Life in the Old West

True stories, tall tales, memorabilia of the American West

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American story started well before Christopher Columbus


The American story began well before Columbus’ famous visit to the so-called “New World” in 1492. Despite what a couple of centuries of American school children were taught, we do our national story a terrible disservice if we start the tale in 1492 with Columbus, followed by Spain’s early domination of American history, and proceed as though that date and those events were the beginning of the story.

In reality, people from northeast Asia more or less “stumbled upon” those regions we now call the Americas and began the American story some time between 40,000-12,000 BCE. And much more recently than those adventurers but before Christopher Columbus, Norsemen (Scandinavians) spotted America’s shores about 1,000 CE. (In keeping with more preferred historical terminology, we will use “BCE” or “Before the Common Era” and “CE” or “Common Era” throughout this website rather than the traditional “BC” and “AD.”)

American story began with prehistoric adventurers, Norse explorers

The historical survey textbook I use most often says those earliest settlers began regularly crossing a land bridge that connected Siberia with Alaska about 38,000 BCE. The same source names a Norwegian merchant, Bjarni Herjulfsson, as the first European to sight the mainland of North America in 986 BCE. The better known expedition by Leif Ericsson to “Vinland” was not long after that in about 1,000 CE. (Although not universally agreed to, “Vinland” has been identified as areas of Newfoundland. Some believe that this never clearly defined region may also include lands and long forgotten settlements in Greenland.)

By the time early European explorers and later settlers reached the Americas, literally hundreds of thousands if not millions of Indian-Native America cultures were already thriving throughout all of North and South America — generally believed to be descendant nations/tribes/cultures/people of those prehistoric adventurers who first launched the American story across the land bridge from Asia to Alaska and points southward. For our purposes on this website, the important fact is that none of the European nations/cultures who laid claim to the “New World” had any right to do so: It was already quite well occupied and was only “new” or “discovered” in terms of European ignorance.

Of course, given the way the American story has developed from earliest European contacts through the present day, Columbus and later English and French explorers/settlers were incredibly significant to the whole tale. Spanish claims, English claims, and French claims to the Americas have made North and South America and specifically the United States of America what they are today. Like it or not, in terms of social and cultural dominance in North and South America, Europeans “won” and Indians-Native Americans “lost.”

We will be looking in detail at the many Indian-Native America tribes and cultural influences as we go through our story during the centuries since Columbus. They were many and still hold sway over many people and events that make up America. The Indian-Native American cultures and groups had a direct impact on life in the Old West, so we will revisit often various Indian tribes and the interactions they had with “white” European America.

But like it or not, the American story is very “Euro-centric,” simply because European groups such as the Spanish, English, and French succeeded in dominating Native American groups and cultures, ultimately shaping the all of the Americas into what we see today.