Historical impact of Europeans on the health of American Indians

Gustavo Jaso

Now that the anniversary of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus on 12 October is approaching, as every year the political correctness of the American left will be reactivated, treating the great navigator and discoverer as a genocide. It is therefore worth recalling once again the real cause of those mass deaths, which led to the liquidation of entire tribes in North America and across the continent.

The cause has nothing to do with the behaviour of the Spanish, British or French conquerors, but with the inability of the immune systems of the native Indian tribes to react effectively to the spread of infectious diseases (especially smallpox, measles and influenza) brought with them by the Europeans.

But this did not constitute American genocide, as progressivism and indigenists claim.

The hypocritical decision taken on 13 September 2018 by California’s Stanford University to remove the name of Fray Junípero Serra from several of its campus facilities (just south of San Francisco) is related to the subject of this article but will be dealt with specifically in a future one.

The real reason for the mortality

The following account in America’s leading national right-wing newspaper, the Wall Street Journal, gives an idea of the severity of that problem:

In 1615 a French merchant ship sank off the [Atlantic] coast of Massachusetts. One of the four survivors was sick with smallpox and transmitted it to the Wampanoag tribe. Traditional cures, such as sweating or tucking the patient in, only served to spread the virus. Within 20 years, nine-tenths of the New England tribes [90 per cent] were gone.

(Note: New England is the name given to the six early states in the northeastern part of the country, north of New York: Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine).

Across the Americas, after the first encounters with Europeans, local populations were literally decimated (around 90% perished), until several decades later, when the survivors began to develop their immune systems to cope with the new health threats.

An article in the centre-left newspaper The Washington Post, approaching the 500th anniversary of the discovery (1992), explained it as follows:

The real riches of the American continent turned out to be edible plants like maize and potatoes (from Mexico and the Andes, respectively), not gold and silver, as they indirectly made possible the growth of European cities and the industrial revolution. And the real agents of the genocide of the American Indians were not the conquistadors from Spain but the diseases they unwittingly brought with them.

There is no room for genocide

No one who has studied this phenomenon denies that unintentionally imported diseases were by far the main reason for the widespread deaths that occurred across the American continent when its original inhabitants came into contact with Europeans.

The map shows the routes of the five southeastern tribes that were forced to leave their homelands in the Southeast and live in Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma.

The map shows the routes of the five southeastern tribes that were forced to leave their homelands in the Southeast and live in Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma.

Despite this, the do-gooderism of US professors, university students and journalists – especially leftists – means that every October 12 the “American genocide” or the “Spanish genocide” is still invoked, which is a manipulation of the historical truth.

Neither the Spanish, nor the British, nor the French intentionally spread those diseases, so the term “genocide” is totally inappropriate, a lie, in line with the Black Legend against Spain.

The three worlds before the 16th century

Until the very end of the 15th century, there were three great landmasses in the world that were cut off from each other:

  1. Afroeurasia,
  2. the American continent, and
  3. Australia.

Africa, although practically separated from Europe and Asia, maintained intense communication with those two continents, via the Mediterranean and through the Sinai peninsula. Diseases were therefore quite common between these three continents, as they were transmitted by humans and animals on the move.

For these purposes, Afroeurasia is what has become known as the Old World.

Reasons for high resistance to contagion in the Old World

Afro-Eurasia comprised the largest concentrations of people: India, China, Mesopotamia, Europe, Egypt …

By contrast, in the Americas and Australia human concentration was generally much lower, with scattered nuclei of small size, with the exception of what is now Mexico, Mayan areas of Central America and Inca areas of the Andes (mainly in present-day Peru). And the Andean settlements were fairly isolated from the other two sub-regions.

High human concentrations, cities of a certain size – linked to each other – increased the chances of contact with diseases from other people and travellers, developing over time immune responses of a certain effectiveness.

These circumstances are those that prevailed in the Old World after the expansion of agricultural activities a few millennia earlier.

A second factor that left early humans in the Americas weakly able to resist viruses originating in Europe was their limited contact with domesticated animals. In 16th century Afro-Eurasia, livestock husbandry of virtually the same species that are still exploited today – cattle, sheep, pigs, domestic fowl, horses, mules, etc. – was widespread.

As these domesticated animals are the source of most of the infectious diseases we humans suffer from (in non-tropical regions), close contact with them largely immunised Europeans, Asians and Africans over the millennia.

Further knowledge about this complex historical relationship can be found at the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), part of the US National Academy of Sciences.

For both of the above reasons, ¾ of human infectious diseases in temperate zones originated in Afroeurasia.

Preconditions for a weak immune response in the Americas

On the American continent, on the other hand, livestock farming was hardly known or practised. The dog was the only domesticated animal present in almost all regions of the continent, but it is irrelevant to the issue at hand.

Very locally, there were domesticated guinea pigs, llamas and alpacas in Inca areas of the Andes (which transmitted virtually no diseases to humans), the Creole duck in the tropics, and the turkey in Mexico. Horses and mules were introduced by the Spanish into the Americas from the late 15th century, as were pigs, sheep, goats, cows, other mammals and domestic fowl.

Outside of tropical areas (American, African or Asian), Europeans suffered few serious epidemics during their world travels. Marco Polo did not describe any big mortalities of other European or Middle Eastern travellers on arrival in Central Asia or China. Nor did they occur with Europeans in India, or vice versa.

