Population history of Indigenous peoples of the Americas

Population figures for the Indigenous peoples of the Americas prior to colonization have been difficult to establish. By the end of the 20th century, most scholars gravitated toward an estimate of around 50 million—with some historians arguing for an estimate of 100 million or more.[1][2]

Contemporary illustration of the 1868 Washita Massacre by the 7th Cavalry against Black Kettle's band of Cheyennes, during the American Indian Wars. Violence and conflict with colonists were also important causes of the decline of certain Indigenous American populations since the 16th century.

In an effort to circumvent the hold which the Ottoman Empire held on the overland trade routes to East Asia and the hold that the Aeterni regis granted to Portugal on maritime routes via the African coast and the Indian Ocean, the monarchs of the nascent Spanish Empire decided to fund Columbus' voyage in 1492, which eventually led to the establishment of settler-colonial states and the migration of millions of Europeans to the Americas. The population of African and European peoples in the Americas grew steadily, starting in 1492, and at the same time, the Indigenous population began to plummet. Eurasian diseases such as influenza, pneumonic plagues, and smallpox, in combination with conflict, forced removal, enslavement, imprisonment, and outright warfare with European newcomers reduced populations and disrupted traditional societies.[3][4] The causes of the decline and the extent of it have been characterized as a genocide by some scholars.[5][6][7]

Population overview

Natives of North America.
Natives of South America.

Pre-Columbian population figures are difficult to estimate due to the fragmentary nature of the evidence. Estimates range from 8–112 million.[8] Scholars have varied widely on the estimated size of the Indigenous populations prior to colonization and on the effects of European contact.[9] Estimates are made by extrapolations from small bits of data. In 1976, geographer William Denevan used the existing estimates to derive a "consensus count" of about 54 million people. Nonetheless, more recent estimates still range widely.[10] In 1992, Denevan suggested that the total population was approximately 53.9 million and the populations by region were, approximately, 3.8 million for the United States and Canada, 17.2 million for Mexico, 5.6 million for Central America, 3 million for the Caribbean, 15.7 million for the Andes and 8.6 million for lowland South America.[11] A 2020 genetic study suggests that prior estimates for the pre-Columbian Caribbean population may have been at least tenfold too large.[12] Historian David Stannard estimates that the extermination of Indigenous peoples took the lives of 100 million people: "...the total extermination of many American Indian peoples and the near-extermination of others, in numbers that eventually totaled close to 100,000,000."[13] A 2019 study estimates the pre-Columbian population Indigenous population contained more than 60 million people, but dropped to 6 million by 1600, based on a drop in atmospheric CO2 during that period.[14][15] Other studies have disputed this conclusion.[16][17]

The Indigenous population of the Americas in 1492 was not necessarily at a high point and may actually have already been in decline in some areas. Indigenous populations in most areas of the Americas reached a low point by the early 20th century.[18]

Using an estimate of approximately 37 million people in Mexico, Central and South America in 1492 (including 6 million in the Aztec Empire, 5–10 million in the Mayan States, 11 million in what is now Brazil, and 12 million in the Inca Empire), the lowest estimates give a death toll due to disease of 80% by the end of the 17th century (nine million people in 1650).[19] Latin America would match its 15th-century population early in the 19th century; it numbered 17 million in 1800, 30 million in 1850, 61 million in 1900, 105 million in 1930, 218 million in 1960, 361 million in 1980, and 563 million in 2005.[19] In the last three decades of the 16th century, the population of present-day Mexico dropped to about one million people.[19] The Maya population is today estimated at six million, which is about the same as at the end of the 15th century, according to some estimates.[19] In what is now Brazil, the Indigenous population declined from a pre-Columbian high of an estimated four million to some 300,000. Over 60 million Brazilians possess at least one Native South American ancestor, according to a DNA study.[20]

While it is difficult to determine exactly how many Natives lived in North America before Columbus,[21] estimates range from 3.8 million, as mentioned above, to 7 million[22] people to a high of 18 million.[23] Scholars vary on the estimated size of the Indigenous population in what is now Canada prior to colonization and on the effects of European contact.[24] During the late 15th century is estimated to have been between 200,000[25] and two million,[26] with a figure of 500,000 currently accepted by Canada's Royal Commission on Aboriginal Health.[27] Although not without conflict, European Canadians' early interactions with First Nations and Inuit populations were relatively peaceful.[28] However repeated outbreaks of European infectious diseases such as influenza, measles and smallpox (to which they had no natural immunity),[29] combined with other effects of European contact, resulted in a twenty-five percent to eighty percent Indigenous population decrease post-contact.[25] Roland G Robertson suggests that during the late 1630s, smallpox killed over half of the Wyandot (Huron), who controlled most of the early North American fur trade in the area of New France.[30] In 1871 there was an enumeration of the Indigenous population within the limits of Canada at the time, showing a total of only 102,358 individuals.[31] From 2006 to 2016, the Indigenous population has grown by 42.5 percent, four times the national rate.[32] According to the 2011 Canadian Census, Indigenous peoples (First Nations – 851,560, Inuit – 59,445 and Métis – 451,795) numbered at 1,400,685, or 4.3% of the country's total population.[33]

The population debate has often had ideological underpinnings.[34] Low estimates were sometimes reflective of European notions of cultural and racial superiority. Historian Francis Jennings argued, "Scholarly wisdom long held that Indians were so inferior in mind and works that they could not possibly have created or sustained large populations."[35] In 1998, Africanist Historian David Henige said many population estimates are the result of arbitrary formulas applied from unreliable sources.[36]


Comparative table of estimates of the pre-Columbian population
Author Date USA and Canada Mexico Mesoamerica Caribbean Andes Patagonia and
Sapper[37] 1924 2 million-3 million 12 million-15 million 5 million-6 million 3 million-4 million 12 million-15 million 3 million-5 million 37 million-48.5 million
Kroeber[38] 1939 0.9 million 3.2 million 0.1 million 0.2 million 3 million 1 million 8.4 million
Steward[39] 1949 1 million 4.5 million 0.74 million 0.22 million 6.13 million 2.9 million 15.49 million
Rosenblat[40] 1954 1 million 4.5 million 0.8 million 0.3 million 4.75 million 2.03 million 13.38 million
Dobyns[41] 1966 9.8-12.25 million 30-37.5 million 10.8-13.5 million 0.44-0.55 million 30-37.5 million 9-11.25 million 90.04-112.55 million
Ubelaker[42] 1988 1.213-2.639 million - - - - - -
Denevan[43] 1992 3.79 million 17.174 million 0.5625 million 3 million 15.696 million 8.619 million 53.904 million
Snow[44] 2001 3.44 million - - - - - -
Alchon[45] 2003 3.5 million 16 million-18 million 5 million-6 million 2 million-3 million 13 million-15 million 7 million-8 million 46.5 million-53.5 million
Thornton[46] 2005 7 million - - - - - -

Estimations by tribe

Population size for Native American tribes is difficult to state definitively, but at least one writer has made estimates, often based on an assumed proportion of the number of warriors to total population for the tribe.[47] Typical proportions were 5 people per one warrior and at least 1 up to 5 warriors (therefore at least 5-25 people) per lodge, cabin or house.

