Monday, November 29, 2021

Wankarani Wagons

Inspired by conversations with Rob Schmidt.


Three thousand years ago, hunter-gatherer societies settled into agriculture in the highlands of central South America. While the Chiripa culture dwelled nearer Lake Titicaca, the largest lake on the continent and one of the highest major bodies of water in the world, the Wankarani peoples settled nearer to Lake Poopo, a saline lake to the southeast. They were mound-builders, erecting houses atop mounds and burying their dead beneath the family homes. A heavily agricultural community, they raised llamas and alpacas while farming quinoa and potatoes.

The legend goes that man had lost an arm in his youth when it was crushed by a stampeding llama. Though he survived to adulthood and excelled working with animals, he found difficulty in contributing to the harvest being able to carry only a portion of what others could even with woven baskets. Upon seeing a child pull along a clay toy that had been made with wheels on a wooden axle, the man decided to make his own wagon. Clay proved too heavy and delicate to be effective, so he used wooden wheels cut from the trunks of trees. His two-wheeled cart was a marvel, and neighbors soon duplicated it for their own benefit.

Agriculture improved among the Wankarani, and soon four-wheeled versions of the wagon were appearing throughout the region often pulled by llamas. The Tiwanaku people on the other side of Lake Titicaca became the dominate culture, growing with their effective use of mound-gardens surrounded by shallow canals that allowed for abundant harvests. As the Tiwanaku’s influence expanded, the Wankarani felt threated. They were not a warlike people, as shown in the archeological digs with few weapons and no village walls outside of llama enclosures, so they began to drift eastward out of the Antiplano that held the highland lakes.

Once across the hot Gran Chaco highlands dividing the middle of the continent, the Wankarani found the wide plains of the Pampas perfectly suited to their herding lifestyles. Through centuries of breeding, they grew up enormous llamas capable of pulling heavy wagons and lithe alpacas towing high two-wheeled carts for speedy passenger travel. As their population expanded and grew, turmoil increased with local natives. The Wankarani created a defensive confederation, linking their villages with leveled roads and amassing a force of llama-drawn chariots for battle. Dominating the region and creating a surplus of food through plow agriculture, the Wankarani established cities and trade networks for metals and luxury goods.

The overland trade routes connected up the slopes to the Incan Empire, which became a supply line for metals. The Wankarani flourished in a rival civilization along the Parana River, building bridges and roadways rivaling Incan engineering. Wars broke out as the Inca attempted to expand, but the Wankarani chariots proved able to beat back any Incan infantry force. The two would ultimately become allies against the waves of onslaught by European expansionists.

The Wankarani first made contact with Europeans may have been Amerigo Vespucci, but it was Juan Diaz de Solis who came ashore at the Rio de la Plata on the eastern end of the Wankarani lands to establish relations. The Wankarani were eager to find another supply of metal, but they became wary of the Spaniards greedily seeking gold and silver. Word traveled up to Cusco about the gold-hungry visitors in strange dress, prompting the emperor Huayna Capac to arrest and execute most of Francisco Pizarro’s expedition upon its arrival in 1526. Plagues from the disease exchange devastated native peoples; nevertheless, fresh troops shared between the Inca and Wankarani enabled them to maintain independence while their populations recovered. Wankarani later built relations with the English and Dutch to supply firearms and became the first native peoples to manufacture their own gunpowder.

Following the colonial era, South America continued as a continent split into fourths with Portuguese Brazil, Spanish Colombia, Andean Inca, and the Wankarani Confederation. Horses were imported in small numbers, but llamas continued to be the major beasts of burden for transport until both creatures gave way to steam and internal combustion engines. Seen as its own corner of the world, South Americans trade freely with each other but offer only a few global markets for exporting luxury fleeces.



In reality, the Wankarani culture was eclipsed by the growing Tiwanaku culture from the northwest as it expanded its influence from the Lake Titicaca region. The Tiwanaku would eventually decline, likely due to climatic change, and the power center of the area shifted to the Inca in the Andes. The Inca would be conquered by the Spanish Empire, but numerous archaeological sites and descendants carry on the culture of the area, such as llama herding. While there are numerous examples of ancient wheels in the Western Hemisphere, such as wheeled toys in Mesoamerica, wheeled vehicles were not seen, arguably because they lacked large domesticated animals such as horses and oxen.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

September 29, 1526 - Settling of San Miguel de Gualdape

This post was inspired by Mike McIlvain and first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

 After many failed colonization attempts, it was the Spanish magistrate and explorer Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón who was to found the first European settlement in the continental United States, and the third in North America north of Mexico.

