American History Myths Debunked: Columbus Discovered America
Indian Country Today
As we continue our look at Cracked.com’s widely read post ““6 Ridiculous Lies You Believe About the Founding of America,” we look at myth number four, Columbus Didn’t Discover America: Vikings vs. Indians.
For our first entry in this series, “American History Myths Debunked: No Native Influence on Founding Fathers,” click on the link.
Okay, let’s get the first glaring problem out of the way. Yes, it’s still taught in most American schools that Columbus “discovered” America, but we all know the absurdity of this “fact” on multiple levels. First, Columbus could not have “discovered” America, as you can’t discover something that already existed and was populated. So we’ll ignore the “discovered” portion of the myth that and focus instead on a second component, which is that it’s also overwhelmingly obvious that Columbus was far from the first European to reach the “New World” (again, something can’t be “New” when it’s actually old and inhabited.)
Cracked.com’s myth: America was discovered in 1492 because Europeans were starting to get curious about the outside world thanks to the Renaissance and Enlightenment.
Yes, this is a myth. The point that Cracked.com makes is that Columbus was far from being even the first European to find these shores. That distinction goes to the Vikings, the legendary Norse warriors and explorers who were raiding and settling many parts of the world from the late 8th to mid 11th century. And so it was the Vikings, not Columbus, who first made contact with American Indians. And probably wished they hadn’t.
The evidence seems to point to Vikings making contact with American Indians as long ago as the 10th century, as they explored the northeast coast of America, what they called Vineland (or Vinland). A.M. Reeves, N.L. Beamish and R.B. Anderson’s “The Norse Discovery of America,” which was published in 1906, goes into great detail on the encounters between the ferocious Vikings and the Native inhabitants of Vinland.
Vinland got its name from a prisoner of Leif Erikson’s who went missing when a Viking party landed and explored modern day Boston Harbor. Fearing his prisoner (whom he favored) Tyrker had been slain by the Natives, whom the Vikings had learned to respect (and, some might argue, fear), they sent out a search party for him. Instead of finding him dead, they found him in a state of agitated glee. A German, Tyyker was not far from camp, holding an arm full of wild grapes (much as they grew in his home country), thus, Erikson and the Vikings called this “new” world Vinland.
On page 319, the authors of “The Norse Discovery of America” state simply and unequivocally that Columbus missed “discovering” America by about five hundred years: The sagas give very full and interesting accounts of the various products of Vinland and of the natives or aborigines with whom our Norse explorers came in contact…What I desire particularly to emphasize at this point is the fact that Leif Erikson was the first European and the first Christian who planted his feet on American soil and, as such, he deserves a conspicuous place in the history of our country.
The language is a bit stuffy, and certainly Eurocentric, but keep in mind it was written over a hundred years ago. The point is, the Columbus narrative so many millions of kids are taught is a myth.
There are plenty of books that support the argument that the Vikings were the first to encounter American Indians (with the Basques being second, described in Mark Kurlansky’s must-read book, “Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World,”) such as Annete Kolodny’s upcoming “In Search of First Contact: The Vikings of Vinland, the Peoples of the Dawnland,” and the Anglo-American Anxiety of Discovery” (which we’ll be reviewing), Charles C. Mann’s “1491” and William F. Fitzhugh and Elisabeth Ward’s “Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga.” These, and many other books, do much work in spreading the overwhelming evidence of a Viking presence in North America, with some scientists putting the Vikings as far south as modern day North Carolina, and as far west as Oklahoma.
Cracked.com states, “After spending a couple decades sneaking ashore to raid Vineland of its ample wood pulp, the Vikings made a go of settling North America in 1005. After landing there with livestock, supplies and between 100 and 300 settlers, they set up the first successful European American colony … for two years. And then the Native Americans kicked their ass out of the country, shooting the head Viking in the heart with an arrow.”
We believe Cracked.com is talking about the story of Leif Erikson’s brother, Thorvald, who sailed with a 30-man crew to Newfoundland and spent the winter at Leif’s camp. In both the aforementioned “The Norse Discovery of America,” and in Robert Wernick’s “The Vikings,” published in 1979, the story of Thorvald’s demise is told.
Thorvald attacked nine Natives of New Foundland, who were sleeping under three skin-covered canoes, managing to kill all but one. The one who got away, however, returned in force. A battle ensued, and Thorvald was killed by an arrow to his heart. He was buried there, which the authors of “The Norse Discovery of America,” claim makes his grave the first Christian grave in the western world. “His grave was marked by two crosses, one at the head and one at the foot. Then the little band of Norsemen, having lost their leader, returned to Greenland,” they write.
The real sly point Cracked.com is making, however, is not just calling out the absurdity of Columbus “discovering” America, but that those first European “settlers” who are often given credit for subduing, overtaking, or any other euphemistic term you want to use for slaughtering Natives, could not possibly have done so against a healthy American Indian force. If the Vikings, who set up a successful colony in Greenland that lasted more than 500-years, who were renown warriors, could not colonize America, how in the world could a bunch of exhausted, untested settlers manage to do it? Well, if you read tomorrow’s “American History Myths Debunked: The Indians Weren’t Defeated by White Settlers”, here at Indian Country Today Media Network, which will go into detail about the Plague, you’ll know exactly how.