By Dale Cozort
Note: This is alternate prehistory, which adds another layer of uncertainty to a scenario: There is no documentary evidence of what happened. Fair warning: there are hot scientific debates going on about key assumptions of this scenario. I assume that the first American Indians either directly or indirectly exterminated most large North and South American animals that died off at the end of the last ice age. That is a very controversial assumption. I also assume that while humans may have arrived in the New World much earlier, the first effective big game hunting cultures didn't develop in North America until ten to fifteen thousand years ago. That's an area where the science is in flux, with a spate of discoveries about ten years ago hinting at humans reaching the continent up to twenty-six thousand years ago, possibly from Europe. The European origins theory mostly went out of fashion a few years later, but advocates of earlier humans in the Americas persist and the debate is ongoing.
Note Two: This alternate history scenario begins in the Appalachians, but it doesn't stay there. Eventually it hits most of North America, encroaches on Mexico and even affects sixteenth-century Europe.
What actually happened: During the last ice age, North America looked more like a cold version of Africa than present day North America. It had cold-adapted elephants, lions, camels, horses and many other exotic animals. About seventy percent of the North American animals over a hundred and twenty pounds died out at the end of the ice age, shortly before or shortly after the first big-game hunting human cultures appeared. Those extinctions held back Indian cultural development. Surviving large animals gave few choices for domestication, and North American Indians never domesticated them.
Why did the extinctions happen? That's controversial and probably not provable one way or another. Unraveling ecological cause and effect is difficult even when you can watch the changes happen. It may be impossible ten thousand years after those changes.
The North American environment changed around the same time the large animals died, but was that the cause of the extinctions or the result of them? It would be surprising if the environment didn't change when seventy percent of the big animals became extinct. In Africa, savannahs change into forests when poachers kill out elephants. Multi-ton eating machines change their environment.
My guess is that Indians found the large animals in a vulnerable but not hopeless position because of climate changes at the end of the last ice age. They hunted a few large vulnerable species to extinction. They also indirectly destroyed a few species by taking over resources those species needed. In the Great Plains, the key resource might have been sheltered, tree-lined river valleys where animals went to escape the worst of the plains winters. People would compete for that shelter and burn the trees for firewood. Where water was scarce, humans would compete for that.
Humans killed out large, vulnerable species. That set off a cascade of ecological changes that took down additional species. Survivors had to adapt to that rapidly changing environment while under severe pressure from various forms of human interference. Most of them didn't make it.
What might have happened?
Llamas survive in rugged areas of the Appalachian Mountains.
Why llamas? Big spectacular animals like Mammoths, Mastodons, Glyptodonts and Ground Sloths simply weren't going to make it, at least not in their ice age forms. They needed too much territory and their generations were too long for them to adapt quickly to human activity. Smaller animals like horses and North American camels had a chance. I thought about having a North American horse survive. That has potential, but North American horses were primarily western animals, and for this scenario I needed an animal from the mountains of the eastern US.
I settled on a North American species of llama because it was available in the right area, and because some species of llamas survived in South America. That probably means that llamas were on the borderline between surviving and not making it. Peccaries (sort of a New World pig) were in that same category but less useful.
Some little factor tipped the scale one way in South America and the other in North America. I decided to throw in a factor to tip things to the survival side in North America: Appalachian Mountain llamas carry a parasite-borne disease that we'll call Appalachian fever or llama fever. It is similar to, but more deadly and easier to spread than Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. The first human big game hunters reach the area and begin dying. The survivors decide to move on. At this point there is plenty of room in North America.
Since this is a hypothetical disease, I can tailor the characteristics of Appalachian fever to fit the needs of the scenario. It needs to be deadly enough to keep people out, yet not deadly enough to have too big an impact. Let's say it is tick-borne and dependent on llamas for part of its life cycle. It can't spread unless llamas do. It is deadly for people who get it, but doesn't spread very fast, which means entire communities don't usually get sick with it at the same time. People exposed to it are immune for several years, but the fever can hit them again if they go enough years without being exposed.