A wealthy sugar planter of Santo Domingo, he had obtained permission from the king and queen of Spain with the specific instructions that they build friendly relationships with any indigenous people they encountered. In this endeavour, he had been strongly supported by an abducted indigene who had been baptized as Francisco de Chicora. His over-enthusiastic descriptions were personally motivated by a desire to secure a return passage. Yet, the shocking truth was that all of the indigenous people on Hispaniola were dead and the Spaniards had abducted others and imported enslaved Africans for labour. An apocalypse of biblical proportions had arrived in the Americas, but fortunately the direction of history was set to head in the opposite direction.

As the government functionary,
Ayllón's ultimate success, and the legacy of the colony, was largely due to the active involvement of two Dominican friars, Antonio de Montesinos and Antonio de Cervantes. They were only brought along as auxiliaries to minister to both the settlers and the natives. But their role in the shaping of the North American east would be monumental. And fatefully it was de Montesinos, the man who famously declared "I am the voice of Christ in the desert of this island," who inspired then-soldier Bartolome de las Casas to become that champion of the oppressed native slaves. Between them these men of faith would transform Spanish conduct in the Americas.

As settlement got underway, the colonists constructed houses and a church and established the institutions of government there. But the settlers faced immense problems including disease, the loss of a good deal of their stores with the sinking of their flagship Capitana, and the natives' initial unwillingness to trade. Several tribes were rightfully aggressive, attacking in retribution for slavers who had patrolled the coast and captured many relatives. Fortunately for the settlers, the Waccamaw River was a powerful river teaming with fish. Encouraged by the friars to adapt, the settlers only survived a harsh winter through fishing.

During the difficult early days of the settlement de Montesinos used his faith to resolve intense conflicts. This large mixed group included the Spanish nobles, mutinous sailors, enslaved Africans, converted natives like de Chicora, and the other Indians who were loathe to communicate with their new neighbors. The Indians had been brought along as interpreters and guides and had attempted to desert at Winyah Bay, a fearful outcome which would have imperiled the whole enterprise.

To survive they had to unite and integrate, taking difficult out-of-character decisions to resolve the power struggles in the group and stay alive as a unit. They successfully fought off a mysterious epidemic and somehow survived into the new year when the weather improved and it was possible to begin planting. Under the wise stewardship of Ayllón and de Montesinos, the settlement began to thrive and re-establish contact with Santo Domingo. Their doctrines had taken root and continued to spread throughout the region as the Spanish slowly took control of the entire Southeastern region.

Author's Note:

In reality, the colony lasted about four months before it succumbed to disease, starvation, and a hostile Indian population. The surviving colonists agreed it was time to evacuate the colony and return to Hispanola. By the end of October they were boarding their ships, and by mid-November all the settlers had left San Miguel de Gualdape. Of the 600 people who started the expedition in July, only about 150 returned home alive. However, Ayllón's account of the region inspired a number of later attempts by the Spanish and French governments to colonize the southeastern United States. De Montesinos was murdered in Venezuela in 1645 for his ideas on protecting native rights.

Provine's Addendum:

The work of de Montesinos had begun in 1511 with a sermon condemning enslaving natives, challenging masters, "Why do you keep them so oppressed and exhausted, without giving them enough to eat or curing them of the sicknesses they incur from the excessive labor you give them, and they die, or rather you kill them, in order to extract and acquire gold every day?" His ideals proved unpopular, which resulted in being returned to Spain, where he was later attached to Ayllón's colonial project. When Ayllón fell ill, de Montesinos became the colony's de facto leader, and his notions of equality under God became instituted during a mutiny in which the black slaves fought back against the rebellion. In return, de Montesinos emancipated the slaves and directed them to work, along with everyone else in the colony, toward the common good. The fairytale of "Stone Soup" in which a traveler to a starving village began boiling a stone in a large pot, calling it soup and offering a bowl to anyone who had something to add, became de Montesinos's perspective. A suggestion to boil water for medicinal tea resulted in the plague slowing down, allowing men to fish and gather to survive the winter.

San Miguel de Gualdape became a curious facet of the New World. Unlike later "pirate" havens like Tortuga and Madagascar's Libertatia, the colony remained under the authority of the Crown despite its egalitarian population. Political turmoil in Spain at first left the colony to its own, and soon it became a fascinating economic experiment to Charles V. Early economists examined it as a departure from mercantilism where large capital and cheap labor were expected for business ventures. Instead, the working individuals prompted a strong middle class while maintaining common rights and building good relations with the nearby Guale tribes. Outbreaks of disease among the natives prompted mission work and brought attention of the most forward thinkers in the medical world.

