Did Columbus really discover America? He did not know it was America, millions already lived there, and other non-Indians had been there before Columbus. He did not “discover” America. However, when he reached the New World and returned to Europe with his information, he changed the world with his discovery.
In the 11th century a.d. Leif Ericson and his Vikings traveled from Greenland along the eastern coast of North America, and some Vikings briefly attempted colonization in what is now Canada. The Chinese circumnavigated the Earth in 1421 a.d., and the maps drawn based on their explorations clearly indicate they knew of the Americas. None of those groups, or the many others rumored to have traveled to the Americas in the centuries before Columbus, publicized their discoveries and changed the world. Columbus did.
The Columbian Exchange brought goods, ideas, and other things that still affect us today both ways across the Atlantic. Europeans brought to the New World, most significantly disease, which more than anything else devastated the Indian populations. Indians had no immunities to European diseases, because they had never been exposed to the types of domesticated animals that infected Europeans. Small pox, chicken pox, influenza, etc. all jump from animals to humans, and the Americas did not have native cows, horses, pigs, or chickens to infect them. Europeans also brought those animals, which have played a key role in the development of Clay County and the West.
Europeans also brought warfare, slavery, Christianity, European languages, and some crops such as wheat and apples. Europe benefited much more from New World crops such as potatoes, tomatoes, beans, corn, and numerous other fruits, vegetables, and spices. The nutritious diet created by New World crops improved the overall health of the world, but Columbus Day is seen by some as the beginning of the end for Indians.
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.