Highest available estimates: probable population peaks[47]
Rank Cultural Area Region Tribe or nation Highest pop. estimate Year Towns/
Lodges/cabins/houses/tents/tipis etc. Sources of estimates
1 Great Plains Louisiana Purchase Sioux [Note 1][48][49] 150,000 - 50,000 (1841) 1762 40+ 5,000+ lodges (in 1846) Lt. James Gorrell and A. Ramsey
2 SE Woodlands Trans-Appalachian Choctaw [Note 2][50] 125,000 1718 70+ Le Page du Pratz
3 NE Woodlands Old Northwest Illinois [Note 3][51] 100,000 1658 60 Jean de Quen
4a Great Basin Mexican Cession Shoshone 60,000 1822 (number without 20,000 East Shoshone) Jeddediah Morse
4b Great Plains Louisiana Purchase Eastern Shoshone 20,000 1822 Jeddediah Morse
5 Southwest Mexican Cession Pueblo Tigua 78,100+ 1626 20 7,000 houses only in two largest pueblos Alonso de Benavides[52]
6 Great Plains Louisiana Purchase Blackfoot [Note 4][53] 75,000 - 60,000 (1841) 1836 (60,000 in 1841 & approx. 75,000 in 1836) George Catlin
7 NE Woodlands Middle Colonies Iroquois [Note 5][54] 70,000 1690 226 (nearly 60 towns destroyed in 1779–80) A. L. Lahontan and J. R. Swanton
8 Southwest Mexican Cession Apache 60,000 1700 José de Urrutia
9 SE Woodlands Southern Colonies Creek (Muscogee) 50,000 1794 100 (at least 100 towns in 1789 per Henry Knox) R. Brooke Roberts & Henry Knox
10 Southwest Mexican Cession Pueblo Hopi [Note 6][55] 50,000 1584 7 Antonio de Espejo
11 NE Woodlands Trans-Appalachian Shawnee 50,000 - 15,000 (1702) 1540 38+ (at first contact est. 50,000 & 15,000 in 1702) M. A. Jaimes[56] & Pierre d'Iberville
12 Great Plains Louisiana Purchase Crows (Absaroka) 45,000 1834 Samuel Gardner Drake[57][58]
13 NE Woodlands Canada Ontario Hurons [Note 7][59] 40,000 1632 32 Gabriel Sagard and J. Lalemant
14 Great Plains Texas Annexation Comanche 40,000 1832 George Catlin
15 Southwest Mexican Cession Pueblo Tano/Maguas 40,000 1584 11 Antonio de Espejo
16 NE Woodlands Old Northwest Miami [Note 8][60] 40,000 1657 20+ (one of their towns had 400 families in 1751) Gabriel Druillettes
17 NE Woodlands Louisiana Purchase Ioways 40,000 1762 16+ (at least 16 towns in the early 19th century) Lt. James Gorrell
18 Great Plains Louisiana Purchase Piegan 40,000 1700s 8,000 lodges George Bird Grinnell
19 Great Plains Louisiana Purchase Pawnee [Note 9][61] 38,000 1719 38 5,000 - 6,000 cabins/lodges & 7,600 warriors Claude Du Tisne and L. Krzywicki
20 NE Woodlands Old Northwest Chippewa (Ojibwe) 36,000 1860 (30,000 Chippewa & 6,000 Ojibwe in 1860) Emmanuel Domenech[62]
21 Great Plains Louisiana Purchase Assiniboine 35,000 1823 30+ 3,000 lodges (in 1823) W. H. Keating and G. C. Beltrami
22 SE Woodlands Florida Purchase Apalachee 34,000 1635 11+ J. R. Swanton
23 Southwest Mexican Cession Navajo 30,000 1626 Alonso de Benavides
24 SE Woodlands Trans-Appalachian Cherokee [Note 10][63] 30,000 1730-1735 65+ J. Adair
25 SE Woodlands Southern Colonies Tuscarora [Note 11][64] 30,000 1600 24 D. Cusick
26 NE Woodlands New England Narragansett 30,000 1642 8+ S. G. Drake and J. R. Swanton
27 NE Woodlands New England Mohicans 30,000 1600 16+ J. A. Maurault and J. R. Swanton
28 NE Woodlands New England Massachusett 30,000 1600 J. A. Maurault
29 Southwest Mexican Cession Pueblo Jemez [Note 12][65] 30,000 1584 11 Antonio de Espejo
30 SE Woodlands Florida Purchase Timucua 30,000 1635 141 44 missions in 1635: 30,000 Christian Indians J. R. Swanton
31 Northwest Coast Canada B.C. Clayoquot 30,000 1780s (30,000 under the rule of chief Wickaninnish) Ho. Doc. 1839-1840 and Meares
32a Subarctic & Arctic Canada Sask. Woods Cree in Sask. 5,600 1670 James Mooney
32b Subarctic & Arctic Canada Manitoba Cree living in Manitoba 4,250 1670 James Mooney
32c Subarctic & Arctic Canada Alberta Woodland Cree in Alberta 3,050 1670 James Mooney
32d Subarctic & Arctic Canada Ontario Swampy Cree in Ontario 2,100 1670 James Mooney
32e Subarctic & Arctic Canada Ontario Moose Cree in Ontario 5,000 1600 James Mooney
32f Great Plains Canada Plains Cree (Alb., Sask.) 7,000 1853 David G. Mandelbaum
33a Great Basin Mexican Cession Ute living in Utah 13,050 1867 Indian Affairs 1867
33b Great Basin Mexican Cession Ute living in Colorado 7,000 1866 Indian Affairs 1866
33c Great Basin Mexican Cession Ute living in New Mexico 6,000 1846 H. H. Davis
34 Northwest Coast Oregon Country Chinook 22,000 1780 1,000 lodges just among the Lower Chinook James Mooney and Duflot de Mofras
35 NE Woodlands Old Northwest Foxes & Mascouten 20,000+ 1679 Claude Dablon
36 SE Woodlands Trans-Appalachian Chickasaw 20,000 1687 27+ Louis Hennepin
37 NE Woodlands Canada Ontario Neutrals [Note 13][66] 20,000 1616 40 Samuel de Champlain
38 Southwest Mexican Cession Pueblo Zuni 20,000 1584 Antonio de Espejo
39 Southwest Mexican Cession Pueblo Tewa/Ubates 20,000 1584 5 Antonio de Espejo
40 NE Woodlands New England Pequots [Note 14][67] 20,000 1600s 21 Daniel Gookin and J. R. Swanton
41 Great Plains Louisiana Purchase Skidi 20,000+ 1700s 22 4,400 cabins (on average 200 per town) George Bird Grinnell
42 SE Woodlands Louisiana Purchase Natchez 20,000 1715 60 Pierre Charlevoix
43 NE Woodlands Middle Colonies Lenape (exonym Delaware) 18,400 1635-1648 118 (3,680 warriors in 27 divisions or "kingdoms") R. Evelin, Th. Donaldson & Swanton
44 Great Plains Louisiana Purchase Mandan 17,500 - 15,000 (1836) 1738 17 1,000+ lodges and 3,500 warriors W. Sanstead[68] & Indian Affairs 1836
