Native Americans were barbaric and Un-sophisticated?

Native Americans were barbaric and Unsophisticated?

Most modern Americans today think Native Americans were barbaric and unsophisticated. The reality is that these people survived for thousands of years as expert farmers, hunters and skilled laborers without a horse or modern machinery to plow acres of land.

If a small “tribe” was to plow say a 10 acre field with oxen, think of the resources the group would need without our modern infrastructure:

-Seed to sow 10 acres that was stored correctly to avoid rot, rodents and insects for a year or two (factoring in drought years). The containment must be sealed and vented to the right moisture content. Grain silos consisting of metal, block or stone must be built. Native Americans used underground containments, and were professionals to this practice but the art is lost to history. What we do know, they used weaved baskets and corn husks and leaves to insulate the containment.

-Grain to feed the tribe as well as to sow a field. The art of processing edible grain for long term storage was an efficient system. The use of clay pots, ground storage and dehydrated meats were all a part the Native American diet. In any season, fresh nutrients were collected: fruits, roots, bark, leaves, fish, game were year around collected. Lost to history is the techniques used to harvest food from a forest. Even in drought years, tribes were able to maintain a diet by foraging for food.

-Without an industrial supply chain of nitrogen and lime, 10 acres will have no nutrients added to the soil. Crop rotation is the only alternative but will lower the yields. Many Native Americans tribes utilized fish for nitrogen and to neutralize soil ph. To farm fish and deliver the nutrients was total manual labor; the crop acreage would be the size of the “manpower” not by the machine or supply chain. Survivor Duty will feature posts how to supply you own lime and nitrogen naturally, (on a small scale).

-Today’s agriculture is a science by genetically engineering hybrid seeds. A survivalist will depend on organic seeds. Attaining these seeds before a crisis is imperative. It is recorded that Native Americans would store several varieties of a single species: A seed for drought, a seed for infestations, a seed for disease and so on. Native Americans were so sophisticated in the art of farming; their downfall was not the environment, but European diseases and advanced weapons used against them. After their land was taken from them, the buffalo butchered, their way of life was lost and they descended into poverty because their means of infrastructure was reconstituted by invasion. The Native Americans who “modernized” to the European way of life was the start of the supply chain network on the North American Continent and the end of the “tribe.” I don’t blame anyone today for the evils of the past. Those who slaved people and stole land have long since passed away. Also, Native Americans fought and killed among themselves for land, young woman and assets: It’s the human condition, war, conquer, pillage.  We still do it today.

-Any livestock, including chickens, horses or oxen, would rely on grain, the success of a good farming year. To own livestock, the crop yields will now have to include feed as well as grain for the community and seed for the next year’s crop, (seed also for year after drought).

– Without an industrial supply chain irrigation will not be an option. In a dry year, any crop will fail. Without parts to maintain pumps and motors and a power source such as an electric grid supporting heavy amp motors, there would be no means of deliver water to the fields. Lost to history is the art of irrigation used by Native Americans. One method was to draw water from a pond or stream in a leather bladder one farmer at a time to irrigate each corn mound individually. An intensive manual labor operation, but will supply life to the community at harvest.  Survivor Duty will feature industrial duty solar powered agricultural pumps that are repairable and powered by industrial ultracapacitors.  Also, we will feature creating pipes and using the slope of the land, gravity, to divert water to crop regions.

-Predators without electric fences or barbwire fences. Today, with modern technology, framing fields are protected by wildlife management and electronic perimeter containments. Outside the grid, wildlife will forage on any vegetation available to them. Without shock fences, the survivalist farm land would simply feed the wildlife. Some recorded accounts, Native American’s elderly, women and children produced clothing, farmed, harvested, dried and cooked while healthy young men hunted and served as the tribe’s military to sacrifice their lives for the protection of the community. Men would trap and hunt wildlife near the fields while young boys sat out in the fields in watch towers to fend off any intruder. A “tribe” was completely inclusive; everyone had a part for the survival of the community. If a member of the group was a “slacker” and did not fulfill his or her duties, the culture had strict punishments including death, if not, the group would not survive. In an international crises, it is imperative for the survivalist to network and form a tribe if he or she is to endure starvation or home invasion. The essence of religion, government and culture was based on this tribal community for thousands of years.

From records and research:

About 300 years ago, the Iroquois Confederacy, a union of five (later six) tribes, lived in the southern Great Lakes area, and evidence for their farm productivity comes, ironically, from armies that sought to destroy them. “The quantity of corn which we found in store in this place, and destroyed by fire is incredible,” wrote the governor of New France in 1687.

The French attacked the Iroquois, who were allied with France’s great enemy, Great Britain.