The fever hits people with some genetic makeups harder than others, so populations gradually get less susceptible over generations. People with "B" blood-types are less likely to get seriously ill or die from it than people with other blood-types. "B" blood-types are rare among Indians other than Apaches, Navajos and related people, so that doesn't initially matter, though it will later. Tribes that encounter Appalachian fever for the first time, and can't get away from it, experience a gradual thirty to forty percent population decline, then gradually recover.
Pre-Indian humans have low enough population density that they have no huge incentive to colonize the mountains in light of the death toll, though they encroach enough to develop partial genetic immunity over thousands of years.
When Indians arrive, for a couple of thousand years the Appalachian Mountains remain a pocket of the old North America, with a range of surviving species. That doesn't last though. Appalachian fever isn't deadly enough to keep people out completely. Human pressure gradually builds up outside the affected area. A few brave or desperate Indians hunt at the edge of the pocket. If pre-Indians existed, they would get pushed into the mountains and forced to adapt to llama fever. Big species require big territories, so really big animals gradually die off. The big predators go first, then Ground Sloths and Glyptodonts. Mastodons survive for a while, getting smaller as they often did on islands.
As human population pressure grows, Indians encroach on the pocket, dying in large numbers, but also adapting to the disease.
Pre-Indian populations, if they exist, gradually adopt Indian technology and become threats to the larger animals on their own. This process takes generations, and animals inside the pocket adapt to the presence of people. Mastodons were close relatives of elephants—very smart and adaptable. A remnant of pygmy Mastodons might survive up in the mountains. The rest of the scenario won't count on that. A North American species of peccary might also survive, as might a bear species or two that went extinct historically. The scenario won't count on that either. Pre-Indian populations might survive in the mountains, though they would probably gradually be swamped genetically by the surrounding Indians. All we really need is that llamas survive, and that they be species that can be domesticated.
The ripples spread: This change has a major impact over a gradually increasing area and minor consequences over a wider area. Those 'minor' changes aren't minor to people and animals involved. By 2000 BC, very few if any Indians or animals of this timeline are genetically identical to any historic Indian or animal. The consequences are minor in that the Indians and animals of this timeline play the same roles in the same ways that their counterparts did historically.
Hunting llamas in Appalachia—To 2000 BC: Indians gradually populate Appalachia, being pushed into the area by population pressure from surrounding tribes. They gradually adapt and populations grow. Indians have a higher incidence of disease where llamas survived, and a couple more animal species to hunt. At this point it doesn't make much difference.
Llamas domesticated—2000BC to 200BC: As they did historically, Indians gradually settle down and use resources more intensively. Primitive farming develops along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Where llamas survive, Indians start domesticating them. They control the characteristics of their prey by being more selective in the llamas that they kill. They let llamas with desirable characteristics live and reproduce. Others become prey. As Indians come to understand the needs of their prey, they make sure those needs are met. Indians create good llama habitat by controlled burning and clearing. They nurse injured or orphan llamas back to health so they can grow up and be eaten later. Eventually, Appalachian Indians cross the line between hunting and herding.
Things diverge in Eastern North America—200 BC to 500 AD: In the Mississippi and Ohio River valleys, the Adena and Hopewell Mound Builders build an impressive culture based on cultivating native plants like sunflowers, squash and several native plants that are no longer cultivated. The Hopewell people are great traders, getting exotic goods from as far away as Wyoming. In this timeline, their trade network extends into the Appalachians.
Appalachian tribes develop their own trade network, using llamas as pack animals. That network puts tribes along the Atlantic Coast in closer contact with inland tribes, and the primitive agriculture of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers spreads to east coast rivers. East coast tribes gradually domesticate new crops of their own, and those new plants spread back to the center. Populations grow faster than they did historically, and are less centered on the central rivers. Appalachian fever spreads with the llamas, but Appalachian tribes quickly move in to the vacated land.
Llamas don't spread very quickly. They are mountain animals, not well suited to lowlands. They also cause disease, which translates to a general impression among non-Appalachian tribes that they cause bad luck. At the same time, they are useful, and the tribes that adapt to them gradually spread at the expense of their neighbors.
