix (2000, 293-321) that lists several hundred significant archaeological finds in South Am erica, several o f w hich pre-date the oldest C lovis sites in N orth Am erica, first discovered in 1932. D illehay began his w ork on one o f the best know n o f these, M onte Verde in southern C hile, during 1976 “after a student at the Southern U niversity o f C hile, where 1 was teaching and doin g archaeological research, discovered a large m astodon tooth and other bones” at the site (ib id ., x iv ). Local m en clearing an o x path had found the bones. M onte Verde, an open-air setdem ent on the banks o f a sm all freshwater creek surrounded by sandy knolls, a narrow bog, and forest, soon became an active archaeological dig.

Early Indigenous North America: An Overview


Artifacts from M onte V erde subsequently w ere radiocarbon dated as old as 12,500 years before the present (a t a m inim um ), m aking them the oldest known links to human settlement in the Americas. (T o date, no site in N orth Am erica has been dated earlier than 11,200 years before the p resen t) O ver the years, D illehay has directed up to eighty professionals at a tim e excavating M onte Verde. D illehay, w ith scholarly contacts on both continents, is superbly qualified to describe this story’s scientific side as w ell as the p olitical struggle to con­ vin ce English-speaking N orth Am erican specialists that M onte V erde was not a fraud because the new range o f dates contradicted the assumptions o f “strin­ gent C lovis loyalists w ho had spent their entire careers defending the theory against one pre-C lovis candidate after another” (2000, x v i). A fter ten years o f research, D illehay and his colleagues at M onte V erde had found traces o f people livin g at M onte V erde at least 12,500 years ago w ho practiced a generalized hunting-and-gathering style o f life, not ju st b ig game hunting (D illeh ay, 2000, x v i). “It is now apparent,” w rote D illehay, “ that hu­ mans w ere in the Am ericas much earlier than w e previously th ou ght.. . . W e are also realizin g that the first im m igrants probably came from several different places in the O ld W o rld and that their genetic heritage and physical appear­ ance w ere much m ore diverse than w e had thought” (2000, x iv ). Previous N orth Am erican sites are now being pre-dated by several others in addition to M onte Verde, including M eadow croft Rocksheiter in Pennsylvania, Cactus H ill in V irginia, Topper in South Carolina, and several others in eastern Brazil, Venezuela, and Colom bia. “W e have enough evidence to be sure that virtu ally a ll parts o f the conti­ nent [South Am erica] w ere at least traversed, if not occupied, by the end o f Pleistocene, around 10,500 b.p. [before the present],” w rote D illehay (2000, 216). O ur know ledge o f societies at such an early date is lim ited by what nature leaves behind. “W e are extraordinarily ignorant about certain aspects o f the first im m igrants to the Am ericas: their anatom ical features, their reli­ gious beliefs, when and how they buried their dead, the kinds o f languages they spoke,” D illehay w rote. D irect evidence on the physical and genetic makeup o f the first Pleistocene Am ericans, especially South Am ericans, is scant or entirely m issing (ib id ., 227). D illehay (2 00 0) makes a case that the im age o f early Am ericans as prin­ cip ally b ig game hunters is m ore a stereotype than a reality, m ore a reflection o f the assumptions o f capitalism than a residue o f accurate scholarship. H e cites Kathleen G ordon, a b iological anthropologist:

This preoccupation with hunting as the “master behavior pattern o f the human species” . . . has been fueled by many factors: the indisputable evidence o f largescale game hunting in Upper Paleolithic Europe; die visible archaeological record, with its emphasis on stone “weapons" and animal bone fragments, and also (perhaps sublim inally) the high value accorded meat and hunting as a leisure activity in Western society, (pp. 28-29)


The Native Peoples o f North America

Accordin g to D illehay (2 00 0), recent excavations in South Am erica indicate that N ative Am ericans may have begun to dom esticate plants and form the basis o f agriculture that eventually w ould supply h alf the w orld’s staple crops as early as 8,000 to 10,000 years ago, earlier than any other present-day evidence. A picture em erges from The Settlement of the Americas that human beings not on ly arrived in the N ew W o rld earlier than previously thought, but also very qu ickly thereafter began u tilizin g all the food sources nature o ffered them, plant and animal. This picture contradicts the C lovis theory’s im p licit assumption that ancient Am ericans lived m ostly by hunting big game. D ille ­ hay criticizes defenders o f the C lovis theory for being unable (and u n w illin g ) to take seriously any archaeological find that does not occur in a dry location . D ifferent techniques are required in humid sites (such as M onte V erd e), w rote D illehay. D illehay did much m ore than describe archaeological finds in The Settlement

o f the Americas (2000). He also probed the environm ent in w hich the earliest Am erican peoples lived. D illehay’s speculations ranged from various aspects o f geology to ecology and paleodim atology. In his ow n words, D illeh ay d id his best to reconstruct the com plexity o f the mutual interaction betw een society and environm ent that creates the cultural landscape (ib id ., 78). D illehay was fascinated by the rapid developm ent o f cultures and tech n olo­ gies am ong the earliest peoples o f the N ew W orld. He asserted that som e o f the “ first pulses o f human civilization ,” including perm anently occupied sites, the appearance o f architecture and art, and the use o f dom esticated plants and an­ im als, developed on ly five to ten m illennia after people first arrived (2 0 0 0 ,2 7 3 ). By contrast, Asia, Africa, and Europe w ere inhabited for hundreds o f th ou ­ sands o f years before the same attributes o f culture appeared. H ow lon g ago can a credible archaeologist argue that human bein gs arrived in the Am ericas? D illehay’s answer (2000, 283) to that question seem s to be 15,000 to 20,000 years ago i f one assumes that the prim ary early m igra tio n cam e from the north and that it reached M onte V erde about 12,500 years ago. D illeh ay provided a caveat w ith this figure, indicating that M on te V e rd e m ay place human traces in areas dating 20,000 to 50,000 years before the present. W e are rem inded again that the date o f human origins in the A m ericas is h is­ torica lly pliable, its boundaries restricted at any time not on ly b y the m eth ods o f available science, but also by the dom inant cultural and p o litica l attitu d es o f those w ho decide what is acceptable as general know ledge. I f a g e n era lly accepted date a century ago was 4004

B.C.E. and now it is 15,000 to 20,000

years, w hat m ight science and society tell a curious student a cen tu ry o r tw o from now ? T h e archeological record supporting theories o f human m igra tio n to the Am ericas is in constant flux. Late in 2002, a 13,000-year-old sku ll w a s fo u n d in M ex ico that may help support theories that some o f the N e w W o r ld ’s first settlers arrived along a Pacific Coast route from Japan instead o f a cro ss th e B ering Strait. This skull was on e o f the oldest thus far d isc o ve re d in th e

Early Indigenous North America: An Overview


Am ericas, according to Silvia G onzalez, a leading w orld authority on prehis­ toric humans and mammoths. She said the skull is sim ilar to others found belon gin g to the now -extinct Pericues people, w ho populated the southern tip o f M exico’s Baja C alifornia state, along the Pacific Coast route, until the eigh­ teenth century. “The question is, w e have these very ancient individuals, but w here did they com e from ?” said G onzalez, an earth sciences lecturer at L iverp o o l’s John M oores U niversity in England ( “M exican Skull,” 2002). W ith in days o f the M exican skull’s discovery, news reports described 10,000-year-old human remains found at Boardman State Park on the O regon Coast at a site roughly 12 m iles north o f Brookings, excavated the previous August by a team o f researchers from O regon State U niversity led by professors Roberta H all and Loren Davis. The remains, 2,000 years older than anything previou sly found in the area, w ere said to “lend w eight to the theory that early inhabitants o f the area m ight have arrived by sea, rather than by land” (Frazier, 2002). A ccordin g to this account, “The discovery puts their arrival at about the tim e inland inhabitants arrived, bringing into question the theory that all o f the earliest inhabitants crossed the Bering Strait and m oved south overland to what is now the U nited States.” The findings are about the same age as those found at a few sites in coastal Alaska, British Colum bia, and California. D illeh ay w rote in Nature that “m ore recent archaeological discoveries sug­ gest that there w ere several differen t founding populations” (2003, 2 3); he discussed a study o f thirty-three ancient skulls excavated from M exico that suggests the first Am ericans’ links w ith southern Asian populations. W ritin g in the same issue o f Nature, Gonzalez-José et al. present a com parative study o f early historic human sku lk from Baja C alifornia, M exico (2003, 6 2 ), and th eir findings lend w eight to the view that not all early Am erican populations w ere directly related to present-day N ative Am ericans. By late 2004, radiocarbon findings had been presented for a site in presentday South Carolina that may be 50,000 years old, w hich could rew rite the his­ tory o f how the Am ericas w ere first settled by humans. The new findings w ere ra k in g considerable controversy am ong archaeologkts. I f the dates hold up to scrutiny, they w ou ld push back the first date o f human occupancy in the Am ericas by about 25,000 years. “T opper k the oldest radiocarbon-dated site in N orth Am erica,” said A lb ert G oodyear o f the U niversity o f South Carolina Institute o f Arch aeology and A n thropology (W alton and Coren, 2004). G oodyear has been excavating the T opper d ig site along the Savannah R iver since the 1980s. The item s that he believes to be 50,000 years o f age w ere found in M ay 2003. Theodore Schurr, an anthropology professor at the U niversity o f Pennsyl­ vania in Philadelphia and a curator at the school’s museum, said that conclusive eviden ce o f stone to o k sim ilar to those in Asia and uncontam inated radiocarbon-dating samples are needed to verify that the T op p er site k actually 50,000 years old. “I f dating k confirm ed, then it really does have a significant im pact on our previous understanding o f N ew W o rld colon ization ,” he said


The Native Peoples o f North America

(W alton and Coren, 2004). Some scientists expressed skepticism whether G oodyear’s findings represented human presence. Stone shards that G oodyear believes to be human may be natural, according to M ichael C ollins o f the Texas Arch eological Research Laboratory at the U niversity o f Texas at Austin.

K E N N E W IC K M A N : ARCH AEO LO G Y’S RACIAL PO LITIC S The discovery during 1996 o f a nearly com plete human skeleton that came to be called Kennew ick M an also threw neat, sim ple theories o f the human oc­ cupancy o f the Am ericas into disarray, in large part because the remains seem ed not to resem ble clearly any present-day ethnic group. W as Kennew ick M an European? Norse, perhaps? W as he Asiatic, perhaps Ainu, the in dige­ nous people o f Japan? W as he N ative Am erican, from the earth o f Turtle Island (N o rth Am erica)? Is Kennew ick Man, perhaps, a com bination o f the w o rld ly elem ents o f his ow n tim e, a rem inder in our tim e that human origins in the Am ericas are much m ore com plex (and much m ore m ulticultural) than has been com m only supposed? Kennewick M an is one anecdote in a lon g story, one rem inder o f the in­ creasing com plexity o f our know ledge about human origins in the Am ericas. The discovery o f Kennew ick M an is part o f an ongoing rew riting o f the story o f human origins in the Am ericas. A number o f archaeological discoveries (and speculations) during the past generation have effectively jettison ed the neatand-tidy m yth popular in the 1950s that one group o f Asiatic people traversed the Bering Strait m ore or less at one tim e and populated the continents o f the W estern Hem isphere in one fell swoop. The racial p olitics evoked by the dis­ covery o f Kennew ick Man (and other, sim ilarly ancient, rem ains) have pre­ sented us w ith a number o f very diverse opinions, but one thing that nearly all serious observers o f human antiquity in the Am ericas now share is this: Human origins in the Am ericas are much m ore diverse, and cover a much greater tim e span, than the sim plistic Bering strait theory allow s. Some present-day N ative Am erican peoples do not fit century-old racial classifications. M any Haudenosaunee are ligh t skinned, for exam ple. It takes som e im agination to assign a Lakota Sioux and a Maya to a single 10,000-yearold ancestor. M any N ative nations adopted people w ho w ere not racially sim ­ ilar to them. The texture o f the debate changes when it is view ed through this lens. Kennewick M an could have Asian (o r even European) facial features and still be defined as a m em ber o f a N ative Am erican nation using criteria ac­ cepted by many N ative peoples. A t the same tim e that Kennew ick M an has thrown som e assumptions o f mainstream academia into doubt, the skeleton has becom e a stalking horse for non-Indian academics w ho have an interest in lim itin g N ative Am erican na­ tions’ legal rights to new ly discovered human remains. Kennew ick Man has becom e the first significant legal test o f attempts to lim it the N ative A m eri­ can Graves Protection and Repatriation A ct (N A G P R A ; 1990) to allow , fo r

Early Indigenous North America: An O verview


exam ple, inspection o f remains found on federally ow ned land, including K ennew ick M an, before (o r instead o f) reburial by N ative Am erican peoples. Assertions that Kennewick Man m igrated to Am erica from Europe have m ade him som ething o f a hero to non-Indians w ho w ould lik e to abrogate treaties and lim it N ative Am erican sovereignty in our tim e. Architects o f racial fantasies have built an entire racial pedigree for this skeleton on scant evi­ dence and used claim s that he was “w hite” to support a theory that he and his kind w ere the first human im m igrants to the Am ericas. The m ore extrem e var­ iations o f these tales assert that Kennew ick man and his kin w ere slaughtered b y the ancestors o f present-day N ative Am ericans. The remains that w ou ld com e to be called Kennew ick M an w ere stum bled on (lite ra lly ) by tw o college students, W ill Thom as, 21 years old, and Dave Deacy, 20 years old, on July 28,1996. The tw o residents o f nearby W est Rich­ land, hom e for the summer, w ere look in g for a spot on the banks o f the Colum bia R iver from w hich to view the annual hydroplane races. James Chatters o f A pplied Paleoscience (Richland, W A ), w ho routinely con­ ducted skeletal forensics for Benton County C oroner Floyd Johnson, helped p olice gather a skeleton that was com plete except for its sternum and a few sm all bones in the hands and feet. Recent flushing from Colum bia R iver Dams, an attem pt to preserve salmon runs for com m ercial and N ative fishing, had disturbed the sedim ents and exposed the human remains, which soon became know n as Kennew ick Man (Johansen, 1999). The skeleton seem ed to Chatters to have belonged to a man w ho was old (betw een 40 and 55 years) by the standards o f his tim e; w ho was about five feet nine or ten inches, tall for a human being that old; w ho had led a rough life . He had com pound fractures in at least six ribs and damage to his left shoulder, w hich probably caused his arm to wither. He also had a healed-over skull injury. Kennewick M an, whose dietary staple may have been fish, prob­ ably died o f injuries sustained after a stone p rojectile poin t pierced his thigh and lodged in his pelvis. The p rojectile probably caused a fatal in fection that m ay have festered for as many as six months. Kennew ick Man also suffered from advanced osteoporosis in one o f his elbow s and m inor arthritis in his knees, according to Chatters. Kennewick Man had a long, narrow skull; a projecting nose; receding cheek­ bones; a high chin; and a square mandible. The low er bones o f the arms and legs w ere relatively lon g com pared to the upper bones. These traits are not char­ acteristic o f m odem Am erican Indians in the area, although m any o f them are com m on am ong Caucasoid peoples, said Chatters. A skeleton can reveal on ly so much about race, not to m ention culture. From a skeleton, no one knows the form and color o f eyes, color o f skin and hair, w hether the lips w ere thin o r broad, and whether the hair was straight, w avy, o r curly. N o one at present knows what language Kennew ick M an spoke o r anything about what type o f religion , i f any, he practiced. In other w ords, the gam e o f racial classification that so preoccupied much o f the popular discourse


The Native Peoples o f North America

about Kennew ick M an was constructed on a very scant evidence base. On such sm all foundations, how ever, castles o f im agination have been built. Anthropologist G rover S. Krantz o f W ashington State U niversity exam ined the bones at Chatters’s request. The skeleton “cannot be anatom ically assigned to any existing tribe in the area, nor even to the western N ative Am erican type in general,” he w rote to Chatters (Slaym an, 1997,17). “It shows som e traits that are m ore com m only encountered in m aterial from the eastern U nited States o r even o f European origin , w h ile certain other diagnostic traits cannot presently be determ ined” (ib id ., 17). A ccordin g to many w ho claim Kennewick M an to be a long-lost Caucasian brother, seven skeletons w ith sim ilar features have been discovered in N orth Am erica since 1938. The first such discovery, at Fork Rock Cave, O regon, was radiocarbon dated to about 9,000 years o f age. Spirit Cave M an was caught in the same sort o f crossfire as Kennew ick Man; the N orthern Pauites filed a claim for his remains that was contested by several non-Indian scientists. Researchers also contested the return to the Shoshone-Bannock tribe o f a skeleton found near Buhl, Idaho. This set o f remains was radiocarbon dated to roughly 10,600 years before the present. M ost o f the skeletons and associated artifacts w ere found in the western reaches o f N orth Am erica because the eastern side o f the continent is much m ore hum id and acidic, w hich makes long-term preserva­ tion o f bones m ore difficu lt. T o D avid Hurst Thom as, w ritin g in Skull Wars (2 00 0), the present-day “custody battle” over Kennew ick M an’s remains tells us less about the w orld in w hich he lived than it does about the racial p olitics o f our ow n tim e. The central theme o f Thom as’s book is that the struggle over Kennew ick M an is not about religion or science. It is about politics. The dispute is about control and power, not philosophy. W ho gets to control ancient American history?— In a nutshell, then, Shull Wars explores the curious and often stormy relationship between American Indians and the non-Indians bent on studying them. (p. xx v)

H ow can an o ld human skeleton fire such passion o f possession? In Skull Wars (2 00 0), Thom as, long-tim e curator o f anthropology at the Am erican M u­ seum o f Natural H istory in N ew Y ork C ity, describes five centuries o f racial politics behind the contem porary debate regarding Kennew ick M an’s re­ mains. The m ost intriguing part o f the story is that Kennewick M an’s rem ains fu lly fit no single present-day racial classification. Although som e p eop le be­ lieve Kennew ick M an may have resem bled the actor Patrick Stewart, V in e D eloria Jr. made a case in Skull Wars that Kennew ick Man may have resem bled the Sauk-Fox ch ief Black Hawk as painted in 1833 by John Jarvis. K ennew ick M an may be a m ulticultural rem inder that notions o f race are present-day hu­ man constructs overlaid on a vastly m ore com plicated natural record. Self-definition, w rote Thom as (2 00 0), walks hand-in-hand w ith selfdeterm ination. Th e p ow er to name is key to nation building in contem porary

Early Indigenous North America: An Overview


N ative Am erica, as w ell as to the identity politics o f the Asatru Assem bly and several groups o f neo-Nazis w ho have claim ed the remains o f Kennewick Man. Thus far, the federal courts at the district and circu it levels have held that the rem ains should be held by the governm ent and released for study by archae­ ologists. Federal judges to date have refused all other claims.

P R E H IS T O R IC T IM E PE R IO D S Academ ics have designated certain prehistorical periods before sustained N ative Am erican contact w ith Europeans. These periods have had various names at various tim es and are subject to blurring into one another as w e discover m ore about individual prehistorical cultures in Am erica. In the language o f contem porary archaeology, m ost o f the tim e that human beings are n ow believed to have occupied N orth Am erica— possibly as lon g ago as 40,000 to 8,000 years ago— is classified as the Paleo-Indian Tradition. Before about 8000

B.C.E. (o r 10,000 years before the present), the indigenous cultures

that existed in N orth Am erica are generally believed to have been relatively uniform in cultural level and ways o f life. Such uniform ity may be m ore in the eye o f the beholder than real; at this stage, evidence is scant and often re­ stricted to the sort o f hunting projectiles that w ere used at the tim e. The oldest (possibly 40,000 to roughly 10,000 years ago) artifacts are classified as from “preprojectile point” cultures. Stones that may have been chipped by human hands w ere unearthed at the O rogrande Cave in southern N ew M exico dating to 38,000 b.c.e. or 40,000 years ago; a bone to o l made from the car­ cass o f a caribou has been dated to 25,000 b.c.e. at O ld C row Flats, Yukon T erritory. Before roughly 25,000 years ago, tools (such as chipped stones) w ere usu­ a lly quite crude. Several sites in the western parts o f the present-day U nited States have yielded sim ple m aterials, such as stone tools and debris from fires, b elieved by som e to have been left behind by people 30,000 to 40,000 years ago. M ost o f these remains fail many archaeological tests meant to verify that they actually w ere created by human beings, so they rem ain, for our tim e, w ith in the realm o f the possible. By about 25,000 years ago, hunters’ technology was im proving, w ith pro­ je c tile points often made o f chert o r flint. Human bones found at La Jolla and elsew here in southern California indicate possible human antiquity in that area from at least 27,000 b.c.e., and possibly as early as roughly 40,000 b.c.e., although the dating methods used in these studies have been subject to de­ bate. A site near M idland in western Texas and the M arines site in eastern W ashington yield an antiquity o f 16,500 b.c.e. to 9000 b.c.e. Crude tools and oth er artifacts o f sim ilar age have been found at m any other sites. Several sites in M exico date to roughly 20,000 b.c.e. as w ell (K eh oe, 1981, 1-11 ). In the Sandia mountains o f N ew M exico, archaeologists in 1936 found flin t knives, scrapers, and other artifacts that have been dated to betw een 25,000 and

22 15,000

The Native Peoples o f North America

B.C.E. From these discoveries, the cultures that evolved in this area at

that tim e have becom e know n as the Sandia phase. Artifacts are m ore widespread, m ore easily identified, and m ore technol­ ogically advanced from 11,000 years ago. Thus, the emphasis on the Folsom , C lovis, and Plano (o r Plain view ) points (a ll first found at sites in present-day N ew M exico and Texas). Each dates to between 5000 and 10,000 b.c.e. The C lovis points seem to be the oldest, dating to about 12,000 b.c.e., w ith Folsom points dating to 8000 b.c.e., and Plano points recognizable at 7500 to 4500 b.c.e. Each type o f poin t is used to iden tify the culture that used it. By the tim e o f the C lovis culture, weapons w ere becom ing much m ore sophisticated. For ex­ am ple, som e hunters used an atlatl, a device allow in g thrust o f a spear w ith greater speed and accuracy than a hunter could achieve sim ply by throw ing it. W ith such a device, which com bined a spear o f older design w ith a throw ing device made from animal skin, hunters could attack game from distances o f up to 100 yards. A weapon poin t o f distinctively Am erican design, found in Fort Rock Cave, O regon, has been radiocarbon dated to 11,000 b.c.e. A site at Debert, in N ova Scotia, has yielded fluted points o f a sligh tly differen t design, also dating to 8500 b.c.e. Archeologists have found evidence that by 9000 b.c.e. differen t cultures w ere evolving. The Cascade (o r O ld C ordilleran ) style o f point, for exam ple, was being used in the Pacific Northw est. Its design differed sligh tly from the Folsom points used in other areas. Sim ilarly, a distinct culture was evolvin g at this tim e in som e areas o f the Great Basin in Arizon a and Utah; today, these peoples usually are called the desert cultures. Even at 5000 to 10,000


the use o f a single tim eline seems to obscure the d ifferin g ways in w hich cu l­ tures developed, but it can be a useful tool given the scarcity o f other evidence. Even 5,000 to 7,000 years ago, exam ples o f very distinct cultures arise, such as the copper culture o f present-day W isconsin, in which people forged lance points and other articles from the copper that is com m on in the region. This was one o f the earliest m etal-w orking cultures in the w orld. M ore recently than 5000 b.c.e., individual cultures are best treated on their ow n in m ost cases. G enerally, a drier and warm er clim ate, as w ell as techno­ logical advances, allow ed many N ative cultures to m ove away from hunting as a sole means o f survival. N ative peoples began to forage and gather food. This eventually led to dom estication o f plants and animals, as w ell as other form s o f sedentary agriculture and (in som e cases) civilization s w ith large urban con­ centrations o f population supported by form s o f agriculture that present-day scholars are still rediscovering. As older N ative Am erican settlements o f greater com plexity are found throughout the Am ericas, w e may ask, as Thom as Jefferson did tw o centuries ago, how peoples assumed to have crossed the Bering Strait so recen tly could have diffused so rapidly, becom e so diverse, and (in som e cases) bu ilt c iv ili­ zations and spoken languages o f such com plexity over such a short tim e. A ll m igrations have causes; there seems to have been no singular reason that

Eariy Indigenous North America: An Overview


p ropelled great numbers o f people across the Bering Strait during one short p eriod and no other. “M igration” may be a m isleading term because many o f the people w h o crossed the Bering Strait probably w ere not consciously m oving from one continent to another but w ere follo w in g the animals that gave them sustenance, seeking new land, m oving a few m iles at a tim e.

W R IT T E N L A N G U A G E S I N P R E H IS T O R IC A M E R IC A A century and a h alf ago, when Am erican anthropology was b om , many academ ics com m only delineated races as “civilized ,” “barbarian,” and “sav­ age,” a system developed by Lew is H enry M organ, w ho is w id ely know n as the father o f the discipline in the U nited States. O ne o f the main determ inants o f civiliza tio n was often said to be a culture’s developm ent (o r lack ) o f w ritten com m unication. U n til early in this century, many “experts” assumed that Am erica’s indigenous peoples had on ly the shghtest in klin g o f w ritten com ­ m unication, that their cultures w ere for the m ost part singularly oral. Con­ siderin g such distinctions, many people forgot that in Europe, at the tim e o f Colum bus’ first voyage, the invention o f m ovable type was w ithin livin g m em ory. Th e number o f published books at the tim e was m iniscule, and the practice o f w ritin g (and even reading) was isolated generally to people o f high econ om ic class and members o f religious orders. Barely one in every tw enty p eop le in Europe was able to read in 1492. Few er still had a com petent com ­ m and o f w ritten language. For the average person at that tim e, life and history w ere m ainly oral in Europe. D uring the past few decades, deeper study o f many ancient cultures in the Am ericas has revealed that many o f them did indeed com m unicate using w rit­ ten sym bols, som e o f them even phonetic— a system, lik e the languages o f Europe, in w hich the w ritten sym bols may stand for ideas o r “words.” Such discoveries brin g in to question the com m on nom enclature o f the periods into w h ich scholars have lon g divided N ative history in the Am ericas. The w ord

prehistory itself im plies a lack o f w ritten com m unication, which com prises his­ to ry in the European sense. Even today, som e accounts equate prehistoric w ith “ precontact [w ith E urope].” Although the indigenous cultures o f Am erica may have been prehistoric in the sense that Europeans could not decipher their languages, they did m aintain historical records.

Olm ec W ritin g Th e earliest form o f w ritten com m unication in the N ew W o rld may have been a language used by the Olm ecs. Several years o f research in the M exican state o f Vera Cruz has turned up a num ber o f indications that the O lm ecs operated an organized state-level p olitical system that u tilized w ritten com ­ m unication (O . M oore, 2002; M .E.D. Pohl, Pope, and N agy, 2002, 1,984; Stokstad, 2002, 1,872).


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Late in 2002, a team o f archeologists led by M ary Pohl o f Florida State U niversity described tw o artifacts containing portions o f script found in O lm ec ruins that date to about 650

B.C.E., about 400 years earlier than any

previously discovered Mayan w riting. Fragments o f stone plaques and a cyl­ indrical seal bearing glyphs resem bling later Mayan w ritin g lend support to the idea that the Olm ecs w ere a “m other culture” pre-dating the w ritin g and calendar systems o f both the M aya and the Aztecs (as w ell as cultures pre­ dating the Aztecs in the V alley o f M exico). The cylindrical seal is thought to have been used to im print clothing w ith symbols, and the stone plaques w ere used as a form o f jew elry. Both o f them may have indicated rank or authority w ithin a hierarchical society. O ther finds included human and animal bones, food-serving vessels, and h ollow figurines (O . M oore, 2002). The connection am ong O lm ec w ritin g, their calendar, and kingship is indicated in these com m unications, dating to 650 B.c.E., “which makes sense, since the O lm ecs were the first know n peoples in M esoam erica to have a state-level p olitical structure, and w ritin g is a w ay to com m unicate pow er and influence,” said Pohl (O . M oore, 2002). The new O lm ec discoveries depict a bird’s beak spew ing tw o d ivergin g lines o f sym bols that are believed to depict a system o f com m unication that is not purely iconographie, one that must be learned, a hallm ark o f true w riting. Later inscriptions show sim ilar sym bols em erging from human mouths (Stokstad, 2002,1,873). Accordin g to M .E.D. Pohl and colleagues, w ritin g in Science (2 00 2), the sym bols “im ply that M esoam erican w ritin g originated in the La Venta p olity” o f the O lm ec culture near Tabasco, in southern M exico (p . 1,984). These discoveries led to speculation that three ancient languages (M ayan, Isthmian, and Oaxacan) could have shared a com m on origin in the script o f the Olmecs. “It was generally accepted that Mayans w ere am ong the first M eso­ american societies to use w riting,” said John Yellen, an archeologist and program manager for the National Science Foundation. “But this find indicates that the Olm ecs’ form o f written com m unication led into what became form s o f w ritin g for several other cultures” (O . M oore, 2002). Pohl, w ho led the excavations at San Andres, near La Venta, has w orked for years to analyze and fine-tune the esti­ mated dates o f the artifacts discovered in the initial dig. “W e knew w e had found som ething im portant,” she said. “The m otifs w ere glyph-like but w e weren’t sure at first what w e had until they w ere view ed m ore closely” (O . M oore, 2002).

Wampum Belts as W ritten Language Indigenous Am ericans som etim es com m unicated through pictorial signs and sym bols that may be likened in som e ways to the hieroglyphs o f Egypt. The Iroquois fashioned pictographs into wampum belts that w ere used to jo g m em ory for oral historians. Replicas o f som e o f these story belts may be exam ined today, for exam ple, at the Six Nations Indian Museum in Onchiota, N ew York. Th e wampum belts that Iroquois diplom ats gave and received

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during m eetings w ith colon ial representatives in the seventeenth and eigh­ teenth centuries are adapted on the same m odel. Like w ritten contracts, they w ere evidence that certain actions had been taken at a given place and tim e (B. M ann, 1995, 4 0 -4 8 ). W am pum are strings or arrayed patterns made o f seashells and have been used by many Am erican Indians in the Northeast to preserve accounts o f history, to conduct diplom acy, and to com plete some com m ercial transac­ tions. N early every im portant treaty negotiated in the eighteenth century was sealed w ith the presentation o f wampum belts. The shells that com prised the belts w ere harvested and traded to inland peoples by N ative Am erican peo­ ples w ho lived on the coast. Peace am ong the form erly antagonistic Iroquois nations was procured and m aintained through the Haudenosaunee’s Great Law o f Peace ( Kaianerekowa), w hich was passed from generation to generation by use o f wampum belts that outlined a com plex system o f checks and balances between nations and gen­ ders. A com plete oral recitation o f the Great Law can take several days. The wam pum belts, com plex designs o f purple (o r som etim es black) and w hite shells, w ere used to prom pt the m em ory o f a speaker. A ccordin g to the Iroquois Great Law, the blood feud was outlawed and replaced by the Condolence Cerem ony. U nder the new law, when a person k illed som eone, the grievin g fam ily could forego the option o f exacting clan revenge (th e taking o f the life o f the m urderer or a mem ber o f the m urderer’s clan ). Instead, the bereaved fam ily could accept tw enty strings o f wampum from the slayer’s fam ily (ten for the dead person and ten for the life o f the mur­ d erer h im self). I f a wom an was killed, the price was thirty wampum string? because w om en bore life. Althou gh wampum was used principally in diplom acy, the settlem ent o f disputes, and the recitation o f history, it also was used som etim es as cur­ rency. In 1612, John Smith o f V irgin ia visited the Susquehannocks in the northern regions o f the Chesapeake Bay. He encountered the use o f wampum and found hints o f the existence o f the Iroquois Confederacy. D uring the course o f their m eeting, the Susquehannocks im plored Smith to defend them against the “Atquanahucke, Massawomecke and other people [that] inhabit the river o f Cannida.” The Susquehannocks draped “a chaîne o f w hite beads (w aigh in g at least 6 o r 7 pound) about” Smith’s neck w h ile recitin g an “oration o f love” (Johansen, 1997,1,353). The Cherokees used wampum in a cerem ony meant to provide for the poor. D uring a special war dance, each w arrior was called on to recount the taking o f his first scalp. D uring the cerem ony, anyone w ith som ething to spare, ac­ cordin g to H enry Tim berlake, “a string o f wampum, piece o f [silver] plate, w ire, paint, lead” heaped the goods on a blanket o r animal skin placed on the ground (Johansen, 1997,1,353). Afterw ard, the collection was divided am ong the p oor o f the com m unity, w ith a share reserved for the musicians w ho had p rovid ed entertainm ent during the cerem ony.


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Haudenosaunee (Iro q u o is) wampum strings. (C ourtesy o f John Kahionhes Fadden.)

Aztec and Mayan Pictu re-W ritin g The Spanish warm ed their hands over fires built from entire M exica (A z te c ) libraries during the early years o f the conquest, little realizing what th ey w ere burning because A ztec w ritin g did not resem ble Spanish. O ne o f the A ztec books that survived this holocaust relates its anguish: Broken spears lie in the roads; W e have tom our hair in our grie f The houses are roofless now , and their walls are red w ith b lo o d . . . — Portilla, 1962, frontispiece The Aztecs also used a form o f pictograph w ritin g that was con cep tu ally sim ilar in som e ways to the Iroquois’ “story belts.” The historical re co rd o f A ztec culture was com piled in books and scrolls by priest-scribes. T h e resu lt was w ritin g that looked som ething lik e present-day cartoon strips. S om e o f these books folded into large screens stacked lik e an accordion, b ou n d in anim al skins. O ne o f these, today called the Codex Egerton, recounts th e lives o f 26 generations o f rulers, “sym bolized by husbands and w ives seated on thrones and passing m ysterious presents to one another” (M orison , 1993, 5 4 ). The developm ent o f know ledge related to indigenous w ritin g is y e t an oth er indication that, after five centuries in the Am ericas, im m igrants fro m E u rop e w h o follow ed Colum bus are still “discovering Am erica.” In late 1991, fo r e x ­ am ple, M arilyn M. G oldstein, a professor o f art history at the C . W . Post campus o f Long Island U niversity in B rookville, N ew York, an n ou n ced d is­ covery o f a ceram ic Mayan vessel bearing rows o f glyphs and scen es fro m

Early Indigenous North America: An Overview


m yth ological events that represented pages from a Mayan book created before the year 900 c.e., at the end o f the period in Mayan history that scholars usually refer to as the late classic. This book dated 500 years earlier than sim ilar, earlier finds. Professor G oldstein estim ated that, based on the sophistication o f these sym bols, the Maya probably com posed elem entary books o f this type as early as 300 to 600 c.e.; w ritten sym bols have been found on Mayan stone monuments and tom bs dating to a century or tw o before the birth o f C h rist The Mayan books could perhaps be com pared to the w ritten records kept by m onks and others in Europe before the invention o f m ovable type, when literacy was lim ited to a sm all fraction o f the population. The Mayan vessel, called the W righ t codex, was found in a U nited States private collection. A Mayan piece, from a book in their language dated to the sixteenth century, idealizes the tim e before contact w ith Europeans as a disease-free paradise: There was then no sickness; They had then no aching bones; They had then no high fever; They had then no sm allpox; They had then no burning ch est. . . Th ey had then no consum ption. . . A t that tim e the course o f humanity was orderly. The foreigners made it otherwise w hen they arrived here. — W righ t, 1992, 14 A ccordin g to John S. Henderson (1 98 1), the system o f sym bols that the M aya used for w ritten com m unication was a lim ited, special-purpose system .. . that directly represents not [only) units o f meaning, but sounds o f language. W ith these signs, they could write any message that could be spoken. W ith phonetic signs, the Maya carried the elaboration o f graphic symbols to a degree unmatched in the Americas. [This was written before m ore recent discoveries about Inca writing, discussed below .] Maya hieroglyphic w riting is just that— a true w riting system, capable o f expressing an unlimited range o f information, (pp. 87-88)

A lth ou gh Mayan civilization was generally w ell past its peak when the Spanish arrived, the Maya still possessed several thousand handwritten books that included collection s o f songs, volum es describing their sciences, b iog­ raphies, genealogies, accounts o f ritual, and other historical material. Spanish religiou s authorities, w ho w ere w ell aware o f the spiritual significance that the M aya vested in these books, destroyed nearly all o f them. Today, on ly four o f these ancient volum es are know n to have survived the Spanish pillage. In the tim e o f the conquest, possession o f native w ritin g could put its h older in p eril o f his o r her Ufe i f church authorities learned o f them. D iego de Landa, a bishop


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o f Yucatan during the sixteenth century, w rote: “W e found a large number o f books in these characters [h ieroglyph s], and they contained nothing in w hich there w ere not to be seen superstition and lies o f the d e v il[;] w e burned them all, which they regretted to an am azing degree, and w hich caused them much affliction ” (T o zzer, n.d., 169). Beginning during the 1970s, scholars translated the Maya’s w riting for the first time, standing on its head a century or m ore o f archaeological speculation about Mayan society. U ntil this w ritin g was translated, many archaeologists had thought that the Maya w ere a relatively peaceful, rural people w ho lived in a benign theocracy governed by priest-kings. Today, w e still know the Maya as people who built com plex cities, studied astronomy, and w ere probably the first in the w orld to use negative numbers. W e now know them also as very violent. Demarest said that evidence from stone art and texts indicate that “the Maya w ere one o f the m ost violen t state-level societies in the N ew W orld, especially after 600 c.e.” (W ilfo rd , 1991,7-L). Sometimes, losin g rulers were decapitated w ith great cerem ony. The Maya’s w ritin g depicts repeated raids by the elites o f adjoining city-states, as w ell as ritual bloodlettin g and human sacrifice, all used to build the prestige o f ruling fam ilies. Linda Scheie, a Maya scholar at the U niversity o f Texas at Austin, said: ‘W e don’t know i f early Maya w ent to w ar m ainly to acquire territory, take booty, con trol conquered groups for labor, take captives for sacrifice. . . or a com bination o f these” (1 9 9 1 ,7 ). The Maya’s written records describe wars that began before 400 c.e. The first recorded Mayan war was fought in the jungles o f what is now northern Guate­ mala in 378 c.e. A stone monument was later erected that gave the date o f the conflict and the victorious general, Smoking-frog. Another monument observes that Great Jaguar-paw, the ruler o f Tikal, the winning city-state, observed the victory “w ith a cerem ony o f bloodletting from his genitals” (W ilfo rd , 1991,7-L). In 1990, a treasure trove o f Mayan history was uncovered at Dos Pilas, a settlem ent begun in the seventh century, possibly by em igrants from Tikal, w ho seemed to have conquered several other Mayan city-states. A t Dos Pilas, archaeologists have uncovered a large stairway lined w ith carved im ages o f warfare, including the torture and execution o f captives. The carvings are explained by Mayan w ritin g describing a series o f wars in w hich the arm y o f Dos Pilas subdued the peoples o f T ikal in 678


D uring the next century, Dos Pilas grew further by conquest to a size o f about tw o thousand square m iles o f rain forest, possibly (according to Arthur A. Demarest [ 1993,95), an archaeologist at V anderbilt U n iversity), the largest single Mayan kingdom . A fter its string o f conquests, the recorded history in ­ dicates that Dos Pilas dissolved into a gaggle o f feuding warrior-states. C on­ tinual warfare caused the Maya generally to abandon dispersed, undefended settlements that had allow ed them to exp loit the fragile rain forest ecosystem successfully. Some farmers devastated the forest, trying to produce m ore food, as others fled to the armed cities. The society’s ability to support itself agriculturally declined as warfare intensified, ultim ately destroying the civilization.

