When Columbus returned to Spain with his stories of a gentle people living on fertile new lands, the result was a stampede the like of which was not seen again until the gold rush. Spanish, English and Portuguese explorers, slave-hunters and would-be colonisers were quick to follow his tracks.
As predicted, they found a people 'of a tractable, free and loving nature, without guile or treachery' (Sir Francis Drake), and a land 'the most plentiful, sweet, fruitful, and wholesome of all the world' (Sir Walter Raleigh). Though some were doubtless well-intentioned, these intruders did only harm. They brought axes and hoes to aid farming and guns to hunt bison, but they also brought deadly diseases and they brought whisky, which rapidly became the most effective bargaining tool and had a disastrous effect on a people unaccustomed to it. But perhaps most devastating of all was their failure to understand the relationship between the Indians and their land and the Indians' own inability to defend their way of life. 'Truly the Indians, whether civilised or wild, had no guile to match the white man's duplicity.'
Away back in that time - in 1492 - there was a man by the name of Columbus came from across the great ocean, and he discovered this country for the white man . . . What did he find when he first arrived here? Did he find a white man standing on this continent . . . I stood here first, and Columbus first discovered me' Chitto Harjo, Creek fullblood, 1906.
The Indians became subject people, ruled over by foreigners, whose policies were at best misguided and at worst savagely anti-Indian. Angie Debo's comprehensive and compassionate account provides an unrivalled history of American Indians from the dawn of their first contact with Europeans to the late twentieth century. It is a remarkable tale of a remarkable survival.