45 Great Plains Louisiana Purchase Atsina 16,800 1837 (smallpox killed about 1/2 in 1838) Indian Affairs 1837
46 SE Woodlands Southern Colonies Powhatan 16,600 1616 161 (3,320 warriors in 1616) William Strachey and John Smith
47 NE Woodlands Middle Colonies Nanticoke confederacy 16,500 1600 16+ (1,100 warriors in 4 tribes, in total 12 tribes) John Smith and J. R. Swanton
48 Great Plains Louisiana Purchase Arikaras 16,000 1700s 48 Kinglsey M. Bray[69]
49 Northwest Coast Canada B.C. Vancouver Island Salish 15,500 1780 (Coast Salish on Vancouver Island) Herbert C. Taylor
50 Great Plains Louisiana Purchase Arapaho 15,250 1812 M. R. Stuart
51 Great Plains Louisiana Purchase Wichita 15,000+ 1772 (3,000+ warriors) Juan de Ripperda
52 Southwest Mexican Cession Pueblo Keres [Note 15][70] 15,000 1584 7 Antonio de Espejo
53 NE Woodlands Canada Acadia Abenaki 15,000 1600 31 J. A. Maurault and J. R. Swanton
54 NE Woodlands New England Pennacook 15,000 1674 Daniel Gookin
55 NE Woodlands New England Wampanoag 15,000 1600s 46 Daniel Gookin and J. R. Swanton
56 NE Woodlands Louisiana Purchase Missouria [Note 16][71] 15,000 1764 H. Bouquet and J. Buchanan
57 NE Woodlands Louisiana Purchase Osage 15,000 1702 17 1,500 families Pierre d'Iberville
58 Great Plains Louisiana Purchase Hidatsa 15,000 1835 William M. Denevan[72]
59 NE Woodlands Old Northwest Ottawa 15,000 - 13,150 (1825) 1777 (3,000 warriors in 1777) L. Houck and J. C. Colhoun
60 Southwest Texas Annexation Coahuiltecan Tribes 15,000 1690 James Mooney
61 NE Woodlands Old Northwest Mishinimaki 15,000 1600s 30 Claude Dablon
62 NE Woodlands Old Northwest Erie 14,500 1653 J. N. B. Hewitt
63 Northwest Coast Canada B.C. Kwakiutl 14,500 1780 Herbert C. Taylor
64 Northwest Coast Canada B.C. Nootka 14,000 1780 Herbert C. Taylor
65 NE Woodlands New England Wappinger 13,500 1600 68 E. J. Boesch and J. R. Swanton
66 NE Woodlands Canada Ontario Mississaugas 12,000+ 1744 3+ (2,400 warriors in 3 large towns) Arthur Dobbs
67 Northwest Coast Canada B.C. Coast Salish (except VI) 12,000 1835 (Coast Salish except Vancouver Island) Wilson Duff
68 Northwest Coast Oregon Country Puget Sound Salish 10,300 1780 Herbert C. Taylor
69 SE Woodlands Southern Colonies Catawba 10,000 1700 R. Mills and H. Lewis Scaife[73]
70 Southwest Mexican Cession Pima 10,000 1850 S. Mowry
71 Great Plains Louisiana Purchase Cheyenne 10,000 1856 1,000 lodges and 2,000 warriors Thomas S. Twiss
72 Northwest Coast Canada B.C. Chilkat 10,000 1869 F. K. Louthan
73 Southwest Mexican Cession Pueblo Tompiro 10,000 1626 15 Alonso de Benavides
74 NE Woodlands Old Northwest Menominee 10,000 1778 (2,000 warriors) H. R. Schoolcraft
75 Southwest Mexican Cession Mohave 10,000 1869 William Abraham Bell
76 Southwest Texas Annexation Jumanos 10,000 1584 5+ 5 large pueblos Antonio de Espejo
77 SE Woodlands Florida Purchase Seminole 10,000 1836 37 (other figures: 4,883 in 1821 / 6,385 in 1822) N. G. Taylor and Capt. Hugh Young
78 SE Woodlands Florida Purchase Calusa 10,000 1570 56 Lopez de Velasco & J. R. Swanton
79 Great Plains Texas Annexation Kichai, Waco, Tawakoni 10,000 1719 (2,000 warriors) Benard de La Harpe
80 Northwest Plateau Oregon Country Flathead Salish 9,000 1821 (1,800 warriors) M. R. Stuart
81 Great Basin Oregon Country Bannock and Diggers 9,000 1848 1,200 lodges of southern Bannock (in 1829) Joseph L. Meek and Jim Bridger
82 SE Woodlands Louisiana Purchase Caddo 8,500 1690 James Mooney
83 Northwest Coast Canada B.C. Haida (except Kaigani) 8,400 1787 42 C. F. Newcombe
84 Great Basin Mexican Cession Paiute 8,200 1859 John Weiss Forney
85 Great Plains Louisiana Purchase Kansa 8,000 1764 (1,600 warriors) Henry Bouquet
86 Northwest Plateau Oregon Country Nez Perce 8,000 1806 Isaac Ingalls Stevens
87 NE Woodlands Canada Ontario Tionontati (Petun) 8,000 1600 9 9 towns, 600 families in the main town James Mooney & Jes. Rel. XXXV
88 Subarctic & Arctic Canada Chipewyan 7,500 1812 Samuel Gardner Drake
89 Northwest Plateau Canada B.C. Shuswap 7,200 1850 James Teit and A. C. Anderson
90 Great Plains Louisiana Purchase Omaha-Ponca 7,200 1702 Pierre d'Iberville
91 SE Woodlands Southern Colonies Yamasee 7,000 1702 10 (1,400 warriors) Guillaume Delisle
92 SE Woodlands Southern Colonies Conoy 7,000+ 1600 13+ W. M. Denevan[72] & J. R. Swanton
93 Northwest Coast Canada B.C. Tsimshian 7,000 1780 James Mooney
94 Northwest Coast Oregon Country Umpqua 7,000 1835 Samuel Parker
95 Southwest Mexican Cession Papago 6,800 1863 19 Indian Affairs 1863
96 NE Woodlands Canada Quebec Algonquin (Anicinàpe) 6,500 1860 Emmanuel Domenech
97 NE Woodlands Old Northwest Sauk 6,500 1786 Wisconsin Hist. Coll., XII
98 NE Woodlands Old Northwest Potawatomi 6,500 1829 Peter Buell Porter & William Clark
99 Southwest Mexican Cession Pueblo Piro 6,000 1626 14 Alonso de Benavides
100 Southwest Mexican Cession Pueblo Acoma 6,000 1584 500+ houses Antonio de Espejo
101 NE Woodlands Old Northwest Wea 6,000 1718 5 (1,200 warriors) N. Y. Col. Dcts., IX
102 SE Woodlands Louisiana Purchase Quapaw 6,000 1541 4+ Fidalgo D'Elvas
103 Northwest Plateau Oregon Country Yakima 6,000 1857 (1,200 warriors) A. N. Armstrong
104 NE Woodlands Middle Colonies Montauk 6,000 1600 20 J. R. Swanton
105 NE Woodlands Old Northwest Winnebago 5,800 1818 Jeddediah Morse
106 Northwest Coast Oregon Country Rogue River Indians 5,600 1780 James Mooney