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Th e w ritten history o f Mayan culture (w h ich reached its peak betw een 200 and 900 c.e.) indicates that it may have declined because increasing m ilita­ rization (in clu din g siege w arfare) forced people into urban areas, interrupting agriculture that had fed the cities. Siege warfare also devastated countryside around the urban areas, stripping it o f trees (w h ich w ere used for firew ood ) and destroying crops. O nce soils w ere laid bare, heavy tropical rains leached them o f vital nutrients, further harm ing agriculture. Because the Maya are finally tellin g history to us in their ow n words, said Demarest, “It’s a very excitin g tim e in Maya studies. It’s a tim e for new editions o f all the textbooks” (W ilfo rd , 1991, 7-L). A ccordin g to D avid Freidel, an archaeologist at Southern M ethodist U niversity (D allas, T X ), “N o Egyptian tom b’s discovery was ever m ore exhilarating than the decipherm ent process underway today” (W ilfo rd , 1991, 7-L). For m ore on Mayan civilization, including their w ritin g system, see chapter 2.

The Incas’ W riting System D iscoveries regarding the w ritin g o f the Incas have paralleled those about the Maya. By the 1980s, after m ore than thirty years o f exam ining ancient Inca textiles, British-bom W illiam Burns was piecin g together a phonetic w ritin g system that was used in the Andes lon g before the Spanish conquest. In his b ook, Ancient Peru, Federico Kauffmann D oig w rote that Burns had made “the m ost revolutionary contribution to the study o f the w ritings o f ancient Peru. G iven the evidence in (Burns’ ] w ork, w e should change the idea that ancient Peru did n ot have an authentic w ritin g system, m eaning one w ith phonetic sym bols” (La República, 1991, 50). W ork in g as a textile engineer for a Peruvian com pany, Burns’s exam ination o f about four hundred rectangular patterns (called tocapus) on Inca textiles convinced him that he was actually dealing w ith a w ritten language, not ran­ d om designs. Burns also studied strings o f knots in variously colored cords (ca lled quipus) that had been previously acknow ledged as a system for counting. A ccord in g to Burns, the Inca quipus also u tilized the elem ents o f a language that seem ed to have been used w ith som e degree o f secrecy to describe historical events. Burns also found such a system referenced in the w ritings o f chroniclers w h o accom panied the Spanish conquistadors. He noted that the Sim i Runes (o r

Kicwa, as the Spanish called them ), the earliest works describing Peru’s ab­ origin al languages, contained dictionaries w ith w ords in them such as quillcanigui (to w rite), quellca (paper, letter, o r w ritin g) and quellcascacuna (th e letters). This w ritin g system, which utilized ten consonants and no vow els, cou ld have been used to construct m ore than 3 m illion words. Th e discovery o f phonetic w ritin g am ong the Incas, together w ith other w ork , indicates that human society in the Andes was probably as com plex as Egypt’s during the tim e o f the G reat Pyramids. Ruins have been found o f a warehouse believed to be between 3,500 and 3,800 years o ld that probably


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contained food stores for very large urban setdements. The building itself was m ore than 100 yards lon g and as tall as a present-day three-story building and is divided in to dozens o f individual compartments. The age o f this building places it roughly at the tim e the G reat Pyram ids w ere constructed. In other words, evidence is accum ulating that N ew W o rld civilization s evolved on a tim escale rather sim ilar to those o f Europe and Asia. In the Andes, archae­ ologists have been finding evidence o f stepped pyram ids and very large, U-shaped tem ples m ore than ten stories high. A N ew York Times report described discovery o f “bright, m u lti-colored friezes w ith jaguar and spider m otifs and broad plazas flanked by residential areas” (Stevens, 1989, C - l). M any o f the sites have been w ell preserved by the arid clim ate o f the area, so that “adobe friezes and sculptures that m ight have been destroyed in another clim ate are preserved alm ost intact, w ith their viv id reds, blues and blacks still showing. Seeds, pollen and anim al skeletons are n ot fossils, but real” (ib id ., C - l). Some o f these sites dated to 5,000 years ago, at least a thousand years earlier than ruins in Central Am erica, w hich pre­ viou sly had been thought to be the oldest in the hem isphere. The earliest sites seem to have had econom ies tied to the sea. Later, for unknown reasons, the settlem ents m oved upward in elevation along m ore than fifty river valleys along the coast o f Peru and sustained them selves on irrigated agriculture that flourished despite the arid, harsh highland clim ate, provid in g the basis fo r the later Incan civilization . The follo w in g elegy was w ritten in Quechua (th e Incan language) near the present-day site o f Q uito, Ecuador, during the conquest. It was titled “Ataw allpa W anuy,” m eaning “The Death o f Ataw allpa,” the Father Inca to w hom the poem refers, at the hands o f invading Spanish conquistadors. lik e a cloud, the wiraqochas, the w hite men, Dem anding gold, Invaded us. A fter seizing O ur Father Inca; A fter deceiving him , They put him to death. He w ith the heart o f a puma The adroitness o f a fox, They k illed As if he w ere a llama. H ail is falling, Lightning strikes, The sun is sinking; It is becom ing night. And in their terror,

Early Indigenous North America: An Overview


The elders And the people Have buried them selves alive. — Lara, n.d., 193-194

C A H O K IA : A N A N C IE N T T R A D IN G C E N T E R Arch aeology has been, piece by piece, provid in g us w ith a picture o f human ingenu ity in the Am ericas. W itness, for exam ple, the developm ent o f a m ajor trading center that was hom e to about 30,000 people at the confluence o f the M ississippi and M issouri Rivers roughly at the same tim e that London, Eng­ land, housed a sim ilar population. O ther urban centers in M esoam erica (see chapter 2 ) ranked am ong the largest cities o f the w orld many centuries before sustained contact w ith Europeans. O nly a few miles from present-day St. Louis, Missouri, one may find the ruins o f a ten-story ceremonial mound that covered fifteen acres, two acres more space than the base o f Egypt’s Great Pyramid. Archaeological inference has it that an ancient ruler called the Great Sun stood on top o f that mound and chanted ritually as the sun rose over Cahokia, a six-square-mile city containing 120 mounds, as w ell as dwellings and places o f business. This temple is believed to have been the center o f a city that served a trade network reaching from the present-day Dakotas to the G ulf o f M exico, roughly the European distance between Paris and Moscow. Cahokia was the largest o f several population centers that developed in the M ississippi V alley (archaeologists call them the M ississippian culture) around the year 1000, possibly influenced by the civilization s o f M esoam erica through the travels o f the pochtecas, w ide-ranging M esoam erican traders. The tem ple m ounds o f the M ississippians resem bled the constructs o f the civilization s to the south, as did their social structure, remnants o f w hich survived into the p eriod o f European contact am ong the Natchez. Cahokia and other cerem onial centers usually w ere situated at the center o f a larger cluster o f villages, housing from one hundred to nearly one thousand people each in orderly row s o f thatched-roof houses. The people o f this hin­ terland intensively farm ed com and tobacco, as w ell as several varieties o f squash and beans. They also hunted, fished, and gathered other foodstuffs. Doubtless, at least som e o f the food raised and gathered in these rural hin­ terlands was taxed for consum ption by the elites inside the cerem onial centers. European im m igrants lon g thought that Natives o f Am erica could not have constructed such a city. They attributed the m ins to the lost tribes o f Israel, the Phoenicians, the Vikings, or any number o f European peoples. This theory held that these-obviously enlightened O ld W o rld im m igrants had been slaughtered by the in dolen t savages (w h o must have been very patient as the im m igrants som ehow constructed a large urban area). The theory fin ely suited im m igrants from Europe, w ho had convinced them selves that they w ere putting to good use a continent that the N ative peoples w ere presum ed to have left idle.


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N ative Am erican intelligence built Cahokia, which functioned som ewhat as the Aztecs’ Tenochtitlan but probably w ithout as a heavy m ilitary and p olitical hand on surrounding peoples. The inhabitants o f Cahokia also understood basic geom etry and astronom y because here (and at other ruins in the eastern U nited States) the sun lines up w ith human constructions at the tw o equinoxes as it does at England’s Stonehenge. The city appears to have declined n ot by conquest but from environm ental exhaustion. The people o f Cahokia learned that farm ing a single crop (in this case, c o m ) on the same land year after year depletes the soil. They also harvested trees for cookin g fires and warmth much faster than nature could replace them, altering the topography o f their land, the same fate that b efell som e Mayan urban areas (W eatherford, 1991,14).

N A T IV E A M E R IC A N A G R IC U L T U R E Although popular im agination sometimes stereotypes them solely as nomadic hunters, many, if not most, o f N orth Am erica’s Native Am erican peoples prac­ ticed agriculture, the dom estication o f plants for human consumption. A t least h alf o f the earth’s staple vegetable foods, the m ost im portant being com and potatoes, w ere first cultivated by indigenous peoples in the lands Europeans came to call Am erica; these indigenous people often drew their sustenance from hunting, gathering, and agriculture. Agriculture was an established way o f life for many Native peoples in N orth Am erica. A t first sight, many im m igrating Euro­ peans did not recognize Native Am erican agriculture because it did not resemble their own. Indians did not domesticate draft animals and only rarely plow ed their fields. Sometimes, crops w ere grow n in small clearings am id a forest N ative Am ericans first cultivated many o f the foods taken for granted as everyday nourishm ent today. The m ain ingredients o f Crackeijacks (peanuts and p op corn ), for exam ple, are both indigenous to the Am ericas, as are all edible beans except horse beans and soybeans, all squashes (in clu din g pump­ kin s), Jerusalem artichokes, the “Irish” potato, the sweet potato, sunflowers, peppers, pineapples, waterm elons, cassava, bananas, strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, and pecans. C om was first dom esticated in the highlands o f M exico about 7,000 years ago from a w ild grass called teosinte. The first com cobs w ere the size o f a human thumbnail. As the use o f m aize (In dian c o m ) spread north and south from M exico, N ative peoples dom esticated hundreds o f varieties and bred them selectively so that the edible kernels grew in size and number. C om , the m ajor food source for several agricultural peoples across the continent, enjoyed a special spiritual significance. O ften, com and beans (w h ich grow w e ll together because the beans, a legum e, fix nitrogen in their roots) w ere said to maintain a spiritual union. Some peoples, such as the U ’ma’has (O m ahas) o f the eastern Great Plains; “sang up” their com through special rituals. In addition to “singing up the com ,” the Pueblos cleaned their storage bins before the harvest so the com w ou ld be happy when they brought it in. The

Early Indigenous North America: An Overview


Pawnees grew ten varieties o f corn, including one (called “holy” or “w onderful” c o m ) that was used on ly for religious purposes and never eaten. The Mandans had a C om Priest w ho officiated at rites during the grow in g season. Each stage o f the corn’s grow th was associated w ith particular songs and rituals, and spiritual attention was said to be as im portant to the com as proper water, sun, and fertilizer. Am ong the Zuni, a new born child was given an ear o f com at birth and endow ed w ith a “com name.” A n ear o f m aize was put in the place o f death as the “heart o f the deceased” and later used as seed com to begin the cycle o f life anew. T o Navajos, com was as sacred as human life. C om is intertw ined w ith the origin stories o f many N ative Am erican peo­ ples. The Pueblos say that com was brought to them by Blue C om W om an and W h ite C om M aiden, w ho em erged to the surface o f the earth from a great underground kiva, a sacred place. A t birth, each infant is given the seed from an ear o f com as a fetish to carry for life as a rem inder that the C om M others brought life to the Pueblos. The com fetish has a practical side as w ell: Should a harvest com pletely fail for drought or other reasons, the fetishes may be­ com e the seed com for the next crop. W h en colonists arrived in eastern N orth Am erica, many o f the N ative Am erican peoples they m et farmed com in large tracts. John W inthrop, gov­ ernor o f the Massachusetts Bay C olony, adm ired abandoned native cornfields and declared that G od had provided the epidem ics that k illed the people w ho had tended them as an act o f divine providence, clearing the land for the Puritans. N ative Am ericans taught the Puritans w hich seeds w ou ld grow in their territories. M ost o f the seeds that the Puritans had brought from England did not sprout when planted in the area that the colonists called N ew England. N ative Am erican agriculture has influenced eating habits around the w orld so com pletely that many people forget their culinary origins. Before the voyages o f Colum bus, Italian food that depends on tomato-based sauces was unknown. T h e Irish prepared their food w ithout potatoes. Europeans satisfied a sweet tooth w ithou t chocolate. C om was unknown outside the Am ericas. These crops w ere produced by experim entation o f many N ative Am erican cultures o ver thousands o f years. K now ledge o f plant life was passed along from gen­ eration to generation w ith other social know ledge, usually by the elder w om en o f a native tribe or nation. Th e production o f food is w oven into N ative Am erican spiritual life. Am ong the Iroquois and many other N ative peoples, for exam ple, festivals poin t to the ro le o f the “Three Sisters” (C o m , Squash, and Beans). The food com plex o f com , beans, and squash was transferred northward from M exico as a set o f rituals before it became the basis o f an agricultural system. By practicing the rituals, N ative Am ericans in the corn-grow ing areas o f N orth Am erica became farmers. C om requires a 160-day, frost-free grow in g season; the northern lim it o f co m cultivation also often marks the lim it o f intensive N ative agriculture. A gricu ltu re am ong N ative Am erican peoples enabled higher population densities than hunting and gathering. A ccordin g to W illiam Cronon, N ative


The Native Peoples o f North America

peoples in M aine w ho did not use widespread agriculture sustained an av­ erage density o f about 40 people per hundred square m iles, and indigenous peoples in southern N ew England, w ho raised crops (c o m being their m ajor staple), averaged 287 people (seven tim es as m any) on the same am ount o f land (C ron on , 1983, 42). Native Am erican agriculture often seemed disorderly to European eyes accus­ tomed to large monocultural fields com prising one crop. Native American fields showed evidence o f thought and practice, however. Samuel de Champlain de­ scribed how Natives planted com on small hills m ixed with beans o f several types. “W hen they grow up, they interlace with the com , which reaches to the height o f five to six feet; and they keep the ground free from weeds,” Champlain w rote (Cronon, 1983, 43). John W inthrop, describing Indian fields in Massachusetts within a generation o f the Pilgrims’ arrival, said that their agriculture “load(ed) the ground with as much as it w ill beare” (Cronon, 1983,44). Indian farming methods (usually the responsibility o f women, except when grow ing tobacco) not only kept weeds at a minimum, but also preserved soil moisture. M any N ative peoples offer their thanks to the plants as w e ll as the animals that they consume out o f a b elief that the essence o f life that animates human beings also is present in the entire w orld, even in the rocks under one’s feet. Lon g before a science o f “sustained yield ” forestry evolved, N ative Am erican peoples along the northwest coast harvested trees in ways that w ou ld ensure their continued grow th, associating such practices w ith a b elie f that trees are sentient beings. Some N ative Am ericans charted farm ing cycles through com plicated relationships w ith the sun and m oon. In addition to dom esti­ cating dozens o f food plants, they also harvested the w ild bounty o f the forests for hundreds o f herbs and other plants used to restore and maintain health. Although the Maya are know n for their tem ples in such places as Tikal, Copan, and Palenque, m ost Maya w ere com m oners (w h o supported a small elite that maintained the tem ples) and spent most o f their w orkin g lives cul­ tivating food, prin cipally com . M ost o f the Maya’s cerem onial centers w ere surrounded by earthworks. These artificial ramparts w ere not discovered by m odem archaeologists until they started using satellite images o f the land be­ cause today the earthworks often are submerged in ju n gle and thus are very d ifficu lt to locate from ground level. The earthworks included com plex irri­ gation channels and raised fields, often hewn horn reclaim ed swampland. The Maya dredged nutrient-rich soil from the bottom s o f the irrigation ditches to fertilize fields that they raised above the flood level o f the rainy season. The fields w ere so rich that they produced several crops a year to feed the peop le o f the urban cerem onial centers. The discovery o f com plex agricultural earthworks am ong the Maya caused scholars to question earlier assumptions that the M aya had practiced slashand-bum agriculture, w hich was said to have deforested the land, exhausted and eroded the topsoil, and played a role in the collapse o f the “classic” age o f the Maya. Today, the collapse o f the Maya is usually ascribed n ot to

Early Indigenous North America: An Overview


deforestation caused by agriculture but to ecological damage and social dis­ organization caused by dense populations and escalating warfare between citystates. N o t all o f the Maya’s earthworks w ere constructed to aid agriculture. Some ramparts w ere defensive, and as war became m ore com m on and deadly, the M aya’s com plex agricultural system suffered im m ensely. About the same tim e that Mayan civilization collapsed, the ancestors o f today’s Pueblos w ere building a corn-based culture in the Chaco Canyon o f present-day N ew M exico. The Pueblos o f the R io Grande are cultural and econom ic inheritors o f the M ogollon , Anasazi, and Hohokam com m unities to the west and southwest o f the upper R io Grande valley. C ultivation o f com was introduced into the area about 3000 b.c.e. About 2000 B.c.E., beans and squash w ere added. C otton later became another staple crop. About 2,000 years ago, irrigation was introduced to supplem ent dry farm­ in g in the same area. The Pueblos used brief, heavy precipitation to advantage b y constructing some o f their irrigation w orks at the bases o f steep cliffs and collected runoff. The residents o f this area constructed roads that often ran for hundreds o f m iles so that they could share food surpluses. I f one pueblo had a bad harvest, others, using the roads, w ou ld share what they had. The culti­ vation o f com in Chaco Canyon supported a civilization that constructed the largest m ultifam ily dw ellings in N orth Am erica before tw entieth century highrise apartments. Such a high degree o f agricultural organization supported a culture that dom inated the turquoise trade in the area. Turquoise was im ­ portant as a “liqu id asset,” a m edium o f trade. Pueblo centers, such as Pueblo Bonito, became centers o f trade, manufacturing, and cerem ony. The vital role o f water and irrigation in Pueblo agriculture is illustrated by the fact that the great classic Pueblo civilization s w ere destroyed by a drought so severe that not even ingenious water management could cope w ith it. In the thirteenth century c.e., m ost Pueblo settlem ents outside the R io Grande va lley had been abandoned after fifty years o f nearly rainless drought that destroyed their agricultural base. F ollow in g the Spanish colon ization o f N ew M exico, access to water became a crucial cause o f conflict. Land w ithout water is worthless in the arid South­ west. Paradoxically, the Pueblos in 1680 used the waters o f the R io Grande R iver to defeat the Spanish; they staged their revolt w h ile the river was flood in g to keep Spanish reinforcem ents out. Irrigation o f farmland was the key factor in Pueblo agricultural land use. T o plan, construct, and m aintain elaborate land systems, cooperation between several villages was crucial. Irrigation systems needed routine maintenance that rendered clans inefficient, so nonkinship associations w ere created to cope w ith such w ork. This organizational fram ework had other com m unity functions, and it revolved prim arily around the spiritual life o f the Pueblos. The basic rationale for the nonkinship associations was irrigation, however. Some Native peoples used fire to raze fields for farming and to drive game while hunting. These were not fires left to blaze out o f control, however; Navajos who used


The Native Peoples o f North America

H opi d w ellin g . (C o u rte sy o f the N eb raska State H isto rical S o cie ty P h otograp h C o lle ctio n s.)

range fires custom arily detailed h alf o f their hunting party to contain and control the flam es and to keep the blaze on the surface, w here the flam es w ould clear old brush so that new plant life could generate instead o f destroying the forest canopy. W hen Europeans first laid eyes on N orth Am erica, it w as m uch m ore densely forested than today. In som e places, the parklike topography o f m any eastern forests w as a result o f N ative A m erican peoples’ efforts to m anage plant and anim al life.

N A T IV E A M E R IC A N F A M IL Y L IF E E u rop ean A m erican im m igran ts to N o rth A m erica som etim es w e re con ­ fou n d ed b y w ays in w h ich N ative A m erican fam ily life d iffered fro m th eir ow n . F o r on e th in g, w o m en often w ere (as th ey co n tin u e to b e) in flu e n tia l in fam ily life as w e ll as the p o litica l and econ o m ic liv e s o f m any N ative A m erican p eo p les. G en d er rela tio n s th at som e E u rop ean s th o u gh t to be d evian t (su ch as th e berdache o r h o m o sexu al) w ere accep ted in som e N ative cu ltu re s. M any N ative A m erican s form ed an d b ro k e m arital b on d s m ore q u ic k ly a n d easily th an m ost E u rop ean A m erican s as w e ll. B onds o th er than m arriage a lso w ere h ig h ly sig n ifica n t fo r m any N ative A m erican s. C la n relatio n sh ip s w ere often

Early Indigenous North America: An Overview


so strong that (even today) relatives that Anglo-Am ericans call cousins are regarded as brothers and sisters. F ollow in g are capsule descriptions o f a few specific N ative Am erican fam ily structures and customs. For the m ost part, practices noted by historical ob­ servers are still evident today, along w ith m odifications com pelled by asso­ ciation w ith European Am erican cultures.

The Iroquois The Iroquois Confederacy is fundam entally a kinship state. The Iroquois are bound together by a clan and chieftain system that is supported by a sim ilar linguistic base. Through the hearth, w hich consists o f a m other and her children, w om en play a profound role in Iroquois p olitical life. Each hearth is part o f a w id er group called an otiianer, and tw o or m ore otiianer constitute a clan. The w ord otiianer refers to the fem ale heirs to the chieftainship titles o f the League, the fifty authorized names for the chiefs o f the Iroquois, passed through the fem ale side o f the otiianer. The otiianer w om en select one o f the m ales w ith in their group to fill a vacated seat in the League. Such a m atrilineal system was headed by a clan m other. A ll the sons and daughters o f a particular clan are related through uterine fam ilies. In this system , a husband lives w ith his w ife’s fam ily, and their children becom e m em bers o f the m other’s clan by right o f birth. Through m atrilineal descent, the Iroquois form cohesive p olitical groups that have little to do w ith where p eop le live o r from w hich villa ge the hearths originate. Th e oldest daughter o f the head o f a clan som etim es, on the judgm ent o f the clan, succeeds her m other at the m other’s death. A ll authority springs from the people o f the various clans that make up a nation. The w om en w ho head these clans appoint the male delegates and deputies w ho speak for the clans at tribal m eetings. A fter consultation w ith in the clan, issues and questions are form ulated and subsequently debated in council. The Iroquois are linked to each other by their clan system, in w hich each person has fam ily relations w ith every other nation o f the federation. I f a M o­ hawk o f the Turtle Clan had to travel, he or she w ould be cared for by Turtles in each other nation: the Oneidas, the Onondagas, the Cayugas, and the Senecas. Iroquois p olitical philosophy is rooted in the concept that all life is unified spiritu ally w ith the natural environm ent and other forces surrounding people. T h e Iroquois believe that the spiritual pow er o f one person is lim ited but may be enhanced when com bined w ith other individuals in a hearth, otiianer, or clan. W h en ever a person dies, by either natural causes or force, through m urder o r war, this pow er is dim inished. T o m aintain the strength o f the group, fam­ ilies in the past often replaced the dead by adopting captives o f war. This prac­ tice o f keeping clans at fu ll strength through natural increase or adoption ensured the pow er and durability o f the m atrilineal system as w e ll as the kin­ ship state.


The Native Peoples o f North America Childrearing is an important way to instill political philosophy in the youth o f the

Iroquois. The ideal Iroquois personality demonstrates not only loyalty to the group, but also independence and autonomy. Iroquois people were trained to enter a society in which power is shared between male and female, young and old, more so than in European American society. European society emphasizes dominance and command structures; Iroquois society is more interested in collaborative behavior.

The Wyandots (H urons) N ative Am ericans livin g near the eastern edge o f Lake Huron in present-day O ntario called them selves W yandots. The French called them Hurons, a French reference to the bristles on a boar’s head, probably because the first W yandots they m et w ore their hair in a style that today is called a M ohawk. As w ith the Iroquois, the W yandot clans— Porcupine, Snake, Deer, Beaver, Hawk, Turtle, Bear, and W o lf— create fam ilial affinity across the boundaries o f the four confederated W yandot nations. M em bers o f each clan can trace their ancestry to a com m on origin through the fem ale line. In each village, clan members elect a c ivil ch ief and a war chief. The titles are carried through the fem ale fam ily line but are bestowed on men, a practice again resem bling that o f the Iroquois. Although the titles are hereditary in that sense, they do n ot pass from head to head o f a particular fam ily as in m ost European monarchies. As am ong the Iroquois, econom ic roles am ong the W yandots are deter­ m ined by gender. W om en usually tend gardens, gather plants from the for­ ests, and manage the home. M en participate in agriculture m ainly by clearing fields for w om en to w ork and contribute to subsistence by hunting. M en are the main visible participants in trade and diplom acy, but w om en contribute trade goods and political advice, usually behind the scenes.

The Apaches Traditional Apache society is centered around groups o f tw o to six m atrilocal extended fam ilies, called gotas. M em bers o f the gota live together, and members o f the differen t households cooperate in the pursuit o f gam e and raising o f crops. A gota is usually led by a headman, w ho assumes his status over several years by general consensus o f the extended fam ilies in the gota. The headman in som e cases inherits the title o f “ true chief.” He w ill n ot retain the position, how ever, unless he displays leadership. I f no qualified headm en are raised through inheritance, a consensus m ay form in favor o f another leader, w ho w ill be inform ally “elected” by members o f the gota. Headm en are invariably m ale, but w om en exercise influence as political advisers. T h eir society and kinship lineages maintain the Apaches’ m atrilineal society. A headman may w ield considerable influence, but on ly i f the people in the extended fam ilies are w illin g to fo llo w his advice, which includes detailed lectures on how to hunt, the techniques o f agriculture, and w ho should w ork

Early Indigenous North America: An Overview


w ith whom . He also coordinates labor for hunting and foraging, advises parties engaged in disputes, and offers advice regarding w ho should m arry whom . A t tim es, the w ife o f a ch ief may becom e, in effect, a subchief. As a ch ief ages, he is charged n ot on ly w ith m aintaining exem plary behavior, but also w ith iden ti­ fyin g young m en w ho may becom e leaders in the future. He is expected to tutor younger men in the responsibilities o f leadership. A ch ief is also charged w ith aidin g the poor, often by coordinating distribution o f donations from m ore affluent members o f the gota. I f tw o or m ore gotas engage in conflict, their headm en are charged w ith resolving the dispute. Each traditional Apache is a member not only o f a goto, but also o f one o f sixtytw o matrilineal clans that overlap individual setdements. Members o f one’s clan (and, in some cases, others identified as being close to it) help each other in survival tasks and usually do not intermarry. Such a system resembles that o f many peoples in the eastern woodlands (e.g., Cherokees, Wyandots, and Iroquois).

The Crees Before challenges from the outside forced them to convene a central council, the Crees, w ho live in present-day Quebec, had no unified political organiza­ tion as am ong the Iroquois and W yandots (H u ron s) to the south. Even the in dividu al bands or hunting parties had little o r no organized p olitical struc­ ture. Such a lack o f structure is som etim es called atomistic by scholars; it is the closest that actual N ative governance com es to the stereotype o f the “noble savage.” Instead o f a form al council, Cree bands, which w ere groups o f fam ilies, in form ally select a wise elderly man, usually the head o f a fam ily, as a source o f advice. He exercises inform al, lim ited influence. As w ith the sachems o f the m ore organized farm ing and hunting peoples to the south, these inform al leaders usually do n ot relish the exercise o f pow er, probably because m ost o f the people w ho seek their advice resent any attempt to dictate. Cree life is marked on ly rarely by m ultifam ily celebrations or rituals. Social life and social con trol are usually a function o f the extended fam ily. Outside the fam ily, a Cree m ight appear am bivalent o r reticent, usually out o f respect fo r others’ autonom y. People w ho transgress social norms o f interpersonal beh avior became targets o f gossip or sorcery o f a type that was used w id ely across the continent. Although their society is fam ily based, the Crees recog­ n ize no clan o r other kinship system between different bands. The society thus does not have the interconnections between settlem ents sim ilar to those o ffered by the clans o f the Iroquois, W yandots, Cherokees, and others.

Northwest Coast Peoples N ative Am ericans w ho live along the northwest coast o f N orth Am erica also d o n ot m aintain the strong clan systems that characterize many other N ative

The Native Peoples o f North America


Am erican societies. Instead, they have a very class-conscious social system in which fam ily econom ic status means a great deal. Northw est coast peoples from the Alaska panhandle to northern C alifornia traditionally recognize three social classes that seem as im perishable as the red cedar from which they constructed their lodges: nobility, com m oners, and slaves. The n obility includes chiefs and their closest relatives; the eldest son is the fam ily head. He, his fam ily, and a few associates live in the rear right-hand com er o f the fam ily longhouse, w ith people o f low er status on each side. These people are said to be “under the arm” o f the chief. The next-highestranking chief, usually a younger brother o f the head chief, invariably occupies the rear left-hand com er o f the house w ith his fam ily. He, too, has a number o f people under the arm. The other tw o com ers are traditionally occupied by lesser chiefs’ fam ilies.

N O R S E E X P L O R A T IO N O F N O R T H A M E R IC A Before Columbus’s voyages on both sides o f the Atlantic, sporadic contacts left a residue o f m yth transmitted from generation to generation in oral his­ tories. Am erican Indians from N ova Scotia to M exico told their children about pale-skinned, bearded strangers w ho had arrived from the direction o f the rising sun. Such myths played a large part in Cortes’s conquest o f the Aztecs, who w ere expecting the return o f men w ho looked lik e him. The natives o f H aiti told Columbus they expected the return o f w hite men; som e Mayan chants speak o f visits by bearded strangers. The Lenape (D elaw are) told M oravian m issionaries that they had lon g awaited the return o f divin e visitors from the East. These prem onitions, am ong others, suggest that the peoples o f the O ld and N ew W orlds com m unicated w ith each other on a sporadic basis centuries before Columbus. In the realm o f what critic Stephen W illiam s calls “fantastic archaeology” (W illiam s, 1991), theories establishing European origins for N ative Am erican peoples have lon g historiographic pedigrees. Evidence that meets the strictest standards o f professional archaeology is scant in support o f any o f them. O ne exception is the pre-Colum bian landfall o f the Vikings. N orse sagas (o ra l histories) and scattered archaeological evidence indicate that, beginning about 1000

c.E., V ik in g explorers w ho had earlier settled Iceland and Green­

land conducted several expeditions along the East Coast o f N orth Am erica. A t three locations— New foundland as w ell as possibly Cape C od and the James R iver o f V irginia— some evidence exists o f small-scale, short-lived V ik in g set­ tlem ent. According to the sagas, one V ikin g (th e w ord is from the N orw egian vifes, for fjord d w eller), Thorfinn Karlsefni, explored 3,000 m iles o f N orth Am erican coast in the early eleventh century. The technical capability o f the V ikings to reach N orth Am erica is n ot in doubt. They w ere capable seafarers and built sturdy longships capable o f easily reaching Iceland from N orw ay, a distance much greater than the voyage

Early Indigenous North America: An Overview


from Greenland to N orth Am erica. In 1893, Magnus Andersen, a Norw egian, sailed a reconstructed V ikin g ship horn N orw ay to Newfoundland. V ikings may have follow ed the St. Lawrence R iver and G reat Lakes as far inland as the vicin ity o f Kensington, M innesota, where in 1898 a large stone was found inscribed w ith Norse runic w ritin g that described the ambush and k illin g o f ten men. The runes have been tested as weathered (as w ou ld be exp ected ) but authentic. The N orse may have been look in g for new sources o f furs after the German Hanseatic League captured their trade in Russian furs during 1360 (K eh oe, 2002, 217). Indisputable p ro o f o f V ik in g landings in N orth Am erica have been found on the northern tip o f New foundland. These discoveries began w ith the explora­ tions o f H elge Ingstad, at L’Anse aux M eadows, about 1960. The site has since been excavated and part o f it turned into a public park. The evidence there is conclusive— righ t dow n to such things as a soapstone spindle w horl, nails, and even the remains o f an iron sm elter, along w ith hundreds o f other artifacts, m any o f which have been carbon-14 dated to about 1000 c.e. M ost other supposed V ik in g visits to N orth Am erica (on e in the unlikely venue o f Tuscon, A rizon a) still reside in the realm o f archaeological speculation. A ccordin g to Frederick Poh l (1 97 2), a science fiction novelist w ho also has w ritten three books on Norse exploration o f N orth Am erica, eighty-nine locations o f Norse landfall have been asserted in N orth Am erica. Some o f these locations are as far apart as present-day M innesota and N ew Orleans, Louisiana. Piecing together evidence found in the V iking sagas, it is lik ely that about 985 c.e. the V iking sailor Bjam i H eijulfsson sighted land (probably Cape C od ) after

several navigational errors led him astray on a voyage to Greenland. He finally reached his destination by sailing northeastward along the N orth Am erican coast. In Greenland, his story o f three land sightings to the southwest excited the im agination o f L e if Erickson, w ho interview ed Bjam i and purchased his ship. A ccordin g to the N orse sagas that w ere told (w h ich have been w ritten and translated into English) after his voyages, Erickson made landfall at three places. He called the first “H elluland,” probably Baffin Island; the second was “M arkland,” possibly Labrador or Newfoundland. The third landing, where Erickson established a sm all w inter settlem ent, may have been on Cape Cod, near Follin s Pond. The sagas tell o f their ship being beached and stored, a house b ein g built, and salmon caught that w ere larger than any the V ikings had ever seen. Although the V ikin g setdem ent in Newfoundland lasted several years and le ft behind many artifacts, the visit to Cape C od seems to have been m ore o f a tem porary stop, leaving litd e evidence that survived ensuing centuries. Thorvald Erickson, a brother o f L eif, set out on his ow n voyage o f discovery s h o itly afterward, in 1007 C.E. His plan was to explore the coast north and south from Cape Cod. A lon g the way, Thorvald’s thirty-m an crew seized and k illed eigh t Am erican Indians (th ey called them Skraelings, m eaning “screamers,” after their w ar-w hoops). Thorvald later was k illed in revenge for those mur­ ders. His crew sailed back to Greenland w ithout him.


