New Life for the New World

When the European explorers came to the New World they found plant and animal life that was unfamiliar to them. These differences were cited in reports that they sent back to the Old World. Although the discovery of catfish, rattlesnakes, cacti, and maize brought them wonder, they did not embrace the idea of consuming the new discoveries. Instead, due to reluctance or pride, the visitors brought their own plant and animal specimens to the Americas to make their settlements more like home. In time, the failure or success of the new "immigrant" life forms would make strong impressions on the unfolding of the history of the Americas.

The staples of the Spaniard’s diet back home included wheat, wine, and olive oil. The Spaniard was forced to eat what the Indians ate or try his hand at raising the more familiar crops in the new land. These attempts began with the second voyage of Columbus—among his seeds and cuttings he brought wheat, grapes, and sugar cane. These crops did not prosper in all areas of the New World, but with Indian slave labor there were some regions that industries were able to be founded upon these crops. The prejudice against unfamiliar food went two ways. As slaves, the Indians would raise the European crops, but would not generally eat them. They were more accepting of the animal life that was introduced to their land.

Before the arrival of the Spaniards, the Indians’ choice of domesticated animals was limited, and they had no work animals. This problem was soon solved when the Europeans brought pigs, sheep, cattle, and horses to the land. As time progressed, these animals somehow found their way into the wild where they were "fruitful and multiplied"-- to the point that Indians had easy access to them. These animals provided sources of food, clothing, and revenue for the inhabitants of the New World. To the Spaniards, the food source of these animals was important because they were able to enjoy familiar meals and keep up their strength in later conflicts. They also were able raise cattle in numbers enough to create a bonafide ranching industry, an industry that grew to include exportation back to the Old World and increased wealth of the new Americans. One can only imagine the "P.R." that reports of successful cattle ranching and wealth in the Americas was doing to the urge to emigrate back in Europe. More white men were probably on their way. To add to the detriment of the Indians, these ranchers’ cattle would graze freely—even in the Indians gardens, limiting their food source and weakening their chances of defense against the Spaniards even more. These were probably more links in the chain of events that was to spell the eventual demise of the Indians.

But one animal was able to provide them with a resistance for a time. For the Indians, the horse enabled them to pursue game more effectively, to fight enemies more efficiently, and to hold off the increasing advance of whites in their territory for as long as they did.

Although the importation of some of the plant and animal life by the Europeans was sometimes unintentional (stray seeds and ship rats), some of the deliberate transport ing and transplanting aided the Spaniards in their quest for control of the New World and sabotaged the Indians chances for using his native resources. The consequences of the new plants and animals in the Americas were similar to the consequences of the new white people for the Indians.

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