The Four Directions of Native American History


THE FOUR DIRECTIONS by Julie LaMay, Ph.D. and Larry T. B. Sunderland
Direction Episode Removed from Ancestral Lands Depopulation Number
Yellow the East: The Beaver Wars 1640-1680 200,000 100,000
Red the South: The Removal Act of 1830 200,000 10,000
White the North: The 50 Smallpox Epidemics 200,000
Black the West: The California Genocide   140,000
Totals   400,000 450,000
     Heretofore, Native American history has been told by anecdote, with even the most ambitious Native American History classes, documentaries, and books reflecting less than half of the total picture.  As a result, students are left with an incomplete picture and simply do not understand what happened.  By teaching the Four Directions of Native American History, most of the history can be told in a one hour lecture or in a few book chapters.
     We would be the last to consider the Wounded Knee or Sand Creek Massacres as anecdotal, or the Pueblo Conquest, or the aggression of De Soto for that matter in and of themselves, but when compared to the four above protracted episodes, they do not tell the story.  When one considers that the post-contact United States Indian population was just over 900,000, and by 1880 the population had decreased to about 300,000, a population decrease of 600,000, the effect of the Four Directions reflected 75% of the depopulation.  When considering removal, the Four Directions concept reflected about 90% of the removal from ancestral territories.
     In discussing Native American aboriginal populations, Larry Sunderland(1) wrote:
     There is no issue more hotly disputed than that on the aboriginal populations of Native Americans. Estimates for the United States range from less than a million to more than 14.5 million. One, however, cannot compare the various estimates without looking beyond the final numbers. In each case, the seemingly more conservative numbers are based on populations at the time of contact for the respective ethnies, whereas the higher numbers for the year 1492 include a provision for post-Columbian/pre-contact disease.
Aboriginal Estimates for Conterminous United States (In thousands)
Demograopher Year Contact 1492
Mooney 1910 846
Mooney 1928 849
Kroeber 1939 728
Driver 1969 2,500
Thornton/Marsh-Thornton 1981 1,845
Dobyns 1983 14,579
Thornton 1987 5,000
Sunderland 2001 904
     Historically, smallpox, by far the most deadly disease introduced into the New World by the Europeans, has a mortality rate of about 30%. Other deadly diseases included diphtheria, influenza, measles, pneumonia, scarlet fever, and others combined probably contributed to less than 10% of the contribution of smallpox.
     Driver, Thornton/Marsh-Thornton, and Dobyns, archeological demographers, theorized that diseases introduced in 1492 by Columbus, or surely by 1520 by Cortez, spread across the Americas before most of the native population ever had contact with the Europeans. However, Ramenofsky (1987) asserts about Dobyns projection of 95% decline:
Dobyn’s position on disease and Native American depopulation contrasts strongly to that of Kroeber. Yet it is difficult to accept his estimates of pre-contact aboriginal populations because of his biases and methods of reconstruction that derive from incomplete data.
     No demographer doubts that depopulation as a result of post-Columbian/pre-contact disease was significant. Even Kroeber, by far the most conservative of demographers, states on the subject:
After some hesitation I have omitted ... accounts of the relations of the natives with the Whites and events befalling them after such contact was established. It is not that this subject is unimportant, or uninteresting, but that I am not in a position to treat it adequately.
     Indeed, several early explorers who were the first to contact ethnies observed the scars of past smallpox among the Native Americans. But knowing that the phenomenon existed and quantifying it are two different issues. The NAHDB (Native American Historical Data Base constructed by Larry Sunderland) reflects historical depopulation in the United States due to disease, primarily smallpox, at about 200 thousand, albeit this estimate is based on unstable statistics. It also reflects the nature of the epidemics as often affecting large geographical areas of averaging 140 thousand square miles per epidemic on the mobile Great Plains to an average of 14 thousand square miles per epidemic in regions of sedentary cultures. But most of the 45 or so outbreaks affected small areas and only a few ethnies at a time during historical times until 1900. In no case did a single epidemic sweep the continent. These are numbers in no way support Dobyns estimates of 20:1.
     None of the archeological demographers seem to dispute Mooney’s estimates for the conterminous United States but do dispute Kroeber’s estimates for California, his area of expertise. Indeed they use, for the most part, Mooney’s numbers as a basis for their estimates. Kroeber’s estimates are disputable for California and Cook, Baumhoff, Bean, and Smith have done so, refining Kroeber’s estimate to a combined 149 thousand reflected herein for the contact population. Once again, 1492 California populations estimated by Cook at 300 thousand and even Dobyns at 336 thousand are not necessarily unreasonable though an estimate of 750,000 by Powers (1976) seems to be quite high.
     So in the final analysis there is really relatively insignificant dispute once the apples are put in the barrel with the apples and the oranges are put in the barrel with the oranges, except for Dobyns 1492 estimates which are clearly off base. Indeed Kroeber was not too far off for California except in the far northern part of the state. And since the post-Columbia/pre-contact disease is a broad statistic based on unstable data, it cannot reasonable be applied to a single ethnie. It is necessarily a broad generalization.
     So we will discuss each of the Four Directions episodes on their individual pages which, for the moment are under construction.
(1)  Sunderland, Larry T. B., The Native American Handbook, Four Directions P, 2001, Pgs 2-3.