- Sep 20, 2011 9:52 am
Please accept our apologies. The blog has been down for a couple of weeks while Summer Henderson at Waves Web Design has completely reworked the format and hopefully made it more user friendly.
We have just returned from a whirlwind trip that saw us lecture Dr. Phil Roberts’ graduate seminar at the University of Wyoming. We told them about the ecological impacts that bison have upon an ecosystem. Sometimes, in the rush and madness, we forget that humans are not the only creatures that effect environment. Add some tens of millions of bison to the North American landscape, and they WILL have an impact on plant species, water resources, trees, and habitat. Grasshoppers, rodents, ants and numerous other species create their own, often sustantial, impacts. Sometimes with regional results. Consider the impact of pine beetles throughout the Rocky Mountain west. In that sense, humans are just another part of nature–only more so.
After leaving Laramie, we rode in the rain to Grand Junction, Colorado, where the BMW RT1100 got new tires and we visited with old friends, Brian O’Neil and Cat Cummings, spending the evening talking archaeology. Brian acts as foil for many of our wilder ideas. He’s been in the business for years, continues to pursue field work, reads prodigiously, and thinks critically. And, yes, Brian, we will eventually write that cotton-picking Fremont book. Our publisher just really wanted the PEOPLE OF THE LONGHOUSE Iroquois series finished first. Oh, and then there’s the new information about Cahokia. And Texas Paleo, and the Hohokam, and the Mogollon, and the Chumash, and the Red Paint People… Well, you get the idea.
AZTEC: THE GREAT KIVA!
As soon as the bike was re-shod, we rode through the rain to Aztec, New Mexico, reviewed our notes, and struggled to keep our excitement under control. To be asked to lecture once in that most marvelous of buildings, in one of the Nation’s most phenomenal archaeological sites, is an honor. That Cyresa Bloom asked us to return and repeat, consider us awestruck.
Aztec National Monument plays a role in five of our novels, including PEOPLE OF THE SILENCE, PEOPLE OF THE MOON, THE VISITANT, THE SUMMONING GOD, and BONE WALKER. Our talk detailed current archaeological understanding of how the Chaco empire fell apart, how witchcraft, cannibalism, and warfare played a part, and how the Katsina religion began to exert its influence across the Southwest. Not only did the audience participate with thoughtful and provocative questions, but even the bats fluttered through as if to listen and report to their fellows. In all, it was an enchanting evening.
Our special thanks to Cyresa, Gary Brown, and the remarkable U.S. Park Service staff at Aztec.
COMMENTS ON THE BLOG
With the blog down, we’ve finally been able to add some of your comments to the blog. With regard to many, here’s the thing: The Native peoples weren’t a push-over for the Europeans. Keep in mind that it took Europeans 500 years to completely dominate the contient. For the first 200 years, Europeans and Native nations often lived in a sort of equilibrium. Think of the incredible Iroquois confederacy which acted as a political and military counter balance to French, English, and American interests for 300 years! Today the Iroquois are still surviving and thriving, and you can find them in upstate New York and southern Ontario.
Nor were the Native peoples innocent victims of the white invaders, often being complicit in the destruction of their neighboring tribes. The Seminole started out as the Lower Creek nation in Georgia. As allies with the English in the 1700s they effectively conquered Spanish Florida, overwhelmed the Timuca, Apalachee, Calusa, and Tequesta peoples, and restricted Spanish control to a couple of heavily garrisoned sea ports. As late as the early 1800s the Sioux were committing genocide on the plains farming people along the Missouri River, exterminating entire villages.
The point of all this? It’s easy in our modern world to create Good Guy/Bad Guy history. The real story, the actual history, is that European/Native relations were always a murky shade of gray. Neither side had a monopoly on virtue, heroism, cruelty, or insideous malevolence. Instead, what we find behind the history are regular old human beings. Not inevitable victims or oppressors, but ordinary people seeking to act in their own interests.
WHICH BRINGS US TO DE SOTO
Can you compare him to Hitler and Stalin? Absolutely. In the end, all he cared about was himself, and his own gratification, power, and prestige. The native peoples he enslaved, burned, tortured, raped, and abused, were of less value to him than his pigs. He ranks no higher than Atilla, Ghengis Khan, Tamerlane, or any other barbarian conqueror.
How many people did he actually kill? Hard to say. Reading the journals it’s difficult to tally a total, especially for the “tamemes” the thousands of people he enslaved and worked to death. In battles, depending upon the source, he may have killed between three and eight thousand, since we can dismiss Garcilaso de la Vega as being wildly optimistic in his talley of KIAs. Factor in the diseases, however, and his impact was huge.
The question was asked if de Soto utilized a form of biological warfare. The answer is no. Disease theory in de Soto’s day consisted of “miasma” or bad air, witchery, and evil eye. They even thought that bathing would make a person ill.