Yeah, what about the Indians in North America?

We know that as the French and Spanish came from the north and south, respectively, they had dealings with the local populations. Some so-so good, some really bad. Of the two, the French seemed to have taken the more docile approach, learning from the various tribes and camps they encountered about the fur-bearing animals and the best and most efficient ways to kill and skin. Lots of inter-mating, too.

In the south, from present-day Florida to the Carolinas and probably further northward, the Spaniards took a more shock-and-awe approach before the isolation and (growing) hostile native populations forced them back into Florida and the Caribbean Islands.

The 1500s saw a LOT of this interaction between Europeans and Indians on the East Coast. There’s a lot of documentation about this from the white side, not so much from the other.

Why? Ah, remember the lessons from the past. Actually, PALL.

There can be lots of speculation and lesser doubt that the Indian tribes sent messages and talked a lot about the Europeans, alas, there is no paper trail. No cautionary letters, missives or memos. No user manuals (“10 Things Not To Do when Greeting the Newcomers”). No diaries (“New people have something called guns. Got to get me one of them.”) I know I’m being flippant but that no-writing thing really began to have severe consequences in the 1600s. The awful experiences with the Spaniards were not efficiently relayed from one tribe to another, one continent to another, let alone one generation to the next.

So, reasonably, can we really assume that the first English folks in 1607 were met with dropped-jaw astonishment? Just because the Aztecs did (with devastating consequences for them), doesn’t mean the Iroquois, the Erie, the Delaware, the Mohegan, and the other 50 or so First Nations did. In fact, the one-sided documented evidence from those First Encounters were glowing with reports that the Indians were friendly, if not a bit stand-offish.

Right off the boat, the English knew to bring the shiny beads and sharp knives (how did they know that? Oh, yeah, they read about it before they sailed). The Indian tribes in return taught the Englishmen – at least those who would listen – how to fish, hunt, and cook the strange new foods.

It didn’t make up for the harsh climate. That first winter in Jamestown was a doozie. And it didn’t ensure survival, not by a long shot. But there is little doubt that the Indians had heard enough about the French, or had first-hand experience, that at first they weren’t too concerned about the English. They all looked the same.

Like watching a train wreck from a distance, we all know what would happen within just a few decades into the 17th century.

How do we know for certain that Europeans were well-informed about the natives in those far-away lands? The smartest guy in the salon gives us an answer – and gets it wrong.