The Native Americans were viewed, by the settlers, as a savage and uncivilized race; however, due to the ruthlessness towards the Indians and later the blacks, the settlers proved themselves more savage than either race.
First the terms savage and civilized must be properly defined. Civilized and civilization refer to two different aspects. Civilized refers to a person or persons that are characterized by taste, refinement or restraint (Merriam-Webster’s). Civilization refers to a relatively high level of cultural and technological development. Savagery is lacking complex or advanced culture, wild and uncultivated (Merriam-Webster’s).
What determines if people are civilized or not? Ignorance, and at most times stupidity, plays a large role in people’s views of whether someone is depicted as civilized or not. For the new settlers who came to the new world, they saw the American Indians as people who are not technologically developed; therefore, they have become instantaneously uncivilized. This crude stereotype was incurred, not by deep investigation but by quick and first impressions; that were not, and at most times refused, to be investigated deeper and lacked to comprehend the new cultures they have discovered.
In Christopher Columbus’s Letter to the Sovereigns on His First Voyage, he shows a moral understanding of the new people he has discovered. Columbus first makes a statement of how different and un- advanced the Indians are,” all go naked, men and women, as their mothers bore them, They have no iron or steal weapons, nor are they capable of using them ” (500 Years 6). But Columbus then refers to them as a timid culture, “Of anything they have, if you ask them for it, they never say no; rather they invite the person to share it and show as much love as if they were giving their hearts; and whether the thing be of value or of small price” (500 Years 6). In spite of their hospitality, Columbus found the natives to be fearful and defenseless savages. “They have no other arms than arms of canes, [cut] when they are in seed time, to the ends of which they fix a sharp little stick and dare not make use of these ” (500 Years 6).
Similarly, John Smith is an example of a person who knew the American Indians well; however, he found them to be clever. “They are inconsistent in everie thing, but what feare constraineth them to keepe. Craftie, timorous, quick of apprehension and very ingenuous. Some are of disposition feareful, some bold, most cautelous, all savage” (500 Years 13). John Smith was not the only person in is time that had such a negative view of the Indians. Most of these negative ideas have probably surfaced due to battles, kidnapping, assaults, or the mere sight of resistance the Indians gave. Most of the settlers and explorers of the time were not used to seeing a primitive man who get along without the modern-day conveniences that the Europeans were used to.
Mrs. Mary Rowlandson also found the Indians to be animal like savages. They held her captive and separated her from her husband and children; and at times, denied her food and shelter. Rowlandson had to dig through garbage for food; food that she would have gagged at the near sight of, if she had not been in captivity.
Heart-aking thoughts here I had about my poor children, who were scattered up and down amongst the wild Beasts of the Forest: my head was light and dizzy, (either through hunger, or hard lodging, or trouble, or all together,) my knees feeble, my body raw by sitting double night and day, that I cannot express to man the affliction that lay upon my spirit” (American Autobiographies 35).
On the other hand, some might believe the opposite is true. That is, the “White Man” is the savage. They kill all those who do not believe in the white man’s beliefs. In many ways the Indians had different perspectives on how the white man were savages.