When evaluating current events, the media seems to be riddled with news articles depicting the horrific events of Charlottesville and reporters updating viewers on protests concerning statutes of controversial historical figures. One of the historical individuals who deserves debate along side Confederate leaders is Christopher Columbus. Columbus is renowned for the indisputable act that he abused Native American tribes using horrific actions and spreading diseases, causing the indigenous peoples population to decline by over half. There is currently a statue of Christopher Columbus in the rotunda of the California State Capital Building in Sacramento, but due to his past atrocities there is uproar from locals demanding to have the piece taken down from the public eye.
Christopher Columbus kept a diary to keep track of his day’s events, and write letters to those back in Europe. The excerpts in the diary varied from simple observations of the land he and his crew discovered to the demeaning and atrocious plans he intended to carry out towards the Native Americans. “On October 12, 1492 (the first day he encountered the native people of the Americas), Columbus wrote in his journal: ‘They should be good servants …. I, our Lord being pleased, will take hence, at the time of my departure, six natives for your Highnesses.’ These captives were later paraded through the streets of Barcelona and Seville when Columbus returned to Spain,” (Nativeiq). Columbus was known for his terrible treatment towards Native Americans and often abused those he encountered for gold or other valuable resources that would make him rich when he sailed back to Europe. The tribes that endured his cruel treatment were the Tainos and Lucayans. They were often maimed or murdered when they were unable to offer Columbus the gold and resources he wanted, ultimately leading to well over three million indigenous peoples death due to abuse and foreign diseases carried over by European sailors. An estimated 90% of Native Americans lost their lives due to the arrival and slaughter inflicted by Columbus and other Spaniards. The mindset the Spaniards had towards the Natives can easily be tracked back to Columbus diaries and influence on other sailors. Due to Columbus’s arrival, many Europeans traveled to Texas, New Mexico, and California, to spread their beliefs and gather resources to aid the Crusades in their journey to reconquer the Holy Land in Jerusalem. Not only were the tribes placed under cruel treatment, similar to Columbus’s, but they were also forced into places called Missions up and down California coast. There were a total of 21 active missions that intended to force religion and slave labor on the indigenous people. The Europeans justified their kidnapping and abusing of the tribes by claiming as a reward or payment for their labor, they would teach Catholicism and educate those in the Missions, just as Columbus justified his actions by bringing goods back to the Europeans. If the Natives did not comply to the Catholic standards or accept the religion as a whole, they were forced to endure punishments and forced into more labor similar to how if the Taino tribe did not bring back sufficient resources to Columbus’s crew, he would maim them.
Columbus is, to this day, celebrated and praised for his supposed discovery of North America and more specifically, the region that is now known as the United States, hence why Americans celebrate his arrival every Columbus Day. Citizens have erected statues and even dedicated entire school days to revolve around his history in honor of Christopher Columbus’s arrival. The only problem with this, is the fact that it has been proven countless times that Columbus, in fact, was not the first to discover America. A Viking by the name of Leif Ericson was the first European to discover America in 1000, and he and his crew left shortly after landing once they discovered the Native Americans were willing to fight him and his fellow shipmates in order to protect their land, freedom, and beliefs. “While Columbus is honored with a federal holiday, the man considered to be the leader of the first European expedition to North America has not been totally forgotten on the calendar. In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed a proclamation that declared October 9 to be Leif Eriksson Day in honor of the Viking explorer, his crew and the country’s Nordic-American heritage,” (History). This raises a simple question that many often find themselves wondering. Why were the Natives eager to protect what was theirs when the vikings arrived, but had a complete change of character and values once Columbus came? The answer is very simple and fortunately becoming more well known. The tribes that Leif Erikson and Christopher Columbus encountered on their expeditions were not the same. Columbus never even set foot on what is now United States territory. Columbus in fact only set foot in the various set of islands we now refer to as The Bahamas, Hispanola, Cuba, Haiti, The Dominican Republic, and the Central and South American coasts, but never the United States, all while diminishing the native populations of wherever he went. An example is the Taino people. The Taino were an indigenous tribe with 250,000 members, but once Columbus arrived, the numbers dwindled down to the small number of 200. The reason for the peoples population decreasing was due to disease, but predominately the result of 1,200 Spaniards massacring villages and killing innocents simply because the Taino people were unable to provide Columbus with the gold and spices he desired.
The reason Columbus is celebrated as an important figure in American History is due to the fact that when Italians began to arrive into the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they were often mistreated and rarely felt at home in their new country. Upon discovery of Washington Irving’s book A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus they began spreading the word of the greatness of the Italian hero Columbus as a means of making themselves important in the history of this country. This book promoted Columbus as being ambitions, kind, and also discovering that the world was round, all while on his journey to North America, but little did people know that he was anything but, even believing that the earth resembled the shape of a pear. The true history of Columbus proves him to be the complete opposite of the fictional character portrayed in Irving’s book.
“Indians were forced to accept ‘the Church as the Ruler and Superior of the whole world’ or face persecution. If Indians did not immediately comply, the Requirement warned them: “We shall take you and your wives and your children, and shall make slaves of them, and as such shall sell and dispose of them as their Highnesses may command; and we shall take away your goods, and shall do all the harm and damage that we can,”’ (columbus.htm). Columbus’s abhorrent views towards Native Americans rings clear to this day when reading his statements and diaries. His viewpoints on those he felt he could dominate clearly prove that throughout his history, Columbus was never once a hero but instead a horror to Native Americans. So, does a man who slaughtered thousands, stole from innocents, and enslaved tribes for his own personal gain truly deserve his own statue? The truth is in history, and many Americans are beginning to learn about the horrific intentions and deeds of the real Christopher Columbus. It’s time to take down the statues honoring him, and inform the public of the true story of Columbus.
Article by Olivia Sparks and Konor Brown
“Christopher Columbus: The Untold Story.” Understanding Prejudice,
www.understandingprejudice.org/nativeiq/columbus.htm. Accessed 20 Sept. 2017.
“Christopher Columbus: The Untold Story.” Understanding Prejudice,
www.understandingprejudice.org/nativeiq/columbus.htm. Accessed 20 Sept. 2017
Klein, Christopher. “The Viking Explorer Who Beat Columbus to America.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 8
Oct. 2013, www.history.com/news/the-viking-explorer-who-beat-columbus-to-america. Accessed 20 Sept. 2017.