Keith Hunt - Americas before the white man Restitution of All

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The Americas BEFORE the white man

Recorded history holds the truth!

Much of TRUE history you have probably never been taught in
school. Yet it is recorded and yes SOME people are led to dig it
out and present to us. Ronald Wright is one of those rare
individuals who in this space-age 21st century, brings us history
that has either been deliberately pushed to the back shelf, or
just ignorantly missed or cast away as "Well whose bothered
anyway about things hundreds of years ago." I'm glad some are and
some present us with the real historical facts.  This is one of
them, the truth about the people in the Americas BEFORE the white
man came. From Wright's book "What is America." And Wright backs
up all presented in his book with so many "notes" on each chapter,
it could also be described as a book unto itself, being from
page 227 to 327; and a biblography of 20 pages - Keith Hunt


They have ruined [these provinces] by wandering in search ... of
Eldorado or a new Atahuallpa; thus they wasted their time and
destroyed whatever was there. 

- Martin de Urue, 1573

American history is ... the history of our drive into abundance. 

- Leland D. Baldwin, 1981

There is no clearer fact in American history than the fact of
conquest.... It is perfectly clear who started this fight.

 - Patricia Nelson Limerick, 2000

AMONG THE TOOTHY AMERICAN CARS Of the 1950s was a large and
primitive sedan (now extinct) with De Soto written on its
tailfins, a chrome memorial to a man better known as a
"discoverer" of the Mississippi than a conqueror of Peru. No
doubt more than one De Soto made a trip from the Cartier Bridge
in Canada to Raleigh, North Carolina, and many must have chugged
across the Verrazzano Bridge in New York City. All four famous
names-the Italian Verrazzano, the Frenchman Cartier, the Spaniard
Soto and the Englishman Raleigh, to put them in chronological
order - tried to open up the unknown continent north of Mexico in
the sixteenth century. And all failed, as did others whose deeds
are too obscure to be immortalized on maps and tailfins. But the
information they (or their men) brought back reveals what eastern
North America was really like before being changed forever by the
European onslaught.


The mythic history we have all soaked up describes the land as a
"virgin wilderness" or "primaeval forest" inhabited only by a
handful of "wild men" or "savages." In a typical (and still
influential) popular history published in 1931, James Truslow
Adams declared that "a squirrel might have leapt from bough to
bough for a thousand miles and never have seen a flicker of
sunshine on the ground." This idea of an empty, sylvan America
has always had unshakably strong appeal for both the early
British invaders and their American descendants because it
brushes aside awkward questions of indigenous ownership and
sovereignty. Virginia may have been named for a questionably
virgin Queen Elizabeth, but the pun on her nickname was soon used
to sell the idea of an untouched land awaiting the white man's
seed. Even the canny Tocqueville, researching his great book on
the settler republic in the 1830s, would fall for the notion that
the original Americans were nomadic hunters flitting about in the
woods, people without sovereign rights to their homeland because

"the Indians occupied, without possessing.... It is by
agricultural labour that man appropriates the soil."

The true state of affairs was very different - as the first
eyewitnesses make clear.


