Horrific History: How Europeans Destroyed the People of the “New World”

Posted: May 2, 2017 in History, Things I Love
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Actually, the term “New World” is a misnomer if there ever was one. It certainly wasn’t new, and how can you discover something that was inhabited by a lot of people? You can’t.

Anyway, when Columbus landed in the “New World” down in the Caribbean and what is now Central America back in 1492 it was inhabited by 500,000 people or more. A mere 50-years later, that number was zero.

Zero.

Here are the numbers and how they dwindled:

  • 1492 – 500,000 (at least)
  • 1508 – 60,000
  • 1510 – 33, 523
  • 1514 – 26,334
  • 1518 – 18,000
  • 1519 – 1.000
  • 1542 – 0

The old history books liked to claim that the Spanish wiped out the Native Americans due to the Europeans and their use of guns, horses, and superior fighting skills. All that of course played a part, but by far the biggest reason was this – disease.

The problem was, the Native Americans had no resistance to the diseases Columbus and his boys brought over. While a pretty large percentage of Europeans could withstand diseases like typhus, dysentery, measles, mumps, yellow fever, malaria, chicken pox, typhoid, diphtheria, tuberculosis, whooping cough, and even the flu, the Indians could not.

While all those diseases took their toll, the worst by far was smallpox, which had a 90-95% death rate. It was also brutal. Check out this 1500’s description of the disease:

In the century before it was finally eradicated in the 1970’s, smallpox killed more than half a billion people. It usually starts like the flu, with headache, fever, and body aches, and then it breaks out as a sore throat and spreads into a body rash. As the disease develops over the next week, the victim usually experiences horrific hallucinatory dreams and is racked by a mysterious sensation of existential horror. The rash turns into spots that swell into papules, and then fluid-filled pustules that cover the entire body, including the soles of the feet. These pustules often merge, and the outer layer of skin becomes detached from the body. In the most deadly variety of smallpox the skin turns a deep purple, takes on a charred look, and comes off in sheets. The victim then bleeds out, blood pouring from every orifice in the body. The disease is extremely contagious, and can survive for months or even years outside the body in clothing, blankets, and hospital rooms.

Good times, huh? Thanks Europeans!

Another problem was the fact that because the Europeans were to a certain point immune, the Native Americans thought the diseases were sent by God to punish them exclusively. Just a bad deal all-around.

So, long story short? It wasn’t horses, guns, fighting skills, or especially God’s Will.

It was disease.

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