The Settlement Of The American West/A True American Odyssey

American west settlersIndian west

The other day i was watching a Ken Burns series on the settling of the American West, it was extremely well done! Ken Burns has produced a multitude of documentaries for PBS and this is a really good one, it lasted a whole week and I didn’t even see every episode, but what I did see was extremely interesting and educational…I am totally proud to be an American and sincerely believe that we live in the best country in the world….But the settling of America has always been shrouded in a mist of legend, mystery, false assumptions and popular misconceptions…..

One of the most prevalent myths that people believed for some reason, this one was especially popular, was that the European invaders/settlers, fueled by their self righteousness and belief in “Manifest Destiny” conquered the West because of some inherent superiority within themselves and in their beliefs and inner moral fiber….

They truly believed somehow that these mostly white settlers were morally better than and naturally superior to, the ignorant savages, the Native Americans, the Indians, who were the original inhabitants of both North and South America…It was and still is commonly believed that the European system, their religion, their “civilized” way of life, their innate belief in themselves as somehow being “better than” the native Americans was a given, an accepted fact of life back then that persists even today in the folklore of our society….

But as the Ken Burns documentary points out, that was not the whole story, despite the bravery of many original individual American settlers setting out to conquer what they sincerely believed was an open, free for the taking, largely uninhabited continent…..The real truth is that the Indians were wiped out , maybe 80% of them, NOT by the U.S cavalry riding to the rescue and winning glorious battles, as the media and history books mainly portray the Indians doomed fight to save their native lands, but instead by the lethal plethora of germs the Europeans brought over from their crowded, tenement cities in Europe…..

Diseases like cholera, smallpox, typhoid, and tuberculosis absolutely RAVAGED the various Indian tribes, who had no natural immunity to ANY of these diseases…Of course the Europeans had lost millions of people throughout the years over in Europe, including the Black Plague, but by the time they came to America these were the genetically enhanced healthy survivors of all those diseases…Only the strongest survived, and their descendants were basically the Darwinian “survival of the fittest” specimens….

The Indians in the Americas never got the black plague, but they almost always died from the merest contact with a sick European, just one could infect an entire tribe, and although the sick European settler would usually survive from his built in genetic resistance, these cholera, smallpox, typhoid and tuberculosis germs would spread throughout and ravage and destroy whole tribes of totally biologically unprepared and susceptible Indians…

Of course nobody knew about the germ theory of disease, and these people were all filthy and unsanitary by modern standards anyway, the infant mortality rate among the Europeans themselves was shockingly high, like 50-50 if both the mother and baby survived, and almost every family had like 8-9 kids, of whom only 3 or 4 would make it to adulthood, and the young mothers survival rate was almost as bad…And I am talking about the sturdiest Europeans here!….

Nobody knows how many Indians were killed, but entire tribes were decimated this way and it made it a lot easier for the various groups of European settlers as they arrived in wave after wave of immigrants to settle the west, to  “tame” the Indians by conquering them in battle, and claiming their land as their own…

A common saying back then was that “The only good Indian is a dead Indian,” and the U.S. army, especially the cavalry in the 1800’s were on a mission, a predetermined government policy to conquer, subdue and defeat all the Indian tribes and put them on reservations so the land could be opened up for more and more waves of immigrants from Europe….This was the official United states government policy at the time…

This is not an indictment of the many individual acts of bravery of the early settlers, the incredible hardships and privations they had to endure, especially the women and children, all were strangers in a strange land, and their perseverance and drive and fortitude should be duly recorded as well…. The average speed of a Conestoga wagon in the iconic “wagon trains”on say the Oregon Trail from St. Louis to Oregon was approximately 10 miles a day, and this was accomplished only by traversing bumpy, rocky dirt roads with no shock absorbers or suspensions on the axles of the wagons… The settlers literally felt every bump in the road…..

There were no road signs or rest stops along the way either and this was the individual bravery of the settlers, almost always families with pioneer women and children, always striving to be “westward bound” and they rightfully should and have received due credit for their amazing journey into unknown lands, against all odds…..

There were documented stories of both incredible bravery and incredible savagery on both sides in the actual pitched battles between the Indians and the U.S. army, but to say that the Europeans conquered America because of some inherent moral superiority is simply not the whole truth…Another huge political reality was that the settlers regarded the Indians as a united monolithic group, while the Indians themselves were almost always fragmented, hostile toward each other, enmeshed in ancient tribal blood feuds and were never able to present the united front that the immigrants perceived as reality…

But according to this Ken Burns documentary, backed by meticulous reams of supporting statistical evidence, was that the silent killers of germ warfare were the real reason the West was won, not by any inherent European superiority…

As a sidebar, this inadvertent, accidental germ warfare genocide was even more pronounced in Mexico and South America, where the fabled Spanish Conquistadors like Hernando Cortez, outnumbered by millions, was able to conquer Mexico and the great and fabled Aztec empire ruled by the Emperor Montezuma….Francisco Pizarro achieved the same results with the Incas in South America, again thanks not only to the Spaniards bloodthirsty, insatiable greed for gold, but by the insidious,invisible passing on of germs that the native Americans had absolutely no natural immunity against…THIS was the real decider in all these bloody wars of conquest….

The Spanish Conquistador’s superior weaponry of guns, cannons and firearms of all sorts which the native South Americans had never seen or even dreamed about, the novelty of armed men riding horses and killing from afar, their undoubted bravery and fortitude are all well documented and are all in good supply in American history books……The Spanish shrewdness in choosing political allies and exploiting divisions amongst the various tribes, their skill in battle are all well known, but the silent killer and the ultimate ally again was the germ warfare the Spaniards inadvertently introduced to the totally defenseless Indian tribes of the South….

An excellent historical novel, “Feathered Serpent” by Colin Falconer is extremely informative on this subject….It details the conquest of Mexico, a feat almost beyond belief, by Hernando Cortez and the defeat and subjugation of the mighty Aztec Empire ruled by Montezuma…How this is accomplished is well documented and depicted in minute detail in this novel….

I am proud to be an American, I always have and always will, but it would not hurt the average person to take a little time to reflect how unforeseen forces of nature can sway and change the nature of history, usually unknown and unnoticed at the time, but all too clear in historical retrospective…

It is probably happening right now in today’s world of geopolitical warfare, and all the parties involved firmly believe they are right….It is a bit of a humbling experience to be sure, but then after all, “Those that do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it”…And one immutable truth does remain, back then and even now:

History is always written by the victors…

Just leave it like it is right now

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