Paper Masters and discuss the Spanish colonization of the ..

According to the priests’ plan, the few remaining natives were to be freed and moved into villages to live somewhat as they had before Columbus arrived. The plan might have worked to rescue the Taino from the brink of extinction, but fate had another card to play. European diseases had already killed countless natives, but 1518 saw the first recorded epidemic of smallpox in the New World. That epidemic wiped out most remaining natives and and killed several million people in what became Mexico and greatly contributed to the Spanish victory over the Aztecs.

Mexica" for the last of Mexico's formidable pre-Hispanic ..

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Powers, Karen Vieira. Women in the Crucible of Conquest: The Gendered Genesis of Spanish American Society, 1500–1600. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2005.

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3. The Aboriginal Population of Central Mexico on the Eve of the Spanish Conquest, Ibero-Americana 45 (1963); Essays in Population History: Mexico and the Caribbean (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971), Vol. I.


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My first point involves the estimated Indian population prior to missionization. I am inclined towards a considerable upward revision of the estimate presented by Professor Heizer for the size of the native population in the region between Los Angeles and the current Mexican border. The revision is based on a combination of three types of evidence. The most important are the early historical reports of sizes of Indian villages and accounts of the presence of large groups of natives along the coast and in inland valleys. I also have taken into consideration a heightened appreciation today of the devastating effects on isolated populations of diseases borne by the Spaniards. This is dramatically reflected in the reconstruction of pre-Columbian populations of Central Mexico, Hispaniola, and Columbia by Professors Sherburne Cook and Woodrow Borah of the University of California, Berkeley, a pattern which can be applied to California as well. In addition, I am influenced by recent ecological studies emphasizing the varied food sources of natives in nearby areas, especially of the Luiseños and of the Cahuillas further inland. These studies point to a much denser population than was previously thought possible, based upon a richer food supply than we could suspect viewing the landscape as it is today.

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From these materials I developed estimates of the San Diego population before the arrival of the Spaniards ranging from 15,000 to 19,000. This contrasts with the Cook estimate used by Professor Heizer, of 20,000 persons for a geographic area double that covered by the three missions in my analysis. It is a sharp revision of Cook’s slight increase of the first estimates made by Artheur Kroeber back in 1925. He calculated a total of 8,500 for a region roughly the same as the one I have used. The larger estimate of 15,000-19,000 coincides with findings concerning other parts of California and Mexico which have raised the pre-Hispanic population estimates in those regions.

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When the Spanish eventually invaded Mexico and the Florida region, it was evident that those native cultures were more familiar with warfare than the naked Caribbean people. The mainlanders put up a better fight, but they too were no match for Spanish steel, dogs, horses, and bloodthirstiness. Events in the Caribbean were not really a collision of two cultures, as has been written. One devoured the other.

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I raise this question of the size of the pre-1769 population in order to suggest that the impact of colonization in the San Diego area was even more devastating to the survival of its native peoples than Professor Heizer has indicated. Heizer uses Professor Cook’s demographic calculations for the region extending south from San Fernando Mission in the Los Angeles Basin to San Diego and the border. My own work is concentrated essentially on the area claimed by the missions of San Juan Capistrano, San Luis Rey, and San Diego de Alcalá. My analysis is based on primary evidence in archives, the work of Raymond White, Lowell Bean, and others in revising upward the plausible population levels through a reexamination of the ecological base. This is combined with the suggestions of Henry Dobyn for a “depopulation ratio” reflecting a predictable contrast of known later populations with the earlier ones. Later populations were commonly as low as 5 to 10 percent of their pre-Hispanic numbers.