107 Northwest Plateau Oregon Country Kutenai (Ktunaxa) 5,600 1820 Jeddediah Morse
108 Southwest Mexican Cession Yuma 5,500 1775-1855 A. F. Bandelier, Ten Kate
109 Subarctic & Arctic Canada Innu and Naskapi 5,500 1600 17+ James Mooney and J. R. Swanton
110 Great Plains Louisiana Purchase Kiowa 5,450 1805-1807 Z. M. Pike
111 NE Woodlands Middle Colonies Susquehanna 5,000 1600 20+ James Mooney and J. R. Swanton
112 NE Woodlands New England Pocumtuk 5,000 1600 Pocumtuc History
113 Northwest Plateau Canada B.C. Thompson (Nlaka'pamux) 5,000 1858 James Teit & A. C. Anderson
114 Northwest Plateau Canada B.C. Carrier (Dakelh) 5,000 1780 James Mooney and A. C. Anderson
115 Northwest Plateau Oregon Country Klikitat 5,000 1829 (1,000 warriors under chief Casanow) Paul Kane
116 SE Woodlands Trans-Appalachian Yuchi 5,000 - 2,500 (in 1777) 1550 (at least 500 warriors in year 1777) William Bartram & carolana.com
117 Northwest Plateau Canada B.C. Chilcotin 4,600 1793 (by 1888 population was 10% of 1793 level) A. G. Morice and HBC employees
118 Northwest Plateau Oregon Country Chopunnish 4,300 1806 aaanativearts.com/extinct-tribes
119 NE Woodlands Old Northwest Honniasont 4,000+ 1662 (800+ warriors) J. R. Swanton[74]
120 NE Woodlands New England Niantic 4,000 1500 Capers Jones[75]
121 SE Woodlands Louisiana Purchase Chitimacha 4,000 1699 300+ cabins and 800 warriors Benard de La Harpe
122 Northwest Plateau Canada B.C. Lillooet (Stʼatʼimc) 4,000 1780 James Mooney and James Teit
123 Northwest Plateau Oregon Country Modoc & Klamath 4,000 1868 Indian Affairs 1868
124 SE Woodlands Southern Colonies Weapemeoc 4,000 1585 5+ (800 warriors) S. R. Grenville
125 SE Woodlands Southern Colonies Chowanoc 3,500+ 1585 5 (1585: 700 warriors just in one of five towns) carolana.com
126 SE Woodlands Trans-Appalachian Acolapissa 3,500 1600 120+ cabins Acolapissa History
127 Northwest Plateau Oregon Country Colville 3,500 1806 Isaac Ingalls Stevens
128 Northwest Plateau Canada B.C. Babine (Witsuwitʼen) 3,500 1780 James Mooney
129 Southwest Mexican Cession Havasupai & Tontos 3,500 1854 Amiel Weeks Whipple
130 Great Plains Louisiana Purchase Kiowa-Apache 3,375 1818 Jeddediah Morse
131 Subarctic & Arctic Canada Kutchin 3,200 1740-1857 (six subdivisions, in total 640 warriors) Richardson, A. G. Morice, Krzywicki
132 Subarctic & Arctic Canada B.C. Sekani 3,200 1780 James Mooney
133 Subarctic & Arctic Canada N.L. Beothuk 3,050 1497 Ralph T. Pastore, Leslie Upton[76]
134 SE Woodlands Trans-Appalachian Alibamu 3,000 1764 6 (600 warriors) Henry Bouquet
135 NE Woodlands New England Nantucket 3,000 1660 J. Barber in J. Chase
136 SE Woodlands Southern Colonies Nottoway 3,000 1586 (600 warriors) R. Lane in Hakluyt, VIII
137 SE Woodlands Texas Annexation Tonkawa 3,000 1814 (600 warriors) John F. Schermerhorn
138 Northwest Plateau Oregon Country Wallawalla 3,000 1848 Miss A. J. Allen
139 Northwest Plateau Oregon Country Spokan 3,000 1848 Joseph L. Meek
140 Northwest Plateau Canada B.C. Okinagan 3,000 1780 James Teit
141 NE Woodlands Canada Ontario Nipissing 3,000 1764 (600 warriors) Th. Hutchins in H. R. Schoolcraft
142 NE Woodlands New England Shawomets & Cowsetts 3,000 1500 Capers Jones[75]
143 Northwest Coast Canada B.C. Bellabella: Heiltsuk/Haisla 2,700 1780 James Mooney
144 Subarctic & Arctic Canada Nahani and Tahltan 2,650 1780 (includes 300 Esbataottine) James Mooney
145 Northwest Plateau Oregon Country Skitswish 2,600 1806 Isaac Ingalls Stevens
146 NE Woodlands New England Mohegan 2,500+ 1680 21 (500+ warriors) Mass. Hist. Coll. and J. R. Swanton
147 Northwest Plateau Oregon Country Clackamas 2,500 1780 11 James Mooney
148 Southwest Mexican Cession Yavapai 2,500 1869 J. Ross Browne
149 NE Woodlands New England Nipmuc 2,500 1500 29 Capers Jones[75] and J. R. Swanton
150 Southwest Texas Annexation Karankawa 2,500+ 1751 (500+ warriors) Manuel Ramirez de la Piszina
151 Subarctic & Arctic Canada Inuvialuit 2,500 1850 Jessica M. Shadian, Mark Nuttall
152 Southwest Mexican Cession Alchedoma 2,500 1604 8 (according to Juan de Onate - 8 villages) aaanativearts.com/extinct-tribes
153 SE Woodlands Trans-Appalachian Ofo, Koroa & Tioux 2,450 1700 J. R. Swanton
154 Northwest Plateau Oregon Country Cowlitz 2,400 1822 3 Jeddediah Morse
155 NE Woodlands Canada Acadia Penobscot 2,250 1702 14 (450 warriors) N. H. Hist. Coll., I and J. R. Swanton
156 SE Woodlands Trans-Appalachian Tunica 2,250 1698 7 260 cabins and 450 warriors Montigny and J. R. Swanton
157 Northwest Plateau Oregon Country Kalispel 2,250 1835-1850 (450 warriors) HBC agents & Joseph Lane
158 NE Woodlands Old Northwest Kickapoo 2,200 1825 McKenney
159 Great Plains Canada Alberta Sarcee (Tsuutʼina) 2,200 1832 220 tents, on average 10 people per tent George Catlin, John Maclean
160 SE Woodlands Trans-Appalachian Yazoo 2,000+ 1700 Dumont de Montigny
161 NE Woodlands New England Nauset 2,000 1600 24 W. M. Denevan[72] & J. R. Swanton
162 NE Woodlands Middle Colonies Wenro 2,000 1600 J. N. B. Hewitt
163 Subarctic & Arctic Canada Slavey 2,000 1857 Emile Petitot
165 Southwest Mexican Cession Walapai 2,000 1869 J. Ross Browne
166 Northwest Plateau Oregon Country Cayuse 2,000 1835 Samuel Parker
167 Northwest Plateau Canada B.C. Sinixt 2,000+ 1780 20+ James Teit
168 Northwest Coast Canada B.C. Nuxalk (Bella Coola) 2,000 1835 Wilson Duff
169 NE Woodlands Canada Ontario Messassagnes 2,000 1764 aaanativearts.com/extinct-tribes
