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Taking Sides: Was Disease the Key Factor in the Depopulation of Native Americans in the Early Americas

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Taking Sides: Was Disease the Key Factor in the Depopulation of Native Americans in the Early Americas
Was Disease the Key Factor in the Depopulation of Native Americans in the Americas?

Did Europeans purposefully infect the Native Americans? That question will never be answered. Whether intentional or accidental, the truth remains that disease was indeed brought to the early Native American culture due to European expansion. The true question is in Taking Sides, issue 2, Was Disease the Key Factor in the Depopulation of Native Americans in the Americas? In this particular issue two sides are represented; yes by Collin G. Calloway, and no by David S. Jones. Let’s take a look at Calloway’s perspective towards the issue. The most important cause of Native American depopulation, during European contact, was epidemic disease. The sixteenth through nineteenth centuries saw many different diseases strike Native American populations with considerable frequency. Many of the diseases, such as syphilis, smallpox, measles, mumps, and bubonic plague, were of European origin; and Native Americans exhibited little immunity because they had no previous exposure to those diseases. While they did experience other forms of illnesses like malnutrition, anemia, respiratory infections, and parasitic intestinal infections prior to the Europeans; this was brand new to them and it caused greater mortality than would have occurred, if these diseases been common to the Americas. Collin Calloway goes on in detail, the documented evidence of how drastic disease was on their people. “Governor Diego de Rebolledo reported in 1657 that […] Indians were few because they have been whipped out with the sickness of the plague[…] According to one scholar […] Apalachee Indians of Northern Florida numbered 25,000-30,000 in the early seventeenth century; by the end of the century, less than 8,000 survived” (26). This is approximately a 75% wipeout due to strictly disease and is not the only example. In 1539 New Mexico’s population was estimated at 130,000 and 110 Pueblos, and by 1706

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