The Native Peoples o f North America

A few years later, in 1010 C.E., Thorfinn Karlsefni sailed from Iceland to L e ifs settlement on Cape Cod, after which he probably explored the Atlantic Coast southward to the James River o f present-day Virginia. The trip took four summers. The first winter was spent along the Hudson River o f N ew York State, where the Vikings were surprised by the depth o f snowfall for a place so Ear south. The second winter was spent along the James River o f Virginia. The sagas tell o f a voyage up the river to the rapids, far enough upstream to have seen the peaks o f the Blue Ridge Mountains. A t one point, according to the sagas, Karlsefni’s crew was attacked by Native Americans, who used a large hornet’s nest as a weapon. In all, the Karlsefni expedition probably logged about3,000 miles along the coast and adjoining rivers. L e if Erickson died about 1025 C.E., and his Labrador setdement withered, but not before Karlsefni and Gudrid, his w ife, had given birth to a son they called Snorri, the first child believed to have been b om in Am erica o f European parents. A fter that, voyages continued from tim e to tim e through the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. K ing Magnus o f N orw ay and Sweden authorized the Paul Knutson expedition, w hich sailed in 1355 to explore conditions in Greenland and Vinland. Know ledge o f N orth Am erica was apparendy still being recalled in Iceland during 1477, when a young Italian sailor, Cristoforo Colom bo, visited and became excited by sailors’ gossip o f land to the south and west o f Greenland.

T H E P E R ILS O F M IL K IN G B U F F A L O Attem pts to reconcile new inform ation w ith old theories can have com ical effects in academia. T o provide one sm all but poignant exam ple, a debate arose som e years ago am ong archaeologists regarding the origins o f tuberculosis in Am erica. Excavations o f N ative bones indicated that an epidem ic o f the disease had begun on Canada’s East Coast about the year 1000. Evidence indicated that the disease had spread rapidly dow n the St. Lawrence V alley, then overland as far as the present-day states o f N orth and South Dakota. One way to explain this outbreak would have been to acknowledge that L eif Erickson and other Vikings had introduced i t For archaeologists who were not prepared to acknowledge European contact before Columbus, another explanation had to be found. One alternative that was debated fora time had it that Native people had caught a mutated form o f tuberculosis from buffalo. H ow had the buffalo passed the disease? One faction maintained that the Native people had caught it by m ilking the buffalo. This fiction now had to explain why there is no reference in Native oral histories to the use o f buffalo milk. Even the notion o f “milking* a w ild animal seemed a little silly to anyone who had ever contemplated it (Grinde, 1991,36).

D IS P U T E S R E G A R D IN G N A T IV E P O P U L A T IO N D E N S IT Y As w ith theories o f N ative Am erican origins, questions regarding the number o f peoples w ho lived in the Am ericas p rior to sustained contact w ith Europeans

Early Indigenous North America: An Overview


p rovoked a liv e ly debate during the last third o f the tw entieth century. This debate in volves tw o very differen t ways o f look in g at historical and archaeo­ logical evidence. O ne side in the population debate restricts itself to strict interpretation o f the evidence at hand. Another poin t o f view accepts the probability that observers (usually o f European ancestry) recorded and gath­ ered evidence from on ly a fraction o f phenom ena that actually occurred in the Am ericas. The fact that disease was a m ajor cause o f N ative depopulation is not at issue; both sides in this debate agree on the im portance o f disease. Disease ravaged N ative Am ericans to such a degree that many early European im m i­ grants (w h o at the tim e had no understanding o f h ow pathogens spread dis­ ease) thought they had com e to a land that had been em ptied for them by their G od. The debate is over the number o f native people w ho died. There also seems to be little disagreem ent on indications that the plagues loosed on the Am ericas b y contact w ith the O ld W o rld have n ot ended, even today. F or exam ple, betw een 1988 and 1990,15 percent o f the Yanom am i o f Brazil, w ho had on ly lim ited contact w ith people o f European descent until this tim e, died o f m alaria, influenza, and even the com m on cold (W righ t, 199 2,1 4). H enry F. Dobyns has estim ated that about 16 m illion N ative Am ericans lived in N orth Am erica north o f M esoam erica, the area populated by the Aztecs and other Central Am erican N ative nations, at the tim e o f Columbus’s first voyage (1983, 42). Because population densities w ere much greater in Central Am erica and along the Andes, an estimate o f 16 m illion north o f M esoam erica indicates to Dobyns that 90 to 112 m illion native people lived in the Am ericas before the year 1500, m aking som e parts o f the N ew W o rld as densely populated at the tim e as m any areas o f Europe and Asia. Sm allpox created such chaos in the Incan em pire that Francisco Pizzaro was able to seize an em pire as large and populous as Spain and Italy com bined w ith a force o f on ly 168 men (C . C. Mann, 2002, 4 3). By the tim e im ported diseases w ere done w ith N ative Am ericans, according to Dobyns, 95 percent o f them had died, the w orst dem ographic collapse in recorded human history (ib id ., 4 3). A ll across Am erica, “Languages, prayers, hopes, habits, and dreams, entire ways o f life hissed away lik e steam” (ib id ., 46). O ne o f the deadliest vectors o f disease was pigs brought across the ocean by explorers such as Hernando de Soto to provide members o f their expeditions w ith food on the hoof. The pigs m ultiplied rapidly and spread European diseases to deer, turkeys, and eventually N ative human beings as w ell. De Soto recorded having seen m any w ell-populated villages; explorers a century later found forests largely bereft o f people. Accordin g to Charles C. Mann, w ritin g in the Atlantic Monthly (2 00 2), “The Coosa city-states, in W estern G eorgia, and the Caddoan-speaking civilization centered on the Texas-Arkansas bor­ der, disintegrated soon after de Soto appeared___ The Caddoan population fe ll from about 200,000 to about 8,500, a drop o f 96 per cent. In d ie eigh­ teenth century the tally shrank further, to 1,400” (p . 4 5).


The Native Peoples o f North America

Dobyns’s population estimates have risen over tim e from his in itial estim ate o f 12.3 m illion in N orth Am erica north o f the R io Grande (1 9 6 6 ,3 9 3 ). Schol­ ars other than Dobyns agree w ith his hem ispheric estimate o f about 100 m illion (Borah, 1976; C ook and Simpson, 1948). In the meantim e, the Smithsonian Institution, under pressure from rising population estimates elsewhere, raised its ow n estimate o f aboriginal population, doubling the population north o f the R io Grande to 2 m illion from h alf that number. Dobyns’s estimate o f indigenous population at contact represents a radical departure from many earlier estimates, which depended for the m ost part on actual historical and archaeological evidence o f the dead, assuming that EuroAm erican scholars (and others, such as m issionaries) w ere capable o f counting native people w ho had in som e cases been dead for several centuries. A l­ though anthropologists usually date the first attempt at measuring N ative populations to H enry Schoolcraft (du rin g the 1830s), Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia (published in several editions during the 1780s) contained an extensive ( i f fragm entary) N ative Am erican “census.” Jefferson did not attem pt to count the number o f N ative people inhabiting all o f N orth Am erica during his tim e— no one then even knew how large the continent m ight be, not to m ention the number o f people inhabiting it. Jefferson prudently settled for estimates o f the N ative nations bordering the early U nited States. The first “systematic” count was com piled during the early tw entieth cen­ tury by James M ooney, w ho estim ated that 1,133,000 people had lived in the land area now occupied by the U nited States when Colum bus made landfall. M ooney calculated the 1907 N ative population in the same area at 406,000. D ivid in g the country into regions, he calculated the percentage o f population loss between 1492 and 1900 at between 61 percent (in the N orth Atlantic states) and 93 percent in C alifornia (M oon ey, 1910, and M ooney, 1928). Subsequent to the w ork o f M ooney, the m ost w id ely follow ed population estimates w ere provided beginning in 1939 by A. L. Kroeber in his Cultural and Natural Areas o f Native North America. By Kroeber’s determ ination, on ly about 900,000 native people had occupied N orth Am erica north o f M exico before sustained European contact. A ccordin g to Ann F. Ram enofsky (1 9 8 7 ,9 ), K roeber did not consider disease a factor in depopulation because he feared that such an emphasis w ou ld lead to an overestim ation o f precontact popu­ lation sizes. One may speculate whether this was a case o f deliberate scientific oversight or sim ple academic prudence, but the fact was that after nearly a h alf century o f authority for his conservative figures (a tim e when one could appear “radical” by arguing that perhaps 2 m illion native people occupied the area now occupied by the U nited States in 1492), a challenge was lik ely to arise. Dobyns, w ho did consider disease (som e say he overem phasized it), stepped into that role along w ith others to initiate the present debate. D efending his pre-Colum bian population estimates, Dobyns argued that “absence o f evidence does not mean absence o f phenom enon,” especially when w ritten records are scanty, as in Am erica before or just after sustained

Early Indigenous North America: An Overview


European contact (D obyns, 1989, 286). Dobyns’s position is that European epidem ic diseases invaded a relatively disease-free environm ent in the Am er­ icas w ith am azing rapidity, first in M esoam erica (via the Spanish), arriving in eastern N orth Am erica along native trade routes lon g before English and French setders arrived. The fact that Cartier observed the deaths o f fifty natives in the village o f Stadacona in 1535 indicates to Dobyns that many m ore may have died in other villages that Cartier never saw. G iven lack o f evidence, conclusions must be drawn from what little remains, according to Dobyns, w ho extended his ideas to other continents as w ell: “Lack o f Chinese records o f influenza does not necessarily mean that the Chinese did not suffer from in ­ fluenza; an epidem ic could have gone unrecorded, o r records o f it may not have survived” (ib id ., 296). Critics o f Dobyns’s estimates assert that “there is still litde certain knowledge about pre-1500 population levels,” and that “on a historiographic level, Dobyns has been accused o f misusing a few scraps o f documentary evidence w e have in an effort to sustain his argument for widespread sixteenth-century epidemics” (Snow and Lanphear, 1989,299). T o the critics o f Dobyns, the fact that fifty native people were recorded as dying at Stadacona means just that: Fifty natives died, no more, no fewer. T o Dobyns, however, such an argument “minimizes Native Am erican population magnitude and social structural com plexity” (1989,289). Although Dean Snow and Kim M . Lanphear, both strident critics o f Dobyns, maintained that “there w ere often buffer zones between population concentra­ tions o r isolates that w ould have im peded the spread o f diseases” (1989, 299) Dobyns replied that the practice o f trade, war, diplom acy, and other dem o­ graphic movements obliterated such “buffer zones” and aided in the spread o f disease (1989, 291). Snow and Lanphear also asserted that the sparseness o f native populations in North Am erica itself im peded the spread o f disease, a point o f view that does not account for the speed w ith which sm allpox and other infections spread once history recorded them as having reached a particular area. Dobyns not on ly denied that buffer zones existed, but also m aintained that sm allpox was the m ost virulent o f several diseases to devastate N ew W o rld populations. The others, roughly in descending order o f deadliness, included measles, influenza, bubonic plague, diphtheria, typhus, cholera, and scarlet fever (1983, 11-24). Accordin g to Dobyns (1983): The frontier o f European / Euro-American settlement in North America was not a zone o f interaction between people o f European background and vacant land, nor was it a region where initial farm colonization achieved any “higher” use o f the land as measured in human population density. It was actually an interethnic frontier o f biological, social, and economic interchange between Native Am er­ icans and Europeans and/or Euroamericans. (p. 43)

Th e m ost im portant point to Snow and Lanphear (1 9 8 9 ), how ever, was “w h ere one puts the burden o f p ro o f in this argument, or, for that matter, in


The Native Peoples o f North America

any argument o f this kind___ W e cannot allow ourselves to be tricked into assuming the burden o f disproving assertions for which there is no evidence” (p . 299). G iven the evidence they had in hand, how ever, even Snow and Lanphear acknow ledged (1988) that between 66 and 98 percent o f the N ative peoples inhabiting areas o f the northeastern United States died in epidem ics between roughly 1600 and 1650. The W estern Abenaki, for exam ple, are said to have declined from 12,000 to 250 (9 8 percent), the Massachusett (in clu din g the Narragansett) from 44,000 to 6,400 (86 percent), the M ohawk from 8,100 to 2,000 (75 percent), and the Eastern Abenaki from 13,800 to 3,000 (78 per­ cent) (p . 24). G iven the number o f people k illed and the lengthy period during w hich they have died, the w orld has probably not again seen such continuous human m isery over such a large area. Tenochtitlan, the Aztecs’ capital city (w h ich occupied the site o f present-day M exico C ity ), struck H em an Cortes as a w orld class m etropolis when he first looked out over it shortly after the year 1500. The A ztec m etropolis is estimated to have contained 250,000 people at a tim e when Rom e, Seville, and Paris housed about 150,000 each. Before he destroyed it, Cortes stared at the splendor o f the Aztecs’ capital and, sounding som ething lik e a country bum pkin, he called Tenochtitlan the m ost beautiful city in the w orld. Spanish chronicler Bem al D iaz d el Castillo stood atop a great tem ple in the A ztec capital and described causeways eight paces w ide, teem ing w ith thou­ sands o f Aztecs, crossing lakes and channels dotted by convoys o f canoes. H e said that Spanish soldiers w ho had been to Rom e o r Constantinople told D iaz that “ for convenience, regularity and population, they have never seen the lik e” (M cD ow ell, 1980, 753). The com parisons o f life am ong the Aztecs w ith what the Spanish knew o f Europe acquire some substance as one realizes that, in 1492, the British Isles w ere home to on ly about 5 m illion people, and Spain’s population has been estim ated at 8 m illion (W righ t, 1992, 11). Even alm ost three centuries later, at the tim e o f the Am erican R evolution, the largest cities along the eastern seaboard o f the new United States— Boston, N ew York, and Philadelphia— housed no m ore than roughly 50,000 people each. W ith in a decade o f Cortes’s first visit, Tenochtitlan was a ruin. Ten years after the A ztec ruler M ochtezum a had hailed C ones w ith gifts o f flow ers and gold (and had paid for such hospitality w ith his life ), epidem ics o f sm allpox and other diseases carried by the conquistadors had k illed at least h alf the Aztecs. One o f the A ztec chroniclers w ho survived w rote the follow in g: “A l­ m ost the w hole population suffered from racking coughs and painful, burning sores” (P ortilla, 1962, 132). The plague follow ed the Spanish conquest as it spread in roughly concentric circles from the islands o f Hispanola and Cuba to the mainland o f presentday M exico. Bartolom e de las Casas, the Roman Catholic priest w ho ques­ tioned Spanish treatment o f the natives, said that when the first visitors found

Early Indigenous North America: An Overview


it, H ispanola was a beehive o f people. W ith in one lifetim e, the forests w ere silent. W ith in thirty years o f Cortes’s arrival in M exico, the N ative popula­ tion had fallen from about 25 m illion to roughly 6 m illion. A fter Spanish authorities set lim its on m oney wagers in the N ew W orld , soldiers in Panama w ere said to have made bets w ith Indian lives instead. N ative people w ho w ere n ot k illed outright by disease died slow ly as slaves under the conquerors’ lash. Las Casas (11542) 1974), w ho had arrived in the N ew W o rld ten years after Colum bus, described one form o f human servitude, pearl diving: “It is im ­ possible to continue for lon g divin g into the cold water and h olding the breath fo r minutes at a tim e . . . sun rise to sun set, day after day. Th ey die spitting b lo o d . . . look in g lik e sea w olves or monsters o f another species” (p . 15). O ther conquistadors disem bow eled native children. Accordin g to Las Casas, “They cut them to pieces as if dealing w ith sheep in a slaughterhouse. Th ey laid bets as to w ho, w ith one stroke o f a sword, could cut o ff his head o r spill his entrails w ith a single stroke o f the pike” (ib id ., 43). A century later, entering N orth Am erica, the Puritans often w ondered w hy the lands on w hich they settled, which otherw ise seemed so bountiful, had been em ptied o f their N ative Am erican inhabitants. Four years before the M ayflow er landed, a plague o f sm allpox had swept through N ative villages alon g the coast o f the area that the im m igrants renam ed N ew England. The disease may have been brought ashore by visitin g European fisherm en, w ho had been exp loitin g the rich coastal banks for many years. John W in th rop adm ired abandoned N ative cornfields and declared that G od had em ptied the land for his fello w voyagers as an act o f divine providence. As European im m igrants spread westward, N ative peoples learned to fear the sight o f the honeybee. These “English flies” usually colon ized areas about a hundred m iles in advance o f the frontier, and the first sight o f them came to be regarded as a harbinger o f death. The virulence o f the plagues from Europe m ay be d ifficu lt to com prehend in our tim e. Even in Europe, where im m u­ nities had developed to many o f the m ost serious diseases, one in seven people d ied in many sm allpox epidem ics. H alf the children b om in Europe during Colum bus’s life never reached the age o f fifteen years. L ife expectancy on both sides o f the Atlantic averaged thirty-five years as Europeans made sustained contact w ith the Am ericas. Regardless o f the number and density o f human population in N orth Am erica before contact, outside a few specific areas (such as Mayan and A ztec cities, as w ell as C ahokia), population density was not great enough to dev­ astate the environm ent on a large scale. Instead, early European observers m arveled at the natural bounty o f Am erica, o f V irginia sturgeon six to nine feet lon g, o f M ississippi catfish that w eighed m ore than 100 pounds, and Massachusetts oysters nine inches across, as w ell as lobsters that w eighed 20 pounds. The im m igrants gawked at flights o f passenger pigeons that som e­ tim es nearly darkened the sky and speculated that a squirrel could travel from M aine to N ew Orleans w ithou t touching the ground. Bison ranged as far


The Native Peoples o f North America

east as V irgin ia— G eorge W ashington observed a few o f them and w ondered whether they could be crossbred w ith European cattle. Regardless o f the dispute regarding population size and density before the devastation o f European diseases, it is radier w id ely agreed that N ative popu­ lations in N orth Am erica bottom ed at about h alf a m illion in the early twentieth century (using M ooney’s figures), and that they have been increasing since. F or the United States, statistics contained in the 1990 census indicated that roughly 2 m illion people listed them selves as N ative Am erican, a figure that nearly doubled in the 2000 U.S. census. Such a measure may not be as precise as it sounds because the census allow s people to categorize them selves racially. A lso, for the first tim e, the 2000 census was designed to allow people to report m ore than one ethnicity, a m ajor source o f the num erical increase for N ative Am ericans.

TH E E C O N O M IC C O N S E Q U E N C E S O F D IS E A S E W hen English explorer G eorge Vancouver sailed into Puget Sound in 1793, he m et Indian people w ith pockm arked faces and found human bones and sku lk scattered along the beach, grim rem inders o f an earlier epidem ic. Such scenes w ere repeated coast to coast in N orth Am erica during the surge o f European and European Am erican exploration and settlem ent. Epidem ics o f sm allpox, measles, bubonic plague, influenza, typhus, scarlet fever, and many other European diseases sharply curtailed N ative Am ericans’ econom ic productivity, generating hunger and famine. Birth rates fell, and many survivors allayed their losses w ith alcoholic beverages, further reducing N ative societies’ vibrancy and econom ic productivity. Societies that had been constructed on kinship ties dissolved as large parts o f m any fam ilies w ere w iped out. Survivors faced the w orld w ithou t fam ily elders’ help, and tradi­ tional N ative healing practices w ere useless against European-im ported path­ ogens. The ravages o f disease underm ined the traditional authority o f N ative Am erican healers, w ho found their practices useless. H istorian C olin C allow ay described the widespread im pact o f epidem ics on N ative Am erican political, econom ic, and social institutions (1990): The devastating impact o f disease cannot be measured only in numerical losses. Epidemics left social and economic chaos in their wake and caused immeasurable spiritual and psychological damage. K iller diseases tore holes in the fabric o f In­ dian societies held together by extensive networks o f kinship and reciprocity, disrupted time-honored cycles o f hunting, planting, and fishing, discouraged social and ceremonial gatherings, and drained confidence in the old certainties o f life and the shamans who mediated with the spirit w orld, (p. 39)

The arrival o f European pathogens affected Native Am erican tribes and na­ tions differendy, depending on the econom ic conduct o f their lives. Sedentary

Early Indigenous North America: An Overview


groups were hit the hardest, and m igratory groups (such as the Cheyennes after about 1800) suffered less intensely, at least at first, because they m oved from place to place, leaving their wastes (w hich drew disease-carrying flies and other insects) behind. M igratory peoples also left behind water that they may have contaminated, usually exchanging it for fresh supplies. The Cheyennes were quite conscious o f water contamination and always set up camp so that their horses drank and defecated downstream o f human occupants. The Cheyennes consciously fought the spread o f disease by breaking camp often and scattering into small family groups so that one infected fam ily would not bring disease to an entire band. Although the worst o f the bubonic plague killed one in three Europeans, continuing waves o f epidem ics nearly obliterated many Native Am erican soci­ eties and econom ies w ithin a few years o f the arrival o f Europeans in any given area. Plagues o f various pathogens— sm allpox, influenza, measles, and others— k illed nearly all o f the W estern Abenakis and at least h alf the Mohawks. A disease frontier spread across N orth Am erica about a generation, generally, before European Am erican settlers, traders, and miners reached a given area. The heritage o f suffering brought by im ported diseases le ft its m ark on N ative Am erica w e ll into the tw entieth century. As late as 1955, the annual N ative Am erican death rate from gastrointestinal illnesses was 15.4 per 100,000, com pared w ith 3.6 in the U nited States as a w hole. The death rate from tuber­ culosis was 57.9 per 100,000 in 1955, com pared to a nationw ide average o f 8.4. From alcoholism , the rate was at least 60 per 100,000, com pared to a national average o f 8.1. D uring the last h alf o f the tw entieth century, som e diseases declined dra­ m atically am ong N ative Am ericans. The death rate from gastrointestinal dis­ eases fe ll from 15.4 per 100,000 in 1955 to 4.2 in 1983; the national average in 1983 was 2.8. F or tuberculosis, the 1983 rate was 3.3 per annual deaths per 100,000, dow n from 57.9 in 1955; the national rate fe ll from 8.4 per 100,000 in 1955 to 0.5 in 1983. F or alcoholism , the N ative Am erican rate o f at least 60 p er 100,000 in 1955 declined to about 28 in 1983.

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Boyd, Julian P., ed. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. Vol. 20. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1982. Calloway, Colin. The Western Abenakis of Vermont, 1600-1800: War, Migration, and the Survival of an Indian People. Norman: University o f Oklahoma Press, 1990. Calloway, Colin. New Worlds fo r A ll: Indians, Europeans, and the Remaking of Early America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997. Colden, Cadwallader. The History of the Five Nations of Canada. N ew York: Amster­ dam, (1765) 1902. Converse, Harriet Maxwell (Ya-ie-wa-noh). Myths and Legends of the New York State Iro­ quois. Edited by Arthur Caswell Parker. New York State Museum Bulletin 125. Education Department Bulletin no. 437. Albany: University o f the State o f New York, 1908:31-36. Cook, Sherburne F., and Leslie B. Simpson. The Population o f Central M exico in the Sixteenth Century. In Ibero-Americana 31. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University o f California Press, 1948. Corkran, David H. The Cherokee Frontier: Conflict and Survival, 1740-1762. Norman: University o f Oklahoma Press, 1962. Complanter, Jesse J. Legends of the Longhouse. Edited by W illiam G. Spittal. Ohsweken, Ontario, Canada: Iroqrafts, [1938] 1992. Cronon, W illiam . Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England. N ew York: H ill and W ang, 1983. Deloria, Vine, Jr. Cod Is Red. Golden, CO: North American Press, 1992. Demarest, Arthur A. The Violent Saga o f a Mayan Kingdom. National Geographic (February 1993):95-111. Dillehay, Thomas D. The Settlement of the Americas: A New Prehistory. N ew York: Basic Books, 2000. Dillehay, Thomas D. Palaeoanthropology: Tracking the First Americans. Nature 425 (September 4, 2003):23-24. Dobyns, Henry F. Estimating Aboriginal American Population. Current Anthropology 7(O ctober 1966):395-412. Dobyns, Henry F. Their Number Became Thinned. Knoxville: University o f Tennessee Press, 1983. Dobyns, Henry F. More M ethodological Perspectives on Historical Demography. Ethnohistory 36:3(Summer 1989):286-289. Dozier, Edward P. The Pueblo Indians of North America. N ew York: Holt, Rinehart and W inston, 1970. Fenton, W illiam N ., and John Gulick, eds. Symposium on Cherokee and Iroquois Cul­ ture. Smithsonian Institution Bureau o f Ethnology Bulletin 180. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing O ffice, 1961. Frazier, Joseph B. Humans in Oregon 10,000 Years Ago? Associated Press via [email protected], Novem ber 25, 2002. Goebel, Ted, Michael R. Waters, and Margarita Dikova. The Archaeology o f Ushki Lake, Kamchatka, and the Pleistocene Peopling o f the Americas. Science 301 (July 25, 2003):501-505. Gonzalez-José, Rolando, Antonio Gonzalez-Martin, M iquel Hernandez, Hector M. Pucciarelli, Marina Sardi, Alfonso Rosales, and Silvina Van der Molen. Craniometric Evidence for Palaeoamerican Survival in Baja California. Nature 425(September 4, 2003):62-65.

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Grinde, Donald A., Jr. The Reburial o f American Indian Remains and Funerary Objects. Northeast Indian Quarterly 8:2(Summer 1991):35-38. Grinde, Donald A., Jr., and Bruce E. Johansen. Ecocide of Native America: Environ­ mental Destruction of Indian Lands and Peoples. Santa Fe, NM : Clear Light, 1995. Heckenberger, Michael J., Afukaka Kuikuro, Urissap Tabata Kuikuro, J. Christian Russell, Morgan Schmidt, Carlos Fausto, and Bruna Franchetto. Amazonia 1492: Pristine Forest or Cultural Parkland? Science 301(September 19, 2003): 1710-1714. Henderson, John F. The World of the Ancient Maya. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981. Hewitt, John Napoleon Brinton, ed. Iroquoian Cosmology, First Part. In Twenty-First Annual

Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, 1899-1900. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1903:127-339. Hewitt, John Napoleon Brinton, ed. Iroquoian Cosmology, Second Part.” In FortyThird Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, 1925-1926. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing O ffice, 1928: 453-819. Hughes, J. Donald. American Indian Ecology. El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1983. Iverson, Peter. Taking Care o f the Earth and Sky. In Alvin Josephy, ed., America in 1492: The World of the Indian Peoples Before the Arrival of Columbus. New York: Knopf, 1992,85-118. Johansen, Bruce E. Wampum. In D.L. Birchfield, ed., The Encyclopedia of North American Indians. Vol. 10. N ew York: Marshall Cavendish, 1997: 1352-1353. Johansen, Bruce E. Great W hite Hope? Kennewick Man: The Facts, the Fantasies, and the Stakes. Native Americas 16:l(Spring, 1999):36. Johansen, Bruce E., and Barbara Alice Mann, eds. Encyclopedia of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy). W estport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000. Kehoe, A lice Beck. North American Indians: A Comprehensive Account. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1981. Kehoe, A lice Beck. America before the European Invasions. London: Longman, 2002. Kroeber, A. L. Cultural and Natural Areas of Native North America. University o f California Publications in American Archeology and Ethnology 38. Berkeley: Uni­ versity o f California, 1939. Lara, Jesus. La Poesía Quechua. Cochabamba, Bolivia: Imprenta Universitaria, N.d., 193-194. Cited in W right, 1992, 31. La República, Lima, Peru. Reprinted in World Press Review, September 1991, 50. Las Casas, Bartolome de. The Devastation of the Indies. N ew York: Seabury Press, (1542) 1974: 15. Mann, Barbara A. The Fire at Onondaga: Wampum as Proto-writing. Akwesasne Notes N ew Series l:l(S p rin g 1995):40-48. Mann, Charles C. 1491: America Before Columbus Was M ore Sophisticated and M ore Populous than W e Have Ever Thought— and a M ore Livable Place Than Europe. Atlantic Monthly March 2002, 41-53. M cD ow ell, Bart. The Aztecs. National Geographic December 1980, 704-752. M cKee, Jesse O., and Jon A. Schlenker. The Choctaws: Cultural Evolution of a Native American Tribe. Jackson: University Press o f Mississippi, 1980. Meggers, Betty J., Eduardo S. Brondizio, Michael J. Heckenberger, Carlos Fausto, and Bruna Franchetto. Revisiting Amazonia Circa 1492 [Letter to the Editor). Science 302(Decem ber 19, 2003):2067-2070.


The Native Peoples o f North America

Mexican Skull May Explain Indigenous Origins. Reuters, December 5, 2002. Available at tmpl=story&u=/nm/20021205/sc_nm/science_ m exico_skull_dc_l. The Mohawk Creation Story. Akwesasne Notes 21.5 (Spring 1989):32-29. Mooney, J. Population. In F. W . Hodge, ed., Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau o f American Ethnology Bulletin 30(part 2). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing O ffice, 1910: 28-37. Mooney, James. The Aboriginal Population of North America North of Mexico. Edited by J. R. Swanton. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections 80(7). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing O ffice,1928. M oore, John H. The Cheyennes. O xford, U.K.: Blackwell, 1997. Moore, Oliver. Pre-Mayan W ritten Language Found in M exico. Toronto Globe and Mail, December 5, 2002. Available at http://www.globeandmail.coin/servlet/ArticleNews/ front/RTGAM/20021205/w langl205/Front/homeBN/breakingnews. Morison, Patricia. W isdom o f the Aztecs, London Financial Times. Reprinted in Notes on the Arts, World Press Review, January 1993, 54. Parker, Arthur C. The Code of Handsome Lake, the Seneca Prophet. N ew York State Museum Bulletin 163, Education Department Bulletin No. 530, Novem ber 1,1912. Albany: University o f the State o f N ew York, 1913. Peopling the Americas: A New Site to Debate. National Geographic (Geographica), September 1992. Pitulko, V. V., P. A. Nikolsky, E. Yu. Girya, A. E. Basilyan, V. E. Tumskoy, S. A. Koulakov, S. N. Astakhov, E. Yu. Pavlova, and M. A. Anisim ov. The Yana RHS Site: Humans in the Arctic Before the Last Glacial Maximum. Science 303(January 2, 2004):52-56. Pohl, Frederick Julius. The Viking Settlements of North America. N ew York: Potter, 1972. Pohl, Mary E. D., Kevin O. Pope, and Christopher von Nagy. Olm ec Origins o f Mesoamerican W riting. Science 298(December 6, 2002):1984-1987. Portilla, Miguel Leon. The Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest o f Mexico. Boston: Beacon Press, 1962. Ramenofsky, Ann F. Vectors of Death: The Archeology of European Contact. Albu­ querque: University o f N ew M exico Press, 1987. Recer, Paul. Researchers Find Evidence o f Sophisticated, Pre-Columbia C ivilization in the Amazon Basin.” Associated Press, September 19, 2003, in LEXIS. Recer, Paul. Evidence Found o f Arctic Hunters Living in Siberia Near N ew W orld 30,000 Years Ago.” Associated Press, January 2, 2004, in LEXIS. Sando, Joe S. The Pueblo Indians. San Francisco: Indian Historian Press, 1976. Scheie, Linda. The Owl, Shield, and Flint Blade. Natural History, November 1991,7-11. Sherzer, Joel. A Richness o f Voices. In Alvin Joesphy, ed., America in 1492: The World of the Indian Peoples Before the Arrival of Columbus. New York: Knopf, 1992: 251-276. Slayman, Andrew L. A Battle O ver Bones. Archaeology 50:1 (January/February 1997):16-23. Snow, Dean R., and Kim M. Lanphear. European Contact and Indian Depopulation in the Northeast: The Tim ing o f the First Epidemics. Ethnohistory 35:l(W in ter 1988):16-24. Snow, Dean R., and Kim M. Lanphear. "M ore M ethodological Perspectives” : A Rejoinder to Dobyns. Ethnohistory 36:3 (Summer 1989):299-300.

Early Indigenous North America: An O verview


Stannard, David E. American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World. N ew York: Oxford University Press, 1992. Stevens, W illiam K. Andean Culture Found to Be as O ld as the Great Pyramids. New York Times, October 3, 1989, C -l. Stokstad, Erik. Oldest N ew W orld W riting Suggests Olm ec Innovation. Science 298 (December 6, 2002):1872-1874. Stokstad, Erik. Amazon Archaeology: “Pristine” Forest Teem ed W ith People. Science 301(September 19, 2003):1645-1646. Stone, Richard. Late Date for Siberian Site Challenges Bering Pathway. Science 301(July 25, 2003):450-451. Stone, Richard. A Surprising Survival Story in the Siberian Arctic. Science 303 (January 2, 2004):33. Thomas, David Hurst. Skull Wars: Kennewick Man, Archaeology, and the Battle fo r Native American Identity. N ew York: Basic Books/Peter N. Nevraumont, 2000. Tozzer, Alfred, ed. Landa’s Relación de las Cosas de Yucatan. Harvard University Pea­ body Museum o f Archaeology and Ethnology Papers, Vol. 18, p. 169. Cited in Henderson, 1981, 88. Trigger, Bruce G. Children of the Aataentsic: A History of the Huron People. Montreal: M cGill-Queen’s University Press, 1976. W allace, Anthony F. C. The Death and Rebirth of the Seneca N ew York: Vintage, 1972. W alton, Marsha, and Michael Coren. Archaeologists Put Humans In North America 50,000Years Ago. Cable News Network, Novem ber 17,2004. Available at http^/www. 1/17/carolina.dig/index.html. Weatherford,Jack. Native Roots: How the Indians Enriched America New York: Crown, 1991. W ilfo rd , John Noble. Did W arfare Doom the Mayas’ Ecology? New York Times News Service. In Miami Herald, December 22, 1991, 7-L. W illiam s, Stephen. Fantastic Archaeology: The Wild Side of North American Prehistory. Philadelphia: University o f Pennsylvania Press, 1991. W righ t, Ronald. Stolen Continents: The Americas Through Indian Eyes Since 1492. Boston: Houghton-M ifflin, 1992.

Chapter 2


I n

present-day M exico and Central Am erica ( Mesoamerica, G reek for M id ­

dle A m erica), com plex civilization s began to organize at about the tim e that the Roman Em pire was expanding across Europe, northern A frica, and Palestine. These civilization s evolved over the centuries in differen t locations around tw o centers. O ne was the highlands o f present-day Guatemala into the scrublands o f Yucatan, where the Maya flourished. In and around the V alley o f M exico, the second center, a series o f city-states had been rising and fallin g for m ore than 1,500 years when, in 1519, Cortes m et the Aztecs, the last, largest, and grandest civiliza tion o f them all. Both o f these centers also form ed the nucleus o f an agricultural, m ercantile, and adm inistrative network, w ith com m ercial influence often radiating several hundred m iles from the center through a thickly populated agricultural hin­ terland. The rise o f each center was brought about by a w ell-defined elite purportedly acting under the sponsorship and direction o f a pantheon o f gods. A s archaeologists learn m ore about the cultures that preceded the Aztecs, a pattern seems to be em erging: M ore than once, the elites o f one center may have escaped popular unrest by m oving to other areas and starting the cycle over again. Thus, a sim ilar (but in some ways m ore technologically advanced) civiliza tion rose in another area as the old city was reclaim ed by nature.