170 Great Plains Canada Sask. Fall Indians (Alannar) 2,000 1804 aaanativearts.com/extinct-tribes
171 SE Woodlands Southern Colonies Cusabo and Cusso 1,900 1600 James Mooney & carolana.com
172 Northwest Coast Oregon Country Chimnapum 1,860 1805 42 lodges Lewis and Clark
173 Northwest Plateau Oregon Country Wanapum 1,800 1780 James Mooney
174 SE Woodlands Southern Colonies Wateree 1,600 1600 James Mooney & carolana.com
175 Northwest Coast Oregon Country Wappatoo area (5 tribes) 1,590 1820 aaanativearts.com/extinct-tribes
176 Subarctic & Arctic Canada Dogrib 1,500 1875 Emile Petitot
177 SE Woodlands Louisiana Purchase Attacapa 1,500 1650 James Mooney
178 Great Plains Louisiana Purchase Otoe 1,500 1815 (300 warriors) William Clark
179 Northwest Plateau Oregon Country Sanpoil 1,500 1805 45+ houses George Gibbs
180 Northwest Plateau Oregon Country Wasco 1,500 1838 G. Hines
181 Subarctic & Arctic Canada Yukon Hankutchin 1,500 1851 (three subdivisions x 100 warriors each) John Richardson
182 NE Woodlands New England Podunk 1,500+ 1675 (300 warriors fought in King Philip's War) E. Stiles
183 SE Woodlands Southern Colonies Saponi 1,500 1600 2 carolana.com
184 SE Woodlands Southern Colonies Waxhaw and Sugaree 1,500 1600 2 James Mooney & carolana.com
185 Subarctic & Arctic Canada Beaver (Tsattine) 1,250 1670 James Mooney
186 SE Woodlands Louisiana Purchase Houma 1,225 1700 J. R. Swanton
187 SE Woodlands Southern Colonies Tutelo 1,200 1600 carolana.com
188 SE Woodlands Southern Colonies Occaneechi 1,200 1600 James Mooney
189 SE Woodlands Southern Colonies Cheraw 1,200 1600 James Mooney
190 SE Woodlands Trans-Appalachian Taensa 1,200 1700 Benard de La Harpe
191 SE Woodlands Southern Colonies Machapunga 1,200 1600 3 carolana.com
192 Subarctic & Arctic Canada Yukon Tutchone 1,100 1910 Frederick Webb Hodge
193 SE Woodlands Southern Colonies Waccamaw 1,050 1715 6 210 warriors W. J. Rivers
194 SE Woodlands Florida Purchase Guarugunve & Cuchiyaga 1,040 1570 (they inhabited Florida Keys) Lopez de Velasco
195 Subarctic & Arctic Canada Hare 1,000+ 1850 Ludwik Krzywicki
196 SE Woodlands Southern Colonies Pamlico 1,000 1600 James Mooney
197 SE Woodlands Southern Colonies Neusiok & Coree 1,000 1600 5 James Mooney
198 SE Woodlands Florida Purchase Chatot 1,000+ 1650 Ludwik Krzywicki
199 SE Woodlands Southern Colonies Cape Fear Indians 1,000 1600 James Mooney
200 SE Woodlands Southern Colonies Santee 1,000 1600 2+ James Mooney & carolana.com
201 Great Plains Texas Annexation Bidai 1,000+ 1745 7 (200+ warriors) Athanase de Mezieres
202 SE Woodlands Florida Purchase Tequesta 1,000 1650 5 J. R. Swanton
203 SE Woodlands Florida Purchase Tacobaga 1,000 1650 James Mooney
204 SE Woodlands Florida Purchase Ais 1,000 1750-1785 40 families + additional 600 people Ludwik Krzywicki
205 SE Woodlands Florida Purchase Jeaga & Guacata 1,000 1650 James Mooney
206 SE Woodlands Trans-Appalachian Biloxi/Pascagoula/Moctobi 1,000 1650 4 James Mooney
207 SE Woodlands Southern Colonies Moratoc 1,000 1600 carolana.com
208 SE Woodlands Southern Colonies Edisto 1,000 1600 James Mooney & carolana.com
209 SE Woodlands Texas Annexation Aranama 870+ 1778 Athanase de Mezieres
210 SE Woodlands Southern Colonies Sewee 800+ 1600 James Mooney & carolana.com
211 SE Woodlands Southern Colonies Congaree 800 1600 James Mooney
212 SE Woodlands Southern Colonies Sissipahaw 800 1600 1 James Mooney & carolana.com
213 NE Woodlands New England Paugussett 800 1600 C. Thomas in F. W. Hodge
214 SE Woodlands Southern Colonies Meherrin 700 1600 James Mooney
215 Subarctic & Arctic Canada Ontario Abittibi 700 1736 (140 warriors) Michel de La Chauvignerie
216 Subarctic & Arctic Canada Yellowknives 600+ 1877 70+ tents Emile Petitot
217 SE Woodlands Southern Colonies Etiwaw (also Etiwan) 600 1600 James Mooney & carolana.com
218 SE Woodlands Southern Colonies Woccon 600 1701 2 (120 warriors) John Lawson, "History of Carolina"
219 SE Woodlands Southern Colonies Peedee 600 1600 1 James Mooney & carolana.com
220 SE Woodlands Southern Colonies Keyauwee 600 1600 James Mooney & carolana.com
221 NE Woodlands New England Quinnipiac 550 1730 John William De Forest
222 NE Woodlands New England Manisses 500 1500 Capers Jones[75]
223 Northwest Plateau Oregon Country Takelma and Latgawa 500 1780 James Mooney
224 NE Woodlands New England Tunxis 500 1600 (100 warriors) John William De Forest
225 SE Woodlands Southern Colonies Chiaha in South Carolina 500 1600 carolana.com
226 SE Woodlands Southern Colonies Hatteras 500 1600 carolana.com
227 SE Woodlands Southern Colonies Eno 500 1600 1 James Mooney & carolana.com
228 SE Woodlands Southern Colonies Shakori 500 1600 James Mooney & carolana.com
229 SE Woodlands Southern Colonies Adshusheer 500 1600 James Mooney & carolana.com
230 NE Woodlands New England Wangunk 400 1600 James Mooney
231 SE Woodlands Louisiana Purchase Avoyel 400 1698 32 cabins (and 80 warriors) J. R. Swanton
232 Northwest Coast Oregon Country Squaxon 375 1857 John Ross Browne
233 NE Woodlands Louisiana Purchase Ahwajiaway 200 1805 aaanativearts.com/extinct-tribes
234 SE Woodlands Southern Colonies Winyaw 180 1715 1 (36 warriors and one village) carolana.com
235 California Mexican Cession up to 600 micro-tribes 340,000 1769 Cook, Jones & Codding,[77] Field[78]
236 Subarctic & Arctic Alaska Alaska Native tribes 93,800 1750 Steve Langdon[79]

