Introduction: Indians & Alternate History
American Indian Victories is a collection of alternate history scenarios. Some of those scenarios are long and extensively researched. Others are short, off-the-cuff "brainstorming scenarios". The first approximately two-thirds of the book deals with big picture issuesâ€”the broad sweep of history and technology. The last part deals with more specific and personal issues.
American Indians are a tricky subject for alternate history. On the one hand, they represent a very dramatic and colorful "lost cause". On the other hand, there are two reasons that Indians have historically not been as popular as say the Confederate States of America as subjects of alternate history. First, they generally lost out against European encroachment for some very hard-to-reverse reasons. The large impersonal forces of history ran against Indians to a far greater extent than they did against say the Axis in World War II, or the South in the American Civil War. Second, it is hard to do a realistic Indian alternate history that has much to do with the Indian tribes that most people have heard of, or with the picture most people have of Indians.
Why the Indians lostâ€”Epidemics: Indian battlefield victories tended to be meaningless in the face of a cruel bit of arithmetic. In almost every case, contact with European settlers led to at least 100 years of relentless Indian population declines from European diseasesâ€”declines that cut those populations to a tiny fraction (typically 10 to 25 percent) of their pre-contact levels. Many tribes faced the equivalent of the European Black Deathevery fifteen to twenty years for 100 to 150 years.
Those epidemics didn't kill faceless, replaceable generic Indians. They killed experienced leaders and skilled craftsmen, and undoubtedly men of geniusâ€”artists and innovators. The impact of European diseaseon the Indians was so severe that many alternate history buffs simply write them off for that reason alone.
Why the Indians lostâ€”the technology gap: The technology gap was by no means across the board. Indians could and did show Europeans a thing or two in some areas of technology. However, the most technologically advanced and politically sophisticated Indian groups were materially and politically thousands of years behind the European cultures they faced. Aztecsand Incastechnologically and materially resembledâ€”at bestâ€”the Assyriansof 1000 BC more than they did the Europeans of 1500 AD. There was a gap of at least 2500 years, and possibly 5000 years, between the Old and New Worlds in terms of how long they had been accumulating the tools of technologically advanced cultures.
Unfortunately for the Indians, the technology gap also extended beyond the physical realm. Europeans had accumulated a much larger playbook of military and political strategies over the years than the Indians had, and that gap was probably just as important as the physical technology.
The technology gap had nothing to do with the intelligence of individual Indians or with the worth of Indian cultures. It came about for at least three reasons. First, Indians started out behind Old World humans because they came over with only part of Old World human culture. Pieces of technology and culture useful in cold climate made it. If something wasn't useful in cold climate it didn't make it to the New World, no matter how useful it might have been in temperate or tropical climates. Second, Indians never caught up, and actually fell further behind in many ways because they moved into continents much smaller than the Old World complex of Asia, Africa and Europe. The smaller continents meant fewer chances to find the right combination of factors for high technology cultures to develop. Third, North and South Americahad far fewer animal resources to work with. By the time Indian cultures developed to the point where they might have domesticated animals, most of the best candidates--like North American horsesand camels--had died off.
Why the Indians lostâ€”the Indian wars: American Indians were at a major disadvantage against Europeans from the start, but they often fought hard and well. They often, indeed almost always, lost their wars against European settlers and conquistadorsbecause they were more worried about fighting old Indian enemies than about fighting Europeans. Try to think of a war between European settlers and Indians where no Indians fought on the side of the Europeans. There may be some, but I can't think of any. Indians even fought each other for one European power or another when no Europeans were present at the battles.
Indians came to the New World with a subset of the Old World human toolkit, a subset of Old World human genetic diversity, and very small subset of the diseases that afflicted Old World humans. As a result, when regular contact between the Old and New Worlds began, Spaniardsquickly seized the most heavily populated areas, like Mexicoand Peru, and installed themselves as the top echelon of society. They found that position difficult to maintain because the people they ruled died off so quickly from European diseases.
Spain and other European colonizers imported African slaves to replace the missing workers. That made the problem even worse for the Indians, because African diseaseslike the really deadly types of malariaand yellow feverjoined European diseases in the New World. In the worst hit areas, Indians were essentially wiped out. In other areas, populations dropped to 10 to 25 percent of pre-contact levels before bottoming out. In a very few areas, Indian populations appear to have grown throughout the period, or through most of it. I'll look at those areas more carefully later.
Diseases spread from the more populated areas to less populated ones, leaving those areas much more open to European colonization. That colonization in turn brought more diseases, leaving even more areas open to colonization.
Finally, most of the Indian tribes that most people have heard of developed or became prominent as a result of direct or indirect interactions with Europeans. Tribes like the Creeks, Choctaws, and Seminoles did not exist as distinct ethnic units before European contact, and probably would never have existed given a different pattern of European settlement. The horse-riding nomadic plains Indians that most people think of when they think of American Indians were also products of interaction with Europeans. That makes it hard to write a serious Alternate History scenario that involves Indians recognizable to most readers.