Appalachian tribes become great traders, using llama caravans to reach interior areas that canoe-based trade can't reach. By 500 AD, most tribes in the interior of North America either use llamas or are part of trade networks that do. Overall, the population and culture of eastern North America is a little higher in this timeline than it was historically.
Things diverge on the Great Plains—500-1200AD: Domestic llamas cross the Mississippi around 500 AD. From now on we'll look at the impact there and in the east. By the end of this period, the changes will spread to Pueblo Indians on the other side of the plains.
Some plains tribes eagerly adopt llamas, suffer a die-off, then grow at the expense of their neighbors. Apaches and Navajos start their southward trek earlier than they did historically, attracted by the new way of life developing on the plains. They are less affected by the fever than their neighbors, and they adopt llama herding enthusiastically. At first their spread cuts off trade across the plains, and the Hopewell and Adena Mound Builders suffer as their trade networks are disrupted. Hopewell and Adena are in decline anyway as warfare spreads along with a new weapon, the bow-and-arrow. Later in the period, llama herds make trade across the plains easier.
On the east side of the Mississippi, 400 AD to 700 AD is a dark age, though a new culture is already rising: the Mississippian Mound Builders. The Mississippians depend much more on farming than earlier mound-builders. Corn spreads north from Mexico, and gradually becomes a major part of Indian diet. The llama-borne caravans of the interior spread corn agriculture more quickly than it spread historically.
At the same time, Mississippian culture itself spreads more slowly. Mississippians are low-land people, very oriented toward floodplain agriculture. They are slow to adopt llamas and vulnerable to the fever. As a result, a wider variety of cultures spread in various parts of eastern North America. Areas away from the rivers have larger and more sophisticated populations than they did historically, as do areas east of the Appalachians.
Vikings from Iceland and Greenland explore the northern part of North America, starting around 900 AD. They try a few settlements, all of which fail within a few years. They trade with local tribes. The Indians are more sophisticated than the ones they met historically, so the trade is more extensive and longer-lasting.
The Vikings aren't militarily strong enough to settle, and trade gradually dwindles as the Little Ice Age isolates and impoverishes the Greenland Vikings. The Viking visits do invigorate Indian culture. Indian boat-building and navigation techniques along the Atlantic Coast become more sophisticated. Viking metal objects like axes and knives become rare and sought-after prestige goods.
Indians along the New England coast are sophisticated enough in this timeline to appreciate the value of Norse sagas, and adopt similar systems. Viking writing has some influence on the Indians, with Norse symbols being used for Indian purposes. Indian pictographs become more sophisticated due to Norse contact, and convey more information. They aren't true writing, but they are moving in that direction.
Meanwhile, back on the plains, Apaches keep pushing south. Llamas spread ahead of them. The proto-Jumanos, an offshoot of the Pueblos who took up plains dwelling, buffalo-hunting and trading, eagerly adopt them. Apaches and Jumanos fight and trade with one another at various times. Neither group is monolithic. Over time, Apache groups ally with and even intermarry with Jumano groups, while fighting with other Jumano groups. The gap between their cultures shrinks as contact continues.
Toward the end of this period, Apaches and Navajos push into the Pueblo areas of the southwest. This push results in a mixture of trade and warfare between the two peoples. Pueblos adopt llama herding on a small scale, while the newcomers adopt some aspects of Pueblo culture, and infiltrate through Pueblo country. Apache genes spread far beyond their culture area because those genes make people less likely to die of llama-borne disease.
Llamas spread to northern Mexico—1200-1520AD:
As llamas become more common in Pueblo country they also spread south into northern Mexico. They have a major impact there, giving advanced cultures trying to establish themselves in that hostile country a boost, and turning primitive hunter-gatherers in the deserts into herders. The Yaquis and their relatives become major herders, as do the ancestors of the Opatas.
Shortly before 1500 AD, llama herding establishes itself on the periphery of the high-culture areas of Mexico. As I noted earlier, when most people think of Mexican Indians, they think of Aztecs, but the Aztecs were only one of many groups in the high-culture area of Mexico. They were probably the most powerful, but the Tarascan Empire of northwest Mexico was close to being their equal and had beaten the Aztecs severely in at least one of their wars. The Tarascans were great bowmen and metallurgists. They were starting to use bronze shortly before the conquest. Various groups like the Huaxtecs and Otomis were part of the Mexican high culture area, but partly outside the Aztec empire.