As San Miguel thrived, Bartolome de las Casas was instrumental in bringing de Montesinos's policies to Mexico. Economic incubators for the middle class flourished while restrictions on slavery reduced the power of the smaller upper class to create economic strongholds with no room for competition. Mexico and San Miguel became magnets for new generations of colonists who looked to build from their own hands' work rather than get-rich-quick adventurers or plantation-masters. Economic ideals also spread along the trade routes through native regions, who soon adopted principles of agriculture and manufacturing that could adapt to their lands while exporting garments and New World crops such as tobacco.

By the late eighteenth century, North America's coast was a closely knit economic system from the Yucatan to the Mississippi and Atlantic Coast as far as Canada. Despite the clear differences in the peoples with beliefs and nationalities including Spanish, French, English, Dutch, Swedish, African, and Native, the sense of commonality continued from de Montesinos's preaching. Struggles with European affairs prompted a collective revolution, establishing the extensive United States of Northern America, an economic and military confederation with its capital at San Miguel.

Monday, November 22, 2021

December 1607 - John Smith Killed by Powhatan Warriors

While hunting during the early winter for the struggling colony of Jamestown, English adventurer John Smith was captured by a band of Powhatan Native Americans led by Opechancanough. He was considered the “prince” by English standards as the younger brother of the principal chief, Wahunsonacock. Unable to communicate, the Powhatans brought him to their hunters’ camp as a compelled guest. They planned to take him on to Topahanocke, the Rappahannock capital, to determine whether he was among the same mysterious travelers from the sea who had attacked some years earlier.

Smith was well familiar with being imprisoned. He had been wounded battling the Tartars in Eastern Europe, captured, and sold into slavery among the Ottomans. His long escape through Crimea and Lithuania gave him extensive experience that encouraged his new employers, the London Company, to hire him on the expedition to found a colony in Virginia. Smith had been mutinous on the voyage against leaders he felt ill-suited and was arrested and set to be executed until sealed orders were opened to name Smith a colony leader himself. Smith proved effective, if unpopular, with his order “he that will not work shall not eat.”

Opechancanough brought shamans to work with Smith, hoping to find a way to communicate. Smith became startled by the ritual and, one night, attempted to slip away. The warriors killed him during the escape attempt. According to legend, it was Opechancanough’s keen-eyed niece, Pocahontas, who spotted the escaping John Smith and cried out to bring the warriors after him.

Without Smith’s tyrannical rule, the Jamestown colony collapsed. That winter, many of the colonists fled to live among native camps, bartering for their survival. Attempts to restart the colony brought five hundred new settlers in May of 1609, followed by another 300 in August, all sent by the London Company with little preparations for supplies other than to replant the long-unattended fields. The colonists again died readily, and Jamestown II was permanently abandoned after the Third Supply fleet was devastated by a hurricane in 1610.

Costly disasters disgusted investors in the London Company, who had envisioned plans of setting up a client state enslaving the Powhatans and mandating Anglicanism among them. New attempts to colonize on the mainland also faltered, leading England to turn its attention to Bermuda instead, where part of the Third Supply had been shipwrecked during the hurricane. There, settler John Rolfe attempted to establish his tobacco plantation using the sweeter brand of southern-growing Spanish seeds.

England finally found its industry in the New World with plantations, but land was scarce on the islands. Rolfe became determined to find more land, dedicating years of his life through the 1620s in establishing trade relations with the Powhatans. Though they refused to allow Englishmen to colonize again after a wave of plagues were tied to English contact, they were happy to trade for manufactured goods. Rolfe and Opechancanough developed a new system of native-owned plantations producing as much tobacco as English ships could handle, establishing a trade route that made what was once called Virginia the focal point of the local economy.

Rich with trade and armed with European weapons, the Powhatan Confederacy grew to become the major nation-state of North America’s eastern coast. Seeking land for further plantations, the Powhatans expanded west and southward while the wealth from trade brought them to absorb tribes north all the way to Prince Edward Island. Agreements with the English kept settlers out of the area, prompting England to focus on grabbing land from the French and Spanish on the largely undefended northwest shores of the Gulf of Mexico. The Powhatans proved to be firm allies with the English, though they became encircled by the British Empire in the 1700s after France gave away its claims to Louisiana and Canada in treaties following lost wars.

