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Related to Was Columbus involved in sexual slavery? , the same Oatmeal page makes an additional series of claims about Christopher Columbus that describe systematic atrocities:

  • "When the Lucayans refused, Columbus responded by ordering that their ears and noses be cut off...."
  • "Columbus's men took to hunting these refugees down for sport, and after murdering them, using their bodies as dog food."
  • Punishment for not meeting a quota was "...Columbus's men would cut off the natives' hands and force them to wear [their own cut-off hands.]"

Are these claims true?

  • There are three different claims here. I think it's better to split this question to 3 different questions, so that each claim could be answered in a thorough way. – SIMEL Oct 14 '13 at 9:20
  • @IlyaMelamed You can post three answers if you think you need to, to be as thorough as you want to be (I did so for this question). – ChrisW Oct 14 '13 at 13:23
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I would guess that many claims come from the same source, i.e. the writings of Bartolomé de las Casas.

I won't read it all, but Chapter 2 describes "the first island which was found by Christians":

  • This page describes cutting off hands and tying them to the victims' body, telling the victim to take letters to those who had escaped into the mountains (this was to punish the Indian's first revolt, not as a punishment for not getting enough gold).

  • This page describes using hunting dogs.

I have linked to a French translation because I don't read Spanish. The French and Dutch were partisan/biased against the Spanish, and the original author (Bartolomé de las Casas) had a religious or political agenda in writing this account, but I have no great reason to doubt their veracity.

More importantly I think that Bartolomé de las Casas is an origin of the claims in the OP. The Oatmeal article says,

All of the information in this essay came from A People's History of the United States, by Howard Zinn, and Lies My Teacher Told Me, by James W. Loewen, both of which uses primary sources such as eyewitness accounts, journal entries, and letters from Christopher Columbus himself.

And alleged extracts from Lies my Teacher Told Me says,

All of these gruesome facts are available in primary source material- letters by Columbus and by other members of his expeditions-and in the work of Las Casas, the first great historian of the Americas, who relied on primary materials and helped preserve them. I have quoted a few primary sources in this chapter. Most textbooks make no use of primary sources. A few incorporate brief extracts that have been carefully selected or edited to reveal nothing unseemly about the Great Navigator.


Wikipedia says that the writings of Bartolomé de las Casas were part of the origin of the Black Legend; and its summary of the Scholarly analysis on that subject includes statements such as the following:

It is neither a legend, insofar as the negative opinions of Spain have genuine historical foundations, nor is it black, as the tone was never consistent nor uniform. Gray abounds, but the color of these opinions was always viewed in contrast which we have called the white legend.

and,

... proposes an overcoming of the "false choice" between two legends, to present an approach that appreciates the positive results of Spanish conquest without denying or ceasing to deplore the atrocities that were perpetrated.

Both of the above imply there is no "scholarly" doubt that "atrocities" by the Spanish did occur.

  • 1
    Of course, what Zinn and his ilk are being silent about is the fact that such "atrocities" were quite normal for most societies of the time. Context is everything. – user5341 Oct 21 '13 at 21:45
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    he forgot that natives practiced the same kind of atrocities. As did pretty much everyone. But it's convinient for Zinn to blame it on "dead white european imperialists" as the only ones who did. – user5341 Oct 21 '13 at 22:14
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    @DVK Zinn was a university professor of history: I don't find it plausible that he "forgot". "Atrocities" were committed from Homeric times, through to the present day. I don't understand why you are writing such comments here. It seems that he was critical of living american imperialists too, if that makes you any happier. – ChrisW Oct 21 '13 at 22:50
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    In other words, the "correct" title to this question should be "did Columbus behave like a typical nobelman - or in general a person - of the era", not "did he commit atrocities" which makes it sound like he was specially evil by standards of his time. – user5341 Oct 22 '13 at 1:08
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    Actually a very suitable title to this question is whether Columbus committed atrocities, or not, because that is how his actions would be viewed today. It does not matter whether "everyone else" (which is not really the truth either, anyway) committed them in his days, or not. The assumption that "everyone else" does something does not work as a justification of any behavior. You need to have enough brain cells to make proper choices for yourself. – coderworks Feb 20 '16 at 21:19
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As for the first two incidents, those were not things that happened while Columbus was alive. They are detailed, nearly word for word, in Bartolome de las Casa's A Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies (see below).

I also affirm that I saw with these Eyes of mine the Spaniards for no other reason, but only to gratifie their bloody mindedness, cut off the Hands, Noses, and Ears, both of Indians and Indianesses, and that in so many places and parts, that it would be too prolix and tedious to relate them. Nay, I have seen the Spaniards let loose their Dogs upon the Indians to bait and tear them in pieces, and such a Number of Villages burnt by them as cannot well be discover'd:

This is in the section about "Provinces of PERUSIA" (which I assume is Peru). This section starts "A notorious Tyrant in the Year 1531, entred the Kingdoms of Perusia." Since Columbus died long before that, and never went to Peru, this could not have been Columbus.

As for the last part about cutting off the hands of the natives in punishment for not getting enough gold, I'm still searching for the original source for that myself. I've found several places where hands were cut off, but it doesn't seem to fit the other details (wasn't related to not getting enough gold). The incidences I've found in las Casas writing were also all under later governors/conquistadors, not Columbus.

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