Thayer Watkins

Invasion, Conquest and Migration in the Americas

The establishment of the Spanish and Portuguese Empires in the Americas is usually referred to as The Conquest, but it was only one of many major and minor conquests in the Americas. The image that twentieth century American liberals tried to promote of the native peoples of the Americas living happily where they were from time immemorial until Columbus brought destruction to them is not factually correct. There were many large scale shifts in the populations of the Americas carried out by conquest and as often as not the Europeans displaced not the time immemorial residents of an area but the last conquerors of it. Some of the details of those pre-Columbian conquests will be given later.

Even the racial affiliation of the peoples of the Americas changed in the long sweep of history. The Americas were subject to at least four major invasions of peoples from Asia before Columbus:

Language provides evidence of more recent migrations. The legends of the Aztecs indicate them migrated from the area of northwestern Mexico to the area of Mexico City. Linguistic analysis indicates that the language of the Aztecs is in the same family as the Utes of the Rocky Mountains and Great Basin of the western United States.

The migration of the ancestors of the Navajo and Apaches from northwestern Canada to the southwestern U.S. and northwestern Mexico has already been mentioned above. There was a tribe called the Kiowa Apaches that lived in the Great Plains in the 19th century. The Navajo and the Apache probably ended up in the Southwest because it was easier to conquer and defend a territory in that area than in the Great Plains.

Once horses were acquired by the Amerindians there were wholesale shifts in population and lifestyle. Before the acquisition of horses the Lakota (Sioux) lived on the shore of Lake Superior subsisting by hunting forest animals and harvesting wild rice. Once they had horses they migrated to the Great Plains and lived as nomadic hunters of the American bison (buffalo). They displaced the tribes that lived in the area. It is not generally understood that before the acquisition of horses the hunting of bison was not feasible. It was a very dangerous thing to be on foot in a bison herd trying to kill one of them. Without the bison hides for teepees and the horses to help move the teepees the lifestyle associated with the Amerindians of the Great Plains was not possible.

When the Lakota came into the Great Plains they displaced the tribes that were already there who had acquired horses. The end result is the Comanches came into the area of Texas conquering and maurading. They came into conflict with the Apaches who were trying to defend a territory.

In the eastern United States it is known from linguitstic analysis that the Cherokees who were in the southern Appalachians at the time of European contact had migrated there from the Iroquois tribal area of western New York. The Cherokee language belongs to the Iroquois family and undoubtedly the ancestors of the Cherokees lost a war with another Iroquois tribe and fled south to find an area they could defend.

It was probably typical that at the time of European contact that the tribes were occupying areas that they had captured from the previous occupants, who in their turn had acquired it by conquest from some other tribe.

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