My Photo

« That Depends Friday open thread | Main | Beginning anew-ish »

December 27, 2013

Comments

Slavery has existed through most of human history, or at least since the invention of agriculture. The exception is the current era, where it is condemned. It is incompatible with the ideals of liberalism, which is why the abolitionist movement got started, but I doubt those ideas have made much of an impact on Mauritania.

As to the link with sugar, the fact that it was a bad enough job that you couldn't pay people enough to do it might have a role, but I doubt it. Australia and the U.S. have sugar industries that do not rely on slave labor.

Cotton was also linked to slavery, but Olmstead's "Journeys and Explorations in the Cotton Kingdom," published in 1861, showed that farms that paid wages were more efficient than those using slave labor.

The part of America where slavery was common was the part where the Mississippian culture had held slaves. I think it started with the availability of slaves who could be bought locally, but it didn't take long to find out that sub-Saharan Africans could survive the conditions better than native Americans or European indentured servants.

There's no *logical* reason this industrial process had to use slave labor,

I balk a bit at the use of 'logical' here. Under certain conditions, lots of things are 'logical', senilicide, invalidicide, infanticide. Lest I be taken as advocating any of these things, I'm not. But if you set 'logic' up as your test for whether things are right or wrong, it seems pretty easy to get the outcome you want by limiting your conditions to things that affect you.

I'm not sure about johnw's explanation about Mississippian culture being the starting point for slavery, the various diseases introduced by Europeans destroyed those cultures before they would have had a chance to pass on something like slavery. De Soto found cities when he went up the Mississippi in 1540, he found huge cities, when La Salle followed the same route 100 years later, the cities were all abandoned.

A vague memory from high school history was the 'triangle trade', where molasses went from the Caribbean to New England where it was distilled as rum, sent to Africa in exchange for slaves, which were shipped to the Caribbean. I'm sure some of our economics minded commentators can point to some research, but my take is that a triangular trade insulates the consumers from the actual costs and creates a vicious cycle and entrenched interests.

People keep up slavery because they -- the slave owners -- *like* it, for the daily satisfaction of dominating other human beings.

Or perhaps because it's cheaper than paying wages to workers.

Cotton was also linked to slavery, but Olmstead's "Journeys and Explorations in the Cotton Kingdom," published in 1861, showed that farms that paid wages were more efficient than those using slave labor.

This may be true, but is irrelevant without further data. The issue is not the productivity of the cotton plantation, but rather how much of the net productivity accrues to the owner as opposed to the workers. A relatively inefficient operation based on slavery obviously may generate greater profits for the owner than a more efficient one that uses hired labor.

Slavery is economic rent turned on its head.

..., but it didn't take long to find out that sub-Saharan Africans could survive the conditions better than native Americans or European indentured servants.

Most Africans had experienced yellow fever when they were children and were immune to it as adults. And they had a greater resistance to malaria. Both diseases were rampant in the Southern states during the slavery period.

I believe Olmstead's point was that you could produce more cotton from the land with wage labor than slave labor, and it took fewer people. Of course there were incentives for keeping slaves, it allowed a few people to live like aristocrats on the labor of their slaves (or, by selling the children of their slaves.) It's a story about stripping labor of its power to negotiate wages and working conditions in part, as Dr. Science suggests, but when you take it to the point of selling their children, you've stripped them of pretty much everything.

I do not claim that the Mississipian culture was the starting point for slavery. The peculiar institution had a long history in Europe. Athens built its wealth on silver mines worked by slave labor, for example, and Aristotle claimed one of the problems with managing slaves was that they thought themselves as good as their master (and never considered the possibility that they were right.)

But there was interaction with native Americans, even if their numbers were greatly diminished by plagues. "1493," by Charles Mann, has a lot of good information on this. One reason Indians made alliances with European settlers at times was that their tribes were diminished by disease, and they needed help fighting their traditional enemies.

I believe Olmstead's point was that you could produce more cotton from the land with wage labor than slave labor, and it took fewer people.

Yes. I'm not arguing with that. I don't know if it's true, but it could easily be.

My claim is that from the point of view of the plantation owner it doesn't matter because all he cares about is how much he gets.

Of course, from the point of view of someone concerned about the economy of the south as a whole it would matter greatly, since using wage labor would increase the region's product and make it more prosperous. It would also free up land that was being used for cotton only because slaves were available for more productive use.

Unfortunately, those politically responsible for conditions in the south had reasons to ignore these points.

"1493," by Charles Mann, has a lot of good information on this. One reason Indians made alliances with European settlers at times was that their tribes were diminished by disease, and they needed help fighting their traditional enemies.

1493 is a great read, but really elides the whole question of Native American depopulation. If you look at a map of native american tribes in California, there is no reason not to assume that the East Coast wasn't similarly populated, yet, for the most part, there weren't many people there.

In my class on Native American linguistics, I ask the students to conduct the thought experiment of imagining 90% of the campus population dead and thinking what kind of university would remain. I then point out that it would be even worse in an oral culture where nothing is written down and in a demographically homogenous culture because that 10% of survivors would include children and the elderly.

I also think that there was no way that Europeans could amass the labor force that would get them to the point that they would think it was a question of substitution. The idea of using slaves as a labor force comes from the sugar industry and it gets picked up by the tobacco industry (which is why the Mason Dixon line is the traditional boundary between the North and the South)and then by the cotton industry, where many tobacco owners sold their slaves.

I also don't think there is enough actual knowledge of Mississippian cultures and their institutions to make a claim that they held slaves as a labor force, though it is naively assumed that they did because the Mound Building culture is attributed to them and no one would build something that was so obviously non-functional, which then has you unpack the whole question to get to a notion of European exceptionalism (you get a similar notion with the Pyramids, which the Greeks thought must have been built with slave labor, but recent archeology suggests that they were skilled workers encamped around the structures). In almost all the experiences of indigenous slavery with Native Americans that I am aware of, it has them taken as slaves (usually as the products of raids), but their children becoming full members of the tribe. Certainly, Indian tribes plugged themselves into the slave trade, and questions like the ongoing question of tribal membership within the Cherokee nation points to the tangled history. But saying (as I take your comment to imply, apologies for if I am overthinking this) that the starting point was that Mississippian cultures did it or it was the geography misses the key point that I see, which is that Europeans, starting with Columbus, introduced the notion of race based slavery for the purposes of mass labor to the North American New World.

In almost all the experiences of indigenous slavery with Native Americans that I am aware of, it has them taken as slaves (usually as the products of raids), but their children becoming full members of the tribe. Certainly, Indian tribes plugged themselves into the slave trade, and questions like the ongoing question of tribal membership within the Cherokee nation points to the tangled history. But saying (as I take your comment to imply, apologies for if I am overthinking this) that the starting point was that Mississippian cultures did it or it was the geography misses the key point that I see, which is that Europeans, starting with Columbus, introduced the notion of race based slavery for the purposes of mass labor to the North American New World.

Do the Aztecs qualify as Native Americans? Because I'm pretty sure tribal membership wasn't on the menu for captured slaves or their children. As for "race-based" decision making, this implies that Native Americans viewed themselves as 'one of many', with a common heritage or source of origin. Unlikely. The Comanches, for instance, saw no difference between Europeans and, for instance, the Tonkawa or the Apaches--all were equally not Comanches.

My vague recollection is that North American Native Americans made poor slaves. The thinking when I learned this--the mid 70's--was that hunter/gatherer's made poor slaves. I don't know that this is born out historically.

I ask the students to conduct the thought experiment of imagining 90% of the campus population dead and thinking what kind of university would remain.

It's the kind of thought experiment that might lead to the conclusion that 1493 may be over-stating the case. As you note, some number of this remaining cohort would be elderly or children. The language mix and geographical spread would complicate matters even more. Yet, vibrant, complex societies with oral histories predating European colonization existed throughout North America, not to mention intact languages that were clearly not a hodge podge thrown together to allow the remnants of disparate and decimated tribes to cobble together a new tribe, post 1500. Many tribes disappeared over time after the Europeans arrived--just as many disappeared over time prior to the European's arrival. The Mississippian culture is one example, the Anasazi is another and there are digs throughout the country that reveal tribes which existed 1,000 or 1,500 years ago that simply fell off the map, so to speak, well before 1500.

Which is not to say the arrival and ongoing encroachment of Europeans was not the main reason for the vast reduction *over four centuries* in the Native American population. Disease played a role, but that role is overstated, most likely. If disease were the main cause of widespread depopulation, it would occur over a period of years, maybe decades, not centuries.

The reason is probably more mundane: hunter/gatherers live on the edge, one drought, or battle away from oblivion. The Karankawa are a good example. Karankawa males averaged close to six feet in height. They practiced cannibalism, and lived along the Texas coast and inland maybe 50-60 miles when the Spaniards and other first arrived in the Gulf of Mexico in the early 1500's. The last Karankawa died 350 years later. Warfare takes away half of the food source and 100% of a family's security every time a warrior is killed. Warriors were killed at a much higher rate on the Native American side than the European, but even if the exchange rate was even, the Native Americans were outnumbered and outgunned.

As the European conquest of North American continued, some tribes--much reduced by warfare and its attendant privation--moved on to reservations. Other tribes died out.

A similar pattern played out in Europe and Eurasia over a longer period of time with entire civilizations (English Celts, Mycenaeans, Minoans, Mitannians, etc) falling under the weight of combined circumstances, almost always including invasion.

