The Comfortable Myths
"When it comes to the birth of America, most of us are working from a stew of elementary school history lessons, Westerns and vague Thanksgiving mythology. And while it's not surprising those sources might biff a couple details, what's shocking is how much less interesting the version we learned was. It turns out our teachers, Hollywood and whoever we got our Thanksgiving mythology from (Big Turkey?) all made America's origin story far more boring than it actually was for some very disturbing reasons. For instance ...
#6. The Indians Weren't Defeated by White Settlers
Our history books don't really go into a ton of detail about how the Indians became an endangered species. Some warring, some smallpox blankets and ... death by broken heart?
When American Indians show up in movies made by conscientious white people like Oliver Stone, they usually lament having their land taken from them. The implication is that Native Americans died off like a species of tree-burrowing owl that couldn't hack it once their natural habitat was paved over.
But if we had to put the whole Cowboys and Indians battle in a Hollywood log line, we'd say the Indians put up a good fight, but were no match for the white man's superior technology. As surely as scissors cuts paper and rock smashes scissors, gun beats arrow. That's just how it works.
There's a pretty important detail our movies and textbooks left out of the handoff from Native Americans to white European settlers: It begins in the immediate aftermath of a full-blown apocalypse. In the decades between Columbus' discovery of America and the Mayflower landing at Plymouth Rock, the most devastating plague in human history raced up the East Coast of America. Just two years before the pilgrims started the tape recorder on New England's written history, the plague wiped out about 96 percent of the Indians in Massachusetts.
In the years before the plague turned America into The Stand, a sailor named Giovanni da Verrazzano sailed up the East Coast and described it as "densely populated" and so "smoky with Indian bonfires" that you could smell them burning hundreds of miles out at sea. Using your history books to understand what America was like in the 100 years after Columbus landed there is like trying to understand what modern day Manhattan is like based on the post-apocalyptic scenes from I Am Legend.
European settlers had a hard enough time defeating the Mad Max-style stragglers of the once huge Native American population, even with superior technology. You have to assume that the Native Americans at full strength would have made shit powerfully real for any pale faces trying to settle the country they had already settled. Of course, we don't really need to assume anything about how real the American Indians kept it, thanks to the many people who came before the pilgrims. For instance, if you liked playing cowboys and Indians as a kid, you should know that you could have been playing Vikings and Indians, because that shit actually happened. But before we get to how they kicked Viking ass, you probably need to know that ...
#5. Native Culture Wasn't Primitive