Slash ‘n burn, or sustainable agriculture?

Then in 1779, a soldier sent by General George Washington reported that his unit had destroyed at least 200 acres of Iroquois corn and beans that was “the best I ever saw.”

“This was not backyard gardening, not primitive farming,” Jane Mt. Pleasant, an associate professor of horticulture at Cornell University says. “They were dynamic, producing farmers on really good soils.”

In modern tests of corn varieties believed to resemble those grown by the Senecas, one of the Iroquois tribes got yields of 2,500 to 3,000 pounds per acre (45 to 54 bushels per acre or 2,800 to 3,400 kilograms per hectare). This was far above the 500 kilograms per hectare of wheat grown in Europe. In experiments replicating agriculture from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, Iroquois corn out-produced of European wheat. One bushel of shelled corn weighs 56 pounds; 1 pound per acre is 1.12 kg/hectare; error bars indicate ranges in the data. Nancy Turner, in the School of Environmental Studies at the University of Victori, calculated that the Iroquois could support roughly three times as many people on an acre as contemporaneous Europeans could with their wheat crops. Part of the advantage, she says, comes from maize’s inherent productivity. But observers have long wondered how this production could have occurred with neither plow nor draft animals, usually deemed the hallmarks of agricultural progress. Plows, however, are now viewed as mixed blessing by many soil scientists. Although they prepare a good seedbed and bury weeds, they expose soil to the air, which encourages oxidation of humus, the organic content that supports essential microorganisms. Maize (called “corn” in the United States) can tolerate a wide range of tropical and temperate climates. Although, after plowing, the humus briefly releases a burst of nitrogen, the depletion of organic matter and increased erosion continue for decades.

And thus on balance, Mt. Pleasant says the lack of the plow was an advantage, because planting with hand tools saves soil organic matter. “If you are not tilling, and start with good soil, you are not going to lose fertility,” Mt. Pleasant says. “The system is stable as long as the crop yields are moderate and there is no plowing.” But without plowing, there was no need for slash and burn. Overall, Mt. Pleasant says, the new data provide a “quite different” perspective on agriculture. “Who were the primitive farmers? This is sustainable agriculture at its highest level.”

Aside from historical curiosity, why worry about how Native Americans grew their crops?

One reason is the growing interest in sustainable agriculture, says Mt. Pleasant. As agriculture faces the challenge of feeding more people without further damaging soil and water, older traditions could contribute.

Looking at other ways to grow and gather food will broaden our perspective, Mt. Pleasant says. “There were a lot of people who were not considered agriculturalists, who were [supposedly] just gathering from the wild. But if you really understand what they were doing, there is not a sharp line between gathering and farming. There is a huge continuum of ways that people manage resources and get more from them.”    David Tenenbaum

 Industrial Farming:

Agriculture in the United States dates back to the food-raising activities of American Indians, and over half of the value of our current crops comes from plants such as corn, cotton, potatoes, and tobacco that were first domesticated by Indians in South and North America. In the early 1600s when the colonists were making their way to America, agricultural methods in England and other parts of the world were still primitive. Fields were dug by oxen pulling wooden plows, seeds were broadcast by hand, and grains were harvested with scythes just as they had been for the previous 2,000 years. From the Indians the first American settlers learned how to clear land, till the fields, and grow the corn that was crucial to their initial survival.

Although Indians taught the colonists to plant fish with their corn, fertilization of other crops was not a common practice. The native fertility of the relatively acid and nutrient-poor eastern soils was rapidly exhausted, and pioneering families commonly abandoned their farms and moved on to homestead the still fertile virgin lands to the west. By 1850 one traveler wrote, “Eastern Virginia appeared to have suffered the ravages of a great war or an attack by another horseman of the Apocalypse. I traveled for 50 miles on horseback and could find nothing but abandoned farms and plantations with buildings in decay and fields overgrown with nettles and brush. Mother Nature is reclaiming that which for 200 years has been giving food and clothing to man.”

Agricultural Revolution

 The mid-1800s began an era of great change in American agriculture, influenced by the British agricultural revolution, which brought advances in cultivation methods, breeding of improved crop varieties, and use of fertilizers and crop rotations to maintain soil productivity. Crop fertilization was introduced to the American colonies in the 1850s when ships were used to import guano, the droppings from seabirds living on islands off the coast of Peru. A vigorous market soon developed for soil amendments such as guano, manure, crushed bone, and lime; and by 1860 seven factories had been established in the United States to manufacture mixed chemical fertilizers.

