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The greatest adversary to the natives in the Americas was not the swords or guns of the invaders. It was the devastation brought by deadly diseases infecting an unsuspecting population that had no immunity to such diseases.
The Europeans were said to be thoroughly diseased by the time Columbus set sail on his first voyage (Cowley, 1991). Through the domestication of such animals as pigs, horses, sheep, and cattle, the Europeans exposed themselves to a vast array of pathogens which continued to be spread through wars, explorations, and city-building. Thus any European who crossed the Atlantic was immune to such diseases as measles and smallpox because of battling them as a child.
The original inhabitants traveled to the New World in
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It often causes massive epidemics of which only the most resilient individuals survive. As natural selection weeds out the most susceptible hosts and the survivors repopulate, what was once a deadly disease becomes a routine childhood illness.
The first major disease to find the New World was probably smallpox which broke out on Hispanola in 1518. As the Spaniards moved toward the mainland from the islands their diseases often proceeded them. One reason for this was a messenger bearing the news of the invasion to his people could carry the diseases as well as his message. With the arrival of Cortes in 1520 the smallpox virus was brought to Mexico and the Aztec nation. It has been thought that if the virus had not come when it did the Spanish invasion would not have been successful (Lunenfeld, 314). The Aztec leader of the assault against the Spanish invasion, as well as many of his followers, died after ordering the Spaniards out of Tenochtitlan. If the people would have continued with what they had started, they would not have been conquered for before August 21, 1521, the Spaniards were almost defeated. However in a siege that lasted seventy-five days the dead Aztecs from combat, starvation, and disease numbered into the 1000's (Crosby, 1972). The massive numbers of dead stunned the people so much that they were unable to react. The natives were not the only ones affected by the dead, however, for the
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