Given those problems, I can understand alternate history buffs writingoff Indians as a subject for serious alternate history. I beg to differ with that opinion though, and will present a series of exercises in alternate history that will illustrate why. The scenarios range from serious to whimsical. I enjoyed writing them and I hope you enjoy reading them.
The title promises Indian victories. What do I mean by that? The alternate history scenarios in this book will have American Indian cultures surviving in significantly larger numbers than in our time-line, for a significantly longer time than in our time-line, and/or with significantly more of the core of their cultures intact than in our time-line.
How could Indians have achieved those kinds of victories? Their best chance would be to not fight the war. If Europeans were unwilling or unable to invade the New World, Indians would presumably 'win'. That could have happened due to European conditions or conditions in the New World.
Assuming that Europeans did settle the New World, the Indians would have to somehow reduce or eliminate the reasons they lost in our time-line. If something made European and African diseasesless deadly to American Indians, Indians would have a better shot at winning. Scenarios in section two look at those possibilities.
If Indians somehow closed the technology gap, either before or after contact with the Europeans, they would have a better chance at winning. Section three looks at some of those possibilities.
Section four looks at Indian wars. If Indians managed to avoid ruinous wars between the tribes, or in some cases had simply had better luck, they would have a better chance at winning.
In some cases, seemingly minor variations in the patterns of European settlements or the geography of the New World would make a huge difference in how well Indian cultures survived. Section five looks at those scenarios.
Section six groups together information that doesn't really fit anywhere else. It contains a book review and a whimsical attempt to use alternate history to generate Rider Haggard/Edgar Rice Burroughs-style 'lost cities' in North America.
Alternate History and Suspension of Disbelief: Alternate Histories scenarios are obviously not real. The very best of them are pale, weak imitations of real history. The main problem is that ripples from a change would almost certainly spread quickly and unpredictably, or in a way complex enough to defy prediction.
For example: The Pizarrobrothers conquered Peruand became very wealthy. Most of them also died early and violent deaths. What impact did the goldand silverthey looted from Peru have on the rest of the world? It bought expensive silk from China, modifying the economics of Ming China in difficult to understand ways. It went to Spain where it caused inflation and stunted Spanishindustry in a variety of ways. It went to Flandersand other parts of Europe where it gave the banking system of Europe a big infusion of capital. That capital was then invested in building factories and workshops, funding armies, building ships, and buying cannon or luxury goods all over Europe.
Those investments had to have had a series of cascading impacts all over Europe. Would Charles Istill become king of England? If not would there be the period of personal rule that pushed the Puritansto settle in New England? Would a king of Francedie in a jousting accident and plunge France into 30 years of civil war? Would George Washingtonever exist? There would be over 200 years for something to intervene and keep him from being born, or if he was born to keep him from being precisely the same person genetically and psychologically. Would Napoleon be born? Would anybody else be born that played the same roles in exactly the same ways?
There are at least three approaches to the problem of ripples in alternate history. First, the author can use ripples to justify almost any direction they want to take the scenario. The problem with that is that alternate history can become essentially fantasy without the elves and magic. Second, a scenario can ignore ripples and assume that the world would go on as it did in real history in areas not directly affected by the change. That approach has some advantages in that it makes alternate history more capable of shedding light on real history. Finally, a scenario can trace as many ripples as possible and take them into account when they logically follow from the point of divergence, and assume that more subtle ripples cancel each other out.
I take the second or third approaches to most of these scenarios. Almost all of them contain some simplifying assumptions and ignore some possible ripple effects. At the same time, I try to make the scenarios as realistic as possible.
Almost any Alternate History makes assumptions that are untenable if they are examined closely in the light of ripple affects. For example: change almost anything and the change will affect short-term weather patterns. Change almost anything before the late 1500s and you probably don't see the "Protestant Wind" that destroyed the SpanishArmada, though the armada had enough deficiencies that it probably wouldn't take England. Change almost anything before May 1944 and chances are you change the weather pattern that told the Germans an invasion was impossible on June 6, 1944 and told the Allies one was possible.
Change almost anything before April 1940 and you risk changing the excellent blitzkrieg weather that helped Germany win the battle for Francein May/June 1940. Put a major storm in the English Channel during the British evacuation in late May, and again the war takes a very different course. Those are mostly World War II examples, but they illustrate the point.
I read and write alternate history stories primarily as entertainment, with a secondary function of understanding history. If an alternate history entertains me or informs me but has some over-simplifying assumption in it I can still enjoy it.
Alternate prehistory? Some of these scenarios involve events long before recorded history. That's risky because what actually happened is inevitably more uncertain without written records. While my depictions of events from prehistory are not inconsistent with current scientific theories, those theories have been known to change in the past, and undoubtedly will in the future.