U R B A N B E G IN N IN G S I N M E S O A M E R IC A The M esoam erican elite tradition probably began w ith the Olm ecs, w ho constructed towns as centers o f p olitically integrated societies and containing tem ples, elite residences, stone sculptures, and elaborate tombs. The O lm ec civiliza tion , which preceded the Mayan as w ell as the chain o f civilization s that led to the Aztecs in the V alley o f M exico, started organizing com plex societies


The Native Peoples o f North America

based on the rich w ild food resources o f the southern G u lf Coast o f present-day M exico shortly after 1500 b.c.e. In the art, rituals, and other lifew ays o f the Olm ecs, one sees the later Mayan, Toltec, and A ztec traditions em erging. By 1400 b.c.e., the first large O lm ec settlem ent had risen at a site today called San Lorenzo, southwest o f the Tuxtla M ountains near M exico’s southern G u lf Coast. The settlem ent contained large public buildings and stone monuments. Evidence, including the probable number o f residential sites, indicates that San Lorenzo was a sm all city in terms o f population but a very large one in terms o f econom ic, political, and religious pow er across a sizable hinterland (M . D. Coe, 1968). The elite o f San Lorenzo supervised projects in volvin g earth m oving o f m onumental scope, in the hundreds o f m illions o f cubic feet. Thousand o f tons o f basalt used in construct monuments w ere quarried in the Tuxtla M oun­ tains. The site also has yielded im ported obsidian, m ica, and other m aterials from many hundreds o f m iles away that were used for jew elry, ritual objects, and other prized possessions. The O lm ecs o f San Lorenzo also probably im ­ ported other item s, such as foodstuffs, that left little archaeological evidence. Judging from the number o f im plem ents recovered for grinding corn, it was probably the staple food o f the com m on people at San Lorenzo; the people also lik ely ate turtles and fish; the elite occasionally dined on young puppies raised especially for that purpose. The O lm ecs did not use m etal tools, but they did fashion iron ore in to shining disks that the elite w ore as ornaments. About 1000 b.c.e., San Lorenzo was surpassed in size by another O lm ec settlem ent, La Venta, east o f San Lorenzo, near the G u lf Coast. Although La Venta’s public and cerem onial areas w ere larger, its culture was sim ilar to that o f San Lorenzo. La Venta reached its peak between 1000 and 750 b.c.e. O ther O lm ec sites have been iden tified but, as o f this w ritin g, not w id ely excavated. The Olm ecs did not occupy M esoam erica alone; other peoples also w ere establishing organized societies w ith agricultural bases at about the same tim e. In the V alley o f Oaxaca, for exam ple, a dozen settlem ents began between 1300 and 1600 b.c.e. Later, at about 750 b.c.e., as La Venta declined, the Oaxacan capitol o f M onte Alban included a civic center w ith large pyram ids and surrounded by rich agricultural land. O lm ec sculptures also may contain the earliest hints o f hieroglyphic w ritin g o f a form that later was adopted by the Mayas and Aztecs. (See details on w ritin g systems in chapter 1.) As the Olm ecs’ civilization declined after 600

B.C.E., other groups rose and

fell at other sites, each enjoying b rief authority over an agricultural hinter­ land. Each in turn organized its society under a religious and m ilitary elite, w ith social classes, rituals, and art form s that continued the tradition that began w ith the Olm ecs and ended w ith the Aztecs. M ore than a century before the birth o f Christ, the first true sizable urban areas in N orth Am erica arose in the V alley o f M exico, at Teotihuacan, northeast o f the vast lake on which the Aztecs w ou ld later build Tenochtitlan (w h ich

Mexico and M esoamerica


translates to place o f the prickly-pear cactus). Another urban area arose at C uicuilco, in the southwestern part o f the V alley o f M exico, near the M exico N ational U niversity’s present-day campus, on the southern side o f M exico City. C u icu ilco probably was the larger city in the beginning, before a volcanic eruption and lava flow ruined its site (and hinterland) and sent much o f its population to Teotihuacan, which sw elled in size from 20,000 to 30,000 people b y about 100 c.e. to as many as 200,000 by 700 c .E. (M a x w ell, 1978, 52). W ith an estim ated population o f 200,000, Teotihuacan (m eaning place o f the gods in Nahuatl, the A ztec language) was one o f the largest— i f not the largest— urban areas on earth at that tim e, nearly equal in population to the A ztec capital o f Tenochtitlan 700 years later. Cities such as London and Paris did not reach that size until after Europe’s A ge o f E xploration began. Teotihuacan covered tw enty square kilom eters (o r eight square m iles) and was thick w ith cerem onial buildings and m ore than 2,000 large apartment blocks, som e o f which func­ tioned as w orkplaces as w ell as homes. Some o f them specialized in the man­ ufacture o f obsidian blades; others manufactured pottery. About 150 ceram ic shops have been iden tified in Teotihuacan, w hich produced sturdy cookin g ware for com m on people as w ell as intricately designed vessels for the w ellto-do. In other shops, artisans fashioned the elaborate feathered costumes w orn by the elite during cerem onial occasions. Artisans carved hundreds o f large monum ents from basalt blocks, ranging in size up to 40 tons each; these por­ trayed secular and supernatural rulers and events. Archaeological evidence indicates w ell-developed societies w ith m ilitary and religious elites supported by intensive agriculture in an area that was probably much m ore lush than the capital city o f M exico appears today. D uring the last 500 years, vegetation has been stripped by overgrazing sheep im ported from Europe. In the tw entieth century, urban air pollu tion also has stunted the grow th o f vegetation in the V alley o f M exico. Teotihuacan cast a trading net as far as the region today occupied by Guatemala C ity, where in about 500 c.e. colonists from the V alley o f M exico transform ed the Mayan tow n o f Kaminaljuyu into an outpost. The rulers o f Teotihuacan had practical m otives: The Mayan town lay on the route to their m ain sources o f cocoa and jade. The town also was situated near routes that con trolled access to one o f N orth Am erica’s richest obsidian mines. N o ruler o f the tim e could field an effective arm y w ithout access to obsidian for weaponry. A t about this tim e, 350 obsidian workshops in Teotihuacan em ployed thousands o f people. Obsidian tools and weapons had becom e the city’s main export. The Aztecs w orked earlier civilization s into their ow n m ythologized history, w h ich m aintained that theirs was the last o f five epochs during which the uni­ verse had been destroyed and reborn. O ne o f the p rior epochs was said to have occurred in Teotihuacan; its influence passed to the Aztecs through Tula, the capital o f the Toltecs, which reached its height shortly after 1000 c.e. al­ though the Aztecs did not originate in the V alley o f M exico, they w ere in effect absorbed by the 1,500-year-old urban tradition o f the area after they arrived


The Native Peoples o f North America

and conquered the descendants o f Teotihuacan and other cities. The Aztecs’ Great Tem ple contained an area (tw o so-called red tem ples) that affected Teotihuacan-style symbols, including architecture. Accordin g to A ztec myth, the gods m et at Teotihuacan to recreate the sun, the m oon, and the rest o f the universe: W hen it was still night, W hen there was no day, W hen there was no light, Th ey m et, The gods convened, There at Teotihuacan Th ey said Th ey spoke am ong themselves: “Com e here, oh Gods! W h o w ill take upon him self, W h o w ill take charge o f m aking days, o f m aking light? — Leon -Portillo, 1972, 23-24 Richard A. D iehl described Teotihuacan as follow s: A truly cosmopolitan center whose inhabitants included fanners, craftsmen, priests, merchants, warriors, government officials, architects, laborers, and en­ claves o f resident foreigners. Most o f the people lived in single-story rectangular masonry apartment houses sheltering more than 100 residents [each], (1981,24)

Teotihuacan was divided in to four quadrants by tw o m ajor causeways, on w hich fronted m ost o f the im portant secular and religious buildings o f the city. One o f these causeways, called the Street o f the Dead, ran roughly north to south and was the site o f most o f these larger buildings. The tw o avenues intersected at an array o f tem ples, including one dedicated to Q uetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent w ho ab o became an A ztec god. This area also included tem ples to the sun and the m oon (also sim ilar to A ztec cosm ology), w hich w ere tw o o f the largest pyram idal mounds erected anywhere in the w orld to that tim e. The Sun Pyram id measured 200 meters on its sides and 60 m eters high. The plazas, parks, and causeways o f the cerem onial center com prised a paved area roughly three m iles lon g and tw o m iles w ide. The city o f Teotihuacan reached the height o f its pow er about 500 c.e. and declined by roughly 800

C.E., after which other cities com peted for pow er. A t

about 800 c.e., or just a century before the widespread decline o f Mayan cul­ ture to the south (see the section “The Maya: M ystery and Speculation” b elo w ), Teotihuacan was destroyed by enem ies from the outside w ho set fires

Mexico and M esoamerica


in the city. Teotihuacan’s sizable population fled in large numbers, leav­ in g on ly sm all agricultural com m unities. One o f these, Cholula, was located near m odem Puebla, east o f the V alley o f M exico. It had been a satellite city o f Teotihuacan but survived lon g after the larger city’s dem ise, w ell into the Spanish conquest. Xochicalco, in the low lands near present-day M orelos, collapsed tw o centuries after Teotihuacan. The best-known urban successor to Teotihuacan was Tula, north o f present-day M exico C ity and the capital o f the Toltecs, whose culture the Aztecs both ransacked and m ythologized w ith tales o f h ow the Toltecs had grow n m ultihued cotton and giant ears o f com . Tula later was sacked by the invading Aztecs, whose popular history held that the Toltecs had becom e decadent, drunken into a stupor on pulque, a M exican alcoh olic beverage. Before the Toltecs’ Tula reached its height in the V alley o f M exico, the Maya spread a diffuse array o f city-states to the south. T h ey shared several cultural attributes w ith their northern neighbors, w hich indicated copious trade and travel betw een the tw o areas.

TH E M A Y A : M Y S T E R Y A N D S P E C U L A T IO N T o m any o f the scholars w ho have studied them, the M aya rem ain a subject o f m ystery and speculation. Scholars w ho had not deciphered their w ritten language once speculated that the M aya at their height had been relatively peaceful— perhaps playing, in im agination, Greeks to the Aztecs’ Rome. H is­ tory displayed in the Maya’s ow n w ritin g now portrays them as very w arlike (Dem arest, 1993, 9 5-111). A t the height o f their civilization , about 600 to 900 C.E., the M aya dom i­ nated m ost o f what is today southern M exico, Guatemala, and Belize. T h eir civiliza tion was not an organized em pire in the Inca, Roman, o r A ztec sense but a collection o f independent city-states. The ramparts o f fortresslike Tulum look ed out over the ragged surf o f the Yucatan shore, gateway to a netw ork o f trading routes that connected such Mayan cities as Copan, Tikal, Chichen Itza, and Palenque. Maya cities thrived in natural surroundings o f great contrast, from the flat, hot, and hum id lowlands o f Yucatan, to rain forests further inland, to highland valleys that can be as arid as northern M exico, and to higher mountains, many volcanic, that are thick w ith forests. F or fifteen centuries, the M aya made som e o f the m ost inhospitable jungles in the w orld bloom w ith “ the sunbeams o f the gods.” C om was the dietary staple o f a civiliza tion o f substantial monuments that in many respects was a m atch for any in the Eastern Hem isphere. In m ore than 100 cities, Mayan artists produced som e o f the m ost exquisite art in the w orld o f their tim e, and M ayan scientists calculated solar and lunar eclipses w ith an accuracy that w ou ld n ot be exceeded until m odem times. The Mayan calendar is a few m inutes a year m ore accurate than the Roman calendar used today but was vastly m ore com plex, requiring a priest trained in its use to establish the date. Th e M aya also calculated the path o f Venus and w ere the first to develop a

C h ich en Itza scene. (C ou rtesy o f the L ib ra ry o f C on gress.)

Mexico and M esoamerica


concept o f negative numbers in mathematics. Yet, by the tim e the first Spanish explorers reached M esoam erica, Mayan civilization was crum bling, probably from incessant warfare and ecological exhaustion.

Origins o f the Maya The origins o f the Maya are not know n to contem porary scholars, aside from speculation that aspects o f their culture may have been borrow ed from the Olm ecs, w ho may have spoken a language related to one or m ore o f the Mayan dialects. Some evidence exists that the M aya may have begun the building o f their civiliza tion in Kam inaljuya, w hich is today part o f Guatemala C ity, before 1100

B.C.E. by the European calendar. In 1936, the Carnegie Institution began

excavating the largest “preclassic” Mayan site discovered to that tim e. These discoveries (and later ones) showed that the Maya w ere predom inantly urban w ith a com plex agricultural infrastructure supporting their cities. These early ruins (datin g to roughly 800 to 300 b.c.e.) also showed evidence o f hiero­ glyph ic w ritin g that w ou ld later open even m ore detail o f the Mayan w orld view and daily life. Scholars unraveling the Maya’s w ritin g are discovering that their efforts have been com plicated by the fact that Maya scribes apparently liked to play tricks w ith words: puns, hom onym s (tw o words w ith the same sound but d ifferen t m eanings), verbal allusions, metaphors, and other w ordplay. From the highlands o f Guatemala, the Maya may have m oved into the low lands o f Peten and Yucatan (in present-day M ex ico) at about the tim e Christ was b om in the O ld W orld. In the M exican state o f Chiapas, Mayan monuments have been found that date to 36 b.c.e.; the precision o f this date, and others, is m ade possible by the Maya’s ow n calendar, w hich can be m atched w ith ours. T h e earliest such monuments at T ikal date to about 300 c.e. A Mayan city know n as Dzibilchaltun, excavated by E. W yllys Andrews IV o f Tulane U niversity (N e w Orleans, L A ) beginning in 1956, was occupied con­ tinuously between 500 b.c.e. and the tim e o f the Spanish conquest. A t its height, this city was probably hom e to at least 40,000 people, a population roughly equal to that o f Alexandria, Egypt, at about the same tim e (La Fay, 1975, 733-734). Scholars also found evidence o f intensive agriculture prac­ ticed on terraced fields and platform s raised to escape seasonal flooding. “These features indicate that the Maya practiced perm anent and intensive agricul­ ture capable o f supporting a large population,” said Professor B. L. Turner II o f the U niversity o f Oklahom a (N orm an, O K ). “ I f you could have flow n over the Peten at the height o f the [M ayan] Classic Period, you w ou ld have found som ething akin to central O hio today” (La Fay, 1975, 733). Th e m ajor Mayan urban areas often battled w ith each other for dom inance, even developin g their ow n language dialects and art forms. Slow ly, scholars are bu ilding a history o f Mayan civilization that may som eday rival that o f Egypt and other O ld W o rld civilizations. The description o f this history has faced hazards since the first contact; som e o f the Spanish friars knew h ow to


The Native Peoples o f North America

A M ayan tem ple in T ikal. (C o u rte sy o f the L ibrary o f C on gress.)

read M ayan h ieroglyp h s b u t left no gu id es to later generations. T h e Spaniard A ven d an o p ro d u ced a d ictio n ary and gram m ar o f M ayan language w h ile liv in g am on g the Y u catec d u rin g the eigh teen th cen tu ry, b u t all co p ies o f it have b een lost. T h e M aya b u ilt a civ iliza tio n on an ep ic scale. T ik a l, the largest o f the M aya’s m an y cities, h o u sin g ab o u t 100,000 p eo p le, ram bled over 23 square m iles at ab ou t the sam e tim e that im perial Rom e, w h ic h w as m ore d en sely pop u lated , co vered o n ly a third as m u ch area. D ep ictio n s o f early rulers in U axactu n and T ik a l in dicate that before the birth o f C h rist in the O ld W o rld , M ayan citystates w ere raid in g each other for captives. Later d ep iction s sh o w w arriors h o ld in g o bsidian-edged clu b s and spear throw ers. In one d ep iction , G reat Jaguar Paw , a ru ler at T ik a l, is sh o w n celebratin g a m ilitary v icto ry w ith a b lo o d lettin g from h is genitals. Som e o f the stellae (ro ck carvin gs u sed to d ep ict h istorical events) w ere erected o n top o f h um an skeletons. T h e stellae also con tain in d icatio n s that som e o f the M ayan cities traded w ith T eo tih u acan in the V a lley o f M exico; it is lik e ly that the residents o f M ex ico traded h ig h ­ land p ro d u cts (su ch as obsidian blades) w ith the low lan d M aya for cotton , trop ical bird feathers, sh ells, and other lo w lan d item s. A rch aeo lo gists have excavated o n ly a fraction o f w h a t the M aya b u ilt d u r­ in g their classic period. In the M exican state o f C h iapas, for exam p le, b y 1990 archaeologists had u nearthed b etw een tw o an d three d o zen stru ctu res from the th ic k ly w o o d e d h ills at Palenque. T h is co llectio n o f b u ild in gs m ake a d istin ctive site, b u t th ey are o n ly a fraction o f the stru ctu res that stretch for seven m iles.

Mexico and M esoamerica


A fter its founding about 1000 b.c.e., Copan grew into “the most artistically em bellished o f all the great Maya sites” (Fash and Fash, 1990, 28). T o archae­ ologists, the inscriptions on stellae and altars as w ell as temple panels, stairways, and portable objects used in everyday life com prise an open history book that allow s the life o f Copan to emerge. From them, contem porary scholars are reconstructing dynastic lineages as w ell as the lives o f ordinary Maya. During the height o f their civilization, the Maya surrounded themselves w ith decoration, on their buildings as w ell as their bodies. The Maya etched tattoos into their bodies and painted them a variety o f colors. Priests w ere painted blue, warriors in black and red, and prisoners in black and w hite stripes. Some Maya filed their teeth and distended their pierced earlobes, hanging earplugs in them. M any also pierced the septum o f their noses and inserted carved jew elry. Th ey flattened their foreheads and worked to make themselves cross-eyed, a standard o f beauty. Feathers also conveyed beauty, the Maya w ore the plumage o f birds bred in aviaries for their most gorgeous plumes. According to W illiam Brandon, “men w ore brilliant litd e obsidian m irrors hanging in their lon g hair” (1961, 32). Bishop D iego de Landa’s Relación de Las Cosas de Yucatan was w ritten in 1556 during the first years o f the Spanish conquest w ith a sense o f awe at the civiliza tion o f the Maya, rem arking on the large number and grand nature o f their buildings, at a civilization so exotic that Spaniards at hom e w ou ld think he was fabricating a tall tale. Today, scholars often find that looters have ransacked new ly discovered Mayan sites. The scholars are pursuing know ledge as the looters seek high prices paid in illic it art markets the w orld over. One such site, uncovered at R io Usumacinta during 1946, contained m ulticolored frescoes that described a battle in the m iddle o f the eighth century in detail, from the armed con flict itself to the ritual sacrifice o f prisoners afterward. A chronicler described w arriors in animal pelts and feathers: They came over the hill with the first rays o f the rising sun, filling the air with their shouts and war cries, displaying their banners___ It was terrible, this descent o f the Quiche. They advanced rapidly in columns, down to the edge o f the river. The clash was horrible, the screams and shouts. The din o f flutes, drums and conchshell trumpets resounded as the Quiche chiefs vainly sought to save themselves by divine magic. Soon they were hurled back, and many died. A great number were taken prisoner, along w ith their chiefs. (La Fay, 1975,735-736)

The Numerical Precision o f the Maya Th e M aya developed rem arkable precision in tim ekeeping and astronom y because it served their theology; unlike the developm ent o f secular science in Europe (w h ich often conflicted w ith religious b eliefs), religion and science w ere one and the same am ong the Maya. T h eir num eric system u tilized a


The Native Peoples o f North America

G rego ria Pat, a M aya Indian. (C o u rte sy o f the L ibrary o f C on gress.)

system o f d o ts and bars and w as based o n 20 (the sum o f fingers and toes) rather than 10 (the su m o f fingers), w h ic h w as used in E urope. A lso, u n lik e E u rop ean practice, the M aya gen erally d id n ot d istin gu ish am ong past, present, an d future; the sam e w ord , kin, describ ed a ll three

Mexico and M esoamerica


concepts in their language. Tim e was said to be circular. Events experienced in the past w ere expected to happen again, in a cycle. A person w ho knew the past was believed to be able to predict the future. Success in predicting such natural phenom ena as eclipses was said to be divine p ro o f o f this. Tim e was seen as one im m utable stream, stretching back to a date corresponding to August 11,3114

B.C.E., the first date on the Maya’s “Lon g count” calendar. A fter 5,200 years, the M aya’s Long Count calendar com es to a close on the w inter solstice in 2012. Th is is not the end o f tim e, how ever; the Maya tradition has counted three Long Counts before this one and w ill begin counting again after it. M ayan religious beliefs and rituals seem sim ilar to those o f the V alley o f M exico, w hich is m ore than circumstantial. The headdresses o f priests and oth er high officials som etim es included sym bols sim ilar to those used in Teotihuacan; traders from the V alley o f M exico ranged into Mayan country very early, and culture traveled w ith them. As w ith the Aztecs, Mayan reli­ gious life was dom inated by a pantheon o f gods serving various purposes: Itzam na, the Lord o f L ife; Ah Kin, the sun god; A h Puch, w ho ruled the land o f the dead, and Chac, god o f rain, am ong many others. The M aya al­ so w orshipped a feathered serpent, Kukulcan, w hich resem bled the Aztecs’ Q uetzalcoatl. A s w ith the Aztecs, the Maya believed that their gods required sacrifices o f human blood on a regular schedule. M ost o f this blood was collected from prisoners o f w ar (a m otivating factor for m any o f the intercity raids). Some m em bers o f the low er classes w ere forced to die for the gods, and people o f all econom ic levels som etim es volunteered to feed the gods’ appetites w ith offerin gs o f their blood. Early Spanish records contain accounts o f priests draw ing thorny ropes through their tongues to draw blood w ith w hich to appease the gods; others took b lood from their genitals. The sacrifices w ere accom panied by com plex cerem onies, during which priests som etim es slit the chest o f a person being sacrificed, em erging w ith the heart, which often still beat. The Spanish, w ho seem ed to have little qualm w ith Mayan bloodshed in the name o f Christianity’s conquest, recoiled in horror at the sight o f sacrifices to gods they regarded as pagan; Bem al D iaz d el Castillo, the soldier-historian w h o accom panied Cortes and other explorers during the sixteenth century, described in Conquest of New Spain, 1517-1521 Mayan priests whose hair was so m atted w ith blood that it could never be com bed out. The Maya pantheon o f gods was com plex n ot on ly because o f their large num ber, but also because their identities w ere not static; m ost Mayan deities had four distinct persona, one for each o f the four cardinal directions. These m u ltiple persona often em bodied contradictions, such as m ale and fem ale, old and young, good and evil. Sometimes, gods’ attributes (and even nam es) changed from city to city. A ll o f this, along w ith difficu lty in m atching gods nam ed in Mayan glyphs w ith those in postconquest docum ents, has frustrated experts seeking to assemble a single, defin itive inventory o f Mayan theological sym bols.


The Native Peoples o f North America Mayan Class Structure

Mayan religion also prescribed a rather strict class structure in w hich the com m on people, m ost o f whom w ere farmers, w orked to sustain a sm all elite that understood astronom y, language, and religious rites. The class struc­ ture was so ingrained that when members o f the elite traveled, com m on people often shouldered their litters for m iles at a tim e. In this way, the com m on people w ere enlisted in a social structure in which they produced the neces­ sities o f life so that the elite could appease the gods and maintain the universe according to Mayan theology. W hen a baby came into the w orld, for exam ple, M ayan priests predicted its future using star charts and other records; every m om ent in tim e was thought to be governed by the various deities; a child’s future was believed to be predeterm ined. Mayan custom dictated that people m arry w ithin their classes, but outside their fam ilies. This was as true for com m oners as for the n obility; people in all classes o f Mayan society m aintained fam ily lineages and m arried outside them. Between the com m on farmers and the aristocracy, merchants, artisans, m ilitary men, and others occupied the Mayan m iddle class. Below them w ere a class o f landless serfs w ho sharecropped the lands o f the elite; many o f these serfs w ere freed prisoners o f war w ho had not been sacrificed to the gods. C onvicted crim inals and people w ho had failed to pay their debts form ed the low est class o f society. The poorest o f the p oor could be sold in to slavery by their relatives; slavery often was the last stop before sacrifice. Although Mayan society was constructed along w ell-defined class lines, lim ited social m obility did exist. O ccasionally, a person could ascend in status by m arriage or fall because o f indiscretions such as chronic indebted­ ness. The elite seemed to have encouraged the infusion o f som e n ew blood in to its ranks. For exam ple, several high political offices w ere designated for com m oners w ho distinguished themselves in battle. A degree o f social m o­ b ility also was evident in Mayan burial customs, which could be sim ilar for people o f all classes. D uring 1992, archaeologists Arlene and D iane Chase o f the U niversity o f Central Florida (O rlan d o), unearthed tombs show ing sim­ ilarities across classes at Caracol, in present-day Belize. The ruins o f Caracol cover 55 square m iles, and the Chases estim ated that its population durin g the classic Mayan period reached 180,000. In 562

C.E., Caracol defeated T ikal,

which had been the preem inent city in the region, in one o f an intensifying series o f wars that may have been one o f many factors, in clu ding environ ­ m ental degradation, that led to the Maya’s eventual collapse as a civilization . Each person in Mayan society was b om into a fam ily lineage, w hich included individuals related through the male side o f the fam ily. Inheritance o f land, jew elry, and other item s o f m aterial value also usually was govern ed by the male line. A fter m arriage, how ever, a man by custom m oved in to the home o f his bride’s fam ily, w here he was destined for a period o f service o f six years or m ore. W om en som etim es ow ned land in their ow n righ t, h ow ever,

Mexico and M esoamerica


and passed it to their daughters; they also som etim es held high office in civil M ayan society, w hich was organized into m unicipal wards, each o f w hich had an adm inistrative officer. The m unicipal officers o f all the wards in a town form ed a governing council. Although the society was fashioned to cater to them, nobles’ lives w ere not w ith ou t challenge o r danger. They often led the in tercity wars and often com peted in a ritual ball game that also seems to have been tied into Mayan theology. The game shares som e attributes o f present-day basketball and soc­ cer. M em bers o f tw o teams tried to put a rubber ball through an elevated stone rin g at each end o f a cerem onial court. Players w ere not perm itted to touch the b all w ith their hands (as in soccer). Penalties may have been assessed if the ball touched the ground. Losers at this game som etim es were sacrificed to the gods.

The Unearthing o f Tikal and Other Sites Archaeologists began to unearth a large m etropolis at Tikal (in northern Guatem ala) during 1956, yieldin g the tallest group o f tem ple-pyram ids in the N e w W o rld (W . R. Coe, 1975). A t Tikal, the M aya built large tem ples linked b y causeways the w idth o f m odem freeways, as w ell as ball courts, a covered m arketplace, and thousands o f residences. T ikal was w ell developed by the tim e o f Christ’s birth. By its height, 800 years later, Tikal’s population was betw een 30,000 and 60,000. The city’s 3,000 structures included six pyra­ m ids, seven tem ple palaces, and several man-made reservoirs, all covering an area at least one m ile square. The city is still an im pressive sight, even in its decayed state, w ith remains o f the pyram ids tow ering 200 feet into the air and connected by w ide causeways. T ik al’s location took advantage o f a nearby portage between rivers leading to the G u lf o f M exico and Caribbean Sea. Like m ost o f the other Mayan cities, Tikal declined about 890 c.e. according to the history recorded in its monuments. The religious and scientific elite col­ lapsed, and squatters m oved onto the cerem onial plazas amid the temples, livin g am ong piles o f their ow n refuse, as the jungle reclaim ed the city’s outskirts. The actual spadework at such sites takes large amounts o f m oney and often trails speculation about what the forest still may hold. Like the ancient Egyptians, the rulers o f the Maya w ere very good at im m ortalizing themselves in stone sculptures and other artifacts w ith a life o f thousands o f years. From these inscriptions and monuments, scholars are building a genealogy o f rulers at Palenque, the Maya’s westernm ost m ajor city, w hich lasted from 500 to n early 800

C.E. Surprisingly, given the male dom inance in most M esoam erican

cultures, at least tw o o f the rulers in this city w ere wom en.

The Decline o f the Maya Palenque, lik e most other Mayan cities, declined abruptly in the ninth century c.e. The Spanish found the Aztecs in their fu ll flow er, but the Maya,


The Native Peoples o f North America

w ith a few exceptions, w ere past their prim e. Tulum , for exam ple, still hosted an active trading culture along the Yucatan coast lon g after much o f M ayan civilization had declined. The reasons for this eclipse are not known pre­ cisely; various arguments advance a case for the breakdown o f trading rela­ tions, wars, environm ental exhaustion o f agriculture near the largest urban centers, earthquakes, hurricanes, and invasions by other peoples. Disease may have played a role in the Maya’s decline even before the Spanish conquest. M edical evidence indicates that the Maya shrunk in stature at the end o f the classic period, probably because o f m alnutrition (La Fay, 1975,762). The religious and scientific elites may have becom e overbearing in their demands on the com m on people, on ly to have them rise up and destroy the social structure that maintained the elites, according to a theory advanced by Eric Thom pson (cited in Gann, 1925), a British scholar. Thom pson has speculated that som e o f the Maya’s form er rulers may have escaped, jo in ed the Toltecs, then later returned w ith them to reconquer parts o f their form er fiefdom s. The history o f the Toltecs supports this idea. A fter m ost o f the Mayan cities fell, the Toltecs are said to have established colonies in the area. The final glory o f Mayan civilization probably played itself out at Uxm al, forty-five m iles southwest o f present-day M erida, on the Yucatan peninsula. The Xiu fam ily, w hich had originated elsewhere, became M ayanized and ruled the city from roughly 1000 c.e. until shortly before the Spanish con­ quest. Tulum may have been a trading outlet for Uxm al, w hich means “thrice built,” a name that suggests the city had suffered a collapse tw ice before and then been rebuilt (W illiam s, 1991, 22). As scholars learned m ore about Mayan society, they have discovered that, although a marked general decline occurred in Mayan society at about 900 C.E., it was not uniform . From tim e to tim e, new cultural infusions (m ainly from the north, including the V alley o f M exico) seemed to cause some centers to rise again. For exam ple, Chichen Itza saw the rise o f a new dynasty that included both Mayan and T oltec elem ents for roughly tw o centuries after 1000 c.e. This dynasty dom inated m ost o f northern Yucatan at that time. The m onum ental architecture o f Chichen Itza during this period shows Toltecs and their Mayan allies w inning battles and their Mayan adversaries being led to the altar o f the gods. A fter Chichen Itza declined about 1200 c.e., another center, Mayapan, dom inated northern Yucatan. Further inland, the Q uiche capital o f Utaüan, in the highlands, began to dom inate its hinterland at about 1400 c.e., and was in fu ll flow er at the tim e o f the Spanish conquest a century and a quarter later. In som e locations, murals that are rich ly descriptive o f the Maya’s daily lives w ere buried under successive renovations o f cerem onial centers w ith great care to ensure that they w ou ld survive intact for centuries. The best exam ple o f such intentional history com es from Cacaxda, east o f M exico C ity, w hich apparently was a Mayan traders’ center between 650 and about 1000 c.e. Spurred by treasure hunters’ discoveries in 1975, archaeologists have been uncovering sets o f huge murals that still retain much o f their original coloration and detail.

Mexico and M esoamerica


The city was renovated eight times, and rebuilt atop its earlier site, which contained the rich ly hued murals, careful buried against layers o f sand that preserved them (Stuart, 1992,120-136).

The Role o f W ar in the Mayan Decline By the beginning o f the tw enty-first century, details o f civilization-destroying wars am ong the Maya became evident as an im portant cause o f their decline. A hurricane during the summer o f 2001 uncovered carvings at Dos Pilas in ­ dicating that what previously had been described as a series o f local wars during the seventh and eighth centuries c.e. really was a “w orld war” am ong the M aya between tw o blocs o f allies, centered in T ikal and Calakmul. This picture em erged from explorations made public during 2002 by Arthur Dem arest o f V anderbilt U niversity's Institute o f M esoam erican A rch eology (Nash­ v ille , T N ) ( “Scholars Rew rite,” 2002, 12-A). Accordin g to Howard La Fay (1975): Gone forever is the image o f the Maya as peaceful, rather prim itive fanners prac­ ticing esoteric religious rites in their jungle fastness. W hat emerges is a portrait o f a vivid, warlike race, numerous beyond any previous estimate, em ploying sophis­ ticated agricultural techniques. And, like the Vikings half a world away, they traded and raided with zest. (p. 732)

Continual warfare probably also played a role in the environm ental de­ struction o f the Copan Valley; the monuments o f the cerem onial center provide a chronicle o f con flict lasting centuries. A t one point, the thirteenth ruler o f Copan, a man know n to us as 18-Rabbit, was captured by the ruler o f another M ayan city and decapitated. The historical evidence contained in inscriptions scattered all around Copan is so detailed that archaeologists can reconstruct n ot on ly the names and ru ling dates o f kings, but also the names or titles o f the nine m en w ho usually acted as advisors to the ruler. A ccordin g to Jared Diam ond, m ore and m ore people fought over few er re­ sources. M aya warfare, already endem ic, peaked just before the collapse. That is not surprising when one reflects that at least 5 m illion people, m ost o f them farmers, w ere crammed into an area sm aller than the state o f Colorado. That’s a high population by the standards o f ancient farm ing societies, even i f it w ouldn’t strike m odern M anhattan-dwellers as crow ded (D iam ond, 2003, 49; W ebster, 2002).

Climate Change and Mayan Decline In addition to intercity violen ce, the Maya’s final years as a high civilization also w ere afflicted by three intense droughts that crippled their corn-based agriculture. Recent research indicates that a population in the m illions also


The Native Peoples o f North America

degraded the environm ent. “This reinforces the tenuous nature o f human civ­ ilizations in the face o f a capricious M other Nature,” said Tom Pedersen, a U niversity o f V ictoria (British C olom bia) professor who is a recognized w orld authority on ancient clim ates (Calam ai, 2003). A research team led by G erald Haug (w h o did postdoctoral studies w ith Pedersen) reconstructed Yucatan rainfall year by year using im proved tech­ niques to extract clim ate inform ation preserved in ocean floo r sediments. The scientists w ere able to read the sediments as if they w ere tree rings, said Haug, w ho is now researching ancient clim ates at a geosciences institute in Pots­ dam, Germ any (Calam ai, 2003). The researchers identified three decade-long droughts (around 810, 860, and 910 C.E.) that devastated Mayan society. Accordin g to this research, rainfall already had been declin ing slow ly for a century because o f changes in large-scale atm ospheric circulation patterns. Haug and colleagues (2 00 3) concluded that ua century-scale decline in rainfall put a general strain on resources in the region, which was then exacerbated by abrupt drought events, contributing to the social stresses that led to the M aya dem ise” (p . 1731). Intensive harvesting o f w ood, along w ith agriculture (w h ich depleted fragile tropical soils), also seems to have caused the abandonment o f som e M ayan urban centers during the general collapse o f Mayan society about 900 c.E. One exam ple o f this decline may be found in Copan, once a m ajor Mayan cerem onial center in present-day Honduras. Scholars have discovered that the Copan V alley became overpopulated and overdeveloped. The destruction o f the val­ ley’s forests (m ainly to open new farm ing fields and to provide cooking fu el) ultim ately destroyed the ecological balance o f the area, forcin g the abandon­ m ent o f the cerem onial center. Researchers from Pennsylvania State U niversity (U n iversity Park) “have demonstrated that that at the end o f the [M ayan] Classic Period there was extensive soil loss, massive erosion, a long-term de­ cline in rainfall, and probably a number o f highly com m unicable diseases” (Fash and Fash, 1990, 28).

THE TOLTECS N orth o f the V alley o f M exico, in the southern reaches o f present-day H i­ dalgo, the Toltecs’ capital o f Tula em erged as the prem ier M esoam erican urban center as m ost o f the M aya centers to the south declined. The urban area and cerem onial center o f Tula was situated in a highland river valley that supplied water necessary for the irrigation to support intensive agriculture. Farmers began to occupy the area a few centuries before the birth o f Christ; shortly afterward, Chingu, a regional center, rose a few m iles north o f the site that w ould later host Tula, probably as part o f Teotihuacan’s netw ork o f com m erce. By 600

c.E., how ever, Chingu was declining as the trade netw ork collapsed.

Docum entary and archaeological records indicate that between 800 and 900 ce ., members o f elites (as w ell as som e people from the low er classes)

A T o lte c princess. (C o u rte sy o f the L ibrary o f C on gress.)


The Native Peoples o f North America

m oved from other cities toward Tula in large numbers, building a new urban center. These records com bine history w ith myth. Some sources indicate that the m ajority o f the Toltecs came from the G u lf Coast o r even from northern M exico. Tula reached a peak population o f about 40,000 before the invading Aztecs arrived about 1170 c.e. O ne class o f priests, craftspeople, and merchants (called the Nonoalca) played a particularly pivotal role in m aking Tula the m ost influential urban center in M esoam erica between roughly 900 and 1170 c.e. Various sources indicate that the Nonoalca w ere m ultiethnic, and that they spoke several lan­ guages (in clu din g Nahuatl, the language later used by the Aztecs, Popoloca, M ixtee, M azatec, and even M aya). Such population m ovem ents tend to support the b elief that some members o f the urban elites and people w ho provided services for them m oved from city to city over the generations and centuries. A t its height, Tula covered 5.4 square m iles (D ieh l, 1981, 58), including nearly h alf a square m ile o f uninhabited swamp (E l Salitre), w hich was used m ainly as a source o f materials for baskets. This area may have provided Tula its original T oltec name, T olían, w hich means place o f the reeds.