Next up for me in the history category, as soon as a friend finishes his copy and lends it to me:

http://www.amazon.com/Empire-Summer-Moon-Comanches-Powerful/dp/1416591060

Yes, the Comanche.

I think Natalie Wood was the only person to survive a Comanche raid, in the "The Searchers".

Only to later fall prey mysteriously and nautically to the depredations of alcohol, and perhaps the combined jealousies of Robert Wagner and Christopher Walken.

Cynthia Ann Parker, the historical figure Wood's character was very loosely based on, similarly (I kid, sort of) survived the Comanches before being forcibly returned to white "civilization" and meeting death, along with her child, there.

http://www.austinchronicle.com/screens/2013-02-15/searching-for-cynthia-ann/

Which is not to in any way minimize the savagery of the Comanche warrior, but rather to agree, in my own way, with McTX that clashes of and encroachments by civilizations brought out the savage in everyone, ans still do.

Where the Comanche stood tall on his pony, in my view, not that I would want to get too close to gather historical evidence, was their pride in savagery, unlike the politically correct rationalizing of "manifest destiny" and such like bullsh*t we've been handed by our forefathers, who were so f8cking savage that they prevailed against the other savages.

Cormac McCarthy's "Blood Meridian" contains perhaps the most chilling passage in literature about human savagery, depicting a Comanche troop returning from a plundering attack.

I find Native American Indian history spellbinding, but it's hard to find good sources.

One that I read last year, about the Algonquin tribes confrontation along the Northeastern Seaboard with Jamestown and the other settlements - and vice versa -- talk about savagery -- was a bit of a trudge and long but worth it, by historian Bernard Bailen:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Barbarous-Years-Civilizations-1600-1675/dp/0394515706

You go up river in any clash of civilizations and you will find your Colonel Kurtz and the bloody heart of darkness.

America and the world have been apocalypse now -- then and now - since the beginning.

The term "Manifest Destiny" was made up by John L. O'Sullivan -- "Yes, more, more, more!" -- by force -- during the savage, expansionist Polk Administration -- what was called the Democratic Party (not to be confused with George McGovern or Barack Obama) at the time -- more accurately perhaps "neo-conservative" -- and the policy was opposed by the Whigs, most notably Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant, the former of whom was most recently pilloried by a Tea Party Republican (not to be confused with the Whigs) candidate as the Marxist who defeated the South.

McTX sits Comancheless in Texas and I sit Comancheless in Denver and we agree to disagree to agree by degrees.

This, from Wikipedia, comports with the more authoritative material I've read over the years:

John Parker and his men were caught in the open. They managed to fight a rearguard action for some of the escaping women and children, but soon they too retreated into the fort. The Indians attacked the fort and quickly overpowered the outnumbered defenders. They took John Parker, his granddaughter Cynthia Ann Parker, and some others alive. Cynthia watched as the other women were raped and the men tortured and killed. The last victim was John Parker. He was castrated and his genitals were stuffed into his mouth; he was scalped and at last killed. Cynthia Parker and five captives, after watching the horror, were led away into Comanche territory. Texans quickly mounted a rescue force. During their pursuit of the Indians one of the captives, a young teenage girl, escaped. All of the other captives were released over the years as the typical ransom was paid, but Cynthia remained with the Indians for nearly twenty-five years.

There was nothing nice about the Comanche. Their equivalents today cut people's heads off on video and put it on the web.

It is true that, having been kidnapped at age 9 and treated as a tribe member and as a child by her adopted Comanche family, when she was ultimately liberated/rescued/whatever, Cynthia Ann Parker believed she was a Comanche. It was insensitive for white Texans not to comprehend her transference. I don't know about the one child, but another child, Qua-nah Parker, became a famous Comanche chief.

I find Native American Indian history spellbinding, but it's hard to find good sources.

That's because the winners get to write the story and the revisionists have their own agenda. The big picture is that the Native Americans got screwed. The subtext, though, is that it was pretty much inevitable, given human nature, and being the end product of small, internecine wars and battles, they were *generally* a war-like and aggressive collection of peoples, with notable exceptions here and there. Olmstead, by the way, had nothing really nice to say about "Indians".

I think a major, *overlooked* aspect of pre-European archeology is the number of digs in which pottery shards, tools and dart points (arrowheads came later, less than 2K years ago) are found in situ. I've read everything I could find that might account this phenomena: why would a camp be abandoned with intact, functional dart points laying about? It makes no sense but there isn't much out there.

I've had the good luck to find two flint napping sites. I found tons of blanks, broken points and flakes, but no intact, finished points or knives (I have half a knife, broken in two, very cool). Compare this with my sister who found five arrowheads, all of the same style, lying in a small group--how do you explain that in relation to the two sites I've looked at(fairly extensively although it's been more than 10 years)?

My theory is that the arrowheads my sister found belonged to a man who died alone of natural causes or was killed by something not human. If he/she died attended by others or if a human had killed him, the family or killer would have taken the arrowheads. You don't find intact points or arrowheads at napping sites because it is too much work to make them and leave them behind. You find points, tools, pottery shards etc at the same location because that location was subject to some kind of sudden and traumatic event--maybe a fast moving forest or grass fire, more likely a sudden attack by a neighboring tribe.

The record is full of sites going back more than 10,000 years that match the sudden/traumatic scenario, which implies thousands of years of very brutal warfare. I haven't found any scholarly work that addresses this point, either objectively or burdened by the writer's agenda.

Next up for me in the history category, as soon as a friend finishes his copy and lends it to me:

http://www.amazon.com/Empire-Summer-Moon-Comanches-Powerful/dp/1416591060

My wife read that a year or so ago and related some of the goings-on to me. Sick stuff - burning young children alive, finding it very amusing, not to mention the sort of things in McKinney's Wikipedia quote.

The scariest thing in the world is other human beings. Natural disasters, wild animals and such don't know the human mind and cannot attack it with the sort of purpose that humans can.

My paternal grandfather was born, raised, and lived his entire 97 years in Northeastern Ohio and his basement when I was a kid housed his collection of Indian relics, mostly arrowheads and ax-heads, said to have been one of the largest collections of its kind in the region, though I've come to wonder about that.

He sold the collection to another collector fearing it would be split up among the grand kids and lost, which it would have been.

He collected from the Indian burial mounds (Adena and Hopewell civilizations) in the area, mostly on farmers' land. He'd take us out as kids occasionally, gently stick a spade in the soil and there we'd find several fully realized arrowheads, not on the mounds, but in low spots nearby where water drained.

He had a human skull on the shelf in the basement too and when he wasn't around, my brother and I would pick it up and move its jaw up and down and I would do some sorry versions of Hamlet's "Alas, Poor Yorick" speech, substituting my brother's name for Yorick's.

My brother would ask "Who's Yorick?", the answer to which I didn't really know either.

Later, that same brother would hush me by putting a finger to his lips and tug me by the arm into my grandparents bedroom while the adults were shouting (loud family) in the living room. He would lift the bedspread on grandpa's side of the bed and we'd sit on our haunches and stare at the holstered pistol strapped to the bed frame.

I wouldn't let us touch the thing, figuring probably that was how Poor Yorick met his end, but knowing my brother as I've come to know him, I'd lay even money he went in there by himself and handled it.

If my grandfather had caught us, our skulls, the flesh boiled away, would have been sitting on the shelf in the basement for the cousins to gawk at when they visited.


It's the kind of thought experiment that might lead to the conclusion that 1493 may be over-stating the case. As you note, some number of this remaining cohort would be elderly or children. The language mix and geographical spread would complicate matters even more. Yet, vibrant, complex societies with oral histories predating European colonization existed throughout North America, not to mention intact languages that were clearly not a hodge podge thrown together to allow the remnants of disparate and decimated tribes to cobble together a new tribe, post 1500.

How do you know how much of a linguistic core a small group of people might be able to preserve after surviving a horrible disease outbreak? How do you know that extant languages aren't a hodge-podge?

Is there any scholarship justifying your claims?

Let's say your right for the sake of argument. Doesn't that lead to much bigger questions, like how is it that european crowd diseases didn't kill vast numbers of American Indians? I mean, doesn't that suggest that the germ theory of disease is maybe not correct?

This feels a bit like times when I've argued with conservatives about climate change. They want to argue about weather stations and urban heat island effects, but it always feels like they're shadowboxing with the laws of thermodynamics.

Yes, 1493 deals with the destruction of the Native American population in a cursory fashion. That's because Mann wrote a previous book, 1491, which dealt with it in detail. Whatever may be said of the destruction of native cultures, the settlers in what became the slave states did encounter tribes that kept slaves.

But reading about the development of sugar plantations gives reason to think it may have been that industry, more than contact with local slave-holding cultures, that led to adopting plantations with coerced labor.

http://www.ucalgary.ca/applied_history/tutor/eurvoya/Trade.html

Several Atlantic islands off Africa were used for raising sugar cane, and the planters on those islands discovered a source of slaves in the slave-holding African cultures. Slaves had been a feature of European culture for all of recorded history, but slaves of European descent did not survive well on sugar plantations, so this is probably the source of race-based slavery for European cultures.

But how does this tie in with Mauritania? Did they ever have a sugar industry, and if not, why is their version of slavery tied to race? I doubt it is something they learned from the Europeans.