The total peak population size only for the tribes listed in this table is 3,210,215 in the US and Canada (including 327,600 in Canada).

Pre-Columbian Americas

Statue of Cuauhtemoc in el Zócalo, Mexico City.

Genetic diversity and population structure in the American land mass using DNA micro-satellite markers (genotype) sampled from North, Central, and South America have been analyzed against similar data available from other Indigenous populations worldwide.[80][81] The Amerindian populations show a lower genetic diversity than populations from other continental regions.[81] Decreasing genetic diversity with increasing geographic distance from the Bering Strait can be seen, as well as a decreasing genetic similarity to Siberian populations from Alaska (genetic entry point).[80][81] A higher level of diversity and lower level of population structure in western South America compared to eastern South America is observed.[80][81] A relative lack of differentiation between Mesoamerican and Andean populations is a scenario that implies coastal routes were easier than inland routes for migrating peoples (Paleo-Indians) to traverse.[80] The overall pattern that is emerging suggests that the Americas were recently colonized by a small number of individuals (effective size of about 70–250), and then they grew by a factor of 10 over 800–1,000 years.[82][83] The data also show that there have been genetic exchanges between Asia, the Arctic and Greenland since the initial peopling of the Americas.[83][84] A new study in early 2018 suggests that the effective population size of the original founding population of Native Americans was about 250 people.[85][86]

Depopulation which resulted from disease

One estimate of population collapse in Central Mexico brought on by successive epidemics in the early colonial period. Note: Other scholars' estimates vary widely.

Early explanations for the population decline of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas include the brutal practices of the Spanish conquistadores, as recorded by the Spaniards themselves, such as the encomienda system, which was ostensibly set up to protect people from warring tribes as well as to teach them the Spanish language and the Catholic religion, but in practice was tantamount to serfdom and slavery.[87] The most notable account was that of the Dominican friar Bartolomé de las Casas, whose writings vividly depict Spanish atrocities committed in particular against the Taínos.[88] The second European explanation was a perceived divine approval, in which God removed the natives as part of His "divine plan" to make way for a new Christian civilization. Many Native Americans viewed their troubles in a religious framework within their own belief systems.[89]

According to later academics such as Noble David Cook, a community of scholars began "quietly accumulating piece by piece data on early epidemics in the Americas and their relation to the subjugation of native peoples." Scholars like Cook believe that widespread epidemic disease, to which the natives had no prior exposure or resistance, was the primary cause of the massive population decline of the Native Americans.[90] One of the most devastating diseases was smallpox, but other deadly diseases included typhus, measles, influenza, bubonic plague, cholera, malaria, tuberculosis, mumps, yellow fever and pertussis, which were chronic in Eurasia.[91]

However, recently scholars have studied the link between physical colonial violence such as warfare, displacement, and enslavement, and the proliferation of disease among Native populations.[4][92] For example, according to Coquille scholar Dina Gilio-Whitaker, "In recent decades, however, researchers challenge the idea that disease is solely responsible for the rapid Indigenous population decline. The research identifies other aspects of European contact that had profoundly negative impacts on Native peoples' ability to survive foreign invasion: war, massacres, enslavement, overwork, deportation, the loss of will to live or reproduce, malnutrition and starvation from the breakdown of trade networks, and the loss of subsistence food production due to land loss."[93]

Further, Andrés Reséndez of the University of California, Davis points out that, even though the Spanish were aware of deadly diseases such as smallpox, there is no mention of them in the New World until 1519, implying that, until that date, epidemic disease played no significant part in the depopulation of the Antilles. The practices of forced labor, brutal punishment, and inadequate necessities of life, were the initial and major reasons for depopulation.[94] Jason Hickel estimates that a third of Arawak workers died every six months from forced labor in these mines.[95] In this way, "slavery has emerged as a major killer" of the indigenous populations of the Caribbean between 1492 and 1550, as it set the conditions for diseases such as smallpox, influenza, and malaria to flourish.[94] Unlike the populations of Europe who rebounded following the Black Death, no such rebound occurred for the Indigenous populations.[94]

Similarly, historian Jeffrey Ostler at the University of Oregon has argued that population collapses in North America throughout colonization were not mainly due to lack of Native immunity to European disease. Instead, he claims that "When severe epidemics did hit, it was often less because Native bodies lacked immunity than because European colonialism disrupted Native communities and damaged their resources, making them more vulnerable to pathogens." In specific regard to Spanish colonization of northern Florida and southeastern Georgia, Native peoples there "were subject to forced labor and, because of poor living conditions and malnutrition, succumbed to wave after wave of unidentifiable diseases." Further, in relation to British colonization in the Northeast, Algonquian speaking tribes in Virginia and Maryland "suffered from a variety of diseases, including malaria, typhus, and possibly smallpox." These diseases were not solely a case of Native susceptibility, however, because "as colonists took their resources, Native communities were subject to malnutrition, starvation, and social stress, all making people more vulnerable to pathogens. Repeated epidemics created additional trauma and population loss, which in turn disrupted the provision of healthcare." Such conditions would continue, alongside rampant disease in Native communities, throughout colonization, the formation of the United States, and multiple forced removals, as Ostler explains that many scholars "have yet to come to grips with how U.S. expansion created conditions that made Native communities acutely vulnerable to pathogens and how severely disease impacted them. ... Historians continue to ignore the catastrophic impact of disease and its relationship to U.S. policy and action even when it is right before their eyes."[6]

Historian David Stannard says that by "focusing almost entirely on disease ... contemporary authors increasingly have created the impression that the eradication of those tens of millions of people was inadvertent—a sad, but both inevitable and "unintended consequence" of human migration and progress," and asserts that their destruction "was neither inadvertent nor inevitable," but the result of microbial pestilence and purposeful genocide working in tandem.[96] He also wrote:[97]

...Despite frequent undocumented assertions that disease was responsible for the great majority of indigenous deaths in the Americas, there does not exist a single scholarly work that even pretends to demonstrate this claim on the basis of solid evidence. And that is because there is no such evidence, anywhere. The supposed truism that more native people died from disease than from direct face-to-face killing or from gross mistreatment or other concomitant derivatives of that brutality such as starvation, exposure, exhaustion, or despair is nothing more than a scholarly article of faith...