Black slaves from Africa, for their part, survived quite easily when they arrived in America, apart from the very high mortality rate on sea voyages due to the very poor hygiene conditions on the ships that transported them.

Idyllic pre-Columbian America … that was not so

Listening to the beautiful stories that progressives have invented about the life of the American Indians before the arrival of the Spaniards, it would seem as if they were talking about Eden itself, without any blemish whatsoever.

Human sacrifices rites at Tenochtictlan Temple. Duran Codex or History of the Indies of New Spain. Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid, Spain

But if Columbus, Hernán Cortés and Pizarro had surveyed the tribes they encountered, except for the dominant ones in each region, they would have heard the desire to save themselves at all costs from the very cruel domination of, for example, Montezuma’s Mexica in Mexico, the base of the Aztec empire, the most powerful on the entire continent.

Slavery, mass human sacrifices and cannibalism

As well as subjecting them to ruthless slavery, the Mexica used the oppressed tribes to try to satisfy their gods (while serving as a way of subjugating them) by human sacrifice in the tens of thousands each year.

Nor should we forget the sympathetic cannibalism practised by those “good savages” whom the wise Rousseau admired so much and which served to sow the seeds of the future indigenist ideology from which we still suffer.

These widespread practices could properly be called American genocide, but they are conspicuous by their absence (or distorted) in the bucolic accounts of American and Spanish do-gooders.

The conquistadors were able to ally themselves with the indigenous majority subjugated by the dominant tribes

At this point, no one can deny that if the reviled Hernán Cortés succeeded in conquering the Aztec empire (whose warriors numbered well over 100,000), with some 500 men (at the beginning, 250 in the final battle of 1521), it was because the Totonaca and then the Tlaxcalteca tribe – and several smaller ones – allied with the Spaniards to free themselves from the extreme cruelty of the system of oppression established by the Mexica, who were indeed practising American genocide.

Preserved in Peruvian dry sand for more than 500 years, these Incan ritual victims were between eight and 12 years old.

There is also no doubt that the alliance of these subjugated tribes with the Spanish conquistadors was a success for them.

Since then, no matter how many injustices they have suffered, they have undoubtedly never again been subjugated with such cruelty for five centuries as under the good savages of Montezuma.

The health of the Indians had been deteriorating long before the conquest

On the other hand, the radical left-wing daily The New York Times, in October 2002, reported on an extensive study (of 12,500 skeletons, up to 7,000 years old) showing that health conditions among the indigenous populations of the Americas had been deteriorating for 1,000 years before the arrival of Christopher Columbus.

The journalist added: “This study should correct the misconception that the New World was virtually disease-free before 1492.”

One of the study’s authors claimed that “the surprise … [had been] that the pre-Columbians were no better nourished and no healthier” than their descendants after 1492.

For other authors of the study, the average lifespan of pre-Columbian Indians would rarely exceed 35 years.

How Indians ended up under the Spanish and Americans

Believers in political correctness in the US (and Spain) continue to try keep trying to rescue the concept of “Spanish genocide”, with respect to Mexico, for example.

Strange American genocide that, after almost 300 years of Spanish rule (1521 to 1810) over Mexico, left the indigenous inhabitants comprising between 50% and 60% of the total, and about 21% mestizo (mixed European and indigenous) population. These percentages refer to 1810, the year of the beginning of the Mexican struggle for independence, which was only fully achieved in 1821, despite the fact that Spain had been invaded by Napoleon for five years (1808-1813).

The trail of tears, 1838. The removal of the Cherokee Native Americans to the West in 1838. Oil on canvas, 1942, by Robert Lindneux

The trail of tears, 1838. The removal of the Cherokee Native Americans to the West in 1838. Oil on canvas, 1942, by Robert Lindneux

Quite unlike the Spanish, the American nation, led mainly by British descendants, did not leave a single indigenous person on the country’s 2,000-mile Atlantic coast and in a strip of about 1,000 km inland. How dare the Americans accuse the Spanish of the crime that their ancestors did commit on their land?

The real American genocide

In the mid-19th century, just over 66 years after the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the survivors of the last Indian tribes in Florida were forced to move thousands of miles away to the Midwest: the present-day states of Oklahoma, Kansas and further north, which were called “Indian Territories”.

This general policy of relocation to the far centre of the country accelerated after the passage in May 1830 of a law (the Indian Removal Act), promoted by President Andrew Jackson, who can be considered one of the founders of the Democratic Party, in 1828.

President Jackson (1829 – 1837) stands out as the US leader who committed the most outrages against the Indians from the White House. And in the previous fifteen years, he also stood out for having subjected the Indians (still located east of the Mississippi River) to cruel combat and harassment procedures at the head of citizen militias and, at times, conventional federal military forces. Women, children and the elderly were not spared their dubious military professionalism.

How dare the descendants of Andrew Jackson and his militias blame the Spaniards for the real American genocide?

Sources

This post was translated from:

Jaso, G. (2018) ‘Impacto histórico de los europeos en la salud de los indios de América’, ABC, 25 September. Available at: https://www.aorillasdelpotomac.com/genocidio-americano/ (Accessed: 20 September 2021).

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1534 Sebastián de Belalcázar founded the city of Quito (Ecuador), with the name of San Francisco de Quito.

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