How do you know how much of a linguistic core a small group of people might be able to preserve after surviving a horrible disease outbreak? How do you know that extant languages aren't a hodge-podge?

How? By reading books, books that report contemporaneous contact with Apaches, Karankawas, Tonkawas, Comanches et al by early Spanish explorers--all alive and thriving, with separate cultures, separate languages, etc. Let me turn the tables on you: what evidence is there of a single tribe anywhere whose language was shown to be a blend of various unrelated tribes? Where is the archeological evidence of mass die off's? There is plenty of evidence of battle fields, prisoner slaughters and other mass carnage going back centuries and more BCE--where is even one documented die-off attributed to disease, i.e. where scientific evidence, not conjecture 500 years hence, establishes the fact? And keep in mind we are talking about events that are alleged to have happened within recorded history.

Is there any scholarship justifying your claims?

I'm not the proponent of the 1491 thesis, and I don't know how it was received in academia--I suspect there is no consensus on numbers of Native Americans that died from X cause as opposed to Y. I do know that contemporaneous evidence of wholly viable, vibrant tribes existing at the time of first contact through the end of the 19th century refutes the claims, as I note above.

Doesn't that lead to much bigger questions, like how is it that european crowd diseases didn't kill vast numbers of American Indians? I mean, doesn't that suggest that the germ theory of disease is maybe not correct?

Germ theory was established fact by the end of the 19th century, and 1491 was written more than 100 years later. Seems to me that if your logic were valid, soon on the heels of germ theory being accepted, scientists everywhere would have tumbled to the fact that it was germs that wiped out the Native Americans.

Here's the problem: epidemics don't last centuries. The number of viable, long standing Native American tribes around in the first half of the 19th century was significant. The diseases you refer to were imported 400 years before. How do you explain that gap? Has any anthropologist anywhere documented an oral tradition among even one Indian tribe that reports a mass-die off approaching 90%? Even one report would be anecdotal, not probative. For the thesis to be true, there would be compelling, repetitive instances of mass die-offs.

I acknowledge that disease played a role. That role can't be quantified reliably and there isn't any objective evidence of death to the extent argued for in 1491 being caused by disease.

This feels a bit like times when I've argued with conservatives about climate change.

You consider the questions you've raised as devastating proof of 1491's thesis? And that your questions are the equivalent of the compelling arguments for climate change f/k/a global warming?

I suppose that's why I remain less than a full convert.

Tex,

The wikki, while citing a great deal of controversy in this field, tends to disagree with you...if I'm understanding you correctly: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Population_history_of_indigenous_peoples_of_the_Americas

As I recall, the documented evidence for the near obliteration of the native population on Hispanola and other islands in the Caribbean due to contact with disease for which they had no immunity is fairly substantial.

It would seem this is a subject that is of some interest to you. Appreciated.

I suppose that's why I remain less than a full convert.

Then there is hope.

By reading books, books that report contemporaneous contact with Apaches, Karankawas, Tonkawas, Comanches et al by early Spanish explorers--all alive and thriving, with separate cultures, separate languages, etc.

I'm sorry but I don't understand. We both agree that many American Indian tribes had some contact with Europeans and survived with some elements of their cultural and language intact. The fact that they remain separate cultures with distinct languages doesn't tell us anything.

I mean, when we talk about crowd diseases killing 90% of the population, that doesn't mean a uniform 9/10 in every place. It means that there will be clusters, so in some places and some times, you might see 100% death tolls while in others perhaps only 50%, depending on local immunity, the virulence of strands natives were exposed to, and how isolated they were. Moreover, I suspect that small groups could retain linguistic diversity for a long time; I don't see why you think that death by crowd diseases necessarily requires that almost all groups of surviving Indians banded together and blended their language and culture.

Let me turn the tables on you: what evidence is there of a single tribe anywhere whose language was shown to be a blend of various unrelated tribes?

I don't know, but I don't see the relevance. Can you explain?

I mean, I imagine that if crowd diseases killed a vast number of American Indians, you'd see many tribes that retained their language and culture. And to the extent that you wouldn't, I'm not sure we'd be able to tell. If modern day Sioux spoke a vastly different language than their pre-Columbian ancestors, how exactly would we able to tell? If their received cultural practices were vastly different, how exactly would we know?

Where is the archeological evidence of mass die off's?

Let me ask you: if you don't think mass die offs took place, why not? Is the germ theory of disease wrong? Were American Indian tribes far more isolated than archaeologists thought? Are epidemiologists just wrong about how crowd diseases spread in populations of unprotected individuals?


Germ theory was established fact by the end of the 19th century, and 1491 was written more than 100 years later. Seems to me that if your logic were valid, soon on the heels of germ theory being accepted, scientists everywhere would have tumbled to the fact that it was germs that wiped out the Native Americans.

Germ theory may have been established early, but the understanding of how crowd diseases function in society and how herd immunity develops came much later. The knowledge that American Indians as a group have surprisingly low immunological diversity that makes them particularly susceptible to crowd diseases is very very recent.


You consider the questions you've raised as devastating proof of 1491's thesis?

No, not at all.

And that your questions are the equivalent of the compelling arguments for climate change f/k/a global warming?

No, not at all. My point was just that in both cases, conservatives are ignoring the elephant in the room. If you think climate change is not happening, then you have an objection to basic thermodynamics, but most climate change deniers never talk about that. Likewise, if you think that european crowd diseases did not substantially reduce the population of North America, then your argument is much more so with epidemiologists than Mann.

I guess everyone is back and recovered from their winter solstice celebrations.

Do the Aztecs qualify as Native Americans?

There is a reason that I said "the North American New World". The indigenous languages of North America are generally treated as separate from the languages of South America. There is Greenberg's Amerind proposal, but that's not been received too kindly. It seems that Central America was a choke point, and Diamond talks about how geography prevented any ecological transfers, but I don't know if that has been taken up linguistically.

The Mississippian culture is one example, the Anasazi is another and there are digs throughout the country that reveal tribes which existed 1,000 or 1,500 years ago that simply fell off the map, so to speak, well before 1500.

'falls off the map' is an interesting phrase with no agent. But a little thought should suggest that cultures don't just 'fall', cause their whole purpose is to preserve a society. The fact that De Soto found these thriving cities and La Salle found them empty should tell you that there is a smoking gun.

Disease played a role, but that role is overstated, most likely. If disease were the main cause of widespread depopulation, it would occur over a period of years, maybe decades, not centuries.

Here is a short list of the major diseases for which Native Americans had no immunity. Smallpox, typhus, mumps, measles, influenza, diphtheria, whooping cough, scarlet fever, yellow fever. I'm sure I am missing some. Many of these are now controllable because the adult population has relative immunity, so it is confined to children.

As far as germ theory, the west, because it has co-evolved with all of these infectious agents, the relative toll is assumed to be the same for other groups of people and little thought by folks who haven't been reading the research (and a concentration on thinking about the Plains Indians, where disease transmission is mitigated by distances) has them think the same as you.

Has any anthropologist anywhere documented an oral tradition among even one Indian tribe that reports a mass-die off approaching 90%? Even one report would be anecdotal, not probative. For the thesis to be true, there would be compelling, repetitive instances of mass die-offs.

It sounds like you are saying 'if it is true, why don't I know about it?'. Here is your one report. Note that it is not the Mandan who are able to tell this tale, it is the white folks who had already developed some immunity to smallpox. Now multiply that by the number of diseases I listed above.

I have to admit, I read 1493, but I didn't read 1491, because when I leafed through it, I thought it was more about Aztec and Inca rather than North America, but it gives a lot of details that should add up to 'compelling, repetitive instances. The Google preview is here.

Has any anthropologist anywhere documented an oral tradition among even one Indian tribe that reports a mass-die off approaching 90%?

I realize, on re-reading this, you are asking a different question which is if there were multiple epidemics, shouldn't some oral traditions note them? I think this misunderstands how oral tradition develops and how orality is kept up in non-written cultures.

The cultures with extensive oral traditions are ones that are obviously sedentary rather than nomadic and the time of telling tales is in the winter, after stores had been laid in, with the oral traditions describing and trying to explain features of the world. When you are stuck inside for the whole winter, you basically tell and retell stories.

Key to that is a stable societal unit that can gather enough food to last the winter and construct enough infrastructure to live thru the season. It is highly unlikely that a society that had lost half of its population, let alone 90%, would be able to continue a tradition that relies on stable population. A further feature is that there is a person or two who are often designated as the story tellers, which makes this oral tradition more susceptible.

So arguing that there is no oral tradition of great mortality sufficient to prove to you that 500 years ago, there was a catastrophic event (and that may be mistaken, there may be an oral tradition, but it is obscured. For example, a lot of Indian oral tradition have some cultural hero who survives the holocaust and then repopulates the world and many of them have some evil entity that kills people wholesale) seems to be a bit short sighted.

johnw is IMO on the right track about sugar and slavery, and the rest of you have mostly hared off in a different, less relevant direction.

Pre-Columbian North America is of basically zero relevance for New World race slavery, because massive importation of African slaves occurred well before the future US was explored by Europeans.

Instead, the first enslaved Africans brought to the Western Hemisphere came to the Caribbean and Brazil.

The real question I'm going after, and I hoped one of you would know something about, is, what Islamic, race-based "slave codes" is Dah Abeid talking about? And under what circumstances were they developed?

the documented evidence for the near obliteration of the native population on Hispanola and other islands in the Caribbean due to contact with disease for which they had no immunity is fairly substantial.