Mesoamerican Urban Population Estimates Because the number o f people w ho occupied any given prehistoric urban site cannot be counted w ith a high degree o f precision, archeologists have devel­ oped systems for obtaining educated guesses. Th ey recognize the im precision o f estimates, so population figures are usually expressed in a range. Tenochtitlan, the Aztecs’ capital, has been estim ated (D ieh l, 1981, 58) to have had between 175,000 and 300,000 inhabitants at the beginning o f the Spanish conquest. D avid Stannard, a historian o f holocausts, w rote in 1992 that an estimate o f 350,000 could be regarded as “conventional” (p . 3 ). O ther estimates o f the city’s population range up to a m illion people. The range o f estimates illustrates tw o things: first, that dem ographic history and archeology are not exact sciences; second, even at a consensus estimate o f about 300,000, the A ztec capital was at least four tim es the size o f any European urban area when the Spanish arrived in the V alley o f M exico (G ibson, 1964, 337-338). One com m on m ethod used to estimate urban populations in M esoam erica has been to m ultiply the total occupied area by a density factor o f 5,000 people per square kilom eter, a figure derived from ethnographic studies o f m odem rural villages in the same area. This m ethod assumes (perhaps in error) that m odem people in that area u tilize space in the same ways (vis-à-vis density) as their ancestors. Another m ethod, according to D iehl (1981), is to determ ine the total number o f housing units in an urban area and then m ultiply that num­ ber by the average population that each was believed to have housed. T o get an accurate estimate using this m ethod, one must know the total number o f housing units, which is not always available. This figure is not know n for Tula. Using various methods, the population o f Tula, for exam ple, has been

Mexico and M esoamerica


estim ated at between 18,000 and 55,000, w ith a com prom ise figure at 30,000 to 40,000. Because the m ethodology is not precise and because there are several ways to estimate populations, estimates cited by different authorities often vary w id ely.

The Design o f Tula The main focus o f T oltec archeology has been the urban area’s largest buildings, in which cerem onies and affairs o f religion and state w ere carried out: tem ples, large, colonnaded halb, ball courts, and, m ost recently, palaces, m arketplaces, and storehouses. D uring the late 1970s and early 1980s, re­ search teams from the U niversity o f M issouri at Colum bia also made an intensive study o f T oltec urban residences. T o date, how ever, archeology has focused alm ost entirely on the capital, T u b , so very little b know n about the netw ork o f agricultural villages that surrounded the city and fed its elite. A s im ib r bias b evident in the archeology o f other M esoam erican civilization s, so the concrete results that w e see often accentuate the grandeur o f the cities and underplay the day-to-day business o f feeding a civilization , which leaves few er artifacts. Th e center o f T u b featured the usual array o f tem ples and other pyram idlike structures that frequently closely resem ble their predecessors in other cities around the valley o f M exico as w ell as the Maya’s cities. T u b was much sm aller than Teotihuacan (perhaps one-fifth o r few er p op u b tion ), and its artistic developm ent often pales beside that o f the earlier city. Although the Aztecs m ythologized the Toltecs in many ways, the capital onto which Cortes’ eyes fe ll in 1519 made T u b look lik e a provincial outpost. The archeological bndscape o f T u b b relatively barren in b rg e part because the Aztecs stripped T u b bare o f luxuries as they conquered the city. M any artibcts that originated in T u b have been found am ong the ruins o f Ten och titbn, under contem ­ porary M exico City. Nevertheless, the Toltecs w ere capable o f producing elaborate friezes (w h ich also often served as a form o f w ritten com m unica­ tio n ), as w ell as elaborately carved sculptures that served as ro o f supports for the m ajor tem ples o f T u b . Private homes at T u b nearly always have been found in groups o f three to five, each containing several room s, all facing into a com m on in terior court­ yard. T h b pattern indicates the presence o f extended fam ilies w ho lived to­ gether and acted as econom ic and fam ily units. Each group o f houses often was fenced o ff from other clusters, indicating an interest in privacy. Entrances often w ere built into h alb that turned ninety degrees to ensure the privacy o f occupants. The house clusters usually w ere constructed o f stone and earth, w ith flat ro o b resem bling those o f the b te r Aztecs. The houses often w ere used as tombs as w ell as to attend to the daily needs o f the living. Instead o f burying their dead in separate tombs o r cem eteries, T oltec fam ilies often buried the deceased in a p it under the floor o f their homes. High-status


The Native Peoples o f North America

individuals som etim es w ere buried under altars in fam ily courtyards. M any o f those tombs w ere looted by the Aztecs. The houses w ere w ell adapted to their highland environm ent, w ith thick adobe walls that retained coo l air during hot summer afternoons. The same structures also held warm th during cold w inter mornings. Drainage pipes w ere constructed to siphon occasional heavy rains that fell on Tula, and stone foundations helped prevent m oisture from leaking into homes through the floors (D ieh l, 1981, 9 0 -9 6 ). Like many other m ajor M esoam erican urban areas, Tula was surrounded by a netw ork o f agricultural villages. Although little is know n about these villages (com pared to know ledge o f the urban areas), the Spanish chronicler Bernardino de Sahagún left descriptions o f agricultural superlatives attributed to the T o ltecs that w ere probably em bellished by A ztec m ythology. The Toltecs, for ex­ am ple, w ere said to have grow n cotton in many colors. This is im probable because cotton does not grow w ell in the highlands.

Toltec Agriculture and City Life The Spanish chronicler Sahagún w rote that that T oltec ears o f com (th eir basic fo o d ) w ere o f a size that (in D iehl’s w ords) “w ould have been the talk o f the annual M issouri State Fair” (1981, 9 8), another superlative that probably stretches the truth because early com was quite sm all com pared to today’s varieties. Aside from com , the people o f Tula ate ch ili sauces, beans, several varieties o f squashes, amaranth seeds, w ild seeds, fruits, and magueys, sap from the hearts o f which could be ferm ented into the alcoh olic brew called

pulque that the Aztecs said caused the city’s drunken dow nfall. M eat (usually sm all dogs and turkeys) was rare and usually eaten by m ost people on ly on cerem onial occasions. Agriculture around Tula was made possible by extensive irrigation from a nearby river. The area is laced w ith ditches and canals, which indicate that water was m oved from place to place in large quantities. Some farm fields also w ere terraced, and many private hom e clusters also contained inten­ sively cultivated dom estic gardens in w hich people raised vegetables, herbs, and m edicinal plants (D ieh l, 1981, 98-100). Farmers usually traded their surplus for goods and services in the city; they also had no choice but to pay tax levies utilized to support the urban elite w ho offered them its protection. Perhaps the heavy hand o f tribute played a role in popular uprisings that ended each M esoam erican em pire’s era o f technological achievem ent and hierarchical social organization; Cortes could certainly attest to the eagerness w ith which people w ho had been subjugated by the Aztecs forged alliances w ith him. I f the Aztecs had been kinder to their subject peoples, Cortes m ight never have reached Tenohtitlan. M ost o f the V alley o f M exico’s urban areas (lik e many Mayan cities) con­ tained ball courts w ith large spectator areas, indicating the popularity o f a ritual

Mexico and M esoamerica


gam e that was played on an enclosed court shaped m ost often lik e the capital letter I. Although the game was probably first played by the Olm ecs, form alized play (indicated by the w ell-developed courts) came to the V alley o f M exico after the fall o f Teotihuacan. Early Spanish chroniclers described the game as bein g played by tw o teams; the aim was to get a hard rubber ball into the cou rt o f the other team and through stone hoops m ounted on the w alls o f the enclosed court. Players w ere allow ed to m ove the ball in any w ay as lon g as they did not use hands or feet. Spectators at Tula probably engaged in avid bettin g matches based on the outcom e o f the game (som e w ere reduced to p overty by their gam bling). As w ith the Maya, the losers som etim es found them selves sacrificed to the gods. In Tula, the skulls o f the losers w ere some­ tim es displayed on specially made racks, lik e trophies. As an added attraction at Tula, evidence indicates that the winners w ere som etim es encouraged to rob losin g spectators o f their cloth ing and jew elry. As w ith em pires o f m ore recent vintage, political pow er often follow ed com m erce am ong the Toltecs, as it w ould w ith the Aztecs. Traders, w ho ranged far beyond the areas w ithin which tribute was collected, often traveled in the em ploy o f their hom e city’s m ilitary elite, acting as spies, som etim es as double agents. Traders from Tula covered an area that included the entire Yucatan Peninsula and m ost o f the northern reaches o f Mayan highland country. In the north, traders sought precious materials, such as turquoise, copper, gold, and silver, in the arid steppes o f what is now northern M exico. Tula seems to have been a manufacturing center for such objects as obsidian cutting tools and other crafts. A liv e ly debate has arisen am ong archeologists concerning the quality and quantity o f T oltec crafts. Sahagún w rote (probably borrow in g from an Aztec accou nt) o f the Toltecs’ mastery: Many o f them were scribes, lapidarians, carpenters, stone cutters, masons, feather workers, feather gluers, potters, spinners, weavers. They were very learned. T h ey . . . knew o f green stones, fine turquoise, common turquoise___ They went on to learn of, to seek out, the mines o f silver, gold, copper, tin, mica, lead___ They perform ed works o f art, they performed works o f skill, [creating] all the wonderful, precious, marvelous things they made. (1950-1969,10:167)

Som e T oltec art portrays men w earing large amounts o f jew elry (w h ich may have been copper or g o ld ) around their wrists and upper arms. Tula also bears widespread evidence o f having been a center o f manufacture for obsidian blades. Skilled craftspeople gathered in urban centers that had a need for their skills and the means to pay for them; they usually w ere members o f hereditary guilds, distinct ethnically from the cities in w hich they lived. O ften, the craftspeople m oved from city to city w ith the traveling elites. Like craft production, trade in m any M esoam erican civilization s was conducted by a specialized class. W ealth


The Native Peoples o f North America

accumulated in trade could im prove one’s social status to a certain degree in the hom e city, but if a trader became overly greedy or ostentatious, the envy o f fello w residents could cause problem s. Regarding the Toltecs’ crafts and com m erce, much remains to be discov­ ered. The marketplace at Tula awaits exploration, for exam ple. Some T oltec crafts have been found, including intriguing children’s toys w ith axles and wheels, a discovery that contradicts a form er b elief that indigenous Am ericans w ere ignorant o f the wheel. The Toltecs knew o f the device but never adapted it to transportation because they had no draft animals. W ithout large animals, a w heeled conveyance w ou ld have been practically useless unless humans pulled it. A t the height o f the T oltec culture, continuing into the A ztec period, trade flourished between M esoam erica and N ative nations to the north. L ive parrots from the V alley o f M exico w ere traded w ith the Pueblos 1,200 m iles to the north; other bearers o f wares crossed the G u lf o f M exico northward, in to eastern N orth Am erica, spreading goods from as far south as Mayan country through “a grand alliance o f prosperous little nations, stretching from the G u lf Coast to W isconsin, from N ew York to Kansas and Nebraska” (Brandon, 1961, 50). M any o f the people w ith w hom the Mesoamericans traded also som etim es built large earthworks, including tem ple mounds. As each m ajor culture rose, expanded, then fell, several sm aller cultures sharing some o f the same attributes also existed along the fringes o f the ma­ jo r adm inistrative states. This was especially true during tim es o f instability, such as those that follow ed the fall o f Teodhuacan. The m ajor center at this tim e (around 1000 c.E.) was Tula, but other m ajor sites have been found east o f the mountains that separate the V alley o f M exico from the Puebla V alley (C h olu la), as w ell as along the G u lf Coast. Tula also com peted w ith Xochicalco, an urban center built on several hilltops near the border o f M orelos and Guerrero. This city features w ell-developed ramparts, indicating warfare in the vicin ity, possibly w ith T oltec forces. Xochicalco controlled access to deposits o f jade and other minerals that may have been a source o f conflict. By about 1170

C.E., Tula succumbed to invaders from the north w hom they

called Chichim ecs (D o g P eop le). Lean, hungry, and barbarous, they arrived behind a barrage o f bow s and arrows and stayed to absorb the culture o f the V alley o f M exico. Sources disagree whether the Aztecs, one o f the groups o f migrants flow in g southward, w ere the first on the scene to pillage Tula. Some o f them may have arrived as late as around 1325 c.e. A number o f peoples came south, jostlin g w ith each other for pow er, transform ing themselves from p rim itive hunters to “grand patrons o f the arts, sw ooning esthetically over bouquets and m anipulating feather fans w ith a fine aristocratic grace” (Brandon, 1961, 66). Those w ho did not speak the Aztecs’ Nahua language learned it as they began to build a collection o f city-states around the lake that w ou ld host the crow ning glory o f the Aztecs.

Mexico and M esoamerica


T H E A Z T E C S (M E X IC A S ) The Spanish conquistadors encountered the Aztecs’ remarkable civilization in its fu ll flow er. A few o f them described the A ztec Em pire in detail before Spanish guns, avarice, and disease destroyed it. The architectural center o f the Aztecs, Tenochtitlan, occupied the contem porary site o f another great m etropolis, M exico City. M uch o f our archeological know ledge o f the Aztecs com es by w ay o f M exico C ity public w orks projects, such as the city’s subway, w hich in volved d ig­ gin g into the earth. The m ost significant remains o f the Aztecs’ 200-foot high Tem plo M ayor (G reat T em p le) w ere not found until 1978. The first traces o f the Great Tem ple w ere unearthed during excavations for a sewer line in 1900. In 1913, another public works project uncovered the southwest com er o f the tem ple; in 1967, construction o f the M exico C ity subway be­ gan to unearth sizable numbers o f A ztec artifacts. W ith ou t such intense ( i f unintentional) spadework, w e w ou ld know much less about the capstone civilization that follow ed m ore than a m illennium o f rem arkable cities in M esoam erica. Archeologists and others, som e o f w hom have deciphered pre-Colum bian texts in the V alley o f M exico, are piecin g together a fascinating story. M any m odem scholars in this area, especially in present-day M exico, are not using the name “A ztec” as a generalized name for the people w ho lived in the valley when Cortes arrived. Instead, they refer to “M exicas,” as they called them­ selves, speakers o f the Nahuatl language, a rich qu ilt o f peoples livin g in cities that rose and fell after the decline o f Tula. Several peoples lived in the V alley o f M exico on ly a few m iles from the island that became the Aztecs’ “ C ity o f the Gods.” The people w ho m oved into the valley in the fourteenth century called the place where they lived “M exica,” from which “M exico” is derived. As in the O ld W orld , the seat o f civilization had passed from people to people over the centuries: from the fertile crescent to Egypt to G reece and Rom e in Europe and nearby A frica and Asia; from the O lm ec and Maya, to the Toltecs, and to the M exicas. W h ile Europe endured its Dark Ages, the w orld o f the M exica flourished. The Aztecs reached their peak as Europe em erged from its ow n Dark A ge during a burst o f overseas exploration that began w ith the voyages o f Columbus. The first Spaniards to witness Tenochtitlan described a city m ore splendid, and m ore mysterious, than any their w ell-traveled eyes ever had seen. W h ile som e Spanish conquistadors and priests warm ed their hands over fires built from valuable artifacts and records that w ou ld have been o f immense use to archeologists today, the Franciscan friar Bem adino de Sahagún, b om in Spain during 1499, traveled to M exico and mastered Nahuatl as he began a Franciscan school for sons o f surviving A ztec nobles. A t the same tim e, Sahagún pre­ pared a dozen hand-em bellished manuscripts (called codices) describing M exica (A zte c ) history, cosm ology, legends, and daily life. K ing Ph ilip II o f


The Native Peoples o f North America

Spain refused to perm it publication o f the codices, w hich w ere finally pub­ lished tw o and a h alf centuries later (Sahagún, 1950-1969). The M exicas o r Aztecs w ere on ly the last, largest, and (because o f Spanish historians) the best know n o f many peoples w ho built civilization s in the V alley o f M exico. Today, archeologists agree that the prehistoric and protohistoric periods o f M exico cover at least 20,000 years. The com parison o f this lon g period w ith the 300 years o f colonial life and the few er than tw o cen­ turies o f the m odem independent (M ex ica n ) nation makes it appropriate to iden tify the pre-Colum bian m illennia as “ the substratum and root o f presentday M exico” (Leon -Portilla, 1972, 3 ).

Origins o f the Aztecs The Aztecs probably m oved to the V alley o f M exico from the present-day M exican state o f Nayarit, about 450 m iles northwest o f the site on w hich they later established Tenochtitlan (Sm ith, 1984, 153-186). The marshes o f the Pacific Coast, not far from M exicaltitan, fit ancient descriptions o f the Aztecs’ origin place, Aztlan, "place o f the herons,” from which they derived “A ztec,” m eaning “people o f the heron place.” Professor W igberto Jim enezM oreno (1970) believes that the first A ztec village may have been located at M exicaltitan, on an island in the San Pedro R iver in N ayarit State. This site has been called the “Venice o f M exico” because during the rainy sea­ son its streets flood, and people often convey them selves m ainly by boat. A ztec history relates that the people wandered for centuries after leaving N ayarit in search o f a perm anent hom e, passing through Tula for a century or longer. Im agine the am azement o f the Aztecs when they found a vast lake in the mountains o f central M exico. On an island in that lake, they built the grandest o f early Am erican cities. In its heyday, after their travels returning members o f Tenochtitlan’s ruling elite w ere w elcom ed back into the city w ith a chant that w elcom ed them to the court-city, M exico-Tenochtitlan, in the still water, where the eagle cried, and the serpent hissed, where fish leaped. F ollow in g the decline o f the Toltecs, a number o f city-states contended for pow er in the V alley o f M exico before the Aztecs became dom inant. Azcapotzalkco, to the west o f Lake T excoco, rose early, follow ed by the Acolhuas, w ho ruled the city o f Texcoco, to the east o f the lake. A t one point, they collected tribute from seventy surrounding towns. The Culhuacan also grew in pow er to the south o f Lake T excoco where it jo in ed Lake X ochim ilco. W hen the M exicas first came to the valley o f M exico, the Culhuas probably em ployed them as mercenaries. A t one point, the M exicas decided to “honor” the Culhuan king by slaying his daughter. They asked the king to attend a cerem ony “celebrating” the slaying. The king did not appreciate the Aztecs’ concept o f honor. He enslaved or k illed the leaders o f the “cerem ony” and drove the rest o f the M exicas into exile.

Mexico and M esoamerica


The history o f the Aztecs indicates that they w ere not greeted w arm ly by peoples w ho had resided in the V alley o f M exico before them: U pon arriving when they w ere follo w in g their path they w ere not received anywhere. Everywhere, they w ere reprehended. N o one knew their face. Everywhere they w ere told: “W h o are you? “W here did you com e from ?” Thus they w ere unable to settle anywhere; they w ere on ly cast out, everyw here they w ere persecuted. . . — Sahagún, 1992, 30 A ccordin g to the Aztecs’ chroniclers, their people settled in the V alley o f M exico in a year corresponding to 1325 C.E. on the Christian calendar. From their capital city, the A ztec Em pire eventually reached the G u lf o f M exico and in to Guatemala, which is a Nahuatl name.

Growth o f the Aztec Empire Eventually, the Aztecs settled on the marshy island where some o f their enem ies figured that the abundant snake population w ou ld torture them. In ­ stead, the Aztecs roasted the snakes and ate them. In the century between 1325 and the early 1400s, the M exicas negotiated a number o f alliances and subju­ gated other city-states. In the end, they even came to dom inate peoples w ho once had looked dow n on them. The residents o f T excoco, perhaps the most p ow erfu l o f these, were besieged, then overw helm ed during 1416. Legend has it that the Aztecs k illed T excoco’s king, Ixtlilxoch itl, as his son, N ezahualcyotl (H u n gry C oyote), escaped to becom e one o f M exico’s m ost famous legendary figures. Nezahualcyotl hid in the mountains w ritin g poetry, developin g a phi­ losophy that centered around the Unknown G od, w ho demanded on ly prayers instead o f human blood. It is said that Hungry C oyote som etim es visited the Aztec-dom inated cities in disguise, rallyin g follow ers to his faith, as the A ztec m inions tried to capture him. A t one poin t he was captured, but a guard re­ leased him and was put to death in Hungry C oyote’s place. The rituals o f blood sacrifice w ere so engrained in the culture o f the M exicas and other residents o f the valley that Nezahualcoytl, w ho ruled T excoco shordy before Columbus’ voyages, could not persuade the people to g ive them up. The priests forcefu lly talked Nezahualcoytl out o f his cam paign to stop blood sacrifice, and Nezahualcoytl had to be content w ith bu ilding a new tem ple, ten stories high, capped by an ornate chapel dedicated to “ the


The Native Peoples o f North America

A ztec p riest p erform in g a sacrificial offering. (C o u rtesy o f the L ib rary o f C o n gress.)

C au se o f A ll C auses, the U n k n o w n G o d ,” in w h ic h offerings w ere m ade in flow ers and scen ted gu m s instead o f b lood. A s the A ztecs’ em pire spread, T enochtitlan grew o n land reclaim ed from sur­ roundin g swam ps. T w o aqueducts three m iles lo n g w ere b uilt to carry freshwater from the m ainland; each had tw o sluices so one cou ld be closed for cleaning w ith ou t interrupting the w ater supply. T ribute and captives flow ed into the city after conquests that spread from the G u lf o f M exico to the Pacific O cean. W est o f the V alley o f M exico, how ever, the A ztecs’ arm ies w ere stopped b y the bow m en o f the Tarascans. T h e A ztecs never com pletely conquered the T laxcalans to the east, although they did surround their city and cu t o ff its com m erce. T h e A ztecs’ hegem ony w as o n ly rarely adm inistrative; after they pillaged another p eople’s city, the conquered people usually w ere left alone to m anage their ow n affairs until the n ext call for tribute and captives to satisfy the b lo o d hunger o f the A ztecs’ gods.

Aztec Warfare and the Pow er o f Ritual A ztec w arfare w as as m u ch a-pageant as a battle. W ars w ere fou gh t hand to hand. A zte cs disarm ed their op p on en ts and forced them to surren d er o r beat them u n co n scio u s. Soldiers m ade fashion statem ents as m u ch as w ar, w earin g

Mexico and M esoam aica


headdresses and shirts o f yello w parrot feathers and quetzal feathers set o ff w ith gold. Soldiers w ore jaguar skins and hoods o f gold w ith feather h om adornments. T h eir shields w ere decorated w ith golden disks displaying butterflies and serpents. The armies o f the A ztec Em pire w ent to battle w ith “tw o-toned drums, conch-shell trumpets, shrill clay whistles, screams fu ll­ voiced ( . . . to shock and terrify the enem y) calling to the heavens for help and witness” (Brandon, 1961,67). Priests led the soldiers into battle w ith trumpet blasts callin g on the gods to witness. The priests then waited in the rear w ith razor-sharp obsidian blades, ready to feed the gods w ith the still-w arm blood o f captives’ beating hearts. Like few other peoples in the Am ericas, the Aztecs w ere m obilized for war, fo r expansion, and for expropriation o f tribute from less-m ilitaristic peoples. E very M exica man over the age o f 15 years was considered a potential member o f the army except those in training for the priesthood or as c iv il officials. The entire m ale population was never m obilized at once, how ever. A ll young boys w ere taught the use o f basic weapons, such as the spear throw er and bow and arrow. A t 15 years o f age, m ost young men in Tenochtitlan w ere sent to live fo r a number o f months in “houses o f youth,” where they w ere taught arts o f war, as w ell as academic subjects. The capital city had 20 “houses o f youth,” each affiliated w ith a differen t calpulli, an adm inistrative district. The Aztecs usually initiated a confrontation w ith another group o f people by sending an emissary to its leaders to exact a set tribute. I f the group agreed to submit, the M exica foreign m inister returned w ith gifts and a schedule o f pay­ ment, and a peace was established. I f no tribute was pledged, the Aztec delegate (o r delegates) applied white paint to the prospective enemy’s com manding of­ ficer, placed feathers on his head, then handed him a sword and shield as a form al declaration o f war. The Aztecs did not always follo w their ow n customs, how­ ever. Sometimes, they engaged in surprise attacks and pillaging. A fter a battle, members o f the ruling class often hired musicians to m em o­ ria lize the occasion in song. A small orchestra usually played for M ochtezum a (th e M exicas’ supreme leader at the tim e o f Cortes’ arrival) at m ealtim es as w ell. M ost A ztec music had overtones not on ly o f war and pow er, but also o f divine rite. A ll ritual music was perform ed by members o f a specially trained pro­ fessional caste. A single error, one sm all departure from established ritual, cou ld result in death because an erring musician was said to have disturbed the gods. The rituals required very w ell-developed m em ories, as w ell as a sense o f creative showmanship. The best ritual singers w ere said to have enjoyed high social prestige (D river, 1969, 205). The Aztecs w ere acutely aware o f the pow er that their capital sym bolized in the M esoam erica o f their day. T h ey w ere not accidental im perialists, as the follo w in g A ztec narrative indicates: Proud o f itself Is the city o f M exico— Tenochtitlan


The Native Peoples o f North America Here no one fears to die in war This is our glory This is Your Command O h G iver o f L ife Have this m ind, oh princes W h o w ould conquer Tenochtitlan? W h o w ould shake the foundation o f heaven? — Leon-Portilla, 1969, 87

Symbols played a very im portant role in the M exica mind. T h eir capital was believed to be the center o f the universe, and the Great Tem ple o f Tenochtitlan was the center o f A ztec spiritual and secular pow er. Tenochtitlan’s tw o main tem ples w ere dedicated to the tw o gods w ho influenced the most im portant events and values in M exica life: the god o f agriculture, rain, and water ( Tlaloc) and the god o f war, tribute, and conquest (Huitzilopochtli). The tem ples ded­ icated to these tw o gods displayed an A ztec attitude o f dom inance over the peoples around them— an attitude that the Spanish replicated when they built their ow n religious center, a m ajor cathedral, on top o f the Great Tem ple. Eduardo M atos M ochtezum a, a descendant o f the A ztec ruler w ho first m et Cortes and general coordinator o f the M exican project that is unearthing the Great Tem ple, w rote that the great tem ple was a sym bol o f the Aztecs’ w ay o f thinking, livin g, and som etim es dying (1 9 8 8 ,1 5 -6 0 ). D uring the century and a h alf that the Aztecs dom inated M esoam erica, the Aztecs’ Tem plo M ayor was rebuilt seven times. It became so com plex that after the Spanish thought it had been destroyed, several levels still rem ained to be discovered under the Catholic cathedral that the Spanish built on the same site. The fu ll com plexity o f the tem ple was not discovered until the unintentional excavations o f twentieth century public works, notably M exico C ity’s subway, uncovered subterranean levels that had been bypassed by the colonists.

The Blood Sacrifice The Aztecs w ere not benign rulers; they dragged thousands o f subject peoples back to Tenochtitlan for forced labor and religious sacrifice. The Great Tem ple was not substantially com pleted until 1487, a little m ore than three decades before Cortes’ Spanish forces invaded the area. D uring those three decades, estimates o f the number o f people sacrificed for religious pur­ poses ranged from 10,000 to 80,000 (M cD ow ell, 1980,726-727). Bernal D iaz de Castillo w rote that he counted 100,000 skulls o f sacrificial victim s in the plazas o f Tenochtitlan (W ilkerson , 1984, 445-446). D uring the periods o f ritual killin g, four people at a tim e w ere sacrificed at the Great Tem ple from dawn to dusk. The entire city— otherwise a place o f m agnificent architecture and brilliant colors where fierce warriors often w alked the streets celebrating the virtues o f flow ers in poetry— stank o f burning flesh.

Mexico and M esoamerica


A t tim es, the stench was sealed into the valley by the same atm ospheric in ­ versions that today capture some o f the w orld’s w orst air pollution. W hen the number o f prisoners o f war available for sacrifice ran low , the Aztecs and neighboring city-states engaged in ritual W ars o f the Flow ers sim ply to harvest candidates for sacrifice. Even as they sacrificed human beings to their gods en masse, the Aztecs seem ed to have had no concept o f torture solely for the sake o f cruelty. T h eir gods w ere not conceived as angry as much as they w ere thought to be hungry. Some o f the priests stationed at the foo t o f the Great Tem ple even prayed for sacrificial victim s: uM ay he savor the fragrance, the sweetness o f death by the obsidian blade” (M cD ow ell, 1980, 729-730). The Aztecs exacted tribute, as w e ll as lives, from vassal peoples; they built a com m ercial netw ork that brought to the V alley o f M exico all manner o f food, rare feathers, precious metals, and other com m odities, many o f w hich w ere traded at a great m arket at Tlatelolco. Cortes reported having seen up to 60,000 people at a tim e bartering in this grand bazaar, where disputes w ere settled on the spot by judges. Am ong the item s for sale in the m arket w ere turkeys, w hich the Aztecs w ere the first to dom esticate. The Spanish took som e o f the birds home. Turkeys reached England before the first voyages o f settlem ent from Britain. The Pilgrim s had turkeys aboard their ships when they arrived in the N ew W o rld and found sim ilar w ild fow l being hunted by N ative people. The im agery o f the Aztecs’ volatile cosm ology resem bled the mountainous, volcano-studded land that surrounded them. They believed that the w orld had been destroyed four times. T o create the sun and m oon for the fifth epoch, tw o gods com m itted suicide by im m olating them selves in fire. The A ztec god representing darkness was not a kind personage. The spirit o f darkness was described in a poem that survived the conquest: He m ocks us. As he wishes, so he w ills. He places us in the palm o f his hand, He rolls us about; Like pebbles w e ro ll, w e sp in . . . W e make him laugh. He m ocks us. — M cD ow ell, 1980, 729-730 Th e M exicas built all their temples, monuments, and homes w ithout using bronze tools. They did use the w heel, but on ly on children’s toys. Instead o f using w heeled conveyances to transport building materials, the vassals o f the Aztecs carried them or rolled them on beds o f logs. A ll o f this also was ac­ com plished w ithout beasts o f burden. Scholars have speculated on what the Aztecs m ight have accom plished had their civilization not been put to the torch by the Spanish. N o one really knows; it is known, how ever, that the rapid


The Native Peoples o f North America

grow th o f the large city was already using up nearby resources o f firew ood. In 1454, a debilitating fam ine had swept the area.

Aztec Socioeconomic and Governmental Structures In A ztec society, each person was b om into a social class. A t the head o f this socioeconom ic pyram id was the king ( tlatoani o r tlacatecuhtli), a de­ scendant o f the T oltec prince Acam apichtli, w ho in turn was believed to have been descended from Q uetzacoatl, an im portant god o f the Toltecs and A z­ tecs. A ztec history described how the prince had com e to Tenochtitlam to found the city’s royal line, from unions w ith 20 wives, probably one from each

calpulli, o r local governing unit. The N obles ( pipiltin ) w ere distinguished by the legal perm ission afforded them to ow n land in their ow n names on reaching adulthood. Th ey also w ere taught to use glyphs (a form o f M exica w ritin g) along w ith know ledge o f cultural arts and religion. Th ey held the highest ju dicial, m ilitary, c iv il, and religious posts, but m em bership in this class did not guarantee a prestigious office. O ffice also required leadership skills. N obles w ho did n ot have such skills m ight end up being palace servants or even enduring unem ploym ent. Below the N obles stood a class o f Knights ( caballeros pardos), w h o had been raised to their standing, usually from the low er classes, because o f valor in warfare. The com m oners o r w orkin g class (macehualtin) were educated to farm com m unal lands o r to practice trades. They could not own land (farm s w ere the com m on property o f the calpulli), but they could consume, sell, o r exchange what they produced from their labor on the land. A talented m em ber o f this class could rise to the higher offices o f his calpulli and thereby, in practice, outrank a N ob le w ho had no officia l position. A separate class, a proletariat, ow ned no land, but also had no masters. Typically, members o f this class m ight w ork as craftspeople or day laborers. Below the w orkin g class, the serfs Cmayeques) som etim es w orked their way upward. A ztec class structure was som etimes fluid; people could rise and fa ll on m erit o r luck. Serfs w ere assigned to certain plots o f land and were paid w ith a portion o f their produce from it. I f land was sold, the serfs assigned to it w ere con­ sidered part o f the transaction. Besides agricultural w ork, serfs w ere expected to render m enial services to their masters. M en m ight haul w ater o r bu ild a house; wom en m ight prepare meals. A large number o f M exica serfs had been com m oners from conquered nations; some native A ztec com m oners even tried to pass as serfs to avoid paying taxes. Th e slaves w ere at the bottom o f the hierarchy; they could be assigned to any jo b by their masters. The master owned on ly the labor o f the slave, n ot his o r her life. A slave could ow n a residence and could not be traded o r sold to another master w ithout consent. The status often was tem porary; a slave also was allow ed to ow n the services o f another slave.

Mexico and M esoamerica


The Aztecs governed them selves according to a clan-based system that in­ cluded aspects o f consensus and hierarchy. This system did not fit any Euro­ pean category o f governm ent. The 20 calpulli o f the state each elected officials sim ilar to county clerks o r alderm en. Each clan also elected a speaker ( tlatoani), w h o sat on a supreme state council. From these leaders, four w ere appointed to execu tive posts. In Tenochtitlan, one o f these four, called tlacatecuhtli (c h ie f o f m en ) o r hueytlatoani (revered speaker), was chosen to be ch ief executive, a lifetim e appointm ent. T h e dual nature o f the system considers that som e Spanish accounts refer to the governm ent as a “republic,” and others called A ztec leaders kings. Elected alon g kin lines, A ztec leaders enjoyed total authority once they w ere elevated to office. Ownership o f most land (excep t that ow ned by members o f the e lite ) rested w ith the clans. This concept often confused the Spanish, w ho w ere accustom ed to individual or royal ownership. Another concept that sometimes confused the Spanish, w ho came from a maledom inated society, was the influence o f M exica women. The M exica language referred to a wom an as “the ow ner o f a man” (M cD ow ell, 1980, 730-731).

Aztec Cosmology M exica cosm ology placed the people at the m ercy o f an array o f gods; som e researchers have counted as many as 1,600. M ost Aztecs believed that the gods could not keep the sun and m oon m oving (and by im plica­ tion , continue the cycle o f life on earth) without a steady diet o f human flesh and blood. The Aztecs waged war to procure prisoners for sacrifice to their gods. T h e appetites o f the M exica gods w ere interpreted according to the socalled Calendar Stone, which is not a calendar at all. The calendar weighs 24 m etric tons (o f basalt) and measures 3.6 meters (about 12 feet) in diam eter w ith a thickness o f 72 centim eters. The stone, which was uncovered in 1790 in M exico C ity’s Zocalo district, site o f Tenochtitlan’s main square, is som etim es thought o f as a calendar because o f the day signs that surround its center. The significance o f this enorm ously com plex sculpture was not to mark the pas­ sage o f tim e, how ever, but to help the Aztecs interpret the demands o f their gods, whose satisfaction they believed crucial to the continuance o f life on earth. T h e Stone o f the Fifth Sun (so called because the Aztecs believed that they w ere livin g in the fifth, and last, epoch o f life on earth) detailed how the A ztecs believed the cosmos had begun and w ou ld end. Accordin g to A ztec cos­ m ology, the fifth epoch had begun in the year they called 13-Reed, o r 1011 c.e. A ztec b elief held that the fifth epoch w ould end i f the Aztecs’ deities were not satiated w ith an abundant supply o f human blood, which required the sacrifices. The history o f the M exica provided precedents in four preceding failed foundings. Earlier generations w ere said to have been dispersed in the


The Native Peoples o f North America

mountains, cross-bred w ith monkeys, or returned to the earth as turkeys after they refused to please the gods. The A ztec cosm os was filled w ith gods for every human activity, from fer­ tility to death. Each com m unity and craft had its deity; som e o f them w ere believed to change their characteristics to confuse their enemies. Some o f the gods required m ore than blood to maintain the sun’s compass across the sky. They also demanded homage— lavish ritual processions w ith music, cakes, and costumes. The com ing o f a vengeful bearded people from the east (th e direc­ tion o f the rising sun) fit the Aztecs’ ow n w orldview . In itially, many M exicas believed the Spanish to be emissaries o f their ow n gods. Some o f the gods fused history and myth. Q uetzalcoatl, for exam ple, com bined the m em ories o f a man w ho had ruled the Toltecs at Tula w ith an earlier serpent god; tradition held that he created civilization (agriculture and w ritin g). Q uetzalcoatl had been forced out o f Tula in disgrace because o f public drunkenness, but that he w ou ld som eday return from the east.

