While there were both positive and negative results from the cultural interactions between Native Americans and Europeans, their interaction was historically inevitable, and whether it was a “good thing” is irrelevant.
The interaction of the European Old World with the culture and ecology of the New world brought numerous changes for the occupants of the New World. In terms of material goods, livestock in the form of horses, cows and pigs were brought to the New World by Europeans. (Kennedy, Cohen, & Bailey, 2004) These animals became an integral part of the culture of many Native American tribes, especially in the plains and the west. Comanche and Apache Indians began to rely on horses to sustain a lifestyle of hunting and raiding, while Eastern Indians began domesticating livestock to supplement their farm proceeds. (Kennedy, Cohen, & Bailey, 2004) On the negative side, European also brought numerous diseases to the New World that wiped out a large portion of their population. (Devevan, 1996) Smallpox, measles, influenza, typhus, diphtheria and other diseases wreaked havoc among the natives because they did not have any immunity from previous exposure to these diseases. (Kennedy, Cohen, & Bailey, 2004)
European culture, economy and ecology also absorbed some elements of Native American life. An abundance of precious metals were found in the “New World” and brought back to Europe. New crops, such as corn, potatoes, tobacco, beans, and chocolate, all of New World origins, became staples of European diets. (Kennedy, Cohen, & Bailey, 2004) The Europeans also learned farming techniques and hunting strategies from the natives. (Crone, 1962)
Ultimately, the advent of Europeans caused a nearly complete assimilation of the Native American Culture into that of the Europeans. (Kennedy, Cohen, & Bailey, 2004) Beginning with the “discovery” of Caribbean Islands by Columbus, the European attitudes toward the Natives was one of contempt. (Crone, 1962) For the most part, Columbus and his colleagues viewed the natives as at worst, animals, and at best, savages who needed civilization. (Crone, 1962) In Columbus’ five trips to the New World, he and his representative killed hundreds of Tiano Indians and forced thousands into slavery in the mines. (Crone, 1962) Mexican Aztecs fared little better when the Spanish arrived. (Crone, 1962)A small military force led by Hernando Cortez completely destroyed an Aztec civilization whose population numbered in the millions. (Kennedy, Cohen, & Bailey, 2004) In New England, the Natives fared somewhat better. Travelers from Europe were ill-prepared to handle the climate and ecology they found in the New World, so they adopted a generally more conciliatory attitude with the natives. (Crone, 1962)Ultimately, though, these Natives were killed by diseases and relocated by force of arms to the Midwest, only to be exiled again to reservations later. (Kennedy, Cohen, & Bailey, 2004) In the Southeast part of what is now the United States, the importation of African slaves reduced the need for Indian labor, and these tribes, too were relocated, and decimated by war and disease. (Kennedy, Cohen, & Bailey, 2004)
It is the nature of history that when there is a clash of cultures, the one with superior technology usually prevails. (Devevan, 1996) Such was the case with the Europeans and Native Americans. While better able to live in the New Land, the twin forces of guns and diseases, (Devevan, 1996) coupled with the completely unscrupulous legal practices of Europe, led to the ultimate demise of the Native American culture in the New World.
Kennedy, D, Cohen, L. & Bailey, T. (2004) The American Pagent (13th Edition), Houghton-Mifflin Co. Boston, MA.
Crone, G.R. (ed.) (1962) The Explorers: Great Adventurers Tell Their Own Stories of Discovery, Thomas Y. Crowell Co. New York.
Denevan, W. (1996) “Carl Sauer and Native American Population Size”, The Geographical Review, Vol. 86, No. 3 pg. 385+ 1996.