Truth from the earth, like to a flower, shall bud and blossom show.
-Bay Psalm Book, 1640

One of the many reasons that I have been prompted to write America More or Less is the idea that if you think you know something, then it’s right. And, it’s perfectly all right to pass it on, either writing a letter to the editor in your local newspaper or spout it out in a speech.

Well, that’s wrong. Thinking you know something is not the same as actually knowing something, but many of our politicians and pundits would have you, well, think otherwise. These days, it’s almost inexcusable, in fact, to not get your facts straight. There have been hundreds of thousands of books and magazine articles written about our country’s history by reputable, distinguished men and women who have worked really hard to get the facts straight, knowing that history is an open door – you never know what new journal, diary, picture, artifact, whatever, is going to show up.

I am not one to defend or denigrate the Internet but let’s be honest: where would we be without it? Da Google can at least serve as a genuine jumping-off point. When you search for American history, you get an astounding 2 billion results.  Contrast that to European history, with its scant 40 million results. Wow. I use Da Google, a lot – but you’ll notice throughout AML that I reference ‘real’ books, magazines and other printed materials. You’ll never see a link to a Wikipedia page.

A history of America, the United States, Central, South America, or even Canada, generally begins with what was written about it, first by Columbus, then by others who began to stream out of Europe and head over here. History, after all, is defined as something in writing. Without writing, purists say, it can’t be history. But the written knowledge of the Americas does not begin in 1492. Nor does it begin 400 or 500 or 600 years earlier when some boat full of Norsemen and maybe a few Norsewomen straggled from the doomed settlements of Greenland to visit some cold northern shore somewhere around Newfoundland.

It really has to begin – and in some ways this was an ending – with the folks who were here a long while before all of that.

Maybe it was 12,000 years ago (all hail the Clovis theory), or maybe 14,000 years ago or perhaps even 20,000 years ago (Goodman, American Genesis). These dates matter to a lot of paleo, archaeo, and anthro types who make their livings digging, talking, and thinking about these things, but it really doesn’t matter to us. What matters to us, what should matter A WHOLE LOT MORE to us is that there were human beings here for thousands of years before any of the European types invaded these continents with their guns, germs, and steel (Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel).

They had descended from like-minded women and men and children who somewhere in what is now Siberia, said to themselves, “Hey, what’s over there?” and they walked or canoed or did both to make their ways across valleys and over mountains, past roaring rivers and really rough coastlines. This didn’t happen just once. It happened a lot of times, maybe hundreds or thousands of times. They brought tools for making clothes and shelter; they knew how to hunt and gather. They kept moving, ever south, towards the warmth.

The Ice Age dominated their lives for generations and it probably sucked. No surprise they became sun worshippers.

And they were doing all of this about the same time their cousins were beginning to do their thing half the globe away in the Fertile Crescent: Figuring out how to grow crops, live together in villages without killing each other.

Those distant cousins domesticated about every beast they could, from cows to sheep, chickens to dogs; and when the dirt in the Crescent gave out or was over-grazed, or a drought made it too difficult, the area was abandoned a few thousand years later and a great migration led into Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Shamen evolved into kings, cave art into the printing press, the wheel into rubber tires, clay huts into castles and clubs into gunpowder.

The folks in the Americas didn’t or couldn’t do a lot of those things – they had some disadvantages that their Crescent cousins didn’t have. For one thing, they certainly didn’t have the larger variety of animals from which to pick and choose what to domesticate.

But they weren’t slovenly, by any means. They would eventually build mounds in Ohio, pyramids in Mexico, palaces in Peru, cliff dwellings in Colorado, and congregated together to form states that, just like their counterparts on the other side of the world, were also ruled by kings, shamen, and priests. Greed and the quest for power are always a common denominator on Planet Earth, it seems.

They cultivated tomatoes and potatoes, chilis and chocolate and dozens of varieties of corn (please remember this, it’ll be brought up a couple of times). They built thousands of miles of roads, tamped down thousands of miles of trails, and invented the wheel, but didn’t use it for anything except toys, one of those “you can’t believe how funny this story is,” that occurs now and then in various parts of the world.

Calendars. They really had calendars down. From North America to South America, calendars ruled. I suppose that since they weren’t very busy inventing rubber tires and printing presses and gunpowder, they had a lot of time to stand around and stare at the sun, the moon, the stars and what it all might mean to growing crops and placating gods. Eclipses were big deals, so were comets.

They had currency, government, religion, art. They loved and nurtured their children and their old ones. They knew more about herbs and medicines than did almost anybody in the Old World. When Columbus was furling his sails in Lisbon, Europe was hip-deep in superstition; the New World had that, too, but they also had medicines that worked. Peruvian Indians knew that the extract of a certain bark would cure malaria – it was called quina, or quinine. This knowledge was passed down for thousands of generations, refined and improved every generation.

There were, however, some disconnects that made the guns, germs, and steel that showed up in1492 so devastating.

Somewhere along the line, Native Americans weren’t asking, “Hey, what’s over there?” anymore. There is scant evidence that folks in South American knew, or knew much about, their compatriots in Mexico, although there were similarities between games, building shapes (mounds and pyramids), and cultivated corn grew everywhere from the Eastern Seaboard to Peru.

There is little evidence that peoples in Peru knew a lot about the peoples in Colorado. Sorry, puka shells aren’t much evidence, but DNA evidence is, and current genetic studies show there was little in common between the Inca of South America and the Sioux of South Dakota, while recognizing that they all originated from the same DNA carried by original Siberian migrations. The myriad of languages that were spoken throughout the Americas shows there is little if any overlap. Of course, travel wasn’t easy (see the wheel, above), the Pleistocene horse got wiped out*, and there were a ton of deserts and jungles betwixt here and there. But remember the exodus from the Fertile Crescent? Tons of deserts and jungles betwixt one place and another there, too. And those folks kept going – to Great Britain in the west, Japan in the East.

Then there is the absence of PALL.

*Yes, the horse actually evolved in the Americas, migrated to Asia over hundreds of thousands of years over re-occurring ice bridges, the same kind that would eventually allow early man to go the other way. Those Pleistocene horses got wiped out in the Americas by climate change, perhaps with some help from Early Man, but thrived on the open Steppes of Siberia and helped Egypt, Rome, Mongolia, Europe, England, Spain, etc. conquer each other for the next 5,000 years. But I digress.