Historians estimate that when Columbus first landed in the large Caribbean island of Hispaniola (today's Haiti and Dominican Republic) there were over one million natives living on that one island alone. Thirty years after the Spanish had arrived, the native population numbered fewer than 20,000. Only two percent of the original number of natives still remained. This experience was repeated again and again as European settlers and their descendents spread throughout North and South America. Native peoples were pushed aside, and their lands were confiscated. Their cultures were crushed. And most native people perished. From our vantage point in the present, historical events sometimes seem almost inevitable. Because we know "how the story ends," we assume that the course of history was somehow determined, almost fated. But this is not true. Events and human decisions in the past shaped history just as the events and decisions of our time will affect our future. Was the destruction of America's native cultures inevitable and unavoidable? Could the violence have been avoided? If other more broadminded people had been in charge and different decisions had been made, could some type of mutual accommodation have been possible? Or, considering the time and situation were tolerance, understanding simply out of the question?
The following documents will help you understand the nature and extent of the cultural conflicts between Native Americans and the European colonists. Examine each document carefully, and answer the question or questions that follow.
In 1493, upon returning from his first voyage to America, Christopher Columbus wrote a report to the Spanish government. This excerpt comes from that report.
This is a land to be desired ... never to be relinquished. Here in a place most suitable and best for its proximity to the gold mines and for [transportation to Europe) ... I took possession of a large town...
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