In contrast, historian Russel Thornton has pointed out that there were disastrous epidemics and population losses during the first half of the sixteenth century “resulting from incidental contact, or even without direct contact, as disease spread from one American Indian tribe to another.” [98] Thornton has also challenged higher Indigenous population estimates, which are based on the Malthusian assumption that “populations tend to increase to, and beyond, the limits of the food available to them at any particular level of technology."[99]

The European colonization of the Americas resulted in the deaths of so many people it contributed to climatic change and temporary global cooling, according to scientists from University College London.[100][101] A century after the arrival of Christopher Columbus, some 90% of Indigenous Americans had perished from "wave after wave of disease", along with mass slavery and war, in what researchers have described as the "great dying".[102] According to one of the researchers, UCL Geography Professor Mark Maslin, the large death toll also boosted the economies of Europe: "the depopulation of the Americas may have inadvertently allowed the Europeans to dominate the world. It also allowed for the Industrial Revolution and for Europeans to continue that domination."[103]

Biological warfare

When Old World diseases were first carried to the Americas at the end of the fifteenth century, they spread throughout the southern and northern hemispheres, leaving the Indigenous populations in near ruins.[91][104] No evidence has been discovered that the earliest Spanish colonists and missionaries deliberately attempted to infect the American natives, and some efforts were made to limit the devastating effects of disease before it killed off what remained of their labor force (compelled to work under the encomienda system).[91][104] The cattle introduced by the Spanish contaminated various water reserves which Native Americans dug in the fields to accumulate rainwater. In response, the Franciscans and Dominicans created public fountains and aqueducts to guarantee access to drinking water.[19] But when the Franciscans lost their privileges in 1572, many of these fountains were no longer guarded and so deliberate well poisoning may have happened.[19] Although no proof of such poisoning has been found, some historians believe the decrease of the population correlates with the end of religious orders' control of the water.[19]

In the centuries that followed, accusations and discussions of biological warfare were common. Well-documented accounts of incidents involving both threats and acts of deliberate infection are very rare, but may have occurred more frequently than scholars have previously acknowledged.[105][106] Many of the instances likely went unreported, and it is possible that documents relating to such acts were deliberately destroyed,[106] or sanitized.[107][108] By the middle of the 18th century, colonists had the knowledge and technology to attempt biological warfare with the smallpox virus. They well understood the concept of quarantine, and that contact with the sick could infect the healthy with smallpox, and those who survived the illness would not be infected again. Whether the threats were carried out, or how effective individual attempts were, is uncertain.[91][106][107]

One such threat was delivered by fur trader James McDougall, who is quoted as saying to a gathering of local chiefs, "You know the smallpox. Listen: I am the smallpox chief. In this bottle I have it confined. All I have to do is to pull the cork, send it forth among you, and you are dead men. But this is for my enemies and not my friends."[109] Likewise, another fur trader threatened Pawnee Indians that if they didn't agree to certain conditions, "he would let the smallpox out of a bottle and destroy them." The Reverend Isaac McCoy was quoted in his History of Baptist Indian Missions as saying that the white men had deliberately spread smallpox among the Indians of the southwest, including the Pawnee tribe, and the havoc it made was reported to General Clark and the Secretary of War.[109][110] Artist and writer George Catlin observed that Native Americans were also suspicious of vaccination, "They see white men urging the operation so earnestly they decide that it must be some new mode or trick of the pale face by which they hope to gain some new advantage over them."[111] So great was the distrust of the settlers that the Mandan chief Four Bears denounced the white man, whom he had previously treated as brothers, for deliberately bringing the disease to his people.[112][113][114]

During the siege of British-held Fort Pitt in the Seven Years' War, Colonel Henry Bouquet ordered his men to take smallpox-infested blankets from their hospital and gave them as gifts to two neutral Lenape Indian dignitaries during a peace settlement negotiation, according to the entry in the Captain's ledger, "To convey the Smallpox to the Indians".[107][115][116] In the following weeks, Sir Jeffrey Amherst conspired with Bouquet to "Extirpate this Execreble Race" of Native Americans, writing, "Could it not be contrived to send the small pox among the disaffected tribes of Indians? We must on this occasion use every stratagem in our power to reduce them." His Colonel agreed to try.[106][115]

Most scholars have asserted that the 1837 Great Plains smallpox epidemic was "started among the tribes of the upper Missouri River by failure to quarantine steamboats on the river",[109] and Captain Pratt of the St. Peter "was guilty of contributing to the deaths of thousands of innocent people. The law calls his offense criminal negligence. Yet in light of all the deaths, the almost complete annihilation of the Mandans, and the terrible suffering the region endured, the label criminal negligence is benign, hardly befitting an action that had such horrendous consequences."[113] However, some sources attribute the 1836–40 epidemic to the deliberate communication of smallpox to Native Americans, with historian Ann F. Ramenofsky writing, "Variola Major can be transmitted through contaminated articles such as clothing or blankets. In the nineteenth century, the U. S. Army sent contaminated blankets to Native Americans, especially Plains groups, to control the Indian problem."[117] In Brazil, well into the 20th century, deliberate infection attacks continued as Brazilian settlers and miners transported infections intentionally to the native groups whose lands they coveted.[104]


After Edward Jenner's 1796 demonstration that the smallpox vaccination worked, the technique became better known and smallpox became less deadly in the United States and elsewhere. Many colonists and natives were vaccinated, although, in some cases, officials tried to vaccinate natives only to discover that the disease was too widespread to stop. At other times, trade demands led to broken quarantines. In other cases, natives refused vaccination because of suspicion of whites. The first international healthcare expedition in history was the Balmis expedition which had the aim of vaccinating Indigenous peoples against smallpox all along the Spanish Empire in 1803. In 1831, government officials vaccinated the Yankton Sioux at Sioux Agency. The Santee Sioux refused vaccination and many died.[34]

Depopulation which resulted from European Conquest

War and violence

An 1899 chromolithograph of U.S. cavalry pursuing American Indians, artist unknown.
An 1899 chromolithograph from the Werner Company of Akron, Ohio titled Custer Massacre at Big Horn, Montana – June 25, 1876.

While epidemic disease was a leading factor of the population decline of the American Indigenous peoples after 1492, there were other contributing factors, all of them related to European contact and colonization. One of these factors was warfare. According to demographer Russell Thornton, although many people died in wars over the centuries, and war sometimes contributed to the near extinction of certain tribes, warfare and death by other violent means was a comparatively minor cause of overall native population decline.[118]

From the U.S. Bureau of the Census in 1894, wars between the government and the Indigenous peoples ranged over 40 in number over the previous 100 years. These wars cost the lives of approximately 19,000 white people, and the lives of about 30,000 Indians, including men, women, and children. They safely estimated that the amount of Native people who were killed or wounded was actually around fifty percent more than what was recorded.[119]

There is some disagreement among scholars about how widespread warfare was in pre-Columbian America,[120] but there is general agreement that war became deadlier after the arrival of the Europeans and their firearms. The South or Central American infrastructure allowed for thousands of European conquistadors and tens of thousands of their Indian auxiliaries to attack the dominant Indigenous civilization. Empires such as the Incas depended on a highly centralized administration for the distribution of resources. Disruption caused by the war and the colonization hampered the traditional economy, and possibly led to shortages of food and materials.[121] Across the western hemisphere, war with various Native American civilizations constituted alliances based out of both necessity or economic prosperity and, resulted in mass-scale intertribal warfare.[122] European colonization in the North American continent also contributed to a number of wars between Native Americans, who fought over which of them should have first access to new technology and weaponry—like in the Beaver Wars.[123]