In the spring of 1524 Giovanni da Verrazzano, a Florentine
navigator working for the French king, reconnoitred the eastern
seaboard of what is now the United States. This was still early
in the clash of worlds: soon after the fall of Aztec Mexico and
eight years before the conquest of Peru.
Verrazzano sailed up the coast from the Carolinas to
Canada--probably the first European to do so and certainly the
first to leave a good account. For much of the way, his ship was
held off by the Outer Banks, but he went ashore at several spots,
including a wooded hill he named Arcadia, now known to have been
Kitty Hawk, North Carolina - more famous for a later pioneering
trip, the Wright brothers' flight in 1903.
Whenever he sighted good land, Verrazzano found it thickly
inhabited by farmers, whose fires were "burning continually along
the shore." He became the first white visitor to New York,
anchoring off Staten Island in what are now the Verrazzano
Narrows. From there he took a small boat into Upper Bay and
glimpsed Manhattan, which was also densely populated: "Running
back and forth across the water were about thirty of their boats
with an infinite number of people aboard." These Americans
greeted the strangers with curiosity and laughter; indeed, they
sound rather like later New Yorkers - noisy, bustling, loudly
dressed, scooting about in fleets of big canoes where ferryboats
now take tourists to the Statue of Liberty.
At this engaging moment, when Europeans and Americans were about
to meet, contrary winds forced the strangers to make for open
sea. Verrazzano had better luck at Narragansett Bay, Rhode
Island, where he anchored for two weeks, establishing good
relations with the locals and making several trips inland. He
found the people here "confident ... beautiful [with] the most
civil customs [and] taller than we are." They had polished stone
tools, sheets of worked copper, seagoing boats that could hold
fifteen men, and large round houses in which up to thirty people
lived together." Verrazzano makes it clear that these folk were
farmers, like everyone he'd seen along the seaboard. The Rhode
Islanders' fields stretched inland, he reckoned, for "25 to 30
leagues" [80 to 100 miles] ... open and free of any obstacles and
trees." He adds intriguingly that the people followed an
astronomical calendar: "When sowing they observe the influence of
the moon, the rising of the Pleiades, and many other customs
derived from the ancients."

On his way back to France, Verrazzano sailed past Bacalaia
("Cod-land"), or Newfoundland, which didn't delay him. He knew it
had been "found a long time ago by the Portuguese" and then
claimed by John Cabot for England.


Verrazzano made his report to the French king and returned to the
New World two years later, only to be killed by aggrieved natives
in the Caribbean. In the mid-1530s, the French tried again,
sending the Breton Jacques Cartier up the St. Lawrence River.
There he found two large towns that would one day become the
chief cities of New France: Stadacona (Quebec City) and Hochelaga
(Montreal). Cartier gathered words at both towns - enough for
present-day scholars to identify the language family as
Iroquoian, which includes Huron and Mohawk among its members. On
his first trip, he kidnapped two boys and took them to Europe as
proof of his discoveries. These two, who were sons of the Quebec
leader, he brought back unharmed, but when he shanghaied ten more
Quebeckers in 1535, nine of them died overseas - grim evidence of
the vulnerability of New World people to Old World sickness. 

On a sunlit autumn day in 1535, Cartier reached what is now
Montreal and was then Hochelaga - or "Great Rapids" - for the
first time. Thinking he might be in Asia, or at least well on his
way there, he named the rapids La Chine, China.) "More than a
thousand people," he wrote, had gathered at the landing,
"welcoming us as warmly as a father greets a son." The Hochelaga
ladies showered the Frenchmen with fish and cornbread, "which
they threw into our boats in such a way that food seemed to rain
from the sky." After this greeting, the strangers went ashore:

     We came to their tilled land and beautiful open fields full
     of the grain of that country, which is like Brazilian
     millet, about as big or bigger than a pea, and on which they
     live as we do on wheat. And in the midst of these open
     fields stands the town of Hochelaga, beside a mountain whose
     slopes are farmed and very fertile and from whose top one
     can see a long way. We named this hill Mount Royal. 

Cartier's description of the strongly fortified town is equally
interesting and reliable - his details borne out by later
accounts of similar Iroquois towns, which the English called

Hochelaga had a triple stockade and parapet enclosing fifty
multifamily longhouses, "each about fifty or more paces in length
and twelve or fifteen in width, built completely of wood." The
houses were arranged on a grid plan around a broad central
square. Reckoning fifty residents per longhouse (which may be on
the low side), several thousand must have lived within
Hochelaga's walls.

For reasons Cartier does not explain, he left for Stadacona
(Quebec) the next day, never to return to Hochelaga.