Premonitions o f Change Throughout the decade before the bearded, arm or-clothed Europeans whom the Aztecs som etim es called “ the people from heaven” arrived, the Aztecs had prem onitions that they w ere about to m eet a terrible pow er greater than their own. The 5,000 priests o f Tenochtitlan, w ho heretofore had been concerned m ainly w ith garnering enough blood to satisfy the appetites o f the gods, had religious prem onitions that the life o f their city was about to be perm anently altered. In 1507, a dozen years before Cortes arrived, the N ew Fire cerem onies w ere held for the last time. These rituals came at the end o f the 52 years that com prised the A ztec tem poral cycle. Tem ples w ere enlarged o r rebuilt, old anim osities forgiven, and debts paid. A t about the same tim e, the people o f Tenochitlan witnessed a number o f supernatural events that indicated trouble ahead. The history o f the Aztecs says that a tem ple burst into flam e for no apparent reason. A t a musicians’ school, a ceilin g beam sang o f im pending doom . Lightning struck another tem ple from a cloudless sky. A sudden flood washed away a number o f homes. A terrifying colum n o f flam e rose by night in the east, causing a terror-filled populace to panic: “A ll w ere frightened; all waited in dread” (Brandon, 1961, 76). The Serpent W om an and Earth Goddess CihuacoatU w ho haunted the streets at night tellin g m others when their children w ou ld die, was said to be heard w eeping, night after night, “M y beloved sons, w hither shall I take you?” (ib id ., 76).

The Spanish Marvel at Tenochtitlan The Spanish soldier Bem al D iaz del Castillo described Tenochtitlan as one o f the greatest cities in the w orld. Although Tenochtitlan’s solid temples, residences, and storehouses lent an air o f permanence, the city was n ot old by

Mexico and M esoamerica


M esoam erican urban standards. Less than tw o centuries before D iaz saw it, the site had been little m ore than a sm all tem ple surrounded by a few mudand-thatch huts. By 1519, how ever, D iaz found a city o f unexpected splendor. He described Tenochtitlan from the top o f the Great Tem ple: Here we had a clear prospect o f the three causeways by which M exico [Tenoch­ titlan] communicated with land, and o f the aqueduct o f Chapultepec, which sup­ plied the city w ith the finest water. W e were struck with the numbers o f canoes, passing to and from the mainland, loaded with provisions and merchandise, and we could now perceive th a e houses stood separate from each other, communicating only by small drawbridges, and by boats, and that they were built with terraced tops. W e observed also the tem ples. . . o f the adjacent cities, built in the form o f tow ers. . . wonderfully b rillian t.. . and those [Spanish soldiers] who had been at Rome and Constantinople said, that for convenience, regularity, and population, they had never seen the like. (M olina Montes, 1980, 753)

The Spanish com piled a careful chronicle o f this am azing new w orld as their soldiers and pathogens laid waste to it. Friar Sahagún enlisted Aztec eyewitnesses and trained observers (in some ways sim ilar to English bards). H e also utilized the Aztecs’ hieroglyphic codices. Sahagún him self was fluent in Nahuatl, the M exicas’ language. A ztec prisoners did the muscle w ork o f building Tenochtitlan’s majestic tem­ ples and causeways, along which eight horsemen could ride abreast. According to Cortes’ accounts, the “excellence” and “grandeur” o f the Aztecs’ capital outshone anything he had ever seen. “In Spain, there is nothing to compare,” he wrote, continuing: During the morning, we arrived at a broad causeway, and continued our march from Ixtapalapa, and when we saw so many cities and villages built into the water and other great towns on dry land and that straight and level causeway going towards M exico [Tenochtitlan], we were amazed, and said that it was like the enchant­ ments they tell o f in the legends o f Amadis, on account o f the great towers and cues [tem ples], great towers that stood in the water, and all o f masonry.. . [T]here were even some o f our soldiers who asked if what they saw was in a dream. It is not to be wondered at that I here write it down in this manner, for there is so much to think over that 1 do not know how to describe it, seeing things as we did that had never been heard o f or seen before. (D el Castillo, 1958,190-191)

The Aztecs’ capital was a cavalcade o f color— the architecture was painted turquoise, yellow , red, and green— often annotated w ith visual history in murals. An observer could have seen the eagle, snake, and cactus that com ­ prise M exico’s m odem national sym bols on som e o f the buildings. The Aztecs’ history maintained that they had been led to this spot by divine prophecy, to a place where an eagle perched on a cactus extended its w ings toward the rays


The Native Peoples o f North America

o f the sun. The fact that such a city was built in less than tw o centuries is awesom e enough even in m odem times. W hen one reflects on the Aztecs' lack o f construction m achinery (even the w h eel), the scope o f the m etropolis that grew here becom es even m ore astonishing. The island on w hich Tenochtitlan was built contained no construction materials, so virtu ally everything used to construct it had to be ferried aboard canoes at first. Later, supplies w ere carried, or rolled on logs using ropes and pulleys, along the causeways that connected the city w ith the mainland. D iaz d el C astillo m arveled at the M exicas’ armaments, and he did not stop at their design. The Aztecs’ flin t blades cut better than the Spaniards’ swords, he admitted: Many o f them [blades] were richly adorned w ith gold and precious stones. There were large and small shields, and some macanas [clubs], and others like twohanded swords set with some flint blades that cut better than our swords, and lances longer than ours, with a five-foot knife set w ith many blades, (del Castillo in Leon-Portilla, 1972, 122)

I f Tenochtitlan’s population was about 300,000, which seems Ukely, it was the largest Native Am erican city in the hemisphere and the largest urban area o f any type in North or South Am erica until after 1800. A t the tim e the United States became independent, its largest cities (Boston, N ew York, and Philadelphia) housed no m ore than 30,000 people each. The architects o f the Aztec capital faced some problem s apart from scarcity o f materials and labor. The subsoil o f the area was very soft, and buildings, once constructed, tended to sink into it, w ith some parts o f them sinking m ore quickly than others. Aztec architects tried to combat this problem by building large sections o f their temples w ith light, porous volcanic stone called tezontle, which could be quarried in abundance nearby. Slabs o f tezontle often w ere cut (w ith stone, not metal tools) and then assembled so precisely that structures required no mortar. Early Spanish archi­ tecture in the V alley o f M exico sometimes utilized the same methods o f con­ struction; several o f these buildings (such as the National Palace) still stand today in M exico C ity (M olin a Montes, 1980, 760-761).

The Spanish Conquest o f the Aztecs Cortes and his roughly 400 men forged alliances w ith many N ative peoples, w ho w ere m ore than ready to turn on the dom ineering M exicas. Through the adroit use o f inform ants (such as the legendary M alinche) and an un­ canny sense o f tim ing that A ztec leaders som etimes thought was supernatural, Cortes’s small band o f Spanish conquistadors reduced a state that had sub­ jugated m illions to ashes w ithin tw o b loody years. The Spanish also w ere aided by European diseases (th e forem ost o f which was sm allpox) and the Aztecs’ ow n fear o f a troublesom e future.

Mexico and M esoamerica


The Spaniards’ technology was superior but not by enough to sw ing the balance o f pow er on its own. The Spanish recognized early, for exam ple, that som e o f the Aztecs’ weapons w ere sharper than theirs. A ztec cotton-padded arm or was good enough that som e Spanish troops adopted it. V ery quickly, the conquistadors set about to turn the N ative peoples into their ow n w ork­ force, usually by com pulsion. The rigors o f labor, along w ith conquistador terror and disease, caused the N ative population to decline rapidly. Henry Dobyns estim ated that the population o f M exico declined from between 30 and 37.5 m illion people in 1520 to 1.5 m illion in 1650, a holocaust o f a severity unknown in the O ld W o rld (1 9 6 6 ,3 9 5 -4 4 9 ). Even if one argues that Dobyns’ figures are too high, cutting them alm ost in h alf to 20 m illion in 1520 w ould produce a m ortality rate in 130 years o f 92.5 percent (D river, 1969, 457). Cortes began recruiting Indian allies against the Aztecs in Cem poalla, near the G u lf Coast, hom e to about 30,000 people o f the Totonac nation, the first city he visited on his w ay to Tenochtitlan. The leaders o f this city m et Cortes on frien dly terms and told him o f how intensely many o f the Aztecs’ tributary tribes hated their oppressors. Despite the intensity o f this hatred, the people o f Cem poalla dared not revolt. H ow ever, Cem poalla supplied Cortes w ith about 400 tamanes, or equipm ent earners, for the next leg o f his jou rn ey, to nearby Chiahuitztla. In that city, Cortes and his men m et five A ztec tribute collectors, dressed in finery, whose assistants walked behind them shooing away flies w ith fans. The Aztecs upbraided the Totonacs for aiding Cortes and demanded twenty young m en and wom en for sacrifice as punishment. Cortes made an em otive speech dem anding that the Totonacs throw the tribute collectors into prison. A fter som e frenzied discussion, they did. The follow in g night, Cortes arranged for the escape o f tw o o f the tribute collectors, then convinced the Totonacs to transfer the other three to his “care” as w ell. W ith the five captive Aztec tribute collectors in tow, Cortes and his men continued to clim b the mountains bordering the M exican plateau, toward Tenochtitlan. A lon g the way, Cortes encountered the Tlascalan nation, also en­ em ies o f the Aztecs, whose warriors engaged his men in a round o f inconclusive fighting before they join ed Cortes in his war on the Aztecs. A llied w ith the Tlascalan warriors, Cortes entered the Valley o f M exico w ith enough m anpower to initiate serious combat. Cortes then stopped at Cholula, where he was w elcom ed w ith open arms. Cortes took advantage o f the hospitality to in vite leaders o f the Cholulan nation to the public square o f the city, w hich the Spanish said contained at least 20,000 buildings w ithin its walls. Once m ost o f the im portant people in Cholula had assembled to parlay w ith Cortes, his soldiers and their Tlascalan allies carried out prearranged orders to slaughter the Cholulans. The massacre left thousands o f dead. Racing am ong the carcasses litterin g the streets, the Spanish then looted Cholula.


The Native Peoples o f North America

The Spanish asserted after the fact that the M exica ruler M ochtezum a had conspired w ith a number o f Cholulan headmen to exterm inate the Spaniards before they reached the capital o f the Aztecs. The veracity o f this alibi was doubtful because the Spanish used it several tim es again in M exico and against the last o f the Incan em perors, am ong others. It was m ore lik ely that Cortes sought to paralyze the Aztecs into inaction w ith a sw ift and brutal massacre at Cholula. The strategy worked. Cortes and his allies w ere received in Tenochtitlan as ambassadors o f a m ighty foreign country. M ochtezum a housed, fed, and entertained the con­ quistadors and gave them free access to the city, a period during which Bernal D iaz produced the descriptions that today provide a glim pse through Euro­ pean eyes o f the A ztec capital in its fu ll flow er. As he had at Cholula, Cortes repaid hospitality w ith violence: A t first, he took M ochtezum a prisoner, then slow ly, ruthlessly, underm ined his pow er am ong the M exicas. The im pris­ onm ent included physical and psychological torture. M atthew Restall, a professor at Pennsylvania State University, argues that the Aztecs did not perceive the Spaniards as gods (as often has been asserted); he writes that this account was invented decades after the fact by the Cath­ o lic Church and its N ative allies. The first N ative scribes to w rite the history o f the conquest w ere tutored by Franciscan monks w ho hoped, in retrospect, to make the Spanish arrival seem providential. Because the scribes hailed from a group unfriendly to the Aztecs, they did not hesitate in their chron­ icles to disparage their rivals as weak and indecisive (Restall, 2004; Burnham, 2004). One such incident was described by Benjamin Franklin. In N ovem ber 1774, follow in g the Boston Tea Party, Franklin scoffed at proposals that Boston ought to negotiate a treaty w ith Britain w h ile its port was closed and the city itself was occupied by British Arm y Redcoats. “Th ey w ill plead at ease, but w e must plead in pain,” Franklin argued, com paring Boston’s position to that o f M ochtezum a in the hands o f the conquistador Cortes, w ho demanded “a surrender o f his cash.” Franklin w rote that the A ztec “M ade som e objections and desired A TR E A TY on the reasonableness o f the demand—

C ones heated

a gridiron red hot, and seated poor M ontezum a on it, and consented to TR E A T w ith him as lon g as he pleased” (Labaree, 1978-, 21:354). The Spaniards held M ochtezum a captive for several months, w h ile rumors regarding his health spread through the capital. A t one point, quite acci­ dentally, Cortes’s men discovered a massive amount o f gold and silver that belonged to M ochtezum a’s father— in effect, the state treasury. W h ile sub­ ju gatin g the ruler personally, the Spanish extracted 162,000 pesos de oro (o r 19,600 troy ounces) o f gold from this cache. A t 2002 gold prices, this hoard w ou ld have been w orth about $8 m illion (W righ t, 1992, 38). M uch o f what the Spanish purloined com prised many large pieces o f intricate artw ork that they m elted into bullion for convenient shipm ent back to Spain. Cortes pre­ served a few o f the art pieces intact to impress his sponsors.

R ecep tion o f H ernando C o rtez by E m p eror M ochtezum a. (C ou rtesy o f th e L ib ra ry o f C on gress.)


The Native Peoples o f North America

A fter six months in M exico C ity, Cortes marched back to the G u lf Coast to m eet a new Spanish expedition headed by Panfilo de Narvaez; the expedition had reached Vera Cruz from Cuba, drawn lik e a bee to honey by reports o f M exican gold. Cortes appointed Pedro de Alvarado, a personal friend, to command the Spanish forces that rem ained in the A ztec capital. A few days after Cortes and a contingent o f men marched out o f Tenochtitlan, the Aztecs prepared to celebrate their annual feast to H u itzilopoch tli, the god o f war. The festival o f song, dance, and human sacrifice was held on the grounds o f a monument to H u itzilopoch tli, w ithin eyeshot o f the Spaniards’ quarters, as w ell as the chambers in w hich M ochtezum a was held prisoner. N early all the royalty o f Tenochtitlan gathered, resplendent in their best cos­ tumes, decked w ith gold and silver ornaments, including cerem onial gold and silver swords and other im plem ents o f war. Otherwise, the A ztec n obility was unarmed and ready prey for yet another Spanish ambush in the style o f Cholula. Alvarado and his cohorts prepared just such a surprise as they surrounded the cerem onial court. Aztecs w ho tried to escape the massacre w ere im paled on pikes thrust by Spanish soldiers stationed at the exits. The Spanish then stripped the dead o f their gold and silver. The Florentine C odex described the scene: The b lo od . . . ran like water, like slim y water; the stench o f blood filled the air, and the entrails seemed to slither along by themselves. And the Spanish went everywhere, searching the public buildings, thrusting with their weapons. (Sahagún, 1956, 116-117, cited in W right, 1992, 40)

The Spanish said they feared the Aztecs had secreted their weapons on the cerem onial grounds, requiring that they be killed. The Spaniards’ real m otive probably was to score an easy hit on the cream o f the A ztec n obility and thus collect m aterial rewards. A fter months o f Spanish torm ent, M ochtezum a also was killed. The Spanish did their best to argue that he was struck in the head by a rock thrown by an outraged A ztec during a public speech. D iaz even asserted that the Spanish offered to feed M ochtezum a and dress his wounds, but he refused. The am­ bivalence o f his account indicates that D iaz was probably not an eyewitness to the murder. Cortes rather lam ely excused him self by asserting that the m urder occurred w h ile he was away from Tenochtitlan, on his way back to the capital from the G u lf Coast. The historical record rather irrefutably indicates oth­ erwise. A ztec sources, such as Chim alpahin, a native historian w ho based his w ork on the glyphic codices, argued that the Spaniards “throttled him .” The Aztecs w ho relayed their history to Friar Sahagún agreed (W righ t, 1992, 42). Cortes and his com rades soon found the M exica capital in fu ll revolt against the Spanish, its residents angered by their leader’s murder. Publicly, Cortes upbraided Alvarado, but the Aztecs w ere not consoled. The Spanish then departed Tenochtitlan by night, along one o f the causeways that connected

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the city w ith the mainland. Seven thousand Spanish and Tlascalan allies surged onto the causeway as the Aztecs attacked them from boats. The battle o f N oche Triste became an A ztec folktale, a special com euppance for many o f the Spaniards w ho drow ned because they had tied so much gold to their bodies (C o llie r, 1947, 64). H aving retreated to the mainland, Cortes and his allies aw aited reinforcem ents from Cuba. W hen they arrived, Cortes began his final march o f conquest to Tenochtitlan. In the meantim e, m ost o f the M exicas’ form er allies had abandoned them.

T H E S P A N IS H S U B J U G A T IO N O F TH E M A Y A T o the south, Spanish subjugation proceeded much m ore slow ly against the M aya. G enerally, when the Spanish w on a clear and quick victory over N ative peoples in M esoam erica, they did so w ith N ative allies attacking a centralized authority. Such a situation vis-à-vis the Aztecs and Incas made for a relatively quick conquest. Against the Maya, how ever, the Spanish had neither allies nor a single head to decapitate. Thus, they stumbled for decades around the hot coastal plains o f Yucatan. One ill-fated Spanish expedition after another was repulsed from Maya country. In 1511, a Spanish ship en route from Panama to Santo D om ingo sank o ff the eastern coast o f Yucatan, and its entire ragged, starving crew was captured by Natives along the coast. Some o f them w ere eaten in cerem onies; others died in slavery. O nly tw o men, Aguilar and Guerrero, survived, both enslaved to Mayan chiefs. In 1516, an intense epidem ic o f sm allpox hit the Mayan territories, k illin g people w ith “great pustules that rotted the body” (Brandon, 1961, 81). Shortly after he subjugated the Aztecs, Cortes turned his attention to the Maya. A t one point, he ransomed Aguilar, but Guerrero refused to leave his M ayan captors, tellin g Aguilar, according to the chronicler D iaz, w ho traveled w ith Cortes: I am married and have three children, and the Indians look upon me as a Cacique [chief] and a leader in wartime. You go and God be with you, but 1 have my (ace tattooed and my ears pierced, and what would the Spaniards say should they see me in this guise? (Brandon, 1961, 82)

F ollow in g destructive wars w ith each other, the Mayan city-states had been d eclin in g for hundreds o f years before the Spanish tried to conquer the area. Th e Maya’s slow decline continued lon g after the Spanish subjugation o f the V alley o f M exico. European diseases accelerated the Maya’s decline. Mayan intellectuals and their descendants created “livin g books, copied, recopied and expanded” generation after generation. The pre-Colum bian history o f the M aya was preserved in these books from m em ory after the original texts flared on Spanish bonfires (W righ t, 1992, 165). From one such book o f Chilam Balam (m eaning spokesman o f G od, the Jaguar Proph et), w ritten in the

The Native Peoples o f North America


Mayan language using the Spanish alphabet, com es this ironic critique o f Christianity: W ith the true G od, the true Dios, came the beginning o f our misery. It was the beginning o f tribute, the beginning o f church du es. . . the beginning o f strife by tram pling on people, the beginning o f robbery w ith violen ce, the beginning o f forced debts, the beginning o f debts enforced by false testim ony, the beginning o f individual strife — Roys, 1967, 77-79, cited in W righ t, 1992, 165-166 The Spanish conquest o f the Quiche and the Cakchiquel, the m ost prom ­ inent M aya peoples during the sixteenth century, proceeded quickly, w ith a brutality that also had marked the Spanish subjugation o f the Aztecs. The Cakchiquel’s ow n history, transcribed by the Spanish practically before the conquest had ended, reveals just how brutal it was: On the day 1 Ganel [February 20, 1524), the Quiches were destroyed by the Spaniards. Their chief, he was called Tunatiuh Avilantara, conquered all the people___ [The Spaniards] went forward to the city o f Gumarcaah [capital o f the Quiche, also called Utatlan], where they were received by the kings— The Quiches paid [The Spanish] tribute. Soon the kings were tortured by Tunatiuh. On the day 4 Qat [March 7, 1524] the kings Ahpop and Ahpop Quamahay were burned by Tunatiuh. The heart o f Tunatiuh was without compassion for the people. (Recinos and Goetz, 1953, 119-125)

In another city, the Spanish com m ander “asked for one o f the daughters o f the king,” w ho was furnished to him ; he follow ed that demand w ith another, fo r m oney. “He wished for them to give him piles o f m etal, their vessels and crowns.” W hen the kings did not com ply im m ediately, Tunatiuh was said to have becom e very angry. He threatened them w ith death by burning and hanging. Finally, Tunatiuh forced the Maya to flee their ow n city, and then he chased them: “Ten days after w e fled from the city, Tunatiuh began to m ake w ar upon us. On the day 4 Carney [Septem ber 5, 1524], they began to m ake us suffer. W e scattered ourselves under the trees, under the vines, oh, m y sons" (Stannard, 1992,82). As the Spanish struggled to subdue the decentralized M aya, the con ­ quest also rolled over N ative peoples to the south. In Panama, betw een 1514 and 1530 as many as 2 m illion N ative people were killed , many after having been taken into slavery. As many as h alf a m illion people w ere taken ou t o f

Mexico and M esoamerica


Nicaragua in chains (m ost later d ied ); 150,000 w ere taken from Honduras. H istorian D avid E. Stannard com mented: Since numbers such as these are so overwhelm ing, sometimes it is the smaller incident that best tells what it was like— such as the expedition to Nicaragua in 1527 o f Lopez de Salcedo, the colonial governor o f Honduras. At the start o f his trip, Salcedo took with him more than 300 slaves to carry his personal effects. A long the way he killed two-thirds o f them, but he also captured 2,000 more from villages that were in his path. By the time he reached his destination in Leon only 100 o f the more than 2,300 Indian slaves he had begun with were still alive. A ll this was necessary to “pacify” the natives. (Stannard, 1992, 82)

D uring the first half-century o f the conquest, the Maya’s population fe ll by 82 percent in the Cuchumatan highlands o f Guatemala. On Cozum el Island, o ff the eastern coast o f M exico’s Yucatan Peninsula, 96 percent o f the people perished in seventy years. W ith in sixty years, the N ative population o f presentday Nicaragua declined by 99 percent, from about 1 m illion to few er than 10,000. These are representative figures for the devastation that occurred throughout M esoam erica during the b loody sixteenth century (Stannard, 1992, 8 6 ). The Maya’s Chilam Balam described it as follow s: [W ]hat the white lords did when they came to our land: “They taught fear and they withered the flowers. So that their flower should live, the maimed and destroyed the flower o f others— Marauders by day, offenders by night, murderers o f the world.” (Ibid., 86)

Sm allpox (as w ell as other im ported diseases) and repeated attempts at Spanish invasion and colon ization broke the M aya on ly slow ly. Pedro de Alvarado marched from the V alley o f M exico to Guatemala w ith 400 Spanish soldiers and as many as 20,000 N ative allies, blazing a path o f terror through M ayan country, catching wom en and hanging them. The Spaniards hung babies from their dying mothers’ feet. Alvarado, w ho had recently m arried a native wom an from com pliant Tlaxcala, threw unm arried Mayan wom en to packs o f hunting dogs, w hich tore them to pieces. M any M aya fought a determ ined guerilla war that drove the Spanish from Yucatan during 1536. In 1541, after the Spanish forged alliances w ith som e o f the Maya and after fam ine, pestilence, and the ravages o f c ivil war, the Maya fin ally fell to yet another Spanish invasion. Scattered bands held out for decades longer. The Itza o f Lake Peten resisted Spanish dom ination for m ore than 100 years after that. For m ost Maya, how ever, a way o f life ended by 1550 as Spanish priests burned their cherished books. Remarked Bishop Landa o f Yucatan: “As they contained nothing but superstition and lies o f the devil, w e burned them all, w hich the Indians regretted to an am azing degree” (R ecinos and G oetz,


The Native Peoples o f North America

1953,105). A n unnamed Mayan poet wrote: “W ith rivers o f tears w e m ourned our sacred w ritings am ong the delicate flow ers o f sorrow ” (ib id ., 105). The Spanish invented all manner o f exotic m ethods to in flict pain and death— the m ore excruciating the better. They built a lon g gibbet, lo w enough for the toes to touch the ground and prevent strangling, and hanged thirteen Natives at a tim e in honor o f Christ and the tw elve Aposdes. The Spaniards then tested their blades against the dangling Indios, ripping chests open w ith one b low and exposing entrails. Straw was wrapped around their tom bodies, and they w ere burned alive. One man caught two children about tw o years old, pierced their throats w ith a dagger, then hurled them dow n a precipice. One conquistador pastime was indicative o f their disregard for N ative life. It was called “dogging”— the hunting and m aim ing o f N ative people by canines specifically trained to relish the taste o f human flesh. Accordin g to D avid E. Stannard, som e o f the dogs w ere kept as pets by the conquistadors. Vasco N unez de Balboa’s favorite was named Leoncico, o r Little Lion, a cross between a greyhound and a m astiff. On one occasion, Balboa ordered 40 Indians dogged at once. “Just as the Spanish soldiers seem to have particularly enjoyed testing the sharpness o f their yard-long blades on the bodies o f Indian children, so their dogs seemed to find the soft bodies o f infants especially tasty,” w rote Stannard (1 9 9 2 ,8 3 ). Las Casas thundered against the practice o f “com m ending” Indians to en­

comenderos, w hich resulted in virtual slavery. He was rebuffed by Spanish authorities, w ho had a financial interest in this system o f legalized slavery. Las Casas, the first priest ordained in the N ew W orld , called dow n a form al curse on the main agent o f the b lood y terror that elim inated N ative people from Cuba, Panfilo de Narvaez. One o f the gentle Tainos, offered baptism as he was about to be burned at the stake, refused because he thought he m ight find him self in the Christians’ heaven, populated by even m ore o f the light-skinned people w ho w ere torturing him (Las Casas, 1971, 121). Mayan resistance continued for m ore than three centuries. In 1848, continuing through 1850, remnants o f the Maya launched the Caste W ar, a coordinated attack on Spanish settlements in Yucatan, the nucleus o f the old low land Mayan cultures. This revolt has been called “without question the m ost successful Indian revolt in N ew W o rld history” (Bricker, 1981,87, cited in W righ t, 1992, 255). For a tim e, the Maya nearly drove the Spanish into the sea, on ly to see their army dissolve as soldier-farm ers returned to their fields for the crucial cornplanting season. The revolt in Quintana R oo was not com pletely crushed b y M exican troops until 1901. Five centuries after the Spanish conquest, m ore than 2 m illion Maya still Uve in the homelands that their cities once dom inated. Some have becom e partially assimilated into W estern culture; others, such as the Lacandon in the rem ote forests west o f the R io Usumacinta, still live in relative isolation. In recent years, the population o f the Lacandon Maya has dropped to a few hundred people as they have m oved deeper and deeper into the low land forests to escape the

Mexico and M esoamerica


pressures o f M exico’s tw enty-first century society (D uby and Blom , 1969, 7:276-297). In Guatemala, which had been the Maya’s highland nucleus, subjugation that now approaches 500 years goes on in the guise o f a b loody and intractable c ivil war that has been k illin g an average o f 10 people a day for p olitical reasons fo r m ore than 30 years. The death to ll o f 138,000 people includes 100,000 m urdered for p olitical reasons and 38,000 m ore “disappeared.” This figure is p olitical murders only; other civilian and m ilitary casualties o f the war are not included. The war, in a country that is still 60 percent Maya, follow s the race and class lines o f the original conquista— a meztiso (o r Ladin o) landed class brutally h olding dow n a poverty-stricken Mayan m ajority by every means at its disposal, som etim es (as in 1954) w ith the p olitical and econom ic muscle o f the U nited States behind it (W righ t, 1992, 266).

F U R T H E R R E A D IN G Borah, W oodrow , and Sherburne Cook. The Aboriginal Population o f M exico on the Eve o f the Spanish Conquest. Ibero-Americana No. 45. Berkeley: University o f California Press, 1963. Brandon, W illiam . The Am erican Heritage Book o f Indians. N ew York: Dell, 1961. Bricker, Victoria R. The Indian Christ, the Indian King. Austin: University o f Texas Press, 1981. Burnham, Philip. Review Seven Myths o f the Spanish Conquest, by Matthew Restall. Indian Country Today, August 5, 2004. Available at 71091714398. Calamai, Peter. Demise o f Maya Tied to Droughts: Study Points to Climate Change Culture Depended on Growing Maize. Toronto Star, March 14, 2003. Available at Typel& c=A rticle& cid=1035779188042& call_page=TS_C anada& call_pageid = 968332188774&calLpagepath=News/Canada&pubid=968163964505SrStai5ource= email. Coe, Michael D. Am erica’s First C ivilization . N ew York: American Heritage, 1968. Coe, W illiam R. Resurrecting the Grandeur o f Tikal, National Geographic, December 1975, 792-799. C ollier, John. Indians o f the Americas. N ew York: N ew American Library, 1947. Cook, Sherburne F., and W oodrow Borah. The Indian Population o f Central M exico, 1521-1610. Ibero-Americana No. 44. Berkeley: University o f California Press, 1960. del Castillo, Bernardino Diaz. Conquest o f New Spain. N ew York, 1958. del Castillo, Bernal Diaz. H istoria Verdadera de la Conquista de la Nueva España, edited by Joaquin Ramirez Cabanas. M exico City: Editorial Purrua, 1968, 2:273, cited in Leon-Portilla, 1972, 122. Demarest, Arthur A. The Violent Saga o f a Mayan Kingdom. National Geographic, Feb­ ruary 1993,95-111. Diamond, Jared. The Last Americans: Environmental Collapse and the End o f C ivili­ zation. Harper's, June 2003, 43-51.


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Diehl, Richard A. Tula* The Toltec Capital o f Ancient Mexico. London: Thames and Hudson, 1981. Dobyns, Henry F. Estimating Aboriginal American Population. Current Anthropology 7(1966): 395-449. Driver, Harold E. Indians of North America. 2nd ed. Chicago: University o f Chicago Press, 1969. Duby, Gertrude, and Frans Blom. The Lacandon. In Robert Wauchope, ed., Handbook of Middle-American Indians. Vol. 7. Austin: University o f Texas Press, 1969. Fash, W illiam L., Jr., and Barbara W . Fash, Scribes, W arriors and Kings: the Lives o f the Copan Maya. Archaeology, May-June 1990, 28. Gann, Thomas. Mystery Cities: Exploration and Adverture in Lubaantun. London: Duck­ worth, 1925. Gerhard, Peter. A Guide to the Historical Geography of New Spain. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1972. Gerhard, Peter. The North Frontier of New Spain. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1982. Gibson, Charles. The Aztecs Under Spanish Rule: A History of the Indians of the Valley of Mexico, 1519-1810. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1964. Hassler, Peter. Cutting Through the Myth o f Human Sacrifice: The Lies o f the Conquis­ tadors. WorldPress Review (reprinted from Die Zeit, Hamburg), December 1992,28-29. Haug, Gerald H., D etlef Gunter, Larry C. Peterson, Daniel M. Sigman, Konrad A. Hughen, and Beat Aeschlimann. Climate and the Collapse o f Maya Civilization. Science 299( March 14 ,2003):1731-1735. Henderson, John S. The World of the Ancient Maya. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981. Jimenez-Moreno, W igberto and Alfonso Garcia-Ruiz. Historia de Mexico: Una Síntesis. M exico City, D. F.: IN AH , 1970. Kelley, David H. Deciphering the Maya Script. Austin: University o f Texas Press, 1976. Labaree, Leonard, ed. The Papers of Benjamin Franklin. New Haven, CT: Yale Uni­ versity Press, 1950-. La Fay, Howard. The Maya, The Children o f Tim e. National Geographic, December 1975, 729-766. Las Casas, Bartolome de. History of the Indies. Translated and edited by Andree Collard. N ew York: Harper and Row, 1971. Leon-Portilla, M. Los Antiguos Mexicanos a Través de sus Crónicas y Cantares. M exico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1972. Leon-Portilla, Miguel. Pre-Columbian Literature c f Mexico. Norman: University o f Okla­ homa Press, 1969. Lovell, W . George. Conquest and Survival in Colonial Guatemala' A Historical Geography of the Cuchumatan Highlands, 1500-1821. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1985. M axwell, James A., ed. America’s Fascinating Indian Heritage. Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest, 1978. M cDowell, Bart. The Aztecs. National Geographic, December 1980, 704-752. Mochtezuma, Eduardo Matos. Templo Mayor: History and Interpretation. In Johanna Broda, David Carrasco, and Mochtezuma, eds., The Great Temple ofTenochtitlan: Center and Periphery in the Aztec World. Berkeley: University o f California Press, 1988,15-60.

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Molina Montes, Augusto F. The Building o f Tenochtitlan. National Geographic, De­ cember 1980, 753-766. Radell, Davis R. The Indian Slave Trade and Population o f Nicaragua During the Six­ teenth Century. In W illiam E. Denevan, ed., The Native Population of the Americas. Madison: University o f W isconsin Press, 1976,67-76. Recinos, Adrian, and Delia Goetz, trans. The Annals of the Cakchiquels. Norman: University o f Oklahoma Press, 1953. Restall, Matthew. Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest. N ew York: O xford University Press, 2004. Roys, Ralph L. The Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel. Norman: University o f Okla­ homa Press, 1967, cited in W right, 1992, 165-166. Sahagún, Bernardino de. Historia General de las Cosas de Nueva España. 4 vols. Edited and translated by Angel Maria Garibay. M exico City, DF: Porrua, [ca. 1555] 1956. Sahagún, Bernardino de. Historia de las Cosas de la Nueva España (1905-1907). Cited in Miguel Leon Portilla, The Aztec Image of Self and Society: An Introduction to Nahua Culture. Salt Lake City: University o f Utah Press, 1992. Sahagún, Friar Bernardino de. Florentine Codex: General History of the Things of New Spain. Vol. 10. Translated by Arthur J. O. Anderson and Charles Dibble. Santa Fe, NM : School o f American Research, 1950-1969. Scholars Rewrite Mayan History after Hieroglyphics Found. Omaha World-Herald, September 20, 2002, 12-A. Smith, Michael E. The Aztec Migrations o f the Nahuad Chronicles: Myth or History? Ethnohistory 31:3(1984):153-186. Stannard, David E. American Holocaust: Columbus and the Conquest of the New World. N ew York: Oxford University Press, 1992. Stuart, George E. Riddle o f the Glyphs. National Geographic, December 1975,768-791. Stuart, George E. Etowah: A Southeast Village in 1491. National Geographic, October 1991, 54-67. Stuart, George E. Mural Masterpieces o f Ancient Cacaxtla. National Geographic, Sep­ tember 1992, 120-136. W ebster, David. The Fall of the Ancient Maya. London: Thames and Hudson, 2002. W ilkerson, Jeffery K. Follow ing the Route o f Cortes. National Geographic, October 1984, 420-459. W illiam s, Stephen. Fantastic Archaeology: The Wild Side of American Prehistory. Phi­ ladelphia: University o f Pennsylvania Press, 1991. W right, Ronald. Stolen Continents: America through Indian Eyes Since 1492. Boston: Houghton M ifflin, 1992.

Chapter 3 «-'S »»

Native America Meets Europe THE COLONIAL ERA

.■ E u ro p e a n im m igrants w ho flow ed across N orth Am erica in successive waves encountered a very large array o f N ative Am erican peoples. A great variety o f N ative languages existed in N orth Am erica at contact, an estimated 500 to 1,000. A n even w ider variety o f languages was spoken in South Am erica (Brandon, 1961, 106). Estimates o f the total number o f languages at contact on both continents range from 1,000 to 2,000 (D river, 1969, 25; Beals and H oijer, 1965, 613). This variety o f languages was a result o f cultural devel­ opm ent spanning many thousands o f years that was ended, o r arrested, w ith the advent o f im m igrating European people and their pathogenic diseases. This chapter b riefly sketches the evolution o f cultures in parts o f the presentday United States, from the Southwest to Southeast. This description is fo l­ low ed by a narrative o f contact, first am ong the Spanish, then the English and French.

T H E RISE O F C O M P L E X C U L T U R E S About 5,000 years ago, at the beginning o f the epoch that geologists call the H olocene, com plex cultures w ith stable agricultural and trading bases began to form in the area now occupied by the continental United States o f Am erica. Although C lovis and Folsom styles o f weapons diffused rapidly across N orth Am erica (in dicatin g trade and other form s o f com m unication), w e know little about these cultures other than that they hunted now -extinct form s o f large w ild life. W e are on ly beginning to learn from the scanty trail o f evidence they le ft behind h ow the people o f N orth Am erica’s various cultures conducted other aspects o f their lives (such as religion s). A t a half-dozen sites across the U nited States west o f the Rocky Mountains, underground chambers have been found housing caches o f item s that many believe C lovis era people found


The Native Peoples o f North America

valuable, such as their distinctive projectile points. W ere these places burial sites? W e do not yet know. A t about 3000 b.c.e., not so lon g after the trail o f a com plex history begins for the O ld W orld , organized societies began to develop in N orth Am erica. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Mayan calendar, the m ost precise measure o f tim e developed in prehistoric Am erica, dates to 3114 b.c.e. N orth o f the R io Grande, peoples w ho earlier had subsisted m ainly by hunting and gathering began to develop agriculture around 300 b.c.e. Settled societies evolved ear­ liest in tw o geographic areas: the Southeast (in clu din g the M ississippi V a lley) and the Southwest. The Southwestern cultures evolved a few hundred years earlier, planting the seeds o f the Anasazi (N avajo for ancient ones), w ho b y 1000 c.E. had built com munal structures containing up to 650 room s each across the arid landscape o f contem porary Arizona, N ew M exico, C olorado, and Utah. In the Southeast, agriculture-based societies evolved into the m ound builders o f the M ississippian culture. The first Spanish explorers found on ly the last remnants o f both.