I agree that disease was a much larger factor on islands with small, somewhat inbred populations. I do not think it was duplicated on the mainland to nearly the same degree. The larger factor on the mainland was, I suspect, war reducing the male hunting and reproducing population such that tribes withered over time and died off, as in the Karankawa.

There is a reason that I said "the North American New World".

Fair point. I missed that and I agree, Mexico/Central America and North America were light years apart.

But a little thought should suggest that cultures don't just 'fall', cause their whole purpose is to preserve a society. The fact that De Soto found these thriving cities and La Salle found them empty should tell you that there is a smoking gun.

Yes, that is the purpose of a society, yet many did disappear prior to 1492. I listed several examples.

As for De Soto and La Salle, I did some quick research and could not see where their paths crossed. Both explored generally in the South, but that is a lot of country. Where were these once thriving villages? And how many were there, roughly? La Salle died or was killed not far from Houston near a town called Navasota. The Native American population remained healthy throughout that area for several more centuries.\

Note that it is not the Mandan who are able to tell this tale, it is the white folks who had already developed some immunity to smallpox. Now multiply that by the number of diseases I listed above.

I said earlier that disease played a role. I am familiar with the Mandan tragedy. The problem with reasoning from a fairly isolated instance is that so many other tribes persisted until they clashed militarily with encroaching Americans. The Mandan tragedy happened in 1837, nearly forty years after Lewis & Clark had passed through. Syphilus was already rampant among Native Americans in that area, yet they continued to live as did Europeans.

Too many Native Americans had been exposed for too long to too many Europeans for the 90% number to have legs.

And, you can't average 100% and 50% and come up with 90%.

It is highly unlikely that a society that had lost half of its population, let alone 90%, would be able to continue a tradition that relies on stable population.

And yet the flood legends persisted througout the prehistoric middle east. Your position is that people wouldn't remember and discuss and pass down a widespread horrific event because the event is so destabilizing and only sedentary societies have oral traditions is, it seems to me, a lot more nebulous and subjective that, say, the plain fact that hundreds of intact Native American tribes were doing just fine up until the 19th century.

This is all interesting reading, but it's a little frustrating. It's getting harder to tell what you guys (McK and lj) are actually arguing over. It seems to stem primarily from lj's thought experiment, the point of which isn't entirely clear (to me). Then it sort of looks like lj is saying, or at least McK thinks lj is saying, that 90% of Native Americans died off suddenly, mostly because of disease exposures and lack of immunity. So what's at issue is that the 90% die-off was sudden (across the entire continent?) and that it was due mostly to disease. But that seems too silly.

what Islamic, race-based "slave codes" is Dah Abeid talking about?

Just one small point, Dr S. Dah Abeid isn't saying that there is an Islamic slave code. He is saying that there is a traditional slave code -- which is exploited by those in Mauritania who happen to be Muslims. Their religion may be the distinguishing characteristic there, but it isn't what drives or authorizes slavery.

It's not unlike the idea that women must be totally covered. That may be an Arab tradition, but it is not at all a Muslim one. (Admittedly the Wahabists have been spending a lot of Saudi money pushing their particular cultural ideas in Muslim areas around the world. But their ideas, on this and other points, have little to do with Islam itself. Not that they would ever admit such a thing.)

So what's at issue is that the 90% die-off was sudden (across the entire continent?) and that it was due mostly to disease.

There is a belief, mostly on the left, that among the many, many sins of early Europeans and their decedents was killing, inadvertently one presumes, 90-95% of the Native American population by introducing various diseases to which the local populations had no immunological defenses. To make this viewpoint dance, the process has to last nearly 500 years. Yes, a five hundred epidemic. This is the kind of historical revisionism that fits the progressive narrative. My role in life is to push back when time and opportunity present.

Here's the problem: epidemics don't last centuries.

of course they do.

the black death bounced around Europe for all of the 1600s. it moved from city to city, decimating each city's population in turn before running out of people to infect.

plague was, according to a source Wiki cites "present somewhere in Europe in every year between 1346 and 1671."

any new virulent disease in North/Central America would have likely followed a similar pattern: moving from one population to the next, as opportunities arose. even returning to previously-infected locations as new potential victims were born.

There is a belief, mostly on the left, that among the many, many sins of early Europeans and their decedents was killing, inadvertently one presumes, 90-95% of the Native American population by introducing various diseases to which the local populations had no immunological defenses.

Actually, I would think that a disease die-off is something that relieves responsibility. It is not like the explorers carrying disease would know what they were carrying.

This is the kind of historical revisionism that fits the progressive narrative. My role in life is to push back when time and opportunity present.

It seems that you are carrying a lot of baggage into this argument that prevents you from evaluating it fairly.

But, McKinney, would you argue that there were no localized die-offs among Native Americans approaching (or even exceeding) 90%? I'm guessing not, based on what you wrote about island populations, but I just wanted to be sure.

And, lj, to be sure about what you're saying, do you mean that there was a relatively sudden, continental die-off approaching 90%?

It seems that you are carrying a lot of baggage into this argument that prevents you from evaluating it fairly.

Apparently the implied winking emoticon should have been made express.

But, McKinney, would you argue that there were no localized die-offs among Native Americans approaching (or even exceeding) 90%? I'm guessing not, based on what you wrote about island populations, but I just wanted to be sure.

The Mandan tragedy, discussed above, is a clear example of a 90% plus local die-off caused by disease. The epidemic did not spill over to neighboring tribes. Disease was not the cause of 90% mortality, over a 500 year period. That isn't even a provable fact, given that no records were kept.

One of the things I read while poking around was that a large number of natives died during the 17th Century, and that, of those who died, 90% died from disease. I don't know if there's a popular misinterpretation of that, such that people think 90% of the total population died during that particular period.

did my previous comment offend?

Here's the problem: epidemics don't last centuries.

they certainly do.

the plague lasted in Europe for many centuries, bouncing from city to city as susceptible populations were decimated and re-grown.

almost all groups of surviving Indians banded together and blended their language and culture.
The languages don't work this way. Even though the Native Americans had a rich variety of language families, most languages are part of some family. In fact, because the languages were purely oral, they were actually parts of language continuums that spanned relatively large areas.

If a catastrophic situation would wipe out most of the population in certain area, it would not lead to a "hodgepodge" of languages. Most survivors would group together with other survivors of those tribes whose dialect they could understand, and they would most likely travel to such direction to find such people. After a generation, this development would be almost undetectable linguistically.

On the other hand, in communities where people would come from different language families, one language would, simply due to randomness of survival, be in majority socially or demographically. In such communities, minority-speakers would change language. The language change might be detectable as a substratum and loan words from another language family, but not so as to reduce the language to "hodgepodge". (For example, most Northwestern Russians stem from people who spoke Finnno-Ugric languages at the time of Mongol domination. This is only detectable as slightly odd accent of the local Russian dialects.)

Cleek is quite right, the plague lasted for centuries in Europe, and there's no reason to think the plagues brought to the new world would be any different. Once a few pigs had escaped the Spanish, many of these diseases were transmitted far ahead of the settlers. There's even a theory that the depopulation of the new world is what led to the little ice age, because the Native Americans had used fire to control the forests, and stopped doing so.

There was a choke point in settling the new wold, which meant that there were only something like four profiles of human lukocyte androgens in the native population, greatly reducing the chance a disease would encounter a profile that would identify it as a disease.

In any case, that's all far afield from the issue in Mauritania. Arabs kept Christian slaves, notably the Janissaries, but they also traded with African cultures for slaves. Zanzibar, if I recall correctly, was a major slave trading port. It may be that the race slavery in Mauritania has more to do with the desire to have non-Muslim slaves than anything explicitly racial or related to plantation agriculture.

And yet the flood legends persisted througout the prehistoric middle east.

I'm not sure this is as strong an analogy as you think it is. I would strongly suspect that vulnerability to novel epidemics and saturation with orally-transmitted culture are both more closely correlated with age than vulnerability to flooding is. I could be wrong. But I'm rather skeptical that these two types of disasters would make for an informative comparison in this context.

Cleek is right, sort of: there was one pandemic and roughly eight recurrences that were localized episodes , much less virulent and each lasting for a defined period of time, usually about two years. It is quite a stretch to say this is equivalent to a 5 century, ongoing epidemic that accounts for 90% of all mortality. Much like the stretch that gets to the 90% number in the first place.

There is a belief, mostly on the left...

Is this belief found in academic literature on the subject? Can you cite a book or journal article?

Are those academics who have espoused such an opinion known as political leftists?

Could you provide a cite or two tying this hypothesis to leftist political thought?

Do you have an example of this viewpoint espoused by some lefty type who is not an academic?

I could be wrong, but it would appear you are conflating an issue or two here: Theories regarding the cause of the observed depopulation of Native American peoples and the left critique of European imperialism and the well known racial theories that accompanied it, as unpleasantly brought to your attention from time to time by leftist and apparently some (as yet unknown) others.

Thanks.

And, lj, to be sure about what you're saying, do you mean that there was a relatively sudden, continental die-off approaching 90%?

