Lessons from Conquistadors and Indians

When the Spanish arrived in the New World in the 16th century, the entire Earth was irrevocably changed. It was the closet thing humanity has come to first contact. Both sides were basically meeting aliens. This period produced stories most epic, and disasters most tragic. The destruction of cultures, and the building of new ones. From the myriad of lessons that can be gleaned from these first encounters, two are entirely overlooked.

First, that people will say anything to get bullies to leave them alone. And second, people believe whatever they hear, so long as it is something they want.

At the time of the discovery of the Americas, the Spanish were just finishing up with the Reconquista. For centuries, war waged across the Iberian Peninsula. The Spanish had formed their culture and their identity around defeating the Moors and reclaiming their lands. The idea of the Conquistador wasn’t born in the Americas, but in Spain itself.

But then the Moors were defeated. The Reconquista was over, and the Spanish were faced with a profound question. “What do we do now?” For generations, the way to success for a young Spaniard was through conquest. Now they would have to reassess what it took to make it in the world. They would have to change what they aspired to become.

Or, they would have, had their countrymen not stumbled across the Americas. Many young Spaniards were unsecure. They had missed out on the glory of defeating the Moors, so they were going to conquer the snot out of the New World. The ambition of Spain was relocated. But ambitious people are all the same, no matter what it is they desire.

None of this was lost on the Native Americans. They didn’t know about the dynamics of the Reconquista, but they knew people. They could tell the conquistadors were ambitious types with something to prove. It was also clear that the Spaniards would destroy anyone who stood in their way, and there was nothing the indigenous people could do to stop them.


How come the worst kids always have the coolest toys?

So when the Spaniards started asking relentlessly about gold, the Native Americans gave the best possible answer.

“You will find lots of Gold somewhere else. Try Cibola.”

“And they have gold there?” the Spanish asked.

“Sure,” the Native Americans replied.

“Streets of Gold? Buildings of Gold? Is the Entire city made of gold?”

“Of course it is.”

“How much gold is there?”

“As much as you can imagine. Over there. Away from here.”

And when the Conquistadors never found Cibola, they latched onto stories of the next “City of Gold.” If not Cibola, then Quivera. If not Quivera, then El Dorado. The best way to deal with Go-Getters is to tell them to go get something else.

The Native Americans dealt with Conquistadors in the same way you deal with a bully in the lunch room. You can’t fight him. He is way bigger than you. So you tell the bully that the kid across the Cafeteria, the kid you don’t like, has three times as much lunch money as you. Plus he is diabetic or asthmatic or something. So he will be easily overpowered.

Eventually, the bully will make his rounds back to you, but at least you get to enjoy your lunch for that day.

Pueblo Food

“Corn and Beans again! I wish someone would introduce livestock.”

The Indians told the Conquistadors about great treasures located somewhere else. If someone ever tells you to find a great treasure far away, they are probably just trying to get rid of you.

The Indians said whatever it took to make the conquistadors go away. And the Conquistadors actually believed them!

For as long as there have been people, there have been stories of fantastical places filled with strange people and wondrous creatures. The word for these collective stories is mythology. Another word for them is lies.

The Spaniards were not strangers to mythology. Nor were they strangers to lies. They had their own stories of unicorns and secret treasures. They also knew, through experience and the experience of the ancestors, that these stories were almost always false. The average Spaniard didn’t believe in Giants or Fairy tales. But giants and fairy tales didn’t offer anything the Spaniards wanted. A City of Gold, or in a pinch a Fountain of Youth…now there is a lie they could believe in!

And believe they did. The Spanish proved time and again that they would spend lives and fortunes on little more than a rumor. And despite the lack of an actual city of Gold, the Spanish spent more and ranged further looking for it. But Cibola was never past the next village. El Dorado was never over the next hill. And Quivera was just a pile of dirt, if it ever existed at all.

Serpent Mound

“There’s Gold in that there Snake Mound!”

These two lessons we learn from the Spanish Conquistadors and the first Native Americans they encountered. That people will say whatever is necessary to get annoying bullies to go away, and that the bullies will believe it if the lie sounds like something good. Of course, you can’t keep threats away forever. But if you must be conquered, you can at least make the Conquistadors look stupid.

If aliens are anything like humans, when they come to conquer Earth, lets tell them there is fabulous treasure beneath the clouds of Venus. That should buy us some time.


“Treasure! On Venus? Screw the Aliens, I’m Gonna be rich!”