Essay Example on Native Reaction to Invasion of America: 1892 vs 1992

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  5
Wordcount:  1215 Words
Date:  2023-01-23

In the article Native Reaction to the Invasion of America, the author James Axtell discusses the history of America through the interaction between the Natives and colonial newcomers. Axtell's first point is the drastic change in the view of the Columbian observances of 1892 and 1992. The difference drawn is that in 1892, Columbus was referred to as the Admiral of the Ocean Sea and Native Americans were virtually non-existing. By1992 however, Columbus no longer has the spotlight he had, and Native Americans are much more evident and annoyed about what was depicted in history as a beautiful moment. Maybe an incredible moment in the history of Europe, but it was the start of the end for indigenous Americans (Axtell 59).

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Axtell argues out that the confrontations between Europeans and the Indians were not as easy as that between Europe and the Indians in arms. Native Americans reacted differently to each of the colonies that invaded America and likewise. The reason for this is because the Native Americans were divided into many tribes. Each of which interacted differently to the invasion by Europeans on their land. Most of the Indian tribes tried many methods not to defeat the Europeans, but to preserve the status quo and culture. Axtell also points out the European point of view of the indigenous Americans as savages who inadvertently and occasionally acted civilized. He also illustrates that the European perspective of the Indians centered more on how they lived and what they anticipated when they encountered strangers. Axtell also proclaims that not all Native Americans were aggressive. Some communities were accommodating but highly cautious, which therefore describes why frequent conflicts broke out between the Natives and various colonies (Axtell 60).

On the other hand, some Native groups were accommodating because they viewed Europeans as inferior and more equivalent in comparison with them. Axtell describes the Native Americans' reaction to the Europeans as being regarded as divine beings or at the worst, their equals. He describes their astonishment at European arms and clothing that caused them to welcome Europeans to their settlements and shower them with presents. (Axtell 61). With the interaction going on, communication rapidly became an issue. The ancient sign language acts went beyond easy counting and exchanging visible objects. Therefore, as the dominant population, the Indians tried to get foreigners to learn the country's language. However, the English and Spanish explorers were usually too ethnocentric to follow up on the ways of the Natives. So, they forced the Natives to learn their national languages or regional dialects.

Axtell further argues that the newcomers were also responsible for the importation of epidemic diseases that killed many Natives. The Europeans carried alongside them diseases such as smallpox, diphtheria, influenza, and childhood diseases such as measles and mumps. These diseases were a catastrophe to large numbers of defenseless Indian adults and children. Smallpox was the biggest killer, with the probability of wiping out 50-90 percent of an Indian village or tribe, simply because many people fell sick at the same time (Axtell 62). For that reason, Axtell argues that no one was left to provide fires, food, and especially water for the fever-ravaged victims. The epidemic was catastrophic partly because the Natives initially had no immunities from previous exposure to the disease (Axtell 62). The disease was airborne and also spread through human touch. It was the Natives' custom to crowd around the bed of an ailing person to lend comfort and a sense of solidarity. The Native's responses, therefore, only increased the diseases' deadly reach and aggravated their effects.

The Europeans kept on coming, and they had their way with the Natives. Axtell points out that geographical relocation was a prominent Native response to colonization all over North America. Compared to English farms and towns, the Natives' establishments were not as intrusive. Therefore, several Native groups moved toward the English newcomers to take advantage of their economic, military, or religious services. French trading posts and settlements in Canada and Louisiana were also beneficiaries of Native relocations (Axtell 63). The Natives were also drawn to the settlements where missionary Catholicism and sedentary farming prevailed. As the Natives moved away from their traditions to converting to Christianity, they were rewarded by their colonizers. The rewards included permits to buy and own guns.

Axtell also argues that with time, the Natives became increasingly drawn to European goods. The goods included imported European objects, made of superior materials or available in preferable colors and styles. Because of this predicament, the Natives responded in different ways to associate themselves with the Europeans. The first was to speed up their search as financial and political partners for rival Europeans. One of the options was to sell their land to English farmers and settlers (Axtell 64). When their land base and traditional sources of livelihood started to pinch the Natives, they started working in the colonial economy. The Natives were hired mostly as interpreters and workers in major industries. Getting employment was a step away from autonomy to become a component of the colonial economy.

Axtell also states that by becoming Christian converts, the Natives chose to relocate even more. The scale of relocation meant moving away from ancestral villages and homelands and merging with members of other tribal groups, including ancient or recent enemies. The Natives turned to European schools and praying towns, which he describes as cultural suicide (Axtell 66). The Natives left their fight for autonomy by submitting themselves to European institutions, principles, and officials and chose to stay under the big colonial thumb.

However, A few groups of the Natives had no option at all. They had been affected so severely by diseases that they only had two options. They were to co-exist with other groups in a similar condition or to place themselves at the mercy of ancient Native enemies. Neither of which seemed to be working out for them. They were in great danger of extinction as distinct peoples that only the remedy being offered by the colonists was their only way to save themselves. In other situations, Axtell describes other Natives who mingled into the new colonial way of life to be like the colonialist and feel like they too carried the same power as them

While the Natives converted to the cultures of the new colonial power as a form of survival tactics amid the enemy, some more fortunate tribes armed themselves at home for the inevitable war against the colonialists. They wanted to fight for their independence, lands, and ways of life. However, because of tribal difference, a hurdle existed for a unified response from the Natives. Therefore, different tribes put aside their differences and came together to wage war against the colonialist. Winning the battle, however, became a hard task with habits such as alcoholism ate away the Natives. The Natives chose to drown themselves in alcohol than going up in arms (Axtell 68).


In conclusion, the discovery of America by European sailors was an invasion that stripped away the lives of many Native Americans. The invasion flushed away generations of traditions and cultures. James Axtell paints a picture in his writing on how human cultures evolve from a traditional way of life to what is seen to be modern culture.

Works Cited

Axtell, James. Natives and newcomers: the cultural origins of North America. Oxford University Press, USA, 2001.

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