Thanks for asking, hsh. No, I'm saying that there were multiple pandemics that struck the native american population from the period of 1492 to around 1600. I mentioned the 90% number (once!) as a thought experiment, to have students think about the impact of disease as a prelude to understanding why there were 300-400 languages spoken at the time of first contact but why we know so little about so many of them. Black Death, which is 1 disease, killed maybe 1/3 of the population of Europe. We are talking about diseaseS.

The diseaseS that had been co-evolving with the European population for hundreds of years were brought to the new world and, as the time required for a trans-Atlantic journey decreased and the numbers of people increased, this brought new diseases over because it overcame the natural quarantine of the shorter incubation periods. McT's argument is that because no one disease killed 90%, it has to be the left telling stories.

From this one mention of 90%, McT erects an elaborate architecture of the perfidy of the left, with this number (which somehow gets changed to 90-95%, I wonder why?) being the main exhibit. And it is always epidemic in the singular when I've been pretty clear that it was epidemics. Gives some insight into why anti-vaccination folks like Jenny McCarthy don't get run out of town on a rail.

It is quite a stretch to say this is equivalent to a 5 century, ongoing epidemic that accounts for 90% of all mortality. Much like the stretch that gets to the 90% number in the first place.

You started this off by misreading my comment ('North American New World' not 'new World'), so that might suggest that you may be misreading my single mention of 90%, and the addition of the 5 century timeline is something I have no idea where you are getting. I think you'd get the same social disequilibrium with a figure of 50% over 100 years. But like I said, you are carrying a lot of baggage into this, so I'll leave you to tilt at those windmills of the left.

Is this belief found in academic literature on the subject? Can you cite a book or journal article

1491 and the many favorable reviews. To answer LJ's snark, in looking at this further yesterday, there are a number of revisionist historians and their followers who subscribe to this number. And as a reminder, here is how I misread LJ's statement: "It's the kind of thought experiment that might lead to the conclusion that 1493 may be over-stating the case." Directed at LJ? No--directed directly at 1493, which carries forward the author's thoughts from 1491.

in looking at this further yesterday
and
No--directed directly at 1493, which carries forward the author's thoughts from 1491.

The notion that looking into things yesterday and being able to know what was in both books and process all the research literature that the two books cited overnight leads me to my conclusion that you are carrying a lot of baggage into this. Nothing you have written here changes my conclusion. Sorry if that sounds snarky.

Say what you will about Wikipedia, it excels at presenting the consensus view, which seems to be that native populations were devastated by disease. In forming this consensus, scholars have rejected the alternative explanation that deliberate genocide was responsible, so it's hard to see the view that disease is responsible as the "liberal view."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Population_history_of_indigenous_peoples_of_the_Americas

some thoughts on all of the above:

agreed, i believe the consensus view is that the native population was gutted by diseases introduced by europeans. if that process spanned centuries, imo that's not so surprising, because the time of contact between native populations and europeans spans centuries.

i think bernie correctly explains the role of slavery in the sugar industry. you don't need slaves to make sugar, you need slaves to make sugar in the quantities, and at the scale, and with the profit margins, that were desired by the folks whose project the caribbean plantation economy was. the same model was extended to the american southeast, and applied to a variety of cash crops including tobacco, rice, indigo, and cotton, and then extended west when the soil in the original coastal plantations was depleted.

the triangle trade model was basically slaves from africa shipped to the western hemisphere where they were used as labor to turn raw land into agricultural commodities. those were shipped to the UK where they were turned into manufactured goods. those goods where shipped to africa and/or the western hemisphere where they were used to trade for slaves and/or raw materials. the point of it all was to establish a closed, integrated trade flow which was the monopoly of, and generated great wealth for, the state and the folks who ruled and financed it. basically, it was the mercantilist model at an intercontinental scale.

it's true that slavery has existed throughout human history, however the particulars - the status of the slave, the reciprocal responsibilities of the slave owner to the slave and vice versa, whether and how slaves could acquire their freedom, whether the children of slaves were automatically also slaves, etc - have varied pretty widely.

sub-saharan blacks were seen as desirable slaves because they lived longer, and were more productive, under slavery in the western hemisphere plantations than the indigenous people were. the indigenous populations of many areas colonized early on were essentially killed off, either by simply being slaughtered, or by being worked to death. the sub-saharan africans were simply tougher, for whatever reason.

even at that, the life-span of a sub-saharan african sent to the caribbean to work in any of the various plantations was about 7 years. they were worked to death, and simply replaced.

in the american south, this was less common, because slaves were seen as being inherently valuable, more or less like any livestock is inherently valuable.

by the mid-19th C black african slaves constituted the largest pool of capital in the country, their collective value exceeded only by that of the land they worked.

in the early days in north america, there was less of a bright line between black=slave and white=free. many whites came here under some form or other of indenture, many blacks acquired freedom. the strict slavery 'black codes' were, i think, a later innovation - 18th and early 19th C? - and were perhaps driven by the emigration of many caribbean planters due to events like the haitian revolution and/or the transfer of ownership of various caribbean plantation islands from one european nation to another over the course of centuries of war.

regarding the indigenous americans, i'm not sure it's useful to characterize them all as 'hunter-gatherers'. the range of ethnic, linguistic, and social groups that made up the indigenous american population was pretty varied. some were nomadic hunter/gatherers, some were agrarian, some were a mix. some organized along simple clan and family lines, some had quite sophisticated polities and institutions. some were frankly barbarous, some were peaceable.

it's a big contintent(s), everyone who lived here was not the same.

mck's description of the commanche depredations puts me most in mind of the institution of drawing and quartering, which was the standard punishment for treason in the UK for some centuries.

I maybe haven't been reading every comment as carefully as I should, because I'm really confused about why we seem to be talking about AN epidemic, regardless of mortality rate.

Diseases introduced to the New World 1493+ include but are not limited to:

smallpox
measles
influenzas (various)
malaria
yellow fever
chicken pox
diphtheria
whooping cough
viral dysenteries (various)
bacteria dysenteries (various)
amoebic dysenteries (various)

I honestly don't understand (again: possibly due to not reading carefully enough) what McTX is objecting to in the idea that Native American populations crashed after 1492. In many cases the crash was *before* there was significant face-to-face European contact, because introduced diseases outran European explorers.

For historically-significant instance, when the Mayflower landed in 1620, they found the countryside --including recently-cultivated fields -- empty, not because of the Native's "lifestyle", but because of an epidemic that had killed most of the population in 1616-19. A recent article suggests that the disease may have been leptospirosis, which isn't even on the list I gave above.

I honestly don't understand (again: possibly due to not reading carefully enough) what McTX is objecting to

leftists, and the things they think. it's his sworn duty to challenge them whenever he can.

i'm sure it's completely unrelated to this phenomenon.

But how is "Native American demographic collapse" a leftist opinion? I was under the impression that is was "current historical consensus" opinion ...

Another way of putting it is, who (important in RightLand) is saying that there *wasn't* a NADC, or that it wasn't mostly due to disease? This meme must be coming from *somewhere*.

But how is "Native American demographic collapse" a leftist opinion?

AFAIKT, it's blaming it on the white man that upsets them. because, as you know, the white man is God's gift to the world.

But how is "Native American demographic collapse" a leftist opinion? I was under the impression that is was "current historical consensus" opinion ...

Because it means that Europeans (inadvertently) caused the die off. McTex explained it in this thread:

There is a belief, mostly on the left, that among the many, many sins of early Europeans and their decedents was killing, inadvertently one presumes, 90-95% of the Native American population by introducing various diseases to which the local populations had no immunological defenses.

Perhaps the confusion here stems from differing notions of responsibility. Like LJ (and I suspect most lefty types posting here), I don't see how one could be held responsible for disease-related deaths that they could not possibly understand. But if MxTex thinks that is a "sin" even without knowledge, then that implies Europeans are evil...maybe?

You may be right, cleek, but your evidence is not any good: I asked which important RightLand people say there was no NADC. Something written more than ten years ago by a grad student doesn't count.

I think McTex's thinking here is uncommon on the right. See this, this, and this for examples of conservatives agreeing with the NADC.

I asked which important RightLand people say there was no NADC.

it's not so much that there wasn't a die-off, it's that Europeans weren't the cause, or if Europeans did it it wasn't intentional, or that they killed each other off, or that there weren't that many in the first place so the scope of the assumed die-off is exaggerated, etc..

it all comes across as looking like ways to make sure the Europeans of the 1400s-1600s receive no blame. why? because, "leftists" (ex. the right's favorite punching bag of the early 2000s, Ward Churchill) call what happened a "genocide", and that Columbus wasn't a hero, etc.. for some reason, "conservatives" feel compelled to defend those long-dead Europeans against the accusations from leftists.

I would say cleek has it about right. I would not say "no blame", rather "not as much as commonly assumed" is applicable. After all, the conquest of North American was not so much regrettable as inevitable, and if the latter, who's to blame?

To the victor go the spoils. Naturally, this only provides further evidence that leftists believe the ends justify the means.

Once more, into the breach: The Wiki article is quoted upthread, presumably to make the point that the 90% number is conventional, unpoliticized wisdom. It makes the following preliminary statement: "Given the fragmentary nature of the evidence, even semi-accurate pre-Columbian population figures are impossible to obtain. Estimates are made by extrapolations from small bits of data."

If anything, that is a gross understatement.
The historical/archeological record, such as it is, is (1) too scant to allow for the basic premise and (2) what record there is does not support the premise.

