I have been studying early American history and I want to give you some of the “benefits” of my learning. But, before you deride my efforts, I want to see how much your remember. Take a sheet of paper and write down your recollections. Did you fill one sheet? Probably not, so you may need some help from me.

I always thought that Columbus was looking for China but got lost and discovered America. You probably thought so too. But no, it was Native Americans (some people still call them “Indians”) from Siberia who crossed a bridge—a land bridge of course—on what we call the Bering Strait, off the coast of Alaska, and made their way over the west coast of Canada to American.

None of this was known to the Indians at the time, who had gotten on the trail of herd of caribou and kept chasing them for almost 1,000 years. Leif Eriksson and Bjarni Herjolfsson hadn’t heard about the Indians pursuit either, so they claimed they discovered American and began teaching the Indians they met Swedish. Some Swedish sounds are still found in Navajo and Comanche.

But things were happening on the other side of the continent as well. There are a lot of mounds and ancient Viking tools found in Vinland (Newfoundland), so they were exploring and historians think they also may have wandered down to present day America. We can’t be sure, but there are collections of stories told by Viking ancestors told in Irish pubs that support the claim. And any Viking you may meet will tell you stories of their difficult ocean voyages.

There is no doubt that the Native Americans occupied “America” ong before anyone else we know about, despite Viking, Chinese or Donald Trump claims. If I remember correctly (and I often don’t), in  the East it was the Algonquian tribes—nomadic groups— who hunted, built long houses and, much later, helped George Washington cross the Potomac River in a life raft.

The Plains Indians were more interested in hunting buffalo and after they “got” horses from the Spanish, they starred with John Wayne in many Western movies. They also discovered Mexico before the Spanish conquest and one of them, Tonto, helped the Lone Ranger achieve fame.

There were also Native Americans living in the southwest, which we have read about because we live in Waco, Texas, formerly the home of the Waccoans. That was before Sam Houston came and disrupted their way of life at the Alamo by selling them tobacco and hatchets.

The Spanish and Portuguese were looking for land and for gold, as well as for Christian converts. They had compasses, but they got as mixed up as the Vikings—they thought they were in the East Indies when they were really in the West Indies. It didn’t matter because they were sure that Columbus would sail around the world and mark every territory he found for Spain, even if he was from Italy.

There was actually an Italian sailor who almost beat him, a man named John Cabot, but because he and Columbus never met, he won’t show up in most of your history books.

This was in the days when explorers claimed Indian land for the home country they came from, or for whoever sponsored them. Cabot claimed North America—he went for the whole nine yards—for England; Columbus wanted to help King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain and had four trips claiming land whereever he found it.

A Frenchman, Jaques Cartier, claimed the St. Lawrence River and what is today Quebec and Montreal, for France. They can still be pronounced correctly by using French phonetics, rather than Cherokee or Spanish.

Things got really messy in this period, such that France, Portugal and Spain did not like each other very much. Fortunately, the Vikings were long gone and did not have to battle any of the countries, or Indians.

So the dominant countries were France and Spain and there are still traces of their conquest found in the English language, with words like taco and déjà vu commonly heard at football and baseball games.

That is probably enough “history” for one day. But there may be exams and required essays at the end of the course, so it would be wise to take notes or memorize passages.

American History Lesson One
October 2017