By the time Cortés (or whoever leads the first Spanish expedition) arrives in 1519, the Aztecs have a few llamas alongside the bison and large cats in their zoos. Northwest of the Aztecs, the powerful Tarascans use llamas for trade caravans, as do tribes on the Chichimec frontier between the civilized areas and the deserts to the north. Groups like the Otomi and Cazcanes on the fringe of Mexican civilization find them very useful. So do the Huaxtecs of northeastern Mexico.
As llamas spread south, they make it easier for cultural and technological traits from Mexico to spread north. New crops arrive in the southwestern and southeastern US from Mexico. Mexican Indian trade networks and Plains Indian trade networks grow to intersect in northern Mexico. Mexican Indian styles are sought and imitated by the Mississippian Mound Builder elite.
Once Mexican Indians on the northeast fringe of the Aztec area become aware of the Mississippians, they bypass the Plains by traveling by sea along the Gulf Coast. Huaxtecs set up trading posts at the mouths of major rivers on the Gulf Coast, like the Mississippi. These are all Mexican groups independent of the Aztecs. The Aztecs themselves are not involved. In this timeline and historically, the Aztecs conquer only part of the northeastern coast, and they do that shortly before the Spanish conquest. Aztecs are only vaguely aware of lands to the north.
The trade with Mexico enriches Mississippian Mound Builders. They gain access to Mexican gold and copper ornaments, cotton and obsidian. The Huaxtecs are good metalworkers. They work mainly in copper, but they also use bronze. Metal-working in cast copper spreads along the Mississippi river shortly before 1500 AD. Bronze-working takes longer. Domestic turkeys spread from Mexico or the Pueblos earlier. Some Mississippian groups start growing cotton by around 1450 AD.
New varieties of corn spread north from the Mexican Indians to the southeastern US. The weak Mexican Indian beer also spreads, and becomes common and popular in the southeastern United States. It reaches the northeast coast shortly after 1500 AD.
The flow of technology is not all northward. North American Indians are much more effective with the bow-and-arrow than Mexican Indians. Plains-style compound bows spread to the Huaxtecs and Tarascans on the fringes of the civilized Mexican area in the late 1400s, and make them more effective against the Aztecs.
Spanish Explorers and Conquistadors arrive-1520-1540 AD:
When Spanish explorers arrive, Indians in North America are very different from historic Indians. The population is much higher. They are more advanced technologically. Populations are less concentrated along the major rivers. The higher population and culture makes them much more attractive to the Spanish. Llama fever counter-balances that attraction and there isn't much gold to attract the Spanish.
The central Aztec area of Mexico isn't much different than it was historically. Most individuals and names are different, but Indians fill the same roles in the same kind of society. The changes have had minimal impact on the Spanish so far. Cortés leads his little band into Mexico on schedule. They conquer the Aztec on schedule. Smallpox spreads to the Mexican Indians on schedule. Then things start changing for the Spaniards.
The changes seem minor at first. Smallpox spreads quickly along trade routes. It spreads south at least as far as the Inca of Peru. It spreads along llama-borne trade routes to New England. Some people think the first smallpox epidemic spread that far north historically. I doubt it. I think that historically it probably stopped somewhere in northern Mexico or Texas, where populations were too small to support it.
As the Spanish try to spread their conquest, events start diverging further. Historically a large, well-equipped group of Spaniards from Jamaica tried to grab the Huaxtecs area of northeast Mexico away from Cortés. Their expedition disintegrated, and most of the men deserted to Cortés or were killed by the Huaxtecs. Cortés then crushed the Huaxtecs after very hard fighting. They were among the tougher Indians to beat because they used a phalanx-like formation with bowmen in the center. That helped neutralize Spanish horses.