C A U T IO N S W hen surveying the prehistory o f N orth Am erica, one must recognize the flu idity o f scholarship and how qu ickly new know ledge and conjecture m ay turn recent veracity to dross. C ivilization in the Am ericas is ancient, but much o f our know ledge o f these civilization s is relatively recent. W hen studying the condition o f societies in the Am ericas before persistent contact w ith Europe­ ans, realize that m ost o f our know ledge o f these cultures dates from the tw en­ tieth century, and that w e are still by and large discovering Am erica. W h o knows what still waits to be unearthed, deciphered, connected, and revealed. M ore good advice com es from Duane Champagne, form er editor o f the U niversity o f C alifornia at Los Angeles’ American Indian Culture and Research

Journal and a professor o f sociology at the university. Champagne com m ented on the nature o f p olitical consensus and leadership am ong N ative peoples that often confused Europeans, w ho w ere accustomed to top-dow n, com m andand-control hierarchies. Although some N ative peoples (such as the A ztecs) conform ed to this m odel, many others did not. W hen examining Native cultures, both in prehistory and after contact w ith European colonialism, it is important to distinguish between the types o f dis­ agreement between individuals and groups that are routine parts o f decision making and change and those that rend the social fabric and make consensus impossible. Champagne, who is a Turtle Mountain Chippewa, wrote the follow ing: The literature on Native North Americans tends to regard Indian societies as endemic with internal factionalism. However, what many observers have recorded is largely routine conflict. Since many Indian societies are politically decentralized, with segmentary bands, villages or kinship groups having considerable local political,

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social, and economic autonomy, they have considerable difficulty organizing sustained collective action___ W hile such absence o f concerted action may look like factionalism [to an outside observer] the major subgroups are merely exercising their prerogative to make their own political decisions. (1989,4-3)

“Factionalism ,” according to Champagne (1 9 8 9 ,4 ), “should be reserved for conflicts over the rules o f social order.” The rapid and uncontrolled exposure o f a society to outside influences— as occurred across the Am ericas at the onset o f European colonialism — may cause such society-destroying factional splits, m ost often between those people w ithin the culture w ho assert that the invasion should be resisted and those w ho wish to accom m odate it. Societal factionalism also may be introduced from w ithin or because o f environm ental changes. This was the m ost com m on cause o f m ajor changes in N ative N orth Am erican societies before contact w ith Europeans. O n contact, historical accounts often display just how ignorant the im m i­ grants were o f this consensus m odel o f politics. Leaders o f colon ial expedi­ tions often asked Natives they m et to take them to a clearly identifiable leader w ith whom they could negotiate for an entire nation. Just as often, the im ­ m igrants assumed that N ative people they m et w ere leaders w ho could speak fo r others, when they could not. Another problem w ith much contem porary com m entary on N ative societies, according to Champagne, is that when change in them is described, it is usually analyzed solely in terms o f colon ial influence (Cham pagne, 1989, 4 -5 ). O b­ servers (w h o usually have been educated w ithin the context o f European Am erican society) do not begin their studies w ith descriptions o f the com plex indigenous societies that form ed and re-form ed before contact, but rather as “a m ere reflection or reaction to the pow erful forces o f colon ial societies” (ib id ., 4 -5 ). Although it is true that European peoples and their cultures have w rought great changes in N ative Am erican ways o f livin g during the five-plus centuries since persistent contact began, the N ative societies that have ab­ sorbed these changes did not adopt them w ithout m odification. A t the other end o f the spectrum, many traditionally trained scholars do n ot study the ways in which Am erican Indian ways o f livin g, thinking, and organizing socie­ ties influenced the many peoples w ho im m igrated to N orth Am erica from overseas. Societies indigenous to N orth Am erica also influenced each other for many thousands o f years before continuing contact w ith Europeans began. The M aya, for exam ple, developed the concept o f negative numbers and passed it to the Aztecs, in ways in some ways sim ilar to the Greeks’ shaping o f Roman know ledge. N ative people traded in a w ide net across the continent; cultural traits and other types o f know ledge w ere transm itted as w ell. Because so little o f this trade was recorded and because many o f the peoples w ho carried it on do not survive, reconstructing an accurate “prehistory” o f N orth Am erica is one o f historical scholarship’s greatest challenges. The fact that our interpretations


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o f this period have changed so fundam entally during this century is reflective o f how little w e still do not know.

A G R I C U L T U R E C O M E S T O THE S O U T H W E S T A people archeologists call the M ogollon became the first in the present-day U nited States to adopt agriculture and pottery, around 300

B.C.E. T h eir p it

dw ellings and kivas resem bled those o f other peoples in the present-day U.S. Southwest as w ell as the early Anasazi. The M ogollon people w ere a branch o f the broader Cochise culture, from which the Anasazi also evolved a few cen­ turies later. They lived in western N ew M exico and eastern Arizona (rou gh ly the area occupied by the Navajos today), w eaving fine blankets out o f cot­ ton, feathers, and w o o l made from the fur o f animals. Some o f the m odem H opis and Zunis are descended from the M ogollon peoples. Another branch o f the Cochise, the Hohokam , adopted agriculture as their predom inant way o f life about 100 c.E. in the Salt and G ila R iver areas o f present-day southern Arizona. T o cope w ith the dry conditions o f the area, the Hohokam built massive irrigation works, some o f which were still in use w hen the first Spaniards arrived. The people diverted river water into canals six feet deep and up to thirty feet w ide, som e o f which extended up to ten m iles, to nourish the crops that fed the population o f their principal settlem ent, n ow called Snaketown. This site, close to present-day Phoenix, was occupied fo r 1,200 consecutive years. The Hohokam also developed a process for etching alm ost 300 years before it was used in Europe. Hohokam craftspeople w ork ed the surface to be etched w ith pitch, as they transferred the design w ith a stylus. They then laced the design w ith an acid created from the fruit o f the saguaro cactus. The Pimas and Papagos, w ho occupied southern Arizona during early Spanish contact, w ere descended from the Hohokam people.

TH E A N A S A Z I Roughly 1000 C.E., the Anasazi, ancestors o f today’s Hopis and Pueblos, bu ilt a netw ork o f large stone dw ellings atop and into the sides o f mesas in the present-day southwestern U nited States. T h eir netw ork o f villages, centered in Chaco Canyon, covered an area extending from west o f Albuquerque (o n con­ tem porary m aps) westward to Las Vegas, Nevada. D w ellings in these villages housed tens o f thousands o f people in preplanned com plexes as large as 300 room s each. The settlements w ere connected by roads as w ide as som e o f today’s interstate highways; these roads may have been used to transport food qu ickly from settlem ent to settlem ent to address shortages in a land w here rainfall could be scarce and harvests could easily fail. The Anasazi ingeniou sly utilized what little water they had, but in the end their civilization , w h ich flourished for a little m ore than a century, collapsed in the face o f a severe drought that began about 1150 c.E.

Native America Meets Europe


Anglo-Am erican explorers discovered the remains o f the Anasazi in 1877, w hen photographer W illiam H enry Jackson found spectacular ruins o f a people w ho w ere first called the Basketmakers because their earliest genera­ tions used intricately w oven baskets even to carry water, w h ile m ost others used pottery. O n ly slow ly did scholars realize that Chaco Canyon had been the center o f a very large civilization . By 2,000 years ago, the people w ho w ou ld build these large settlements were discovering how to grow corn, the basis o f a sedentary existence. W hen the N avajo (D in e) arrived from the north, they called the people they m et ancient ones, Anasazi in their language. Anasazi settlements covered the landscape, givin g the area they occupied a population density greater than today, outside o f m ajor urban areas. A t least 25,000 Anasazi sites have been found in N ew M exico, a sim ilar number in Arizona, and thousands m ore in Utah and Colorado. Archeologists believe that many thousands m ore w ill be discovered in the future (Canby, 1982, 563). M any o f the canyon w a lk in an area that European settlers regarded as inhospitable became peppered w ith c liff dw ellings after the Anasazi im ­ ported the bow and arrow and discovered the hefted axe about 500 c.e. because they also refined their cultivation o f com , beans, and squash. Even the w a lk o f the Grand Canyon became hom e to some o f the cliff-d w ellin g Anasazi. C oaxing food out o f the often-dry soil required some ingenuity. The Anasazi learned to mulch soil w ith gravel to help it retain m oisture as they fashioned an irrigation system that took advantage o f ru n off from drenching summer thunderstorms. As a thunderstorm gathered strength, the Anasazi w ould leave their other w ork and rush to the north-facing w a lk o f nearby canyons to channel the ru n off into canak leading into their farm ing fields. In th k way, they designed irrigation w ithout access to rivers. Some o f these canak w ere as lon g as four miles. They required constant, cooperative labor, especially during the summer grow ing season, when sudden thunderstorms often were the on ly form o f precipitation. By roughly 700

C.E., Anasazi dw ellings began to increase in size and

com plexity; 300 years later, they built dw ellings that could enclose an entire villa ge in one structure, the largest residential housing blocks built in N orth Am erica until about 1870. These dw ellings housed a society in w hich wom en usually ow ned fam ily property, and men oversaw the cerem onial side o f life, centered in underground kivas. L ife in th k area could be precarious. Crops could fail, and game could disappear for months on end, bringing to the Anasazi haunting m em ories o f droughts and famines past. Arch eological reports indicate that many Anasazi d ied in infancy, and that in old age (b y 45 years, on average) many w ere nearly crippled by arthritk. The Anasazi prospered despite their harsh environm ent. A t 919 c.e., the ceilin g beams w ere cut for Pueblo Bonito, the grandest o f all the c liff settlem enk. Such precision in dating k made possible by measuring the grow th rings o f the trees used as beams.


The Native Peoples o f North America

By roughly the year 1150, the Anasazi reached their height. W hen it was com pleted, Pueblo Bonito contained 650 rooms. Eleven other sm aller pueblos surrounded it, many o f them connected by roads. Seventy other sim ilar com ­ m unities lay outside Chaco Canyon; others spread across an area 500 m iles east to west and up to 300 m iles north to south (Canby, 1 98 2,5 64 -5 65 ,5 7 8). The Anasazis also devised a com m unication system to com plem ent their roads. One school o f thought has it that the various pueblos com m unicated w ith fires or mica m irrors reflecting sunlight in coded signals from the tops o f mesas (ib id ., 585). A fter 1150, the Anasazis’ civilization qu ickly collapsed because o f severe drought coupled w ith coolin g temperatures. This drought was a drastic, w renching clim atic change that lasted m ore than a century, reaching its peak between 1276 and 1299, when practically no rain o r snow fell in the area. The Chaco R iver dried up. Agriculture always had been risky in this region , any­ where above 7,000 feet or below 5,500 feet in elevation; the higher elevations w ere too cold, and low er locations too w ere hot and dry. W ith the change in clim ate, farm ing became nearly im possible in many locations. A few Anasazi settlements survived the drought, such as Mesa V erde, one o f the latest and most spectacular, but the m ajority o f the pueblos lay in ruins by the tim e the Spanish arrived. The c liff dw ellers at Mesa V erde le ft a m agnif­ icent m asonry tem ple that indicated a massive attem pt to appease the gods after the great drought. The construction o f religious structures also m ay have indicated cultural influence from trading w ith the civilization s o f the V a lley o f M exico, several hundred m iles to the south. The Anasazi also traded bu ffalo m eat w ith N ative peoples o f the plains to the east and north. Before the great drought, Pueblo Bonito hosted a large market that may have been a crossroads fo r traders ranging over thousands o f miles. M ost o f this netw ork d ied in the dust before 1200 c.e . Scattered remnants are still occupied today. A com a, fo r exam ple, is still a functioning com m unity, as is the H opis’ O rabi, w h ich is the oldest continuously occupied com m unity in the present-day U n ited States.

SPANISH E X PLO R A TIO N A M O N G THE PUEBLO S T h e Spanish, w ho sent several expeditions northward from M e x ic o be­ gin n in g in 1540, were the first Europeans to m eet N ative p eop les in the present-day land area com prising the United States o f Am erica. V ery qu ick ly, learn in g o f the Anasazi, the Spanish explorers realized that N a tive cultures had been evolvin g in the area for many centuries before th eir arrival. T h e Pueblos, their descendants, built a remarkably intricate culture in th eir r liff dw ellin gs. Their pottery and jew elry turned Spanish heads. Som e o f th eir turquoise necklaces contained thousands o f w orked stones. T h e Pueblos’ governm ent was a dem ocratic theocracy; n early a ll houses w ere o f roughly equal size. The highest-ranking theocrats w ere farm ers, lik e the p eople they led. In som e towns, two groups o f residents (th e Sum m er

Native America Meets Europe


A conta w ater carriers. (C o u rte sy o f the E dw ard S. C u rtis C o llectio n , Library o f C o n gress.)

P eop le an d the W in te r P eop le) to o k six-m o n th turns at govern in g. R uth Ben­ ed ict’s Patterns of Culture (19 3 4 , 100) e x to lle d the d em ocratic nature o f g o v ­ ern m en t am on g the Z u n i P ueblos. T h e y, and the rest o f the P ueblos, seem ed to h ave op erated their p o litical system w ith an innate sense o f egalitarianism ; the passage o f w ea lth and p o w er b y h ered ity w as alm ost u n kn ow n ; a m an or


The Native Peoples o f North America

T erraced houses, A co m a P ueblo. (C o u rte sy o f the L ibrary o f C on gress.)

w om an distin gu ish ed him - o r h erself through real achievem ents in d aily life. A lth o u g h the P ueblos and other sou th w estern p eop le seem to have b o rro w ed lib erally from M esoam erica in their m aterial cultures, their p o litical system w as m u ch m ore egalitarian than those o f the A ztecs and M aya (D river, 1969, 3 3 8 -3 3 9 ). A lth o u g h arch eologists agree that the A co m a P ueblo has b een co n tin u ou sly in habited sin ce at least 1200

C.E., N ative elders in the area assert that the site

has been o ccu p ied for ab ou t 2,000 years. A co m a (h istorically also sp elled A k o m e, A cu , A cu o , A c u c o , and A k o ) is taken b y m an y elders to m ean “a p lace that alw ays w as,” as a hom e, o r as an eternal resting place. T h e Spanish w ere d raw n to the area b y rum ors o f g o ld (su ch as the Seven C ities o f C ib o la an d Q u ivera). H ernando de A lvarad o and his co m p an ion Fray Juan Padilla, trav­ elin g w ith a sm all b o d y o f soldiers (as part o f the C o ro n ad o ex p ed ition ), w ere the first E uropeans to see the A com a Pueblo. T h e C o ro n ad o ex p ed itio n , Spain’s initial foray north o f the Rio G rande, returned to M ex ico in 15 4 2 , bereft o f g o ld o r o th er p recio u s cargo. C o ro n ad o ’s failure to find tangible treasure k ep t Spanish g o ld seekers o u t o f the area for m ore than a h a lf century. Spanish m issionaries visited the area d u rin g 15 8 1 and 1582. T h e first, led b y F ray A gu stín R od rigu ez, visited A com a briefly; the

Native America Meets Europe


account o f H em an G allegos (1966), a soldier on the expedition, says on ly that the pueblo was built on a high mesa and contained about 500 houses, each three or four stories high. A second expedition, led by Bem aldino Beltran, brought back reports that Acom a was hom e to about 6,000 people whose pueblo rose about 250 to 300 feet in the air and w ho possessed plentiful food stores and enough cotton blankets (called mantas) to share w ith the Spanish. The Spanish noted farm fields tw o leagues from the pueblo, as w ell as irri­ gation works fed from a local river. The members o f the expedition also hungrily eyed the mountains, b elievin g that their presence guaranteed riches o f gold and silver. In itial contact w ith the Pueblo people at Acom a was friendly. M any o f them ju ggled and danced to celebrate the Spaniards’ arrival; som e o f the dances w ere perform ed w ith live snakes. Sustained im m igration into N ew M exico by the Spanish began in 1598 as about 400 men, wom en, and children marched northward along the slopes o f the Sierra M adre w ith 7,000 head o f stock and 80 wagons. O nly at the pueblo o f Acom a, on the summit o f a steep mesa, did the Spanish m eet active resistance. A fter a short battle, the Spanish invaded the pueblo and im prisoned its men, wom en, and children. M en who resisted lost one foot and twenty years o f their lives to slavery. W om en and children older than tw elve also w ere enslaved for tw enty years, and children under that age w ere handed over to the Catholic Church’s m issionaries for indenture. T w o H opis w ho were visitin g Acom a w ere sent hom e m issing their right hands as a warning. Fifteen years later, Juan de Oñate, the provincial governor w ho had been the leader o f and ch ief investor in the origin al colonization, was stripped o f his honors by a Spanish tribunal and was fined for torture and mass enslavem ent o f the Natives. Thus ended the governorship o f Oñate, son o f one o f the richest m ine owners in M exico w ho had m arried a great-granddaughter o f M ochtezum a. (Fou r hundred years after his troops chopped o ff the lim bs o f their ancestors, N ative people in N ew M exico rem oved a foot from a statue o f Oñate to m em orialize his cruelty.)

Bartolome de las Casas Decries Spanish Cruelty Oñate had the miserable fortunate o f having gone colon izin g w ith illegal zeal during the late stages o f Spanish expansion. The charges levied against Oñate reflected the grow in g muscle w ithin Spanish governm ent circles, as w ell as the Catholic Church, o f people w ho sought to check the cruelty and avarice o f the conquistadors, several o f w hom were hauled in front o f inquiries into their conduct. In the Am ericas, the Catholic priest Bartolom e de las Casas avidly encouraged inquiries into the Spanish conquest’s many cruelties. Las Casas chronicled Spanish brutality against the N ative peoples in excruciating detail. It was Las Casas w ho laid on Spanish desks and Catholic consciences the history o f Latin Am erica’s b loody depopulation at the hands o f the Spanish. H e described how N ative people choked to death on m ercury fumes in the silver m ines as conquistadors bet N ative lives in games o f cards (Las Casas, 1974).


The Native Peoples o f North America

In large part because o f Las Casas’s w ork, a m ovem ent arose in Spain for m ore humane treatment o f indigenous peoples. Some o f the conquistadors made public statements repudiating their past cruelties. In his w ill, Hernán Cortes raised the slavery issue. A sharp debate follow ed w ithin the Catholic Church regarding whether the N atives possessed the spiritual nature (e.g., whether they had souls) suitable to absorb Christian doctrine. Europeans w ho thought o f the Indians as subhuman laughed, asserting that their intelligence was “no m ore than parrots” (M in ge, 1991,7). D uring 1552, Lopez de Gomara (1 55 6), known in contem porary Spain as a biographer o f Cortes, described Indians as barbarous heathens w ho fornicated in public (specializin g in sodom y), liars, and cannibals w ho cursed the O ld W orld w ith syphilis. Gomara asserted that Indians w ere by nature in ferior to Europeans, thereby fit on ly for slavery in the Spanish N ew W o rld order. In the papal bull Sublimis Deus (1 53 7), Pope Paul 111 declared that Indians w ere to be regarded as fu lly human, and that their souls w ere as im m ortal as those o f Europeans. This edict also outlawed slavery o f Indians in any form several decades before Oñate sold the Pueblos he had captured. Las Casas’s New Laws fo r the Indies (1544) called for gradual elim ination o f forced labor for N ative Am ericans under Catholic Church sponsorship. T o counter criticism that the conquest had been brutal and cruel, the laws o f Spain required a conquistador, at the m om ent o f first contact, to read N ative peoples a lon g statement that explained the story o f Adam and Eve, the supremacy o f the Pope, and reasons w hy they should embrace the Catholic faith. This statement was phrased as a contract by which the N ative peoples agreed to submit peacefully to the authority o f the king o f Spain as w ell as the Church o f Rom e. I f N ative people decided not to submit to the Spanish at this point, armed force was brought to bear. By the m iddle 1500s, the semantics o f this statement w ere refined into a genial proclam ation o f greeting from the king o f Spain to the kings and republics o f the “m id-way and western lands.” By 1573, the revised N ew Laws outlawed any m ention o f conquest. Instead, the role o f the explorers was said to be “pacification.” A fter Oñate’s inglorious fall, later governors o f N ew M exico tried to recoup their investments in the colony, surveying a landscape that was utterly lacking deposits o f gold and silver. Unable to wrest wealth from the land themselves, the colonists squeezed the Pueblos m ore harshly for food and labor. The priests railed against the Indians’ d evil worship and from tim e to tim e w hipped som e o f the Pueblos’ m ost respected elders (som etim es to death) in public displays for their practice o f non-Catholic rituals.

The Pueblo Revolt (1680) Spanish arrogance and cruelty provoked considerable resentment among Native peoples. Fifty years after their first colonization, the Pueblos join ed with their ancient enemies the Apaches in an effort to drive the Spanish o u t This initial revolt

Native America Meets Europe


failed, but thirty years later, in 1680, a coalition o f Pueblos knit by the war captain Pope raised a furious revolt that killed a quarter o f the Spanish inunigrants, trashed the hated churches, and sent the surviving Spanish down the trail to El Paso Notre, leaving behind almost everything they owned. The governor summed up the situation: “Today they [the Pueblos] are very happy without religious [mission­ aries], or Spaniards” (Brandon, 1961,129). Pope’s policies after the rout o f the Spanish proved too zealous for most Pueb­ los. He took on the airs o f a petty tyrant and forbade his people from using any­ thing that the Spanish had imported, including new crops. M ost o f Pope’s edicts regarding crops were ignored. Pope even ordered the execution o f some o f his reputed enemies, after which the Pueblo Confederacy that had expelled the Spanish broke into two camps, one favoring Pope, the other opposing him. Pope was deposed but was restored to power in 1688, shortly before he died. Four Spanish attempts at reconquest in eight years combined with a plague o f European diseases, as w ell as the Pueblos’ existing internal dissension, led to depopulation o f the Pueblos’ villages after Pope’s death. In 1692, the Spanish returned.

T H E E A S T E R N M O U N D B U IL D E R S The pyram idlike mounds o f Cahokia (described in chapter 1) are now known to have been one relatively spectacular and recent exam ple o f m ound-building cultures that occupied the southeastern quadrant o f N orth Am erica during roughly 4,500 years before Columbus first made landfall. A t Poverty Point, Louisiana, people livin g in about 1000 b.c.e. constructed earthen mounds on a scale smaller than those o f Cahokia 2,000 years later. One such pyram id, at Bayou Macon, fifteen m iles west o f the Mississippi River, measures 70 feet high and contains 200,000 cubic yards o f earth. (T h e largest pyram id mound at Cahokia fills ten times as much space and rises 100 feet high.) The mounds at Poverty Point are the earliest construction o f such size thus far found anywhere in North Am erica. This culture flourished at about the tim e the Olm ecs were becom ing organized along the G u lf Coast o f M exico; relationships between the tw o (possibly via trade across the G u lf o f M exico or by land around it) have been proposed, but not proven. The earthworks at Poverty Point rival those o f M exico’s Teotihuacan in size but not in artistic detail. The presence o f these and other, smaller mounds indicates a fair-size settlement, as do the thousands o f tools left behind. Other remains include small carvings o f ow ls done in great detail and an abundance o f goods that were probably im ­ ported, some o f them from great distances, such as iron, lead ore, and copper. The Adena culture (nam ed after an estate near C hillicothe, O hio, where a large mound was excavated in 1902) occupied portions o f the O hio V alley located in contem porary O hio, Kentucky, and W est V irginia. The Adena did not develop organized agriculture but lived in large towns characteristic o f later agricultural peoples, supporting themselves by harvesting the rich game o f the surrounding forests and by gathering food plants. The Adena d id use pottery


The Native Peoples o f North America

and copper tools from metal probably im ported from the Lake Superior areas. They w ere the first to construct large earthen mounds in the M ississippi V alley, a custom that continued w ith the H opew ell and Mississippian cultures for m ore than a thousand years. The mounds w ere sym bols o f a highly developed religion that probably embraced the Adenans’ entire social order. The mounds could not have been constructed w ithout considerable labor organized by a central authority. M ost o f the mounds served as burial chambers, and considerable tim e and effort w ere invested to provide materials to be buried w ith the dead. One such artifact depicts a man w ho seems to be dancing and singing, styled into a sm oking pipe. He wears a breach cloth w ith a stylized snake cut across its front and spool­ shaped earrings w hich make him look rather Mesoamerican. M ost o f the mounds w ere built in rectangular shapes sim ilar to those o f tem ples in M esoam erica, but one, the Great Serpent M ound, snaked its w ay for a quarter m ile along a hillside near present-day Cincinnati, O hio.

TH E H O P E W E L L C U L T U R E In the H opew ell culture, mounds w ere used as burial sites beginning about 500 B.c.E. A ccordin g to one estimate, 30 m illion cubic yards o f earth w ere m oved to form all o f the H opew ell culture burial mounds, some o f w hich approached the size o f Poverty Point’s earthworks (Stuart, 1991,61). Although the precision o f this estimate is open to question, it is obvious that a large number o f people spent many years building them. They also w ere h igh ly organized by some sort o f central authority, at least at the village level. Artifacts found in the burial mounds indicate a com plex, w ell-developed netw ork o f N ative settlements centering in present-day O hio. Arch eology in the area in ­ dicates that, by 2,000 years ago, the H opew ell peoples w ere im porting obsidian from the Black H ills and alligator teeth from Florida. These and other com ­ m odities indicate that a w ell-developed trading netw ork extended across much o f the eastern continent very early. U nlike the Adena peoples, the H opew ell culture adapted agriculture, prin­ cipally o f m aize (Indian co m ). Studies o f prehistoric clim ate indicate that w arm ing temperatures allow ed the cultivation o f com over larger areas o f the M ississippi V alley as the H opew ell Culture reached its height between 200 and 500 c.e. H opew ell people continued to hunt and gather as w ell; they often located their villages on or near river floodplains to take advantage o f

B .c.E .

mussels, fish, and other aquatic life. The rivers also form ed a trading network. Like many o f the N ative peoples that Europeans encountered later (such as the League o f the Iroqu ois), the H opew ell peoples may have governed them­ selves through m ultiple chieftainships, in some sort o f confederation, unlike the m ore centralized Aztecs. The H opew ell peoples had a trade netw ork large enough to bring them gold, silver, and copper from hundreds o f m iles away. From these and other materials, they fashioned intricate objects o f art. Some o f

Native Am enât Meets Europe


their materials, such as volcanic rock, came from as far away as W yom ing; sheets o f m ica also found their w ay to the H opew ell settlements from N orth Carolina. The H opew ell was one variant o f the M ississippian m ound-building cultures that flourished in the southeastern United States shortly after the Anasazi rose in the Southwest. Both show som e indications (such as objects o f trade, som e religious customs, and artistic styles) o f contact w ith the peoples o f M esoamerica. The H opew ell mounds them selves may have been an im itation o f Mayan o r A ztec architecture. M ound-building cultures developed across much o f die Southeast, from portions o f V irginia (Thom as Jefferson found a small mound at M on ticello, in V irgin ia) to the O hio V alley and the area that today com prises the U.S. Deep South. The Spanish explorer de Soto encountered som e o f the last m ound builders in the vicin ity o f Natchez. As a w hole, how ­ ever, the people w ho built the mounds had taken up other pursuits by the tim e im m igrants from Europe found them. In the absence o f verifiable history, the earliest trans-Appalachian im m igrants from Europe attributed the mounds to visitors from Israel, Egypt, or other O ld W o rld locales. About 450 c.E., the clim ate cooled again, and archeological evidence in di­ cates that the H opew ellian people w ere forced to spend less tim e pursuing art and other aspects o f high culture and m ore tim e gathering enough food to survive longer, snow ier winters. O ver tw o centuries, the residents o f the towns dom inated by giant mounds tried to m aintain their cultures in the face o f clim atic change as raiding neighbors preyed on their fields and food stores. The trading netw ork collapsed because the culture could no longer afford to sup­ port large numbers o f people w ho did not directly participate in the production o f food. The number o f artists and craftspeople w ho produced trade articles also declined. Chiefs o f the villages also may have sustained a loss o f authority associated w ith their in ability to com mand m aterial tribute. The next focus for developin g culture in the Southeast w ou ld form further south, where com could still be grow n in abundance, even in a relatively cooler, w etter clim ate.

A LEG AC Y OF THEOCRACIES The oral history and m ythology o f the Cherokees indicate that they (lik e several other people in the region ) once w ere governed by a theocracy, possibly a remnant o f the Tem ple M ound cultures that had flourished in the area. One version o f the Cherokee creation m yth holds that their lives originated in seven clans. Each clan appointed a headman, w ho was subordinate to a head priest and a council o f seven, w ho aided the priest w ith cerem onies. V illages also included political councils as w ell as warriors’ societies, but both w ere sub­ ordinate to the priests. The people o f the villages came to resent the priests’ heavy-handed con trol o f their lives and rebelled. A fter the religious hierar­ chy was dism antled, the Cherokees m aintained their affairs through a net­ w ork o f roughly sixty highly autonomous villages. The principal loyalty o f the

The Native Peoples o f North America


Cherokee in precontact tim es seems to have been to the village, not to a na­ tional council. Like the Cherokees, the Choctaws’ oral history indicates that they overthrew a priesthood during the end o f the mound builder era, roughly between 900 and 1600

c.E. F ollow in g the fall o f their theocracy, the Choctaws abandoned

the tow n o f Nanih W aiya, a M ississippi culture tow n w ith rampart-style de­ fenses surrounding a large mound. F ollow in g the collapse o f the Choctaw theocracy, the nation was divided into six politico-social divisions called iksa, a term that com bined kindred group, political chiefdom , and identification w ith a specific locality. Each iksa claim ed its own territory. M em bers o f many iksa spoke distinct dialects and shared attributes o f culture that was theirs alone. Each iksa also maintained com m unal lands for farming. Although m en helped clear the fields, wom en custom arily tended them w h ile men hunted and fished. Precontact Choctaw society was probably organized m ore strongly along kinship lines than the Cherokee. Villages som etim es sent delegations to regional o r even national councils as w ell, but little is know n o f their pow ers or how they functioned. The Chickasaws maintained vestiges o f the mound builder culture after the Cherokee and Choctaw abandoned their theocracies. Records from the de Soto expedition, which crossed their homelands in present-day Louisiana and western Tennessee, indicate that the Chickasaw m aintained a w ell-organ ized agricultural society headed by a chief, w ho was carried about in a litter and shown great deference. By the tim e the Chickasaws experienced sustained contact w ith the British (du rin g the early 1700s) reports indicate that the society had becom e less hierarchical. Chiefs w ere regarded as equals o f other people unless they showed special talents. A decline in the prestige o f leaders may have been a result o f the general decline o f the m ound-building cultures during the first years o f steady European contact. Like the Choctaws, the Chickasaws maintained an integrated kinship sys­ tem (ifesas). The nation was divided into tw o prim ary kinship groups (called phratries), which also w ere subdivided into sm aller kinship groups dow n to the fam ily level. Some leading political titles w ere hereditary, and p olitica l organization was to som e degree divorced from the kinship system. A national council included c ivil and m ilitary leaders as w ell as representatives o f the various iksas. The Chickasaws also u tilized m ore definite notions o f social rank than m ost o f the other peoples in the region. A t the G reen C om Cere­ m ony, their prim ary annual m eeting and social event, various bands cam ped in a prescribed pattem indicating each person’s rank. Although Chickasaw political life was m ore centralized than that o f the other peoples in the area, decisions o f the national council required unani­ mous consent. Leaders had little coercive authority. Priests held a special position in this political organization. They could read and interpret signs and omens and pass these messages on to the people, but they did not con trol the w h ole system (Cham pagne, 1989, 3 8-3 9).

Native America Meets Europe


The Creeks had no m yth o f an ancient theocracy, indicating that they perhaps m igrated to central G eorgia and Alabama from the west and did not originate w ith the M ississippi m ound-building peoples. One Creek myth describes how the people m igrated from the west searching for uthe house o f the sun.” Reaching the Atlantic, they settled because they could go no far­ ther east. The Creek w orld revolved around four principal villages, which later or­ ganized into tw o groups that the English called the red and white towns. This division reflected the cosm ology o f the Creeks, which they shared w ith other peoples in the area. The w hite w orld was said to be the vault o f heaven, the residence o f a supreme diety, the hom e o f peace, order, harm ony, cleanliness, purity, and wisdom . The red sphere, under the earth, was said to be occupied by monsters and dem ons that could em erge through caves, rivers, and other breaches in the earth to do harm to human beings w ho had acted im properly. Red sym bolized fertility, change, strife, danger, grow th, disorder, and war. The Creeks saw life as the realm between the red and the w hite in w hich human beings struggled to achieve a balance between the com peting forces. In times o f war, red towns governed the Creek Confederacy. In times o f peace, governance passed to the w hite towns. The four m ajor Creek settlements w ere divided into tw o red and tw o w hite sections (Cham pagne, 1989, 52). Prim ary loyalties am ong the Creek (as am ong the Cherokees) w ere estab­ lished through the village; each settlem ent that was large enough to have a cerem onial center also had a m yth o f having received its cerem onies, laws, and sacred objects from the w hite w orld. If people in the village follow ed these cerem onies, they believed that they w ould be protected from the e vil spirits o f the red w orld, which could bring crop failure, natural calam ities, death, and disease. Each village also contained kinship groups divided along red and w hite lines. As w ou ld be expected, the tw o divisions were delegated authority for c iv il and m ilitary functions; the red groups governed warfare, and the w hite per­ form ed c ivil governm ent and religious cerem onies (Cham pagne, 1989, 59). Like many M esoam erican peoples, many indigenous Am ericans w ho lived in what is now the southeastern U nited States made an artistic canvas o f their bodies. The m ost esteem ed warriors w ere tattooed w ith graphic displays o f their deeds, until som e o f them w ere covered head to foot. In addition, most men donned geom etric designs o f paint for war, ball games, and other public occasions. In addition to their tattoos and paint, men often w ore layers o f w ooden, shell, copper, stone, or pearl bracelets, necklaces, armbands, and other jew elry.

E T O W A H : A T Y P IC A L V IL L A G E Etowah, a typical Mississippian village, housed about 3,000 people at a site west o f contemporary Atlanta, Georgia, later Cherokee territory. Etowah’s princi­ pal mound, rather average sized by Mississippian standards, was the height o f a


The Native Peoples o f North America

six-story building and contained about a m illion buckets o f earth (Stuart, 1991, 60). Thatched-roofed dwellings surrounded the mound, and the whole village was ringed by palisades o f spiked logs, indicating a high probability o f warfare. Archeologists have unearthed remains o f an Etowahan war ch ief they called Eagle W arrior. Eagle W arrior w ore a heavy necklace o f solid shell beads the size o f g o lf balls. From it hung a slender, foot-lon g pendant crafted from a w h ole conch shell. W id e bands o f shell beadwork encircled his wrists and upper arms. Around his head lay m ore insignia o f the highest status, am ong them copper-covered w ooden coils fastened to a plate o f sheet copper cut and embossed in the im age o f an open bird’s w in g to form an im posing headdress. Across his chest lay a splendid cerem onial axe, its blade and handle carefully wrought from a single piece o f greenstone. The weapon, much too delicate for practical use, served as an em blem o f pow er. Such chiefs led w arriors into battle against other towns, often in the spring. Th ey w ent into battle alm ost naked, having painted their faces and upper bodies w ith red and black ochers that the people o f Etowah found nearby. Each w arrior carried a club, knife, bow , and arrows. The earliest Spanish explorers found the people o f the area exceptionally w ell trained for war. One o f them observed that the warriors he m et w ere “w arlike and nim ble___ Before a Christian can make a single shot [w ith crossbow o r harquebus]. . . an Indian w ill discharge three or fou r arrows; and he seldom misses his object” (Stuart, 1991,64). Estimates place the occupation o f Etowah at about 1200 C.E., w ith its height o f population and cultural developm ent about tw o centuries later, about 100 to 150 years before the first Spanish explorers traversed the area. The native inhabitants, whose oral history says m igrated from the west, found sandy loam soil that was ideal for farm ing, w ith a clim ate w ith a lon g grow ing season, abundant rainfall, and forests jum ping w ith game, including w hite-tailed deer and many sm aller animals. The shoals o f rivers near Etowah abounded w ith mussels, turtles, and fish.

