October 12, 1492 – Columbus Day

October 12 is Columbus Day, commemorating the day a sailor on board the Pinta sighted land in the Americas. The next day, the 90 crew members of Christopher Columbus’s three-ship fleet landed on the Bahamian island of Guanahaní, and a new era of European exploration and expansion began.

16th century depiction of Christopher Columbus landing in America. Theodore de Bry, Reisen in Occidentalischen Indien (Frankfurt, ca. 1590-1630). Copper plate engraving.

16th century depiction of Christopher Columbus landing in America. Theodore de Bry, Reisen in Occidentalischen Indien (Frankfurt, ca. 1590-1630). Copper plate engraving.

Not everyone considers this to be a cause for celebration. As Edward T. Stone in American Heritage Magazine (October 1975) noted, “The somber chronicle of the events that ended in the genocide of the peaceful Arawaks of the Caribbean islands is amply documented in Columbus’ own letters and journals.”

Upon his arrival in the New World, Columbus recorded of the natives:

“They have no weapons and are all naked without any skill in arms and are very cowardly so that a thousand would not challenge three. … Thus they are useful to be commanded and to be made to labor and sow and to do everything else of which there is need and build towns and be taught to wear clothes and learn our customs.”

On a second trip back to the Caribbean, Columbus brought “ferocious greyhounds” that could tear the Indians to pieces if they did not submit to the rape and slavery the Spaniards had in mind for them.

As James Loewen pointed out in the book Lies My Teacher Told Me:

“Here now began a reign of terror in Hispaniola. Spaniards hunted American Indians for sport and murdered them for dog food. Columbus, upset because he could not locate the gold he was certain was on the island, set up a tribute system.”

Those who couldn’t pay had their hands cut off. Hands escalated to heads and then bodies. Suicides became rife. In a few years, the entire population was eliminated, and thus the Spaniards (deciding that this rape and slavery arrangement was a good thing) had to start importing Africans. Eventually, the island of Haiti came to be inhabited by a predominance of black Africans.

Christopher Columbus' Soldiers Chop the Hands off of Arawak Indians who Failed to Meet the Mining Quota

Christopher Columbus’ Soldiers Chop the Hands off of Arawak Indians who Failed to Meet the Mining Quota

It is said that Hitler studied and admired the treatment and decimation of the Arawaks by Columbus and his men.

Today, many Americans choose to forget, or never learned, the true nature of the conquest by Columbus.


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15 Responses to October 12, 1492 – Columbus Day

  1. April says:

    I’m really glad you posted this. I feel like so many people don’t actually know about the genocide which took place because of Columbus. Thank you so much for posting this.

  2. You sure post informative stuff. I needed to know this! will check out more on Columbus.


  3. This is a great reminder! Thanks!

  4. Trisha says:

    I refuse to celebrate this day in part because of what you just posted; and there’s always the fact he didn’t actually discover America which is the common misconception. I won’t deny what he did was extraordinary, but we must look at all sides of the issue. Thanks for posting this!

  5. I’m glad you posted this truthful side of our history. When it comes to historical figures, they need to be examined closely and from all angles. Again, I like your history posts.

  6. Sandy says:

    Thanks for the reminder…half the time I never know what day it is! Fascinating info!

  7. Alyce says:

    Wow! That is definitely different than the version they teach in grade school. I was aware of a lot of the other atrocities that have happened in discovering and settling America, but not this one.

  8. nfmgirl says:

    Thanks for mentioning this! They were talking about this on the radio today, and I was thinking about how the Columbus Day celebration ought to be stopped as a national holiday. Can you imagine how outraged Americans would be if Germany started a “national holiday” celebrating Hitler?

  9. Nicole says:

    Unfortunately history is chock full of people like this whom we celebrate. I’m glad that it’s not such a popular holiday anymore. Most people I know were working today.

  10. Pingback: Review of “A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World,” by Tony Horwitz « Rhapsodyinbooks’s Weblog

  11. Staci says:

    There is so much to read about Columbus that I’m pretty embarrassed to say I haven’t investigated this part of history. But thanks to your informative reviews I have somewhere to start.

  12. Jenners says:

    My son is in Kindergarten and they just “learned” about Columbus and I was itching to get into how he didn’t discover America and wasn’t a big hero but I think perhaps 5 is too young. I’ll spring this stuff on him when he is a little bit older. I can’t wait to see how they teach history nowadays and how I can “counterprogram” him!

  13. Toni says:

    Great Post!

  14. I just read Pedro’s Journal (a fictional character aboard the Santa Maria) with my fourth and fifth-graders.

  15. Aarti says:

    I learned just this year that Chicago Public Schools celebrate Columbus Day as a holiday, and was pretty aghast. It is a pretty euro-centric approach, and I didn’t think anyone (certainly not schools) celebrated it as a holiday any more. I’m pretty upset that the entire public school system in the city does so; I don’t think many of the suburban schools do.

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