In this timeline, the Huaxtecs are even more formidable. They are better bowmen, and they are not very afraid of horses, seeing them as bigger and more useful llamas—to be coveted as well as feared. As llama-herders, they understand the limitations of horses more quickly than they did historically, and take advantage of those limitations in choosing where to give battle. Captured horses are used as large llamas, incorporated into convoys, but initially not ridden. Cortés conquers most Huaxtec groups after initial defeats and very hard fighting, but many Huaxtecs flee into the rugged hills and deserts and continue a guerrilla war against Spanish rule. Llama fever complicates Spanish efforts to complete the conquest.
Spanish rule over the Huaxtecs is harsh. Historically and in this timeline, the Spanish king decided to limit the power of Cortés by setting up one of his favorites, a lawyer named Guzmán, as governor of the Huaxtec area. Guzmán supplements his income by selling local Indians as slaves to the West Indies. Historically, the Indians were thoroughly enough crushed that he could get away with that, but in this timeline they aren't. They also have somewhere to run to.
Huaxtec refugees flee along the Gulf Coast to the southeastern United States, where they turn trading posts into enclaves of Mexican Indian culture and spread Huaxtec metalworking to the Mississippians. More flee into the hills and deserts of northern Mexico, taking captured Spanish horses with them. Some join their trading partners on the southern fringe of the Great Plains. The ones that can't or don't want to escape launch a series of desperate revolts.
Malaria spreads to the area, further reducing the population. Eventually, the Indian population can no longer support the Spaniards who have settled there. Guzmán responds by launching slave raids into north-central Mexico and along the Gulf Coast. Those raids push refugees further north and east.
With his province disintegrating, and with the Spanish court getting ready to recall him, Guzmán decides to try to conquer "La Florida"—the southeastern United States. Many of his men die of llama fever. Indian attacks or starvation kill most of the rest. Huaxtec bearers scatter along the route, dead or fugitives. The few remaining Huaxtecs in his province promptly revolt with help from refugee kinsmen and wild tribesmen from the hills and deserts of northern Mexico.
Rebels kill or drive out the remaining Spaniards. The remnants of the Guzmán expedition return to an empty province. They go on to Mexico proper, where they are arrested. This has all happened by around 1526. The Spanish try to reconquer the area, but find that it isn't worth retaking. Almost the entire population has fled or been killed, and there was never much mineral wealth.
Meanwhile, in northwestern Mexico, the Tarascans play a careful game. Officially, they submit to Spanish rule. Unofficially, they retain as much independence as possible. Spaniards get their gold and tribute, but die in accidents or attacks by "hostile tribesmen" if they try too hard to exercise power. Spaniards also tend to die of llama fever in this timeline.
As he did historically, Cortés leaves Mexico for a stupid cross-country expedition to Honduras, and is rumored to be dead. Spanish Mexico is in chaos, with Cortés allies and enemies both running the country for short periods and sometimes coming close to civil war. In that environment, no one is secure enough to push for real control of the Tarascans.
The Tarascans know that the Spanish will eventually try to exercise real control. They quietly prepare. As llama-herders, they understand the potential of horses. A few horses quietly disappear as their owners die. More horses arrive with Huaxtec refugees. A few Tarascans learn how to ride by 1526, as have many Huaxtec refugees. Tarascans value those refugees for their experience in fighting Spaniards.
A showdown is coming. The Spanish become alarmed by rumors of Tarascan military preparations, especially after the latest Huaxtec revolt. There are even rumors of revolt among the Indians of what used to be the Aztec empire, though survivors of the Aztec ruling class are so few and weak that they are not a threat. Political chaos among the Spaniards of Mexico and the example of the Huaxtec revolt combine to make a general revolt in Mexico a real possibility.
And that's far as I'm going with this.
There is a lot more to explore in this timeline, and I may come back to it someday. If I do, I could look into the survival of a lot of the brutal old Aztec religious practices. Those practices might well survive longer in clandestine form in this timeline. The deserts of northern Mexico would be more attractive to die-hard practitioners of the old religions because llama-herding would make that area capable of supporting more people.
The scenario sets up a whole continent worth of interesting societies in North America that never existed historically. It sets up a range of interactions between Spanish and high culture Indians of Mexico and the Chichimec tribes of northern Mexico. Llama-herding means those tribes would adapt to horses quickly. That could mean a classic nomad versus cities struggle, with the nomads strengthened by refugee Indians from the high culture areas.