And, yes, those who stand behind the basic premise--post European contact, 90% of Native Americans were killed off by imported European diseases--stand pretty much on the left.

The bean counters estimate the pre-Columbian population somewhere between 10mm and 100mm--quite a spread, wouldn't you say? Suggesting, for example, that statistical analysis is not analysis at all, but rather it is speculation.

So, leave aside the lack of any--any at all--oral tradition of mass die-off(s), the widespread existence of healthy, culturally intact tribes routinely encountered from 1803 (Lewis and Clark) until 1884 (Geronimo surrenders), the lack of any archeological evidence (when a thousand, or tens or hundreds of thousands of people die within a year or two of each other and in approximately the same area (e.g. Mexico), they leave footprint. This is true for much smaller groups as well.

Leave all of that aside and take 1491/1493's number: 90% killed by disease. Now, for this to be a true statement, it can't just be 90% of a certain population at a certain point of time. The statement is: 90% of all Native Americans were killed off after the Europeans arrived. That has to mean, it can only mean, that this was true in 1550 and in 1850, that is, that in both years, 90% of mortality was European imported disease.

Numerically, it is total BS. Let's make a bunch of assumptions very friendly to the thesis. Let's first assume 60,000,000 Native Americans in Central and North America in 1550. Not only is this is a ridiculously high number, but it is a number that I assume 25-50 years after initial contact with Europeans, so as to allow a reasonable amount of time for these various diseases to spread.

For the thesis to be true, 90% of this number has to die of an imported disease. So, in 1551, we are down to 6,000,000 Native Americans. So, what happens: do the Native Americans repopulate? Not according to the thesis--the 90% number continues to hold. There is no coming back.


To see if the thesis is possible, let's make outrageously generous repopulation assumptions and stay with the 90% constant die-off number. More specifically, let's assume that half of the survivors are fertile women of child bearing age and half are fertile males and that each woman and each man form a couple that delivers delivers four children who each survive to age 15.

So, 6,000,000 survivors produce twelve million offspring, of whom 90% are doomed to die of imported disease.

If we make the same assumptions for the next generation's survivors as we made above, and if we further assume that each generation is 25 years, then between 1550 and 1800, three years before Lewis and Clark began their journey, the Native American population would have plunged from 60,000,000 to 15.

We know that didn't happen, even under the wildly generous assumptions allowed above.


The premise is crap, I don't care how many people repeat it.

And, by imputing a myth to the left, I've managed to stir the usual anthill, as evidenced by the mind reading upthread.

The more likely, more mundane and much more Euro-unfriendly scenario is actually two.

The Andean and Mexican (Inca and Aztec) cultures were highly organized, rigidly stratified and urbanized. The urban populations depended on an organized agrarian system of farming and distribution to avoid starvation. By force of arms, the Conquistadors decapitated both cultures, throwing them into a state of chaos. Food production and distribution crumbled along with everything else. People starved to death. If you don't know how to plant and preserve crops, you are going to die, particularly in those days when the distance between starvation and sufficiency was minimal.

Disease played a role, and with the mounting death toll from war and privation, probably an increasing role, although how anyone can distinguish between imported and domestic in that scenario is beyond me.

In North America, cultures were nomadic to semi-nomadic to more-or-less proto-agrarian circa 1500. The mound builders were pretty much out of the picture. All were heavily dependent on men as hunters and warriors. The heavy toll, as Europeans moved west, visited on the male warrior population degraded the remaining population by virtue of reduced food supply, reduced mating opportunities and reduced security/protection, not to mention the general malaise/loss of will to live that would be occasioned by having all the husbands killed off and being run off of one's land.

And disease too, but again, how anyone could tell domestic from imported is beyond me. Hungry people are less picky about what they eat--wouldn't eating spoiled food, on a macro basis--have an effect?

Are malnutrition and population replacement compatible? I think one affects the other.

No one can say anything but that the Native American population was severely reduced and severely reduced by Europeans. The causes in fact, however, were war, displacement *and* disease, of all kinds over-layed on a life that was always teetering on the edge of local disaster anyway, particularly for the North Americans.

Smaller tribes did become extinct over time. Larger, more organized tribes survived but in a much reduced state. But, the process required centuries in North America. It was a grinding down, with multiple causes.

Mexico and the Andes were different. The crash came relatively faster and was more widespread because the urban population was unequipped to deal with societal breakdown.

McKinney, where does your information about there being no tradition of a die-off come from? I confess I'm not an expert on Native American oral traditions, but I'd like to know the source of your expertise.

In Latin America, intermarriage was common, and population did bounce back, though with a mixed-race population. In the U.S. and Canada, the native population lost much of the land that once supported them, in spite of which their population has recovered to and probably exceeded pre-Columbian levels. Your statement that there is no coming back has no basis in fact.

I don't know if the 90% figure is accurate, and neither do you. I think we can agree that there was substantial depopulation, though.

All of this is interesting thread drift, but what does it have to do with Mauritania?

Disease played a role, and with the mounting death toll from war and privation, probably an increasing role, although how anyone can distinguish between imported and domestic in that scenario is beyond me.

At the risk of stating the painfully obvious, by examining accounts of the symptoms.

McTex, we know that shortly before the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth, the local tribes had been obliterated by disease; in fact the Pilgrims robbed graves to get at food left behind. They themselves commented on how empty the recently abandoned villages that surrounded them were. And yet even though there was a small remnant nearby, this remnant did not experience the robust population growth you describe, at least according to the Pilgrims. How do you explain that?

So, leave aside the lack of any--any at all--oral tradition of mass die-off(s)

If I can be forgiven for joining in the plucking of low-hanging fruit, consider another European-recounting of one single epidemic of one single disease. Yes, it was striking in and around what was one of (if not the) largest cities in the world at the time, and the region was further suffering a mix of insurrection and Spanish adventurism. But that's a fairly non-controversial record of a mass die-off from a single European-introduced disease.

McKinney, where does your information about there being no tradition of a die-off come from? I confess I'm not an expert on Native American oral traditions, but I'd like to know the source of your expertise.

I can state with near certainty that iron clad ships were not used in the Revolutionary War. That isn't written down anywhere, it just happens to be a fact.

Also, I don't claim expertise, assuming we assign a similar meaning to that term. Some things are just wrong and you can tell they are wrong by taking what you know, asking people who disagree or contest to offer supporting evidence (most of the supporting evidence is to claim that others say the same thing or use anecdotal evidence).

It's like asserting that Cro-magnon displace Neanderthal by competing more effectively for food, or by violence, or that they interbred and there was no displacement. Supposed experts make statements like this with some regularity, but when you peel back the BS from the hard evidence, it often turns out that a very limited amount of evidence is doing a lot of heavy lifting.

Regarding the absence of an oral tradition, I have two sources--keeping in mind that asking for someone to prove a negative is a bit of device to begin with--first, my own reading is reasonably extensive and I've never seen a reference to it. Second, having debated this precise point before here at ObWi, I've challenged others to show an oral tradition. So far, no takers. In fact, we have LJ (I believe) pointing out that oral traditions aren't usually found with nomads and semi nomads (if I am reading him correctly). The author of 1491 and 1493, if he was doing his job, should have referred to many such, but as far as I know, he has not.

At the risk of stating the painfully obvious, by examining accounts of the symptoms.

Which, to take the painfully obvious to its next logical step, requires that there be enough such data to allow for actual diagnoses sufficient to prove the point. There isn't any such thing for the vast majority of deaths which are unwitnessed, undocumented, etc. All we know is that many people died.

No one can say anything but that the Native American population was severely reduced and severely reduced by Europeans. The causes in fact, however, were war, displacement *and* disease

Sounds about right to me. The only thing I'd add is that the three causes named likely did not operate independently of each other, or at least not purely so.

I'm not sure the relative proportions are reliably knowable in all or even most cases, nor am I sure it matters all that much. When you're gone, you're gone.

Which, to take the painfully obvious to its next logical step, requires that there be enough such data to allow for actual diagnoses sufficient to prove the point. There isn't any such thing for the vast majority of deaths which are unwitnessed, undocumented, etc. All we know is that many people died.

...and to take the painfully obvious next logical step, we retreat the step we just took at your behest. Per you, the overwhelming amount of dying that occurred due to disease would have occurred after direct contact with Europeans. Not just small-scale sporadic contact, either; contact of a large enough scale that the Europeans were militarily attritioning them to a disorganized husk of their former culture, reduced to killing themselves off through scavenging spoiled foodstuffs and the indigenous diseases which follow naturally from such ignorant, irresponsible behavior. So yeah, per you, accounts of what diseases "played a role" should be accessible, and your cheerfully-helpless act of throwing up your hands and concluding that it would be impossible to distinguish between imported and domestic is not overly reasonable. Very convenient, but not very reasonable.

(And that entirely sets aside well-documented mass die-offs, as in the examples given above. The historical record isn't perfect, but that doesn't mean it's non-existent.)

You know what might really help? Instead of arguing about whether the Native American population was "killed off," let's start from "died off".

The thing is, "killed off" comes with heavy implications of deliberate action -- which gets people into arguments. If, for this discussion, we say "died off", then we can look at what they died of. And not have either side spending energy on whether those deaths were deliberate or inadvertant.

Sounds about right to me. The only thing I'd add is that the three causes named likely did not operate independently of each other, or at least not purely so.

