In the year 1492, explorer Christopher Columbus sailed from Spain to what he believed to be India. That is a fact which cannot be disputed. However, it is often the case that historians are biased in their writing and add their own personal beliefs and interpretations into accounts of what happened. An example of this is historian Davis E. Stannard’s controversial book, American Holocaust: Columbus and the Conquest of the New World.
Stannard uses facts to support his belief that Columbus and the explorers to follow in his footsteps are responsible for a mass genocide of the Indian peoples. Columbus’s captain’s log does much to contradict Stannard’s views. Columbus states that he wishes for “…the natives to develop a friendly attitude toward us [the Spanish explorers and settler]. ” Columbus wants no harm to come to the Natives and makes sure that trade between the natives and his men is not unfair.
He may have been a bit misguided with his attempts to covert the natives to Christianity, but he himself writes that “…they are a people who can be made free and converted to our Holy Faith more buy love than by force. ” Columbus does not want to bring any sort of harm to the Natives, and believes “…that in all the world there cannot be better or more gentle people. ” The impression one may have of Columbus solely from reading this document starkly differs from the view of Columbus that Stannard emphasizes.
Bartolome de Las Casa’s History of the Indies sheds a light on the cruelties that the Spanish were not just capable of, but committed on a day to day basis. De Las Casa helps support Stannard’s thesis and showcases the horrible deeds performed by the Spaniards often. The Spanish soldiers would slaughter the Natives “…like sheep in a corral. ” They would often place bets to measure their strength, such as who could cut a Native in half with a single blow, or slice of their heads the quickest.
They has no mercy, and made sure to “…prevent Indians from daring to think of themselves as human beings or even having a minute to think at all. ” The soldiers didn’t blink an eye at working entire tribe to death or just killing them for sport, strongly supporting Stannard’s claim of destructive genocide. Travels in Quivira by Francesco Coronado gives no support to Stannard’s thesis. In fact, the document serves to dispute Stannard completely. Coronado was exploring present day Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. He was searching for the legendary Seven Cities of Cibula.
The natives had told him that these golden cities were located to the north and Coronado harmed them in no way. After finding no gold, Coronado’s guides revealed to him that they had, at the orders of the Natives, led him through uninhabited desserts in an attempt to starve him and his company to death. Stannard is firm in his constitution that it was the Spanish who were wrong, not the Natives. While this document is just one example of the Native’s wrongdoings, it showcases that both parties had their share of wrong doings as well as their share of kindness.
The exploration and settlement of the New World was not handled as well as it should have been, but both the Natives and the Spanish had their share of heroes and villains. Columbus fell into neither of these categories. He truly believed that he treated the Natives justly, and, for the most part, he did. He did, however, open the door for other, crueler, people to come in. The Natives cannot be lumped into good or bad in this situation either. There were kind Natives, such as those who met with Columbus, but there were also cruel Natives, such as those who attempted to lead Francesco Coronado to his death.