Pre-Columbian Americans did not have the wheel or hard metals that could be used for tools or weapons. Whether they were building empires, hunting, or doing basic chores they used stone, wood, and bone. While not as technologically advanced as the soon to arrive Europeans, Indians were advanced.
Often Indians are viewed as either savages or noble savages. Europeans viewed the natives as heathen animals not deserving of the land that Europeans would put to better use. This view led to a brutal policy of conquering and extermination. More recently views of Indians have swung to descriptions of communion with nature and peaceful people coexisting in a perfect paradise free from the corruption of Europe.
Both views are too simplistic and unfair to Indians. Pre-Columbian Americans and their descendants were like everyone else in the history of the world: humans. We humans share many qualities. We love, we fight, we suffer, we thrive, we live, we die, we adapt, and we survive. To pretend that Indians did not engage in the full scope of human emotion and experience is to imply that they were not capable of those life experiences. The great empires discussed in my last column were built by conquering surrounding lands and destroying, displacing, or subjugating nearby tribes.
We must avoid viewing Indians as demons who deserved God’s wrath in the form of European conquest. If we do that we cannot understand their culture or history. Many Americans on the frontier were guilty of that harsh view, which justified any action they wished to exact on the natives. Also we should not treat them as angels who floated across the face of earth without every disturbing the grass. They dug trenches, made terraces, cut down trees, and burned off landscapes. They used what they had to stay alive. Just like us.
Editors Note: Travis Childs is a history instructor at Cameron University in Lawton, Okla. He is a graduate of Midway High School and lives in Bluegrove. He is currently president of the Clay County Historical Society.