Steven Newcomb: Spanish explorers were cruel to Indian people

Steven Newcomb. Photo from Finding the Missing Link

Just how cruel were Spanish explorers to the indigenous people of the Americas? Steven Newcomb (Shawnee / Lenape) of the Indigenous Law Institute doesn't think professor Iris Engstrand is telling the full story:
The Spanish Conquest in America: And Its Relation to the History of Slavery and the Government of the Colonies (AMS Press, 1966), by Sir Arthur Helps, first published in the 1850s, uses original source materials with concrete examples which illustrate Spanish cruelty. Take, for example, Helps’ account of how, in 1516, “Certain Spaniards saw an Indian woman holding a crying baby in her arms; because the dog they had with them was hungry, they took the living child from the mother’s arms and threw it to the dog” (p. 180).

This story could be recounted in response to the question “How Cruel Were the Spaniards?” and the story could be ended by saying that the Spaniards were so cruel that the incident resulted in the dog tearing the baby “to pieces in the presence of the mother” (p. 180). Yet, rather than provide readers with an account of such acts, the article seems to imply that the Spaniards were not all that bad when compared with other groups of humans.

Demonstrating the art of deflection Engstrand downplays negative Spanish behavior and lists negative behaviors that Spaniards attributed to Indians. This seems intended to give readers the impression that the Indiand were cruel too, and Spanish behavior was ordinary for that time. With regard to the Spaniards flogging Indians, for example, Engstrand writes, “Sailors, petty criminals, and even schoolboys were routinely flogged or subjected to treatment considered cruel by today’s standards.” This suggests that flogging Indians was simply routine behavior.

Get the Story:
Steven Newcomb: A Critique of Iris Engstrand’s Article, ‘How Cruel Were the Spaniards?’ (Indian Country Today 4/7

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