Hernando DeSoto's 1539-43 march through the Southeast had a devastating impact on the tribes of the area. Archaeological evidence shows that DeSoto and his men hacked and pillaged their way through the Southeast. They kidnapped, raped, and maimed as they made their way north from Florida to North Carolina and then west to the Mississippi, in search of gold. The greatest enemy the Southeastern Indians encountered at this time, however, was not wearing armor and wielding lances and swords. DeSoto had inadvertently brought with him a hidden enemy: disease. Old world diseases -- chicken pox, small pox, measles -- proved fatal to American Indians who had no resistance to these illnesses. These diseases struck down tens of thousands throughout the Southeast. Towns along rivers and trade routes were decimated by disease. It is difficult to imagine the human and cultural scope of this immense American holocaust. It is estimated that in this Great Dying, 90% of the Southeastern Indian population perished.
Despite this immense shock and disruption to hundreds of societies, the Indians of the Southeast persevered and have made many important contributions to the American story. In fact, the recovery of the tribes of the Southeast is, in itself, one of the greatest American stories.
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