When other Frenchmen went far enough upriver to reach Hochelaga
in the early 1600s, the towns on the St. Lawrence and most of 
the people had disappeared. 

The early French glimpses of a thickly settled, agricultural
North America are confirmed in much greater detail by a
three-year "expedition" - rampage is a better word - through the
southeastern United States, led by Hernando de Soto and
bankrolled by his share of Atahuallpa's gold.

Although he had become one of the world's richest men overnight,
Soto wanted an Eldorado all to himself, another golden empire
like the one he had found with Pizarro in Peru. So, not seven
years since the grassy breath of his horse had stirred the
crimson fringe on Atahuallpa's brow, he outfitted a substantial
private army and invaded Florida, landing at Tampa Bay in 1539
with about six hundred men, two hundred horses, dozens of war
dogs (armoured mastiffs routinely fed on Indians) and a large
drove of swine. Things did not go well. The people of Florida
vividly recalled meeting other Spaniards in the 1520s and put up
a sharp resistance, their archery proving a good match for
cumbersome crossbows and crude guns. Spaniards were shot through
chinks in their armour; horses, through the heart.


On his way through what are now South Carolina and Georgia, and
then westward through Alabama to the Mississippi, Soto saw
farming polities advanced enough to sustain his dream that an
imperial city, another Cusco, lay somewhere within reach. In
reality, the societies he saw were not provinces of an empire but
independent states and small kingdoms, heirs of the Mississippian
Temple Mound culture that had built the great city of Cahokia,
near modern St. Louis, a few centuries before. These peoples had
trading and political alliances, but the power of Cahokia had
waned. In any case, their wealth was in copper, mica and pearls;
there was no Cusco of the north with stone temples sheathed in
gold. Since plunder was Soto's only goal, his search was doomed.
The European army had to live off the land - which meant finding
towns, seizing corn from their granaries and enslaving the
citizens to carry it - so the records of Soto's march give use
full data on the population and economy. Thousands were rounded
up and snapped into iron collars; horses and hogs devoured the
growing crops. Local guides who disappointed the Spaniards were
tortured, mutilated, thrown to the dogs or burned alive. Anyone
who began as a friend soon became a foe.


The way of life the Spaniards saw was indirectly influenced by
Mexico, where the triad of maize, beans and squash - the famous
"three sisters" who together give sustainable tilth and a
balanced diet - had developed between seven thousand and ten
thousand years ago. North America also had its own domesticates,
including the sunflower and several grains of the chenopodium, or
goosefoot, family. The maize economy had slowly spread onto all
suitable soils and climate zones of the future United States and
southern Canada, moving north and east as plant breeders achieved
more cold-resistant varieties. Whenever Soto and his men drew
near a major settlement, they described riding for miles beside
great fields of corn.


The main towns of the South were considerably bigger and more
elaborate than Hochelaga. Some had hundreds of dwellings around
ceremonial plazas, from which rose tall, earthen platforms
supporting temples, public halls and houses white linen and
carried like an Inca princess on a palanquin. "She spoke to the
Governor with much grace and selfassurance," wrote Soto's
secretary. "She was young and of fine appearance, and she removed
a string of pearls that she wore ... and put it on the Governor's
The Spaniards promptly found more pearls in a charnel house and
stole two hundred pounds of them. Perhaps understanding her own
helplessness in the circumstances, the Lady of Cofitachiqui told
the invaders to go to her capital, where they would find so many
pearls that the horses wouldn't be able to carry them. Soto's
secretary described Talimeco as "a town of great importance,"
with a commanding "mosque" on a high mound. Garcilaso adds

     It had five hundred houses, all large and of the best
     workmanship and materials ... so that it indeed looked like
     the seat and court of a mighty lord, built with more finery
     and adornment than the common towns. The halls of the ruler
     could be seen from far away because they were in the highest
     place ... In the middle of the town, opposite the ruler's
     houses, was the temple or burial house ... Around the temple
     were eight halls ... filled with weapons ... very well made
     with bronze blades gleaming so brightly that they looked
     like gold.