D'Albertis Castle, Genoa, Museum of World Cultures

Some Spaniards objected to the encomienda system of labor, notably Bartolomé de las Casas, who insisted that the Indigenous people were humans with souls and rights. Due to many revolts and military encounters, Emperor Charles V helped relieve the strain on both the native laborers and the Spanish vanguards probing the Caribana for military and diplomatic purposes.[124] Later on New Laws were promulgated in Spain in 1542 to protect isolated natives, but the abuses in the Americas were never entirely or permanently abolished. The Spanish also employed the pre-Columbian draft system called the mita,[125] and treated their subjects as something between slaves and serfs. Serfs stayed to work the land; slaves were exported to the mines, where large numbers of them died. In other areas the Spaniards replaced the ruling Aztecs and Incas and divided the conquered lands among themselves ruling as the new feudal lords with often, but unsuccessful lobbying to the viceroys of the Spanish crown to pay Tlaxcalan war demnities. The infamous Bandeirantes from São Paulo, adventurers mostly of mixed Portuguese and native ancestry, penetrated steadily westward in their search for Indian slaves. Serfdom existed as such in parts of Latin America well into the 19th century, past independence.[126] Historian Andrés Reséndez argues that even though the Spanish were aware of the spread of smallpox, they made no mention of it until 1519, a quarter century after Columbus arrived in Hispaniola.[127] Instead he contends that enslavement in gold and silver mines was the primary reason why the Native American population of Hispaniola dropped so significantly.[126][127] and that even though disease was a factor, the native population would have rebounded the same way Europeans did following the Black Death if it were not for the constant enslavement they were subject to.[127] He further contends that enslavement of Native Americans was in fact the primary cause of their depopulation in Spanish territories;[127] that the majority of Indians enslaved were women and children compared to the enslavement of Africans which mostly targeted adult males and in turn they were sold at a 50% to 60% higher price,[128] and that 2,462,000 to 4,985,000 Amerindians were enslaved between Columbus's arrival and 1900.[129][128]


Mass grave of Lakota dead after the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre.
Conquest of Mexico
  • The Pequot War in early New England.
  • In mid-19th century Argentina, post-independence leaders Juan Manuel de Rosas and Julio Argentino Roca engaged in what they presented as a "Conquest of the Desert" against the natives of the Argentinian interior, leaving over 1,300 Indigenous dead.[130][131]
  • While some California tribes were settled on reservations, others were hunted down and massacred by 19th century American settlers. It is estimated that at least 9,400 to 16,000 California Indians were killed by non-Indians, mostly occurring in more than 370 massacres (defined as the "intentional killing of five or more disarmed combatants or largely unarmed noncombatants, including women, children, and prisoners, whether in the context of a battle or otherwise").[132][133]

Displacement and disruption

Throughout history, Indigenous people have been subjected to the repeated and forced removal from their land. Beginning in the 1830s, there was the relocation of an estimated 100,000 Indigenous people in the United States called the “Trail of Tears".[134] The tribes affected by this specific removal were the Five Civilized Tribes: The Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Seminole. The treaty of New Echota,[135] was enacted, which stated that the United States “would give Cherokee land west of the Mississippi in exchange for $5,000,000”.[134] According to Jeffrey Ostler, "Of the 80,000 Native people who were forced west from 1830 into the 1850s, between 12,000 and 17,000 perished." Ostler states that "the large majority died of interrelated factors of starvation, exposure and disease".[136]

In addition to the removal of the Southern Tribes, there were multiple other removals of Northern Tribes also known as "Trails of Tears." For example, "In the free labor states of the North, federal and state officials, supported by farmers, speculators and business interests, evicted Shawnees, Delawares, Senecas, Potawatomis, Miamis, Wyandots, Ho-Chunks, Ojibwes, Sauks and Meskwakis." These Nations were moved West of the Mississippi into what is now known as Eastern Kansas, and numbered 17,000 on arrival. According to Ostler, "by 1860, their numbers had been cut in half" due to low fertility, high infant mortality, and increased disease caused by conditions such as polluted drinking water, few resources, and social stress.[136]

Ostler also writes that the areas that Northern tribes were removed to were already inhabited: "The areas west of the Mississippi River were home to other Indigenous nations— Osages, Kanzas, Omahas, Ioways, Otoes and Missourias. To make room for thousands of people from the East, the government dispossessed these nations of much their lands." Ostler writes that in 1840, when Northern Nations were moved onto their land, "The combined population of these western nations was 9,000 ... 20 years later, it had fallen to 6,000."[136]

Later apologies by government officials

On 8 September 2000, the head of the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) formally apologized for the agency's participation in the ethnic cleansing of Western tribes.[137][138][139] In a speech before representatives of Native American peoples in June 2019, California governor Gavin Newsom apologized for the "California Genocide." Newsom said, "That’s what it was, a genocide. No other way to describe it. And that’s the way it needs to be described in the history books."[140]

See also


  1. Extrapolated from 30,000 warriors (× 5) in year 1762, according to James Gorrell. Almost a century later, in 1841, George Catlin estimated the Sioux as up to 50,000 people, and mentioned that they had just lost approx. 8,000 dead to smallpox a few years prior.
  2. Over 70 towns or villages and 25,000 warriors.
  3. They had 60 towns and 20,000 warriors. One of their towns - Cahokia - contained 400 lodges and was inhabited by 1,800 warriors.
  4. "The epidemic of 1837-38 was disastrous, approx. 15,000 Blackfeet people fell victim to the disease."
  5. Five Nations, on average 14,000 per nation.
  6. They had approx. 7 pueblos (towns), one of which - Oraibi (possibly the largest of all) - had 14,000 inhabitants before an epidemic.
  7. It was also reported they had 25-32 towns or villages.
  8. Extrapolated from 8,000 warriors × 5.
  9. 38 villages (on average 130-150 lodges/cabins per village) with 7,600 warriors x 5 = 38,000 total population, not including the Arikara.
  10. Over 65 towns or villages and 6,000 warriors in 1730-35.
  11. They had approx. 6,000 warriors and 24 towns.
  12. They inhabited up to 11 pueblos (towns).
  13. They had approx. 4,000 warriors and ca. 40 villages.
  14. Later an epidemic ravaged them in 1618.
  15. They inhabited up to 7 pueblos (towns).
  16. Extrapolated from 3,000 warriors × 5.



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Online sources

Further reading

  • Alchon, Suzanne Austin (2003). A Pest in the Land. University of New Mexico Press.
  • Cameron, Catherine M., Paul Kelton, and Alan C. Swedlund (eds.) (2015). Beyond Germs: Native Depopulation in North America. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press.
  • Cappel, Constance (2007). The smallpox genocide of the Odawa tribe at L'Arbre Croche, 1763: the history of a Native American people. Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press. ISBN 978-0-7734-5220-6.
  • Fagan, Brian M. (2005). Ancient North America: The Archaeology of a Continent. ISBN 978-0-500-28532-9.
  • Jones, David S. (2003). "Virgin Soils Revisited". The William and Mary Quarterly. 60 (4): 703–742. doi:10.2307/3491697. JSTOR 3491697.
  • Mann, Charles C. (2005). 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. Knopf. ISBN 978-1400040063.
  • McNeill, William Hardy (1998). Plagues and peoples. Anchor. ISBN 978-0-385-12122-4.
  • Sletcher, Michael 'North American Indians', in Will Kaufman and Heidi Macpherson, eds., Britain and the Americas: Culture, Politics, and History, (2 vols., Oxford, 2005).
  • Rosenbaum, Alan S. (2018). Is the Holocaust unique?: perspectives on comparative genocide. Routledge.
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