The use of pesticides also began in the mid 1800s, when it was discovered that dusting of grape plants with sulfur provided a cure for powdery mildew. Soon afterwards, an arsenic-containing compound called Paris green was introduced for control of the Colorado potato beetle, an insect native to the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains, which became a serious agricultural pest because of its appetite for domestic potatoes grown by pioneers. Chemical control of agricultural pests expanded rapidly after these initial discoveries, and by 1893 there were 42 patented insecticides offered by several manufacturers.

The benefits of irrigation were discovered in the 1840s, when Mormons in Utah softened their crusty soils by damming a creek, and prospectors in California discovered that water diverted to gold mining sluices produced lush plant growth in the desert. Congress passed several laws in the next few decades to assist western states in developing extensive and costly irrigation systems. Farm labor requirements diminished with the introduction of mechanization. Invention of machines for tilling, planting, reaping, and threshing vastly increased farm efficiency in the mid 1800s. The internal combustion engine was invented in Europe in the late 1800s, and in 1892 the first successful gasoline-powered tractor was introduced in Iowa. By the early 1900s tractors that were small enough and cheap enough to interest the average farmer and could do the work of 17 men and 50 horses were being produced. Tractors gradually became popular, although it was not until 1953 that there were more tractors than horses on U.S. farms.

Intensification of Agriculture

Productivity of U.S. agriculture increased gradually until World War II when the additional demands for food led to rapid changes in farming methods. The war economy stimulated the conversion from animal to mechanical power, resulting in increased output per worker. Use of fertilizer increased by 50 percent between 1940 and 1944, resulting in greater crop returns. The discovery of DDT and other synthetic organic pesticides vastly increased pest control capabilities and made it possible to increase efficiency through practices such as continuous cropping and devoting large acreages to a single crop. The result of all these changes has been that agriculture has become more intensive, producing higher yields per acre by relying on greater chemicals use and technological inputs. It also has become more expensive, relying on purchase of machinery and chemicals to replace the heavy labor requirements of the past. To remain competitive, farmers have been forced to become more efficient, farming ever larger acreages with bigger equipment and more fertilizers and pesticides. Small farms growing a wide variety of crops have in large part been replaced by much larger farms consisting of extensive fields of a single crop.

Contamination of Water

In the Northeast water supplies are generally plentiful, but are increasingly becoming threatened by contamination. Farming is one potential source of such contamination. Surface runoff carries manure, fertilizers, and pesticides into streams, lakes, and reservoirs, in some cases causing unacceptable levels of bacteria, nutrients, or synthetic organic compounds. Similarly, water percolating downward through farm fields carries with it dissolved chemicals, which can include nitrate fertilizers and soluble pesticides. In sufficient quantities these can contaminate groundwater supplies.

The three major nutrients in fertilizers are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Of these, nitrogen is the most readily lost because of its high solubility in the nitrate form. Leaching of nitrate from agricultural fields can elevate concentrations in underlying groundwater to levels unacceptable for drinking water quality.


Modern Agriculture: Its Effects on the Environment by Nancy M. Trautmann and Keith S. Porter

Center for Environmental Research and Robert J. Wagenet Dept. of Agronomy Cornell University

Nitrogen (N)

Nitrogen is an essential element for plant growth and development; however, due to environmental pollution, high nitrate concentrations accumulate in the edible parts of these leafy vegetables, particularly if excessive nitrogen fertilizer has been applied. Consuming these crops can harm human health; thus, developing a suitable strategy for the agricultural application of nitrogen fertilizer is important. Organic, inorganic, and liquid fertilizers were utilized to investigate their effect on nitrate concentrations and lettuce growth.

International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2014 Apr; 11(4): 4427–4440.

Published online 2014 Apr 22.

In Conclusion:

It was the Native Americans who first to domesticate corn, cotton, potatoes, and tobacco: The staple crops of the world today.  For thousands of years, without tilling or the use of chemicals, these Americans were proficient and successful farmers. The tribes, in close knit communities, survived the worst environmental disasters by simply by working with nature. Today’s supply chain networks of industrial profit and gains, (the “global tribe”), now must feed billions of people by artificial chemicals and advanced machinery. A man made or natural disaster is waiting in the wings, when this massive supply chain breaks down. The world industrial network will not have the capacity to feed billions for quite some time. It will be the “primitive” farmer that will save many lives, the ones who possess the knowledge of our forefathers, the original Americans, the most successful tribes on the North American Continent for thousands of years. Columbus did not discover a “new world” he only discovered that there was another continent that was inhabited by hundreds of thousands the same brethren for millenniums. Two worlds who “discovered” each other.

It is “modern” of us to think the past is irrelevant when machines now do the  work for us. This will be our own demise by lacking basic life skills that we now think is “primitive.”

References: “Indian New England Before The Mayflower” by Howard S. Russell

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