How did the arrival of the Europeans alter the environment of Native Americans? Documentation and oral history help historians piece together the past. We know when and who arrived in early America, but we don’t have the most detailed idea of what the now United States actually looked like because technology was at a bare minimum. Columbus arrived in1492 and reported vast empty lands ripe for the taking. If America was properly surveyed at that time, Columbus may have had something else to tell the rest of his people. Perhaps he would have described huge civilizations and cities, massive agricultural centers capable of feeding thousands, and domesticated beasts in giant herds. When discussing the involvement of destruction on the early America, it’s easy to point a finger at the Europeans as wasteful and intrusive. Louis S. Warren’s “American Environmental History” gives points that support the idea that American Indians had already made a significant carbon footprint on the land. According to Warren, Bartolome de las Casa, a Spanish priest and author of many items of literature that demonized the Spanish for their cruelty to the natives, believed that more than 40 million American Indians had died before colonial America had even begun to spread west. The fact that very little population censuses were performed on the native peoples means that that number could be far more or far less. Either way 40 million people would need massive amounts of resources to allow their civilizations to thrive. Warren suggests “a New World total of 53.9 million.”-pg.6 This notion would make Columbus’s claim of vast empty lands ripe for the taking as a gross exaggeration. What we do know is that there are many physical land features that are greatly altered at the hands of the Native peoples not just the invading Europeans. Warren describes evidence that fire had been used as a means of clearing out land and pushing back forest lines for...
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