What if: Total absence of Native Americans?

Suppose Columbus had landed where he landed, and found a land totally devoid of humans, from the Bering Strait all the way to Tierra del Fuego. How would the history of this hemisphere have proceeded differently?

There would have been less genocide by the Spanish, Portuguese, French, British, and Americans, for starters…

Possibly there would have been surviving megafauna - mammoths, giant sloths, and such. These would no doubt have been quickly hunted to near-extinction.

Much faster expansion throughout North America, I reckon.

Wouldn’t even have to muster up the $24 for Manhattan.

Somebody eventually would still roll up a tobbacco leaf, stick it in his nose and light it.

The Plymouth Colony doesn’t make it through the winter.

I would not be alive. I’m part indian.

Maybe you’d be part Siberian instead.

I love what if history. First thing I can think of is that we would never have the grain we know as corn. It was a simple grass, and through a crossbreeding process we don’t yet know the details of, Native Americans created corn with big ears full of seed.

Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald would have different lyrics, or fewer lines.

Thousands of kids woulda played “Cowboys and Other Cowboys”, I guess.

The Florida St. Seminoles, Washington Redskins, Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Chiefs and various other sports teams would have different names.

And tragically, the epic Johnny Valentine vs Wahoo McDaniel pro wrestling feud would not have happened.

Given that Europeans hadn’t had any particular success in developing plant varieties, and the short period since the discovery of the New World then corn, potatos, cotton, cocoa and tobacco would possibly be on some “endangered indigenous plants” conservation list.

Mexico City would never have been founded. There is no reason for the Spanish to put a large settlement there. The Spanish conquest might take longer since a lot of there efforts were the finding of gold. No Aztecs, No Aztec Gold. No rumors of a Fountain of Youth to spur exporation.

No Mayans means no Mayan calendar so the film 2012 is never made. A big win here.

Imagine a world without chocolate. I shudder to think of such a place.

How would geography be different, e.g. would the U.S.'s border extend down to, say, Panama? I’m wondering how “Manifest Destiny” would have worked going southward.

That’s an understatement. Forget Columbus- it’s pretty clear that the Norse were driven out of Newfoundland by the locals. Had there not been locals, I think there’s a good chance that the settlement of America by Europeans would have been underway well before 1100 A.D.

Without riches to conquer and domesticated plants to use, continental areas would have been conquered much slower. The Spanish part would be much smaller because they were not really emigrating that much people.

In cotrast, the Caribbean plantations were early on an important part of European economy with an old world plant - sugar. So history of slavery, pirates and sea conflict looks the same.

Except probably starting sooner. Cheap labor would still have been necessary for development, and indentured servitude would probably still have been insufficient to meet the demand.

Francis Jennings has made the argument that the Indians actually helped the Europeans settle the Americas – although that wasn’t their intent. His claim was that they had “tamed” the land – planted fields, cleared forests, made paths. The American continent wasn’t an “unsettled wilderness” when the Europeans came, although that’s how they perceived it, but they were essentially moving in to land that had already been developed and worked.

I’m not sure how far I buy that, but it’s worth considering. As others have pointed out, the Pilgrims wouldn’t have survived their first winter (they moved into a definitely improved area where the locals had been wiped out by European disease, and survived the first winter on food the Indians had stored). Likewise, the colonists in Virginia were shown things by the Indians. IIRC, they actually survived by digging up and eating corpses – very tough times.

In any event, without Indians there would be no corn – corn as we know it has been described as a “biological monstrosity”, with far too many kernels that would overcompete with each other. Corn’s ancestor had only a handful of kernels, and wasn’t the bounteous crop that supported entire villages – it took a lot of breeding to produce modeern corn. I have to wonder how long it would’ve taken for Europeans to stumble onto tobacco and its use without the example of the Indians – nothing like the practice of smoking existed in the old world, and who woudld’ve thought (as the old Bob Newhart routine had it) of throwing burning leaves in their mouths? Tobvacco was the first big cash crop of Virginia, and it was their salvation and major export. History would’ve been very different without that. The Indians also cultivated beans and squash, which the colonists took to. I don’t know how significant their absence would have been – the colonists brought over their own crops, of course, but there certainly would have been a difference.

Without the indians, there would not have been the profitable trade in beaver pelts that drove exploitation in the north. Instead of paying the locals for furs they trapped and brought in, they would have had to wait until Europeans had come over in sufficient numbers and learned the skills to do it themselcves.

Without the Indians, in fact, Columbus wouldn’t have learned so rapidly about Gold in the Americas, and there would be that much less impetus for a push to colonize – he eventually forced the Indians to bring the gold to him.

So without Indians, you wouldn’t have corn or, arguably, many other useful plants (Chocolate was mentioned above – I don’t know if it acquired its useful qualities through humamn breeding. But certainly the Indians had worked out the complex procedure of processing cacao to make the original chocolate), including tobacco, corn, beans, squash, and latex (which the indians used). You wouldn’t have the ready source of gold and animal pelts, and you wouldn’t have thje Indian Slave market. All of this would make the New World seem a lot less valuable.

The Indians alsoi provided “buffers” between different regions of European colonizing. It wouldn’t have stopped things, but history would have been far different without the Indians to prevent the French and British from going directly at each other.

This is what I came in to say. The Vikings were so obsessed with free land that they settled Greenland. Had they encountered no natives in the New World they’d have been quite determined.

Absent the Norse, I think that a lack of natives would generally have slowed expansion, for the reasons that CalMeacham gives, in Latin American - the Spanish made better(?) use of their native populations and didn’t immigrate nearly as much as the British. I’m not sure about the effect in North America because the tradeoff between “no hostile natives” and “no native help” looks a little different when 1.) the mortality rate among immigrants is so high anyway that your colonies aren’t actually self sustaining for quite some time 2.) the flood of immigrants is basically endless.

What about the potato? Would this have been adopted by Europeans if they hadn’t first observed Native Americans eating it? The potato had a large impact on European history as a source of cheap nutrition and may have contributed significantly to the Industrial Revolution. South American gold also had a large impact on European economies and the balance of power. Without the lure of gold as mentioned, the Americas would have been explored and populated much less quickly. In general I suspect the course of European history would have proceeded more slowly, perhaps much more slowly especially if development of the United States was slowed down.