Thinking the shiny bronze might at least be alloyed with gold,
Soto set out for the Smoky Mountains, where he hoped to find the
real thing. Some idea of the indigenous political structure can
be gleaned from the Spaniards' observation that they rode through
the Lady of Cofitachiqui's lands "for a hundred leagues [330
miles], in which ... she was very well obyed" and that people
beyond Cofitachiqui regarded themselves as her vassals. By this
time however, the locals had begun to rise up against the uncouth
and violent strangers. Soto decided to resort to the standard
conquistador technique of taking the ruler hostage, but the Lady
slipped from his grasp in the mountains.

From the Smokies, the Spaniards turned southwest, driven by
hunger - and lured by rumours of gold that had been planted to
get rid of them. At Guaxule, desperate for meat, they ate three
hundred of the Indians' dogs. The next important town, Chiaha,
had stores enough to feed the European army for two weeks and
provide five hundred bearers to carry off what was left.
Relations must have been unusually cordial, for Soto allowed
these carriers to work without "collars and chains."


In October 1540 the Spanish vanguard turned up at Mabila, or
Mobile, Alabama. By this time their reputation had preceded them,
and the locals were less obliging. The town's leaders lured Soto
and some of his officers inside the elaborate fortifications.
After a show of hospitality, a great many armed men (some sources
say five thousand, but this may be an exaggeration) sprang from
hiding. They killed half the Spaniards on the spot and wounded
the rest, including Soto and Rodrigo Rangel, his secretary and
The Europeans got out and regrouped. The Americans readied their
defences, and the battle raged until dusk. It was an unequal
fight, with native deaths running a hundred to one against the
armoured whites. Mobile's walls and bastions were of wood,
mortared and coated with clay, which made them hard to burn, but
eventually the Spaniards managed to set the town ablaze.
Thousands died in both the fighting and the flames, proved to be
the turning point in Soto's fortunes. Since setting out from
Tampa, more than a hundred men had died - a sixth of his
army. Many horses and most of the baggage had been lost. The
would-be conqueror slid into depression - moody, aggressive, more
careless than ever of others' lives. His men began to murmur
about building boats and fleeing to Mexico.

But Soto kept up his mad search for more than a year, harrying
Alabama, Arkansas and the Mississippi Valley. Everywhere that
corn would grow, the Spaniards saw similar cultures: populous,
hierarchical, ruled by haughty lords who lived on pyramids, rode
on palanquins and claimed a special relationship with heaven.
When Soto tried to overawe one ruler by claiming to be the "Son
of the Sun," the chief (who likely claimed that title himself)
replied that if the white man would dry up the Mississippi, he
might believe him.


At last, in 1542, Soto fell ill and died. The survivors of his
army - now only half the number who'd set out - straggled back to
Mexico in disgrace, shoeless, dressed in rags and starving,
having salted and eaten the few horses not killed or taken by
Indians. The only treasure they brought out is the information in
their chronicles, a final view of the South's pre-Columbian way
of life. For, even as his men trod the streets of Talimeco and
other towns, the citizens were dead or dying, less from Spanish
steel than from the tiny weapons in the Europeans' breath, blood
and bowels.


The Lady of Cofitachiqui may have deferred to Soto because she
had few fighters left to wield her arsenal of bronze. Near
her temple the Spaniards saw four longhouses with the dead
stacked up inside like firewood. "About the place," wrote one
eyewitness, "were large empty towns, grown up in grass .... the
Indians said that, two years before, there had been a great
plague in the land." Even the capital itself was already a ghost
town: "The Castilians found the town of Talimeco without any
people at all."
In the United States, as in Mexico and South America, plague was
already running ahead of the whites themselves, smoothing the
invaders' way. America was no virgin; she was a widow.
(It was the plagues of Europe like "small pox" that had come to
Americas from the Europeans, that did the most damage to the
prosperous town, farm, agricultural people who had been in the
Americas for thousands of years - Keith Hunt)