I could shift to North America and examine how settlers react when they run into Indians with much bigger populations and higher culture in the early 1600s. Depending on how things develop in Mexico, Indians in most of North America could already have been exposed to most European diseases, getting them from Mexico, and be recovering before European settlers arrive.
Rumors of pygmy mammoths surviving in the Appalachian Mountains could add color to this timeline once the continent starts to get settled. Even if they didn't survive until colonization, they could still color Indian legends. The Great Plains Indians could also be a lot more colorful. Horses would probably spread over the Plains a hundred to a hundred and fifty years earlier than they did historically. That would give plains culture a lot more time to become more elaborate. Llamas would add a herding component to the buffalo-hunting subsistence, making the culture more resilient. Add fugitives from Mexico to the mix and this timeline could end up with an interesting group of cultures.
If that isn't enough, we could look at the impact of these changes in Europe. That would start by the mid-1520s and gradually get more pronounced. The richest silver mines of Mexico were in Chichimec territory, among wild hunting-and-gathering tribes. Those tribes gave the Spanish a good fight for almost fifty years historically. If you give them more military power a lot of silver might not make it back to Spain, which would make a big difference in the European balance of power.
New World gold and silver both made Spain a great power, then nearly destroyed it. Change the timing and you could have Spain overrun by the Turks, or Spain becoming a second Rome, ruling a decadent empire controlling the important parts of Europe.
Sounds like fun, but what about... As usual, I have gone back and tried to find and patch loopholes in the scenario. Here are a few loopholes and my patches:
If having llamas makes it easier to deal with Spanish horses, why didn't it help the Incas? They went down easier than the Aztecs. The Incas did fall easier than the Aztecs. Having llamas probably did help them though. Inca generals quickly figured out terrain where horses were at a disadvantage, and tried to fight battles there. They also sometimes used captured horses in the Inca revolts. Manco Inca, a Spanish puppet Inca who cut the strings, rode a captured horse and speared Spanish soldiers in one battle. The problem with the Incas was that they couldn't kill Spaniards with traditional weapons in anything approaching a fair fight. They made very little use of bows and arrows, and had nothing as good at killing Spanish as even the Aztec obsidian-edged swords. The Aztecs could kill Spaniards if they caught them in small groups in areas unfavorable for horses. The Incas usually only bruised them under those circumstances.
Wouldn't it be better to speed up the spread and give the Aztecs a better shot at beating the Spanish in 1519 and 1520? I thought about that, and decided not to. First, Aztec survival stories and scenarios have been done, not as often as Nazi victory or "South won the Civil War" ones, but often enough that I thought a different approach was warranted. Also, llamas would probably change the nature of the Aztec regime and might even overthrow it. The Aztecs had an empire built around the advantages and limitations of a system where human porters provided all the logistic support. It was a very elaborate but fragile system. I suspect that the system, and their empire, would collapse if a new method of logistics became available. The Tarascans didn't have that problem because they integrated their conquests into a unified state rather than just demanding tribute.
What about pre-Clovis people? As I mentioned earlier, there is some evidence people reached North America thousands of years before the big-game hunters of the Clovis culture. That's still controversial, but it is a possibility. If there were already people in North America before the big-game hunters arrived, they would have more time to adapt to llama fever and would already be in the Appalachian Mountains by the time big game hunters arrived. That probably wouldn't have much impact on this scenario. I suppose that the more remote parts of the Appalachians might become a refuge for reasonably pure remnants of older waves of human migration.
That might make the area more interesting for anthropologists if anthropology ever developed in this timeline, but wouldn't make much difference to the main thrust of the scenario. If earlier waves of humans included people from Europe or groups related to the Ainu of Japan, they could become the source of legends about "white" Indians up in the mountains.
Most people have enough trouble just keeping familiar tribes like the Cherokee and Navajo straight. This scenario tosses in some really obscure groups. Jumanos? Opatas? Caxcanes? How does a reader keep these people straight? It isn't easy. I covered the major groups earlier, and gave some information in the text. I'll also summarize of some players here. All of this information is from real history. The fate of many of these groups differs in the alternate timeline.