TH E N A T C H E Z : A L O N G -L IV E D M O U N D P E O P L E The Natchez are an atypical exam ple o f a tem ple mound people w ho sur­ vived into the period o f sustained contact w ith Europeans. The Natchez w ere ruled by a man called the Great Sun, whose decisions regarding individuals w ere absolute and despotic. In decisions regarding the nation, how ever, he was subject to the consensus o f a council o f respected elders. U nlike the Pueblos, whose houses w ere egalitarian, the Natchez gave their ruler a palace. The Great Sun lived in a large house, tw enty-five by forty-five feet, built atop a flat-topped earthen mound eight to ten feet high. The Great Sun was an absolute ruler in every sense. A French observer said that when the Great Sun Gives the leavings [o f his meal] to his brothers or any o f his relatives, his pushes the dishes to them with his feet___ The submissiveness o f the savages to their chief,

Native America Meets Europe


who commands them w ith the most despotic power, is extreme___ If he demands the life o f any one o f them he comes him self to present his head. (Champagne,

1989, 59-60) Nearby, on another m ound, stood a large building, w ith tw o carved birds at either end o f its roof: the tem ple in which reposed the bones o f earlier Great Suns. O nly the Great Sun (w h o was also head priest as w ell as k in g) and a few assistants could enter the temple. The sons and daughters o f the Great Sun, the younger members o f the royal fam ily, were called Little Suns. Below the royal fam ily in status was a class o f nobles, and below them was a class o f Honored Men. The rest o f the people oc­ cupied the low er orders, the Stinkards. The term was not used in the presence o f Stinkards themselves because they considered it offensive. Into this hierarchical society, the Natchez introduced marriage customs that introduced some (usually dow nw ard) class m obility. A Great Sun had to marry horn am ong the Stink­ ards. The male children o f Great Suns became Nobles, who were also obliged to marry Stinkards. The male children o f H onored M en became Stinkards. Descent follow ed the female Une, and children o f female Suns became Suns themselves. The system was m atrilineal, but in the household the man’s w ord was law. By the tim e the first English colonists established themselves on the eastern seaboard o f N orth Am erica, Spanish explorers had crossed the M ississippi V alley and regions southeast and southwest o f it, fruitlessly seeking gold and other riches. They traveled as far into the Plains as present-day Nebraska, ruining their w elcom e am ong a number o f N ative peoples w ith their penchant for arrogant plunder. The French also w ere using the M ississippi R iver as an aquatic highway, seeking furs. Outside o f a few small settlements and a scat­ tering o f tiny forts, the Europeans had not becom e established before the year 1600 C.E. They left trade goods, missionaries, and liqu or, as w ell as disease, the first fingers o f the dem ographic rush that later w ou ld sw irl across N orth Am erica during the westward expansion o f the U nited States.

F IR S T E N G L IS H C O N T A C T : TH E P O W H A T A N C O N F E D E R A C Y As Shakespeare began staging his m ost notable plays and England delivered its first colonists to Am erica, the tidewater area o f V irgin ia was hom e to the numerous and pow erfu l Powhatan Confederacy, which refers to the name the indigenous people gave to the falls o f the river that the English named after their K ing James and that dissects the urban area they later named Richm ond. Powhatan, derived from the Algonquian w ords pau’t-hanne or pauwau-atan, was the name that the English affixed to the leader o f the area’s N ative people. The im m igrants believed him to be a king, in the English style, although Powhatan probably was not an absolute ruler. Powhatan’s name am ong his ow n people was W ahunsonacock (ca. 15471618). He was a rem arkable figure w ho probably had assembled m ost o f the


The Native Peoples of North America

Powhatan Confederacy during his tenure as leader o f one o f its bands. The confederacy included about 200 villages organized into several sm all nation­ states when the English encountered it for the first tim e. W ahunsonacock was about 60 years o f age when Jamestown was founded in 1607. W ahunsonacock and other N ative people in the area may have m et w ith other Europeans before the Jamestown colonists. The Spanish had established a m ission on the Y ork R iver during 1570 that was destroyed by indigenous warriors. Gangs o f pirates also occasionally sought shelter along the Carolina Outer Banks as they waited for the passage o f Spanish galleons flush w ith booty from M exico, M esoam erica, and Peru. Wahunsonacock’s father had been forced northward w ith his people by the Spanish invasion o f Florida. He began the political w ork that forged an alliance o f m ore than 100 Algonquian-speaking villages containing 9,000 people in V irginia’s tidewater country. W ahunsonacock him self strengthened this alli­ ance into a confederacy that included the Pamunkey (h is p eop le), M attaponi, Chickahom iny, Nansemond, Potomac, and Rhappahanock. This confederacy stretched from the Potom ac R iver in northern Virginia to Albem arle Sound in N orth Carolina. W ahunsonacock’s main village was located on the York River. He probably had eleven wives, twenty sons, and at least eleven daughters. Pocahontas, w ho w ould figure in the founding m ythology o f the Jamestown C olony, was reputed to have been Wahunsonacock’s favorite child. The Powhatan Confederacy was one exam ple o f many N ative confederacies that had been assembling and dissolving in eastern N orth Am erica, perhaps for thousands o f years. M ost o f the villages in the Powhatan Confederacy en­ jo yed considerable autonom y, although tribute was som etim es paid to the central authority. Individual villages som etim es decided to make war on the English w ithout consulting other members o f the confederacy. In the beginning, as W ahunsonacock sought peace w ith the English, the col­ onists were in no demographic position to com pete w ith the Natives. W ith in the first few years after Jamestown was founded, the peoples o f the Powhatan Con­ federacy could have eradicated the English setdement w ith ease. Jamestown, in fact, w ould not have survived in its early years w ithout their help. O f 900 colonists who landed during the first three years (1607-1610), only 150 w ere alive in 1610. M ost o f the colonists were not ready for the rugged life o f founding a colony; many died o f disease, exposure to unanticipated cold weather, and starvation. A t one point w ithin a year o f their landfall in Am erica, the Jamestown colonists became so hungry that some o f them engaged in cannibalism. According to the journals o f John Smith, the leader o f the colony, one colonist killed his w ife and “powdered” (salted) her “and had eaten part o f her before it was known; for which he was executed, as he w ell deserved” (Page, 2003,159). General peace persisted during those years, however, because Wahunsona­ cock as w ell as the new Virginians wanted it. The owners o f the Virginia colon y in London decided to treat W ahunsonacock as an independent sovereign and to accept his aid. They even sent him a copper crown. The Powhatans seem to

Native America Meets Europe


have valued English copper as avidly as the hungry colonists valued the Natives’ com during the early years. Although W ahunsonacock was deeply suspicious o f the English, he fos­ tered an awkward peace between the Jamestown colonists and his people so that they could establish the first perm anent English colon y in N orth Am er­ ica. F ollow in g the colony’s early hardships, som e o f W ahunsonacock’s people, including his son Nam ontack, provided the English colonists w ith food and taught them to plant m aize (In dian co m ). W hen John Smith was captured by W ahunsonacock’s people during the fall o f 1608, he was released unharmed— as legend has it, at the request o f Poca­ hontas. The name Pocahontas actually was a nickname that meant (risky or som ething sim ilar. The name by w hich the N ative wom an w ho befriended the V irgin ia colonists called herself was M atowake. Captain John Smith w rote o f “blessed Pocahontes, the great K ing’s daughter o f V irginia, [w h o] o ft saved m y life ___ She, under G od, was the instrum ent to preserve this colon y from death, fam ine, and utter confusion” (M a x w ell, 1978, 76). In 1610, the Virginians tried unsuccessfully to capture and imprison Wahun­ sonacock. Reacting to such hostility, Wahunsonacock m oved his people farther inland. In spite o f this precaution, in 1613 the Virginians took Pocahontas as a hostage. As a result, Wahunsonacock had to ransom her with some English cap­ tives. During her captivity, Pocahontas and a young widower, John Rolfe (one o f the colony’s most prominent m en), developed a romantic interest in each other. Pocahontas was about 18 years o f age in 1614 when she married Rolfe. The marriage was a political m ove to ally the colony with Wahunsonacock. On one occasion, Rolfe took Pocahontas to London, where she created a sensation and met the queen. She later contracted a deadly disease, possibly smallpox, and died at about age 21, leaving a son. D uring the years follo w in g Pocahontas’s death, tobacco became the V irginia colony’s on ly export to England, bringing prosperity. The crop exhausted the soil in which it grew after tw o or three years, so the owners o f expanding tobacco plantations expanded onto N ative lands. This expansion, along w ith the death o f W ahunsonacock in 1618, caused friction to increase between colonists and N ative peoples. A t the tim e o f Powhatan’s death (and elevation to the ch ie fs role o f O pechancanough, w ho hated the English), the population o f the colony was only 350, but by 1622, w ith tobacco-induced prosperity, it had grow n to four times that. The Native peoples exploded in fury, k illin g 350 colonists and destroying many homes w ithin a few hours. The colonists then responded in kind, swearing to exterm inate the Powhatans and nearly succeeding. Natives were elim inated from the low er James and York Rivers; villages w ere burned and their inhabitants killed during several expeditions over the next three years. H ostilities continued on and o ff for several years; in 1641, a surprise attack cost the English hundreds o f lives in one day. The attack was coordinated by Opechancanough, who was then m ore than 90 years o f age. He was carried about his official business on a


The Native Peoples o f North America

litter. The elderly chief was captured and shot, thus ending the Powhatan Confederacy. The English made peace w ith its constituent tribes one by one on English terms and assigned them to reservations, which w ere steadily reduced in size during subsequent years as tobacco farms expanded rapidly, catering to the rapid spread o f tobacco addiction in Europe.

TH E P IL G R IM S ’ L A N D F A L L I N N E W E N G L A N D Squanto, w ho m et the Pilgrim s on a Plym outh Rock beach speaking En­ glish, was kidnapped from his native land (th e im m igrants later called it N ew England) about 1605 by English merchants. A fter Captain G eorge W eym outh anchored o ff the coast o f Massachusetts, he and his sailors captured Squanto and four other N ew England natives and took them back to England as slaves to impress his financial backers (Richard B. W illiam s, 2002). Squanto was taken to live w ith Sir Ferdinando Gorges, ow ner o f the Plym outh Com pany, w ho qu ickly realized Squanto’s value to his com pany’s exploits in the N ew W orld. G orges taught Squanto to speak English so that his colonists could trade w ith the Indians. In 1614, Squanto was returned to Am erica to act as a guide and interpreter and to assist in the m apping o f the N ew England coast. He was kidnapped along w ith twenty-seven other Indians and taken to Malaga, Spain, to be sold as slaves (ib id .). W hen local priests learned the fate o f the Indians, they took them from the slave traders, Christianized them, and eventually sent them back to Am erica in 1618. Squanto’s travels had not ended. H e was recognized by one o f Gorges’s captains, captured a third tim e, and sent back to England as a slave. Squanto was later sent to N ew England once again w ith Thomas D ernier to finish m apping the coast, after which he was prom ised his freedom . D uring 1619, Squanto returned to his hom eland once again to find that a large proportion o f his people had been w iped out by sm allpox. A year later, the Pilgrim s m et him on the beach, speaking English. The English im m igrants needed help. H alf o f the 102 people w ho had arrived on the M ayflow er six weeks before the onset o f w inter (w ith no provisions fo r food or shelter) died before the immigrants’ first grow ing season began in Am erica. Those w ho survived did so by plundering the com stores o f N ative Am erican villages em ptied by the diseases that had arrived before them. Fisherm en from Europe, w ho occasionally made landfall in the area, probably brought pathogens ashore lon g before the im m igrants’ arrival. The English trader Thom as M orton w rote that all along the coast Indians had “died in heapes, as they lay in their houses” (M ann, 2002, 42). M ost had died o f viral hepatitis, according to research by Bruce D. Spiess, director o f clinical research at the M edical C ollege o f V irgin ia (R ichm ond) (ib id ., 43). Roughly 90 percent o f the N ative peoples in the area had died o f disease, but W illiam Bradford, w h o had no understanding o f how disease spread am ong peoples w ith no im m unity, credited “The good hand o f G od,” w hich had “favored our beginnings b y

Native America Meets Europe


sweeping away great m ultitudes o f the n atives. . . that he m ight make room for us” (ib id ., 43). As the Plym outh C olon y was established, Squanto became an invaluable interpreter. He prom oted peace between N ative peoples and the Pilgrim s as he taught the settlers the skills required to survive their second winter. Am ong other things, Squanto showed the im m igrants how to plant corn in hillocks using dead herring as fertilizer. Im ported seeds o f English wheat, barley, and peas did not grow in Am erican soil. Squanto also taught the im m igrants how to design traps to catch fish; he acted as a guide and interpreter.

R O G E R W IL L IA M S ’S E R R A N D IN TH E W ILD E R N E S S Like many another Puritan, the preacher Roger W illiam s originally came to Am erica “longing after the natives’ soûles” (Chupack, 1969, 63). W ith in a few months o f W illiam s’s arrival in Boston during 1631, he was learning the A lgonquian language. He w ould master the dialects o f the Showatuck, Nipm uck, Narragansett, and others. W illiam s’s oratorical flourish and compassion w on him esteem w ith congregations at Plym outh and Salem, as w ell as am ong native peoples o f the area, all o f whom sought his “love and counsel” (Ernst, 1932,179). W illiam s’s quick mastery o f N ative languages did not alarm the soul sol­ diers o f Puritania. W hat landed him in hot ecclesiastical water was what he learned from the N ative peoples as he picked up their languages. Asked by W illiam Bradford (govern or o f the Plym outh C olon y) to com pose a paper on the com pact that established the Puritan colon y in Am erica, W illiam s de­ clared it invalid. H ow , he asked, could the Puritans claim the land by “right o f discovery” when it was already inhabited? Furtherm ore, W illiam s argued that the Puritans had no right to deny the Indians their own religions. Soon, the authorities w ere fretting over how easily W illiam s w on friends not only am ong colonists, but also am ong the N ative peoples o f the area. Those friendships would be used to advantage a few years later when W illiam s founded Providence Plantations, later called Rhode Island. W illiam s became friendly with Massasoit, a sachem among the Wampanoags (also called Pokanokets), a man described by Bradford in 1621 as “lusüe. . . in his best years, an able body grave o f countenance, spare o f speech, strong [and] tall” (C ovey, 1966, 125). W illiam s met Massasoit when the latter was about 30 years o f age and, in W illiam s’s words, became “great friends” with the sachem (Brockunier, 1940,47). Massasoit (ca. 1580-1661) was am ong the first N ative Am erican leaders to greet English settlers in what w ould becom e Puritan N ew England, lik e Powhatan, Massasoit (father o f M etacom ) in itially favored friendly relations w ith the English colonists when he became the W ampanoags’ m ost influential leader in about 1632. The W am panoags assisted the Puritans during their first hard winters in the new land and took part in the first Thanksgiving. Massasoit allied w ith the Pilgrim s out o f practical necessity; many o f his people had died in an epidem ic shortly before the whites arrived, and he


The Native Peoples o f North America

R oger W illiam s. (C o u rte sy o f the L ibrary o f C on gress.)

so u g h t to forge an allian ce w ith them against the m ore num erou s N arragansetts. W illiam s also becam e close to C an on icu s (ca. 1 5 6 0 -16 4 7 ), an elderly leader o f the Narragansetts. W ith C an on icu s and M assasoit, W illiam s traveled in the forest for days at a tim e, learning w h at he co u ld o f their languages, societies, an d

M assasoit o n h is w a y to m eet the P ilgrim s, 16 2 1. (C o u rtesy o f the Library o f C o n gress.)


The Native Peoples o f North America

opinions, absorbing experiences that, along w ith his know ledge o f European ways, w ould provide the intellectual groundwork for the m odel common­ wealth W illiam s sought to establish in Providence Plantations. Canonicus re­ garded W illiam s nearly as a son. A t their height, the Narragansetts, w ith Canonicus as their leader, held sway over the area from Narragansett Bay on the east to the Pawcatuck R iver on the west. The Narragansetts w ere rarely w arlike, and their large numbers (about 4,000 men o f w arrior age in the early seventeenth century) usually prevented other native nations from attacking them. W illiam W ood, w ritin g in New England’s Prospect, characterized the Narra­ gansetts as “the most numerous people in those parts, and the most rich also, and the most industrious, being a storehouse o f all k in d s. . . o f merchandise” (1977, 80-81). The Narragansetts fashioned wampum in bracelets and pendants for many other Indian nations. They also made sm oking pipes “much desired by our English tobacconists for their rarity, strength, handsomeness, and coolness” (ib id., 80-81). According to W ood ’s account, the Narragansetts had never de­ sired “to take part in any martial enterprise. But being incapable o f a jeer, they rest secure under the conceit o f their popularity, and seek rather to grow rich by industry than famous by deeds o f chivalry” (ib id., 80-81). In this fashion, the Narragansetts built a confederacy in w hich they supervised the affairs o f Indian peoples throughout m ost o f present-day Rhode Island and eastern Long Island, about 30,000 Native people in the early seventeenth century (Chapin, 1931,7). By 1635, W illiam s was arguing that the church had no right to com pel membership, o r contributions, by force o f law, the central concept o f churchstate separation. “Natural men,” as W illiam s called the Native peoples, should not, and could not, be forced “to the exercise o f those h oly Ordinances o f Prayers, Oathes, & c.” (G iddings, 1957, 21). By January 1635, the Puritans’ m ore ortho­ dox magistrates had decided to exile W illiam s to England, jailed if possible, and shut up. They opposed exilin g W illiam s in the Am erican wilderness, fearing that he w ould begin his own setdement, from w hich his “infections” w ould leak back into Puritania. A summons was issued for W illiam s’s arrest, but he stalled the authorities by contending he was too ill to withstand an ocean voyage. A t the same tim e, W illiam s and his associates w ere rushing ahead w ith plans for their new colony, from which the w orst fears o f the orthodox magistrates w ou ld be realized. W illiam s already had arranged w ith Canonicus for a tract o f land large enough to support a colony. Canonicus w ould not accept m oney in paym ent for the land. “It was not price or m oney that could have purchased Rhode Island,” W illiam s w rote later. “Rhode Island was purchased by lo ve” (W in slow , 1957, 133). W illiam s was allow ed to rem ain in Salem until the spring o f 1636, provided he refrained from preaching. About January 15, 1636, a Captain U nderhill was dispatched from Boston to arrest W illiam s and place him on board a ship bound for England. A r­ rivin g at W illiam s’s hom e, U nderhill and his deputies found that W illiam s had escaped. N o one in the neighborhood w ou ld adm it to having seen him leave.

Native America Meets Europe


Aw are o f his im pending arrest, W illiam s had set out three days earlier during a blinding blizzard, w alking south by west to the lodge o f Massasoit at M ount Hope. W alkin g eighty to ninety m iles during the w orst o f a N ew England w in ­ ter, W illiam s suffered im m ensely and lik ely w ould have died w ithout Indian aid. N early h alf a century later, nearing death, W illiam s w rote: “I bear to this day in m y body the effects o f that w inter’s exposure” (G u ild, 1886, 20). N ear the end o f his trek, W illiam s lodged w ith Canonicus and his fam ily. H e then scouted the land that had been set aide for the new colony. W illiam s’s trek took place during a sm allpox epidem ic that was ravaging native popu­ lations in the area. The Plym outh C olony’s G overnor Bradford described its toll:

For want o f bedding and linen and other helps they [Natives] fall into a lamentable condition as they lie on their hard mats, the pox breaking and mattering and running one into another, their skin cleaving by reason thereof to the mats they lie on. W hen they turn them, a whole side w ill flay o ff at on ce.. . and they w ill be all o f a gore blood, most fearful to behold. (Stannard, 1992,108)

W eek by week, month by month, W illiam s’s fam ily and friends filtered south from Plym outh and Salem. By spring, they were erecting houses, and fields w ere being turned. The grow ing group o f immigrants also began to create an exper­ imental governm ent very novel by European (o r Puritan) standards o f the time. For the first tim e am ong English-speaking people in Am erica, they w ere estab­ lishing a political order based on liberty o f conscience and other natural rights. V ery quickly, W illiam s’s house became a transcultural m eeting place. He lodged as many as fifty Indians at a tim e— travelers, traders, sachems on their way to o r from treaty conferences. I f a Puritan needed to contact an Indian or vice versa he m ore than lik ely did so w ith W illiam s’s aid. Am ong Indian nations at odds w ith each other, W illiam s became “a quencher o f . . .fires” (Ernst, 1932,252). W hen citizens o f Portsm outh needed an Indian agent, they approached W illiam s. The Dutch did the same after 1636. The Narragansetts’ council som etim es used W illiam s’s house for its meetings. W hen w ord reached Boston that the Pequots w ere rallyin g a N ative alliance to drive the Massachusetts Bay settlements in to the sea, the Massachusetts C ouncil sent urgent pleas to W illiam s to use his “utmost and speediest En­ deavors” to keep the Narragansetts out o f it. W ith in hours after the appeal arrived in the hands o f an Indian runner “scarce acquainting m y w ife,” W il­ liam s boarded “a p oor Canow & . . . cut through a storm ie W in d and w ith great seas, euery [sic] minute in hazard o f life to the Sachim’s [Canonicus’s] howse” (Ernst, 1932, 252). A fter traveling thirty m iles in the storm , W illiam s arrived at a Narragansett tow n larger than m ost o f the English settlements o f his day, know ing that the success or failure o f the Pequot initiative m ight rest on whether he could dissuade his friends from jo in in g in the uprising.


The Native Peoples o f North America

Canonicus listened to W illiam s w ith his son M ixanno at his side. The younger sachem was assuming the duties o f leadership piecem eal as his father aged. The three men decided to seal an alliance, and w ithin a few days, o ffi­ cials from Boston w ere double-tim ing through the forest to com plete the necessary paperwork. Later, W illiam s also w on alliances w ith the M ohegan and Massachusetts nations, sw inging the balance o f pow er against the Pequots and their allies. The Indians w elcom ed the Puritan deputies w ith a feast o f w hite chestnuts and com m eal w ith blackberries ( “hasty pudding,” later a N ew England tradition ); W illiam s translated for both sides, sealing the alliance. The Puritan deputies w ere awed at the size o f the Narragansett town, as w ell as the size o f the hall in which they negotiated the alliance. The structure, about fifty feet w ide, was likened to a statehouse by the men from Boston. Canonicus, so old that he had to lay on his side during the proceedings, surprised the Puritans w ith his direct questions and shrewd answers. The treaty was finally sealed much to the relief o f the Puritans, w ho thought the Narragansetts capable o f fielding 30,000 fighting men. Although they had only a sixth that number, the Narra­ gansetts still were capable o f swinging the balance o f pow er for or against the immigrants, w ho had been in Am erica on ly sixteen years at the time. The outcome o f the Pequot W ar during the summer o f 1636 radically altered the demographic balance in N ew England. Before it, the English colonists were a tiny minority. After it, they were unquestionably dom inant The atrocities o f the war stunned W illiams’s conscience. He had been able to prevent a rout o f the English, but at a profound moral cost He could not prevent the war itself or the cruel retribution the Puritans took on the Pequots and their allies. W illiam s had put himself in the position o f aiding those with whom he shared a birthright, although he disagreed with the rationale o f their conquest. A ll during the war, W illiam s gleaned intelli­ gence from Narragansett runners and traders, who knew far more about Pequot movements than any European. He was doubtless deeply grieved by their deaths. W illiam s was revolted by the Puritans’ slaughter o f the Pequots. The war reached its clim ax w ith the burning o f a thatch fort in the Pequot village at M ystic, trapping as many as 600 Indian men, wom en, and children in a raging inferno. The few w ho managed to craw l out o f this roaring furnace jum ped back into it when they faced a w all o f Puritan swords. Puritan soldiers and their Indian allies waded through pools o f Pequot blood, h olding their noses against the stench o f burning flesh. The w ind-driven fire consumed the entire structure in h alf an hour. A few Pequot bowm en stood their ground am id the flames until their bows singed; they fell backward into the fire, sizzlin g to death. Bradford recalled:

Those that escaped the fire were slain with the sword, some hewed to pieces, others run through w ith their rapiers, so that they were quickly dispatched and very few escaped. It was conceived that they thus destroyed about 400 at this time. It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fire, and the streams o f blood quenching the same, and horrible was the stink and scent thereof. (1967, 296)

Native America Meets Europe


H aving described the massacre, Bradford then indicated how little gu ilt the Puritans felt about it. “The victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave the praise th ereof to G od, w ho had wrought so w onderfully for them, thus to enclose their enem ies in their hands and give them so speedy a victory” (1967, 296). Although a few Puritans rem onstrated, many put the war in the category o f G od’s necessary business, along w ith all sorts o f other things, from sm allpox epidem ics to late frosts and early freezes. W illiam s had collected material for an Indian grammar much o f his adult life, but the press o f events left him little tim e to write. However, during a solitary sea voyage in 1643 to England, W illiam s com posed his Key into the Languages of America (1643), the first Indian grammar in English, as w ell as a small collection o f W illiam s’s observations am ong Native Americans. In the Key, W ilham s also began to formulate a critique o f European religion and politics that would be a subject o f intense debate on both sides o f the Atlantic for decades to come. In the Key, W illiam s makes it obvious that “barbarian” had a m ore positive connotation to him than the same w ord w ould carry three centuries later. Like Peter M artyr before him and Benjamin Franklin after him (am ong many other observers), W illiam s used the Indian as counterpoint to European conventions in words very sim ilar to those o f Montaigne: They (Indians] were hospitable to everybody, whomsoever cometh in when they are eating, they offer them to eat o f what they have, though but little enough [is] prepared for themselves. If any provision o f fish or flesh comes in, they presendy g iv e . . . to eat o f what they have___ It is a strange truth that a man can generally find more free entertainment and refreshing amongst these Barbarians than amongst the thousands that call themselves Christians. (Rider, 1904, 22)

Some o f W illiam s’s Am erican lessons w ere offered in verse: I’ve know n them to leave their house and mat T o lodge a friend or stranger W hen Jews and Christians o ft have sent Jesus Christ to the M anger O ft have I heard these Indians say These English w ill d eliver us O f all that’s ours, our lands and lives In the end, they’ll bereave us — Rider, 1904, 44 W illiam s .disputed notions that Europeans w ere intellectually superior to N ative Am ericans: For the temper ' o f the braine [sic] in quick apprehensions and accurate judgem ents.. . the most high and sovereign God and Creator hath not made them


The Native Peoples o f North America

inferior to Europeans. . . Nature knows no difference between Europeans and Americans in blood, birth, bodies, & c. God having o f one blood made all mankind, Acts 17___ The same Sun shines on a W ilderness that doth on a garden. (Rider, 1904, 49, 53, 78)

W illiam s also w rote: “Boast not, proud English, o f thy birth and blood; T h y brother Indian is by birth as good” (Brockunier, 1940, 141). By im plication, the Puritans had no right to take land and resources from N ative Am ericans by “divine right.” W illiam s’s statement was the first expres­ sion in English, on Am erican soil, o f a b elief that w ould pow er the Am erican Revolution a century and a h alf later: “A ll men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator w ith certain inalienable rights.” In som e ways, W illiam s found what Europeans called “ Christian values” better em bodied in N ative Am erican societies: “There are no beggars am ongst them, nor fatherless children unprovided for” (R ider, 1904, 29). The Key not on ly was a grammar but also was a lesson in hum ility directed at the m ost pom pous and ethnocentric o f the English:

W hen Indians heare the horrid filths, O f Irish, English men The horrid Oaths and Murthurs late Thus say these Indians then: W e weare no Cloathes, have many Gods, And yet our sinnes are lesse: You are Barbarians, Pagans w ild, Your land’s the wildem esse. — Rider, 1904, 9

The Key became a standard text for English-speaking people w ishing to leam the languages o f N ew England’s Native peoples. The small book was printed in England and w idely distributed there, but not in Boston. Despite diplom atic aid that m ight have saved the Massachusetts Bay Colony, W illiam s still was regarded as a dangerous radical by orthodox Puritans. Addressing Christian hypocrisy, using his image o f the Indian as counterpoint, W illiam s m inced no words: How often have I heard both the English and the Dutch!,] not only the civil, but the most debauched and profane say: “These Heathen Doggs [sic], better k ill a thousand o f them than we Christians should be endangered or troubled w ith them; they have spilt our Christian blood, the best way to make riddance o f them is to cut them all o ff and make way for Christians.” (Ernst, 1932, 251)

T o W illiam s, the Natives o f Am erica w ere just as godly, even i f n ot as Christian, as Europeans:

Native America Meets Europe


He that questions whether God made the W orld, the Indians w ill teach him. 1 must acknowledge I have received in my converse w ith them many confirmations o f these two great points, Heb. 11.6, viz: 1. That God ist.) 2. That hee [sic] is a rewarder o f all that diligently seek him. (Roger W illiam s, 1936, 123)

Roger W illiam s called Indian governm ental organizations “monarchies” (as did many Europeans in the earliest colonial days), then contradicted him self by catching the scent o f popular opinion in them. In his Key, W illiam s described the workings o f Native Am erican polities in ways sim ilar to the structure he was erecting in the new colony: “The sachim s. . . w ill not conclude o f ought that concerns all, either Lawes, or Subsidies, o r warres, unto which people are averse, or by gende perswasion cannot be brought” (1963, 1:224). W hen some Puritans asked whether a society based on individual choice instead o f coerced consent w ou ld degenerate into anarchy, W illiam s found the Indians’ exam ple instructive:

Although they have not so much to restraine them (both in respect o f knowledge o f God and lawes o f M en) as the English have, yet a man shall never heare o f such crimes amongst them [as] robberies, murthurs, adultries & c., as among the English. (Roger W illiam s, 1963, 1:225)

Am ong the colonists o f Providence Plantations, as am ong the Indians he knew, W illiam s envisioned a society where “all men may w alk as their con­ sciences perswade them” (Kennedy, 1950, 4 2 -4 4 ). W illiam s’s ideal society also shared w ith the Indian societies he knew a relatively egalitarian distri­ bution o f property, w ith p olitical rights based on natural law: “A ll c iv il liberty is founded in the consent o f the P eo p le;. . . Natural and c ivil Right and P riv­ ilege d u e . . . as a Man, a Subject, a C itizen” (Ernst, 1932, 276-277). Establishing such a utopian society was easier said than done. As W illiam s watched, some o f the early settlers o f Providence Plantations established land companies sim ilar to those in other colonies as they tried to hoard land that could be sold at a higher price to future arrivals. The same land earlier had been set aside for newcomers to prevent grow th o f a landless underclass in the colony. In 1654, in a letter to the town o f Providence, W illiam s showed how isolated he sometimes felt in his quest for a new way o f life: “1 have been charged w ith folly for that freedom and liberty that I always have stood for— I say, liberty and equality in both land and governm ent” (M ille r, 1953, 221-222). W illiam s argued vehem ently against assertions that on ly Christians pos­ sessed soul and conscience. I f all peoples w ere religiously equal, Crusades made no sense; this W illiam s took to be G od’s w ord, and lik e many preachers, he often spoke for him self by in vokin g deity. T o W illiam s, religion seemed to mean less a professed doctrine than possession o f an innate sense o f justice and m orality, and he saw that capacity in all people, Christian and not. From


The Native Peoples o f North America

observing the Indians, he learned that such m orality was endowed in human­ kind naturally, not by m em bership in a church or adherence to a doctrine: “It is granted, that nature’s ligh t discovers a G od, som e sins a judgem ent, as w e see in the Indians” (R oger W illiam s, 1963,4:441). In his extensive travels w ith the Narragansetts, W illiam s sensed “the conscience o f good and e vil that every savage Indian in the w orld hath” (ib id ., 4:443). W illiam s’s efforts helped to maintain a shaky peace along the frontiers o f N ew England for nearly tw o generations after the Pequot W ar. In 1645, W illiam s’s efforts barely averted another N ative uprising against encroaching European Am erican settlements. By the 1660s, how ever, the aging W illiam s was watching his lifelon g pursuit o f peace unravel yet again. This tim e, he felt m ore im potent than before: His English ancestry drove him to protect English interests, as wave after wave o f colonists provided N ative peoples w ith pow ­ erfu l grievances by usurping their land w ithout perm ission o r com pensation. In this matter, W illiam s had never changed his mind: N either the Puritans nor any other Europeans had any right, divin e or otherwise, to take Indian land. The final years o f W illiam s’s life w ere profoundly painful for a sensitive man w ho prized peace and harm ony above all. Entering his sixties, W illiam s’s body grew old quickly. In 1663, he com ­ plained often o f “old pains, lameness, so th’t som etimes I have not been able to rise, nor goe, or stand” (W in slow , 1957, 267). W illiam s found him self using his pastoral staff as m ore than a m inisterial ornament. Massasoit also was aging and becom ing disillusioned w ith the colonists as increasing numbers o f European immigrants drove his people from their lands. On Massasoit’s death in 1661, Alexander, one o f Massasoit’s sons, b riefly served as grand sachem o f the W am panoags until his ow n death. V isitin g Boston during 1662, Alexander fe ll gravely ill and died as W am panoag war­ riors rushed him into the wilderness. W hen Alexander died, the w arriors beached their canoes, buried his body in a knoll, and returned home w ith rumors that he had been a victim o f the English. Alexander’s death stirred m em ories o f M ixanno, also Massasoit’s son, w ho had been assassinated in 1643. His murder never had been avenged as rumors circulated that the English had plotted the m urder and that they w ere harboring the assailant. In this context, M etacom , w hom the English called K ing Philip, became grand sachem after Alexander. About 25 years old in 1662, M etacom dis­ trusted nearly all European Am ericans, w ith W illiam s one o f the few excep­ tions. M etacom also was know n as a man w ho did not forgive insults easily. It was once said that he chased a white man named John Gibbs from M ount H ope to Nantucket Island after Gibbs insulted his father. Throughout his childhood, M etacom had watched his people dw indle before the English ad­ vance. By 1671, about 40,000 people o f European descent lived in N ew Eng­ land. The N ative population, double that o f the Europeans before the Pequot war, was now about 20,000. European farms and pastures w ere craw ling to­ ward M ount H ope, drivin g away game and creating friction over land that

Native America Meets Europe


the Indians had used w ithout question for so many generations they had lost count o f them. By 1675, the W am panoags held on ly a sm all strip o f land at M ount H ope, and settlers wanted it. M etacom became m ore em bittered by the day. He could see his nation be­ in g destroyed before his eyes. English cattle tram pled Indian cornfields as encroaching farms forced game animals further into the wilderness. M etacom was summoned to Plym outh to answer questions, and other people in his na­ tion w ere interrogated by Puritan officials. Traders fleeced Indians, exchanging furs for liquor. The devastation o f alcoh ol and disease and the loss o f land destroyed fam ilies and tradition. These w ere M etacom ’s thoughts as he pre­ pared to go to war against the English. As rumors o f war reached W illiam s, he again tried to keep the Narragansetts out o f it. This tim e, he failed. Nananawtunu, son o f M ixanno, told his close friend W illiam s that although he opposed goin g to war, his people could not be restrained. Th ey had decided the tim e had com e to die fighting rather than to expire slow ly as a people. W illiam s’s letters o f this tim e w ere pervaded w ith sadness as he watched the tw o groups he knew so w e ll slide toward war. Shortly after hostilities began in June 1675, W illiam s m et w ith M etacom , ridin g w ith the sachem and his fam ily in a canoe not far from Providence. W illiam s warned M etacom that he was leading his people to exterm ination. W illiam s com pared the W am panoags to a canoe on a storm y sea o f English fury. “He answered me in a consenting, considering kind o f way,” W illiam s w rote, saying “M y canoe is already overturned” (G iddings, 1957, 33). W hen Indians painted for war appeared on the heights above Providence, W illiam s picked up his staff, clim bed the bluffs, and told the war parties that if they attacked the town, England w ou ld send thousands o f armed men to crush them. “W ell,” one o f the sachems leading the attack told W illiam s, “Let them com e. W e are ready for them, but as for you, brother W illiam s, you are a good man. You have been kind to us for many years. N o t a hair on your head shall be touched” (Straus, 1894, 220-224). W illiam s was not injured, but his house was torched as he m et w ith the Indians on the bluffs above Providence on M arch 29,1676. W illiam s watched flames spread throughout the town. “This house o f m ine n ow burning before m ine eyes hath lodged kindly som e thousands o f you these ten years,” W illiam s told the attacking Indians (Swan, 1969, 14). I f the colon y was to survive, W illiam s, for the first tim e in his life, had to becom e a m ilitary com mander. W ith a grave heart, W illiam s sent his neighbors out to do battle w ith the sons and daughters o f native people w ho had sheltered him during his w inter trek from Massachusetts forty years earlier. As W illiam s and others watched from inside a hastily erected fort, nearly all o f Providence burned. Fields w ere laid waste and cattle slaughtered or driven into the woods. Colonists, seething w ith anger, caught an Indian, and W illiam s was put in the agonizing position o f orderin g him k illed rather than watching him tor­ tured. The war was irrefutably brutal on both sides as the English fought

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