I'm not sure the relative proportions are reliably knowable in all or even most cases, nor am I sure it matters all that much. When you're gone, you're gone

Exactly. Everyone dies. I had, before being seduced by what I thought would be big bucks being a lawyer, visions of a PhD in History. As a nascent, in vitrio historian, my mentors made a big deal out of not taking the primary source historical record beyond what it would support. You see a lot of this in popular history and it kind of pisses me off. More so when it takes on a partisan hue. For ex, there is a tendency in some quarters on the nominal right to sugarcoat slavery and minimize its role as a causal factor in the Civil War. Good luck with that. For even more on the right (and some notable Democrats, if not lefties), there is a lot of revisionism in the post WWII civil rights record.

As for the question raised by Doc S, I have no clue, slave trade wise, what is going on or why in Mauritania.

Turb, at this point, if McKT pulled a Pilgrim out from behind a potted plant to explain that, like Alvey Singer having Marshall McCluhan at the ready in the theater lobby, I wouldn't be surprised.

I kid. I think what McKT has been doing here is what Chief Plenty Coup described as "counting coup", in which a warrior on his pony would get close enough to an enemy horseman and slap his knife against his opponents' face and then escape unharmed, causing eternal embarrassment to the one assaulted.

American history, or rather the history of the clashes between civilizations on this continent, to the layman, vis a vis Native Americans, is basically two dozen John Wayne westerns divided by the number of times Ward Churchill bluffed his way past the tenure committee.

Then it gets complicated.

And probably has something to do with Mauritania, but meanwhile -- Henry Ford said history is bunk, a quote he stole from Geronimo, Sitting Bull, and Quanah Parker, who merely made the hand sign for "forked tongue", which went unrecorded.

I'd like to convene a tribunal of the chiefs of all of the tribes -- coast-to-coast -- from 1491 until 1900 and see the relief on their faces when they learn disease played a secondary role to violence, starvation, murder, double and triple crossing, and land-grabbing in their civilizations' demise.

Well, O.K. then, they would say.

In my opinion, there is what happened, there is the tendentious crapola transmitted to us and inculcated in us by the first line of politically correct historians in regard to "manifest destiny" and such, and then there has been a corrective movement to counter that crap, which has included some tendentiousness of its own.

Shaping history to suit interests is a mug's game and frankly, at the moment, I'm a little more worried about this Party's attempt to shape future history to make themselves the real victims:

http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/jim-garrow-reveals-obamas-secret-plan-use-aliens-and-canadians-plot-against-america

Look what they say has already happened to them at a rally to preach the overthrow the Obama Administration and the government that hasn't occurred yet:

http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/another-far-right-rally-overthrow-obama-will-definitely-work

I'd like to know when McKT is going to tackle this epidemic of political correctness and historical futurist revisionism, he snarked.

Frankly, I'd like to hand out blankets invested with measles and smallpox at that rally and see if the history 100 years from now record the deed.

The only thing this comment has to do with Mauritania is that it's on the same continent as Kenya, and we know what that means.

I've now read the first chapter of S.C. Gwynne's "Empire of the Summer Moon" regarding the 40-year war against the Comanches and the story of Cynthia Anne Parker and her children, and in it the author (writes for the Dallas Morning News) mentions that in Kansas in 1871 there was a four million strong buffalo herd sighted in Kansas that was 50 miles deep and 25 wide.

By 1881, the bones of 31 million bison had been sold for fertilizer in what I imagine white Americans referred to (use your Eddie Murphy white-guy voice) as "efficient resource allocation", but which to the Plains tribes was savagery perpetrated by savages, plain and simple.

Kind of brings out the Comanche in me to think about it.

Regarding the absence of an oral tradition, I have two sources--keeping in mind that asking for someone to prove a negative is a bit of device to begin with--first, my own reading is reasonably extensive and I've never seen a reference to it.

If the glove does not fit, you must acquit! McT continues to hang on to a single point to make his case. It is interesting that it is the absence of something and because it is not there, McT will firmly hold onto the notion that it is a lefty conspiracy, like evolution

Of course, tribes that have their social structures disrupted to the extent that there are empty villages are not going to be able to keep up an oral tradition. Of course, this believes that oral tradition is something that all the Native Americans have to an equal extent and it is something you just write down and then, as my students write 'walah', you can tell what happened in the past. It also presumes that the little red men (and women) still believe that coyote tricks the sun into showing up every year. After all, the collection of oral tradition began in earnest in the 1900's, when these epidemics were in historical memory, so of course big chief wampum can't figure out what is going on and has to come up with some quaint story about how things happened.

The author of 1491 and 1493, if he was doing his job, should have referred to many such, but as far as I know, he has not.

Unlike you, I admitted that I hadn't read 1491, but I have read Russell Thornton's American Indian Holocaust and Survival Note that in the Wiki summary, Thornton's estimate of 7 million was the middle one. The book was 20 years before Mann's and in that time, there has been a lot of research to support Thornton's claim. And when you get to the lower numbers (and don't forget, this is the AmericaS, not just North America) the possibility of repopulation shrinks, especially when you have progress (and European immigrants) knocking on your door.

Of course, the growing consensus about depopulation is related to the increased concern about things like bird flu. But I'm sure that is another case of the left not knowing as much as McT.

I've had the bison at Ted Turner's Montana Grill and here's what I would like to know:

Turner is one of the largest landowners' in the country, much of which he uses to raise sustainable grass-fed bison herds, while reclaiming the land.

He made his fortune as an early pioneer and capitalist in the cable television game, founding the Communist News Network, married Jane Fonda, is reviled among the conservative set, seems a liberal, but is the least politically correct public figure there is, by which I mean if you walked up to him and accused him of either being a plotically correct liberal or a conservative ideologue, he's kick your ass with plenty of profanity to go with.

So, how does he fit in our categories, bison-wise?

speaking of depopulation, in the context of this thread it's worth noting the effects of the slave trade on the population of west africa from the 16th - 19th centuries.

as well, of course, on its economic, social, and political development.

Leave all of that aside and take 1491/1493's number: 90% killed by disease. Now, for this to be a true statement, it can't just be 90% of a certain population at a certain point of time. The statement is: 90% of all Native Americans were killed off after the Europeans arrived.

Could you quote the actual statement(s) from the books? It would add some clarity to the discussion to know the exact claim to which you're responding. I'm having a hard time believing Mann wrote anything that either logically implies this statement:

That has to mean, it can only mean, that this was true in 1550 and in 1850, that is, that in both years, 90% of mortality was European imported disease.

or supports your population model.

"That has to mean, it can only mean, that this was true in 1550 and in 1850, that is, that in both years, 90% of mortality was European imported disease."

Of course, Mann wrote nothing of the kind, so I surmise that you haven't read his books. Nor do you appear to be familiar with his evidence, much of which comes from records kept by Europeans.

It took very little mousing around on the internet to find an oral tradition of at least one case in which disease wiped out 90% of a community.

'The Mandan were first plagued by smallpox in the 16th century and had been hit by similar epidemics every few decades. Between 1837 and 1838, another smallpox epidemic swept the region. In June 1837, an American Fur Company steamboat traveled westward up the Missouri River from St. Louis. Its passengers and traders aboard infected the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara tribes. There were approximately 1,600 Mandan living in the two villages at that time. The disease effectively destroyed the Mandan settlements. Almost all the tribal members, including the chief, Four Bears, died. Estimates of the number of survivors vary from only 27 individuals to up to 150, though most sources usually give the number 125. The survivors banded together with the nearby Hidatsa in 1845 and created Like-a-Fishhook Village.

Mandan chief Four Bears reportedly stated “a set of Black harted [sic] Dogs, they have deceived Me, them that I always considered as Brothers, has turned Out to be My Worst enemies”.[17] Francis Chardon, in his "Journal at Fort Clark 1834–1839", wrote that the Gros Ventres (ie. Hidatsa), “swear vengeance against all the Whites, as they say the small pox was brought here by the S[team] B[oat].” (Chardon, Journal, p. 126). In the earliest detailed study of the event, in The American Fur Trade of the Far West (1902), Hiram M. Chittenden blamed the American Fur Company for the epidemic. Oral tradition of the affected tribes continue to claim that whites were to blame for the disease.[18] R. G. Robertson in his book Rotting Face: Smallpox and the American Indian places blame on Captain Pratte of St. Peter’s for failing to quarantine once the epidemic broke out, stating that while “not guilty of premeditated genocide, but he was guilty of contributing to the deaths of thousands of innocent people. The law calls his offence criminal negligence. Yet in light of all the deaths, the almost complete annihilation of the Mandans, and the terrible suffering the region endured, the label criminal negligence is benign, hardly befitting an action that had such horrendous consequences”.[19]'

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandan

In any case, there's also plenty of information from accounts by the settlers, so there's no need to depend entirely on oral histories.

I do find it fascinating that you find it necessary to minimize the role of disease and the possible size of the die-off.

Tis the false plague of historical revisionism, perhaps, and the pustules of liberal political correctness which are being falsely vaccinated, methinks, not history itself, whatever happened.

We're scarred, we are, but historical plastic surgery shall do its puffy-lipped beauty work.

Cynthia Anne Parker's daughters died of smallpox and influenza, and she herself stopped eating because of a heart broken by her separation from her Comanche family and people.

Kind of a hat trick in misery. Her son became chief and Comanche warrior but lived to tell the tale, even, by one report, riding shotgun in an automobile late in life.