Caxcanes - A northern Mexican Indian group on the border between nomadic hunter/gatherer Chichimecs and the high culture areas farther south. They had some characteristics of both groups. They were the core of the Mixton Rebellion in the early 1540s, and came close to rebelling against the Spanish again during the Chichimec wars.
Chichimecs - This is a generic term for the warlike hunter-gather tribes of the deserts of north-central Mexico. There were several tribes in this area. Some of them fought the Spanish into the 1590s, at times pushing the frontier back and raiding into the old Aztec area of Central Mexico.
Huaxtecs - A northeastern Mexican Indian group. They lived along the northern Gulf Coast of Mexico, which made them the closest high-culture Mexican Indians to the Mississippian Mound Builder areas. They fought very hard against the Spaniards and were smashed flat historically.
Jumanos - Indians of the southern Plains. They were apparently a group of Pueblo Indians who took up a buffalo-hunting, trading way of life, though they still used settled Pueblo-type towns as bases. They were pushed out of the Plains by more warlike tribes, including the Plains Apaches.
Opatas - A large tribe in northern Mexico. They were isolated from the high culture areas of Mexico by deserts, but developed a fairly high culture independently. They allied themselves with the Spanish and provided a lot of military help against the Apaches, but were gradually destroyed by European diseases or absorbed into Spanish Mexican culture.
Tarascans - A northwest Mexican group. Almost as powerful the Aztecs at the time of Spanish conquest. They had a couple of advantages over the Aztecs. They were great bowmen and assimilated groups they conquered rather than just taking tribute from them. After the Spanish conquered the Aztecs, the Tarascans submitted to Spanish rule without a fight, but maintained a degree of independence for a decade.
Yaquis - A far northwestern Mexican group. They were not part of the high culture area, but they had a very productive agricultural system, and a population of at least thirty-thousand people. They maintained their identity and revolted against the Spanish and Mexican governments multiple times, maintaining some military power into the twentieth century.
But wouldn't a change that far back change Europe long before 1520?
It probably would. The question is the magnitude of that change. History may be so precariously balanced that all it would take would be one proverbial butterfly squashed instead of flapping its wings, and Europe or Asia would have a different storm at a different time, which would lead to a Mongol Japan or even massive expansion by some language group other than Indo-Europeans. Then again maybe nothing important would change. Certainly the fate of individuals would be changed. Certainly the course of battles would be altered. In the long run that might or might not matter.
Almost certainly, if Spaniards known as Cortez and Guzmán played roles in the early history of Mexico they wouldn't be genetically identical to the historic men. It is, however, legitimate to argue that societies have enough momentum that the kind of indirect, random changes that could be transmitted from continent to continent wouldn't change that fundamental direction. You may not agree with that. I'm not sure I do, but it is a legitimate point of view.
When I plotted the last part of this scenario, I assumed that the same Spaniards would arrive and do the same things they did historically. Assuming the Spanish would still invade Mexico around the same time and led by the same people as happened historically is an oversimplification. The point of this exercise was to see how adding a domestic animal to North American Indian cultures would change their ability to cope with incursions from Europe.
Does the precise identity of the Europeans matter? It might. The Spanish and to a lesser extent the English developed a bad reputation for their handling of the Indians, while the French had a comparatively good reputation. That might be a result of national character but is more likely to be the result of economic relationships. The French didn't have opportunities to conquer large numbers of agricultural Indians because the Spanish had already captured those areas. They generally didn't settle in large numbers, so they had less need of Indian lands than the English did. In the few cases where the French wanted Indian land, they were quite capable of seizing it, as the Natchez Indian discovered in Louisiana.
I suspect that whatever European culture eventually arrived in Mexico would have roughly the same technology as the Spanish. They would have approximately the same set of motives, though they might put different priorities on individual motives within that set. Would it matter that much if they spoke French or English or even some distant relative of Basque? That might change details, but in the broad pattern of the results, it probably wouldn't make a lot of difference.