Great Empires of North America, Part 5: The League of Peace and Power

Haudenusaunee (Iroquois) warriors and traders

They created North America’s first  democracy, and played chess with European empires. Meet the Northeast’s unstoppable native confederacy.

He was called the Peacemaker – and people would later say he was born of a virgin.

Driven to anguish by his people’s ceaseless cycle of warring, kidnapping and torture, he “set his teeth together,” and wandered in the wilderness for many days.

One afternoon he reached a clear, smooth-flowing stream, where he knelt to pray.

He looked up and saw a great white eagle, eyeing him keenly.

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Great Empires of North America, Part 4: People of the Pyramid

The city of Cahokia in Missouri

Their culture, religion and cities welded the American Southeast into a single mighty civilization. Meet the empire builders of medieval Missouri.

The Great Sun was dead. As a gray dawn broke over the city’s towering pyramids, a procession of mourning priests and nobles paraded through the courtyard, bearing gifts for their king’s tomb. A cadre of soldiers brought up the reair, dragging hundreds of slaves who knew they were marching to their deaths.

Mourners laid the Great Sun’s body to rest atop a great burial mound, surrounding his royal person with thousands of disc beads arranged in the shape of a falcon. Nobles offered their gifts: beads, shells, pots, and finely worked arrowheads imported from faraway lands. Priests howled laments, shook rattles and chanted prayers.

Then the human sacrifices began.

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Great Empires of North America, Part 3: Colorado’s Urban Revolution

The Ancestral Puebloan city at Mesa Verde, Colorado.

From cliffside fortresses, they controlled a sprawling trade network — and hoarded wealth beyond dreams. Meet the merchant princes of the ancient Southwest.

When we hear terms like “invasion” and “first contact” in American history, we naturally think of European colonialism — and with good reason.

The Spanish arrival in New Mexico  devastated indigenous populations, disrupted regional trade, introduced horses and guns, and left the Southwest irreversibly transformed.

But the Spanish were not the first foreign people to set foot on Southwestern soil — nor were they the first to introduce new technologies, languages, beliefs and ways of life that radically altered the region’s ecology and social structure.

More than a thousand years before the Spanish, a different group of colonists erupted into the Southwest.

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Great Empires of North America, Part 2: Exodus to Arizona

The Hohokam marketplace at Palo Verde, Arizona

They raised mighty mud-brick cities, and built a trade empire spanning the Southwest. Meet Arizona’s desert lords.

The people had been walking in the desert for many days. When they’d departed from northern Mexico on their great northward migration, they’d been more than a hundred strong – men, women and children, well-practiced at surviving in this merciless land.

These people knew how to drink water from cacti, how to trap the mice and lizards that scurried among the rocks, and how to find shady places to sleep through the brutal midday heat.

But this miserable life was very different from the one they’d left behind.

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Great Empires of North America, Part 1: The Old World

People of the Calusa society of ancient Florida

They built astronomical observatories and innovative farming systems and we don’t even know their names. Meet the first great civilizations of Native American history.

Nearly four thousand years ago as the city of Babylon was first growing into a metropolis and Egypt’s Middle Kingdom was in full swing a group of hunters along North America’s Mississippi River assembled in their thousands, to build something very strange.

In a place that would someday be known as northern Louisiana, they staked out an area of some five hundred acres, and began to heap the earth into enormous mounds.
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