Tis termed a "transference", her attitude, but Freud himself and his theories are condemned now as heresy against the truth of straight-up western culture as well by the usual suspects, so I think a powwow with late-night AM radio therapists is required to get our terms straight, and let's not get into Custer's penis-envy.

Unlike Saint Nicolas, Quanah Parker was half white.

I'm tempted to stay out of this question, because I studied it in graduate school more than 40 years ago under one of the most distinguished and conservative (small "c") historians of Latin America, Charles Gibson (*), then left it for decades until I came back to read both 1491 and 1493 recently.

I enter fray this only because of McKT's absolutely astonishing misreading of the case he is attacking:

Numerically, it is total BS. Let's make a bunch of assumptions very friendly to the thesis. Let's first assume 60,000,000 Native Americans in Central and North America in 1550. Not only is this is a ridiculously high number, but it is a number that I assume 25-50 years after initial contact with Europeans, so as to allow a reasonable amount of time for these various diseases to spread.

For the thesis to be true, 90% of this number has to die of an imported disease. So, in 1551, we are down to 6,000,000 Native Americans. So, what happens: do the Native Americans repopulate? Not according to the thesis--the 90% number continues to hold. There is no coming back.


To see if the thesis is possible, let's make outrageously generous repopulation assumptions and stay with the 90% constant die-off number. More specifically, let's assume that half of the survivors are fertile women of child bearing age and half are fertile males and that each woman and each man form a couple that delivers delivers four children who each survive to age 15.

So, 6,000,000 survivors produce twelve million offspring, of whom 90% are doomed to die of imported disease.

If we make the same assumptions for the next generation's survivors as we made above, and if we further assume that each generation is 25 years, then between 1550 and 1800, three years before Lewis and Clark began their journey, the Native American population would have plunged from 60,000,000 to 15.

We know that didn't happen, even under the wildly generous assumptions allowed above.


The premise is crap, I don't care how many people repeat it.

OF COURSE IT'S TOTAL CRAP BECAUSE NOBODY SAID THIS. NOBODY BUT YOU READS THE ARGUMENT THIS WAY.

No one, to my knowledge, has ever said that 90% of any Indian (or other) population died off generation after generation. The quantitative argument, as I've heard it all my scholarly life, is that if you take the estimated high point of Native American population before 1492 (**) and compare it with the calculated low point in the centuries after 1492 - 1650 is often used as a convenient date - the total population has fallen by something like 90%. From 100 million to 10 million or thereabouts. Over a period of generations, even centuries, not in one generation. And the primary cause for this long-term systemic decline appears to be "Old World" diseases brought in - mostly inadvertently (***) - by conquering Europeans and conquered Africans.

Which is plausible, and supported by the existing evidence. It may of course be disputed, and will almost certainly be revised (like everything else in history), but both disputation and revision should begin with the premise of UNDERSTANDING WHAT THE ARGUMENT IS.

caps mode off.

(* Gibson was so thoughtful a scholar that when a student asked a question it often appeared that he had fallen asleep, until you realized that he was standing there, in front of the class, *thinking* about the question, even if it was so inane that most of us would have answered in three seconds and probably told the student to shut up and pay attention. He was also on my dissertation committee, and warned me against any intrusion whatsoever of my own views or personality into my written work - a warning honored in the breach, I fear.)


(**) It is disingenuous - at best - to complain that "bean counters" estimates range from 10 million to 100 million when the Wikipedia page cited clearly states that Most scholars writing at the end of the 19th century estimated the pre-Columbian population at about 10 million; by the end of the 20th century the scholarly consensus had shifted to about 50 million, with some arguing for 100 million or more. It would be like trying to discredit scientists by pointing out that once they believed in phlogiston. If I try hard I can attribute this to sloppy reading, rather than intellectual dishonesty, but it is an effort.

(***) The "English settlers gave the Indians smallpox-infested blankets" meme is a tiresome distraction here. It may have happened once or twice; it was certainly not routine practice; it is likely to have been of negligible demographic significance compared with other kinds of transmission. If proof is wanted that some of the settlers and conquerors were a very nasty lot, there's lots more besides this meme.

Correction: Parker had two sons and a daughter. The rest is history.

I have a question about the "English settlers gave the Indians smallpox-infested blankets" meme: Do any of those pushing that idea give any indication of how, in the era before the germ theory of disease was widespread, someone who wanted to do such a thing would have contrived to create a smallpox-infected blanket? Not to mention contriving to transport such a thing to give it to anyone else, while being safe from infecting himself (unless, of course, he had already had the disease).

The trouble with an amazingly large number of conspiracy theories like this is that they blythely assume that someone long ago had all of the knowledge that highly educated people have today. And then used that knowledge (which they could not have possessed) for evil ends. Perhaps they had access to Dr Who, or someone else with a time machine...?

I shudder to think how few Native Americans would be left if the 90% die-off were continuously compounded over all those years, rather than computed like simple interest.

I have a question about the "English settlers gave the Indians smallpox-infested blankets" meme: Do any of those pushing that idea give any indication of how, in the era before the germ theory of disease was widespread, someone who wanted to do such a thing would have contrived to create a smallpox-infected blanket?

The tentative Wikipedia version goes like this:

Letters exist between two British officers, General Jeffrey Amherst (later Lord Amherst) and Colonel Henry Bouquet, that explicitly advocate the idea of using smallpox-infested blankets to kill Indians at the Siege of Fort Pitt.[32] Bouquet suggests the distribution of blankets to "inocculate the Indians." Amherst approves this plan and suggests "to try Every other method that can serve to Extirpate this Execrable Race." Also cited by this source is an entry in the Journal of William Trent, who was the local militia commander: "we gave them two Blankets and an Handkerchief out of the Small Pox Hospital. I hope it will have the desired effect."

But, as dr ngo wrote, even if that happened, it was statistically insignificant relative all disease-realted deaths.

germ theory per se many not have been developed, but the basic idea of contagion through contact was certainly well known.

in the case of smallpox, specifically, inoculation -- deliberate exposure to infected items, or to related by less virulent diseases like cowpox -- as a prophylactic dates back centuries. it was introduced in north america by cotton mather in 1706. he, in turn, learned of the technique from a slave of his, who had been inoculated in africa before coming to north america, as had many other african slaves.

all of that actually predates the use of inoculation against smallpox in the UK by about 15 years. they learned it from the turks.

the famous fort pitt case cited about dates from 1763, at that point it really should not have been a mystery to anyone that smallpox could be spread by exposure to infected blankets or clothing.

as a curious historical aside, some folks opened a small hospital specifically for doing smallpox inoculations on an island just offshore of my town in 1773.

the townspeople were mildly freaked out by this, and burned it to the ground. they were an irascible lot.

they run a ymca camp for kids there in the summer now.

MckT, if you wanted to push back against the dastardly PC brigade, you were on stronger ground with Comanche brutality. Of course you'd have to find one of the dumber sort of politically correct lefties for Comanche brutality to come as a shock to his or her ideological system. For instance--me, around 25 years ago. I remember reading "Son of the Morning Star" back then and later on Francis Jenning's book "Empire of Fortune" and reading about the historical background for the movie "Black Robe" and coming to the surprised realization that Native Americans really did commit appalling atrocities. I knew that about the Aztecs, but had otherwise unconsciously absorbed the Noble Savage myth and believed that stories of Native American brutality were mostly just the lies and exaggerations of white settlers--I had also read Francis Jenning's earlier book on the Puritans and Pilgrims and Native Americans (I forget the name), where the Narragansetts were shocked by European brutality during one particular massacre. Jennings later made it clear in "Empire of Fortune" that the Iroquois tortured and murdered their captives, but the earlier volume had strengthened my silly noble savage beliefs. In fact, it seems that Native Americans were as varied in their behavior as whites. What a surprise.

link

But for someone like me 25 years ago "Empire of the Summer Moon" would come as a shock. The comparison to modern day terrorism is apt in more ways than one. Sometimes terrorism is a reaction to outside aggression--other times it's just aggression in itself. With the Comanche it was both. When it comes to Anglo Texans and the Comanche, I think of Assad vs. the uglier factions among the Syrian rebels. Not much reason to favor one over the other, at least not on moral grounds.

I've never felt as though I truly understand why sugar, in particular, seems to have been *dependent* on slave labor.

A version of the resource curse? Sugar is extraordinarily concentrated NPP (ecological production); agriculturally suitable land is rare, and being able to produce the bone and fuel for processing plus food to support the workers is even more demanding... but sugar itself is a concentrated trade good, compared to most ag products.

(Someone recently studied ?coltan and coal? regions and observed that banditry developed into warlordism and proto-government where the mining product was valuable but couldn't be smuggled out. IIRC. Seems very vaguely relevant.)

Chiming in:

I haven't read nearly as much history as I ought to have read, but what I have read left me completely unsurprised as to cause and extent of the American Indian die-off. I have no idea what McKTx is on about, here.

It's completely plausible that natives of the Americas had little to no immunity to smallpox and other illnesses that had blighted Europe for centuries, and were therefore severely depleted. Similar kinds of near-extinctions occurred in Europe over the years. The main difference being, I would think, that sometimes there wasn't anyone left to document the extent of the outbreaks.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Whatnot


  • visitors since 3/2/2004

April 2014

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
    1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30      
Blog powered by Typepad

QuantCast