The English got off to a late start in the scramble for America,
and their first effort was as fruitless as Hernando de Soto's. In
the mid-1580s, Sir Walter Raleigh (who never set foot in North
America himself) sent kinsmen and followers to secure an outpost
in "Virginia," at that time as vague and elastic a name as
Spain's "Florida," with which it overlapped.
Anyone mentioning Sir Walter Raleigh in later ages is likely  to
be deafened by applause. But in his day, though dashing and
brilliant, he was thought cruel and devious, as adept at making
enemies as making myths. His Englishmen were much like Soto's
Spaniards - adventurers seeking gold, slaves and plunder, often
in the form of Spanish treasure ships. (Europeans who couldn't
find an Eldorado of their own were not above poaching from those
who had, committing piracy on the high seas as "privateers." In
1585 the expedition disembarked at the low island of Roanoke,
near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, the "Arcadia" Verrazzano had
seen sixty years before. Raleigh's colony was little more than a
garrison. Of the five hundred sent out, most were fighting men;
only 108 were settlers, none were women and there was no priest -
which shows up the professed mission of bringing God to the
heathen for what it was, a mere fig leaf over worldly desires.

In promoting the venture, the London lawyer Richard Hakluyt had
listed three reasons for sailing to Virginia: "to plant Christian
religion ... to trafficke ... to conquer; or, to do all three."
His list makes it clear that the place was already spoken for -
you can't convert, conquer or trade with people who aren't there.
Hakluyt's friend Ralph Lane, writing back to him from Roanoke,
described the region as "very well peopled and towned ...
Savages possesse the land." In one town, the English counted
more than seven hundred locals at a feast. Either the great
plagues of the early 1500s had missed this backwater of swamps
and islands or the population had recovered in the meantime. At
this date, "savages" (from a Latin word for "woodland dwellers")
was not necessarily an insult; it was more a general term for
non-Christians interchangeable with "natives," "naturals" and
"Indians." The English described the people as "very handsome,
and goodly ... and in their behaviour as mannerly, and civill, as
any of Europe."

At first these "goodly" folk welcomed the newcomers and showered
them with gifts, hoping to draw them into a network of reciprocal
exchange. The Americans even tried to teach the English how to
grow maize and build fish weirs, lessons that went unlearned.
Meanwhile, hogs and cattle brought by the whites ran amok in
unfenced native fields. Come winter, the intruders grew hungry
and tried to buy, beg or steal the locals' supplies, even (like
Soto) barbecuing their dogs. In return, the Americans stole
metal tools and other European goods. Outraged by these losses
and fearful of an attack - or perhaps seeking an excuse to take
everything by force - the English struck first.


History records two such incidents in the Roanoke area: one in
July 1585, when Raleigh's cousin Sir Richard Grenville burned the
Indians' homes and "spoiled their corne"; and another, much
worse, at the Roanoke people's head town a few months later.
There Ralph Lane gunned down the friendly chief Wingina to a
battle cry worthy of Pizarro: "Christ our victory!" It was white
America's first preventive war.

Christ's victory was short-lived. In 1586 Francis Drake had to
rescue the starving settlers and take most of them back to

About this time, the native people "began to die very
fast" of an Old World plague. When Raleigh's ships returned for
the rest in 1590 (after being delayed by the Spanish Armada's
attack on England), they found Roanoke empty and in ruins.
Letters carved on a tree suggested that the survivors had fled to
a friendly town called Croatoan near Cape Hatteras, but the
weather did not allow a search. The Lost Colony, as it became
known, was never found.

Nearly a whole century had passed since Columbus's first voyage,
yet the peoples of North America - though bloodied by Europeans
and devastated by their plagues - were still free and
independent. In the following century, the whites would come to


Keith Hunt

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