Powhatan continued as the economic focus of North America, spending much of the 1800s covertly funding resistance and independence movements to the other tribal nations. Tensions with the British rose during the era, but ultimately Britain turned its attention toward Africa and Asia for new, more profitable colonies based on trade rather than attempts at settlement.



In reality, John Smith was not killed by the Powhatan tribe. In fact, the details of the incident itself are highly questionable as Smith was well known for being a larger-than-life storyteller, claiming his life had been spared because Pocahontas had fallen in love with him. The Powhatans determined Smith and the other settlers to be a different nation than the attackers (likely Spanish), but the Powhatan-English relations would later falter with wars through the 1600s. Smith refused to let Jamestown fail through 1609. Settlers came to replace those who had died, and Smith returned to England after a gunpowder accident. He became a vocal advocate for colonization and traveled on an expedition scouting north of Jamestown in a region he dubbed “New England.” Rolfe’s sweet tobacco plantation helped Jamestown become a profitable venture, sparking decades of warfare with the Powhatan as more and more settlers flocked to Virginia.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

June 20, 1325 - Mexica Peoples See a Vision of Many Eagles

As summer dragged on, the Mexica peoples continued their migration seeking the vision described by the sun god Huitzilopochtli. It was said that they would find their homeland by the sign of an eagle eating a snake while perched on a cactus. Arriving in the Valley of Mexico, scouts reported seeing the vision, but several of the reports came from different places on Lake Texcoco. Arguments erupted about whether the proper place of settlement was an island on the west, the western shore, the eastern shore, or various locations in the north. Ultimately the Mexica issue was settled by the ruler of the old Toltec city Culhuacan in the south, who divided the lake into different regions and invited the Mexica to settle the area as landed mercenaries for their waning empire.

By Madman2001 - Self-published work by Madman2001, CC BY-SA 3.0

As Culhuacan weakened, the Mexica cities grew and prospered, adopting the “floating garden” agricultural techniques of the chinampas. The rich city of the west, Azcatpotzalco, determined to overthrow Culhuacan power and establish a new Mexica-led dominion. They invited the soldiers of the island city of Tenochtitlan to join them, but the bad blood from the old argument of the true site for Mexica settlement ran too deep for an alliance. Just as Azcatpotzalco grew, so did resentment among the other cities. In 1428, the other cities began raids that weakened Azcatpotzalco after a generation of attempts to manipulate politics and economics in the valley. Tenochtitlan became the new leader in population and wealth, but it, too, would suffer from attacks from nearby Tlacopan and Texcoco across the lake.

Upon the arrival of Spanish explorers in 1521, Mexico was a collection of warring nation-states. The expedition leader Hernan Cortes made contact with several of the cities, battling with several of them and establishing relations with Tlaxcalan trading goods. Smallpox broke out among the cities where the Spanish had traveled, finally unifying the indigenous people in the opinion that the outsiders were bad luck. A joint campaign of diplomacy and ongoing attacks finally drove Cortes back to Cuba.

Spain still laid claim to the area on European maps, but the local city-states maintained their own political identities. As populations recovered from smallpox and other diseases of the Columbian Exchange, trade blossomed for Spanish horses, steel, and firearms for spices and gold. Spanish merchants grew wealthy, but only for a few years until the seemingly endless stream of gold in the region brought the attention of the English, French, and Dutch. Naval warfare continued for centuries in the Caribbean with islands and European strongholds on the mainland trading hands numerous times. Several local chieftains carved out small empires for themselves by playing Europeans against one another for large caches of weapons. Ultimately, the Middle American states would be a collection of different people groups with different European allies and different degrees of independence in empires.

The economies of the Middle American states focused on agriculture, mining, and some industry until the canal-building boom of the late nineteenth century. Seeking an Atlantic-Pacific connection without having to sail around Cape Horn, there were several attempts at constructing a shortcut. The first was a canal that cut a channel to make Lake Nicaragua accessible from the Pacific Ocean, establishing a busy port on the eastern side of the lake that led to railways eastward to the Caribbean. Gradually, efforts expanded the navigability of the San Juan River to a full shipping lane with locks. In the meantime, rival rail-and-canal systems were constructed across Panama, Tehuantepec, and the Gulf of Urbana. The disparate shipping options hastened the invention of an internationally standardized shipping container by the 1890s.



In reality, the Mexica people settled the Valley of Mexico following the famed vision of an eagle eating a serpent atop a cactus, an emblem that today marks the flag of Mexico. A triple alliance led by Tenochtitlan enabled it to become the unquestioned center of the Aztec Empire in the 1400s, building an extensive area of control that stretched across the isthmus. Because it was so centralized, Cortes’s expedition saw potential to capture it in one swoop with support from the Aztecs’ enemies. The enormous treasure and political power seized there laid the groundwork for the Spanish Empire on the American mainland.

Monday, November 8, 2021

Guest Post: Chief Hone Heke arrives in Washington

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

March 20, 1844 - Chief Hone Heke arrives in Washington

Captain William Mayhew, an American whaler, landed on Kapiti, an island a short distance off the New Zealand coast north of Wellington. Becoming familiar with Ngāpuhi grievances against their British overlords, Mayhew described the successful revolt of the American colonies over the issue of taxation. After many lengthy deliberations, Chief Pōmare II urged him to take Hone Heke to meet Mayhew's chief for consultations.

Mayhew realized that, despite his best intentions, he had inadvertently opened the door on a situation that could only lead to frustration and disappointment. The United States had neither the naval power in the Pacific nor the political resolve to intervene on behalf of the Māoris. Nor would American intentions necessarily be more honourable. There would never be an American Territory of New Zealand let alone an American protectorate, that was for sure. Nevertheless his abhorrence of British imperialism was sufficiently strong to motivate him to act, and Hone Heke accompanied Mayhew on the long return journey.

They arrived in Washington, D.C., in late 1844, and very briefly created intense interest and fascination across elite society. President John Tyler, a Southern slave-owner, was unsympathetic. But by way of diplomacy, and it must be said, largely for political theatre and also to annoy the British, both men were invited as guests to a demonstration cruise down the Potomac. This trip was a limited opportunity for these two instant celebrities to gather on-board the USS Princeton with President Tyler, members of his cabinet, former First Lady Dolley Madison, Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri, and about four hundred guests.

Hone Heke was hugely impressed by the screw sloop warship and even more so by an experimental long gun called the Peacemaker. He emphatically shared his excitement with Swedish inventor John Ericsson. Their loud conversation drew the interest of many observers including the President who had been below deck. The Māori Chief was negotiating an exchange of land for purchasing such a fearsome weapon when Captain Stockton pulled the firing lanyard. The resulting explosion sprayed fragments of hot metal across the deck instantly killing Hone Heke, Tyler, Mayhew, Stockton and Ericsson.

Author's Note:

In reality, he obtained an American ensign from Henry Green Smith, a storekeeper at Wahapu who had succeeded Mayhew as Acting-Consul. After the flagstaff was cut down for a second time, the Stars and Stripes flew from the carved sternpost of Heke's war canoe. Mayhew later succeeded James Reddy Clendon to become Acting-Consul for the United States.

Ericsson later designed the ironclad USS Monitor so this TL would have butterflies for the American Civil War.

Double What-If Provine Addendum:

If Hone Heke had been aboard the Princeton and the explosion had only killed the six men whom it had in OTL, it may have been enough to prompt Ericsson to take up Hone Heke on his offer to built a warship for the Maori. Ericsson had moved twice already for opportunities, first to Britain in 1826 to work on designs for the Admiralty and then to the United States in 1839 after his designs were met with skepticism. Stockton had encouraged his move to the US, finding Ericsson work with the Navy for improved engines and propellers. The Princeton's guns had also been Ericsson's design, although their relationship had grown rocky and Stockton pushed Ericsson off the project after the first gun was built. The later one, which exploded, had been built without Ericsson's expertise. In the aftermath, Stockton pushed blame toward Ericsson.

With an opportunity to start fresh in the Pacific, Ericsson was encouraged by his good friend, industrialist Cornelius H. DeLamater. While Ericsson traveled with Hone Heke, DeLamater worked to gather funding and young volunteers willing to take a chance on building something all-new. Just as they had expected, the North Island of New Zealand was a primeval landscape scarcely touched by industrialization. With Ericsson's background in mining and surveying, however, deposits of coal and iron made themselves clear. In fact, much of the west coast of the North Island was covered in ironsand, a largely magnetite composition that could be collected by hand and readily smelted into different forms of iron. The gamble proved to be a surefire success when the surveying also revealed stocks of gold on both the North and South islands.

Within only a few years, New Zealand became the economic and industrial focus of the Pacific. Though officially a colony of the UK, it attracted numerous American settlers with its New York connections as well as experienced miners from across northern European nations. The explosion of population served as a strong labor base, and the chaotic early days of settlement calmed down after many of the more eager miners left for San Francisco in '49 after gold was discovered in California. Through the course of the rapid expansion, Hone Heke and his warriors were charged with keeping the peace, which they did by patrolling in the most advanced warships in the world.

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