Myth of the Pristine Wilderness
"Many have noted that had North America been a wilderness, undeveloped, without roads, and uncultivated, it might still be so, for the European colonists could no have survived. They appropriated what had already been created by Indigenous civilizations. They stole already cultivated farmland and the corn, vegetables , tobacco, and other crops domesticated over centuries, took control of the deer parks that had been cleared land maintained by Indigenous communities, used existing roads and water routes in order to move armies to conquer, and reled on captured Indigenous people to identify the locations of water, oyster beds, and medicinal herbs. Historian Francis Jennings was emphatic in addressing what he called the myth that “America was virgin land, or wilderness, inhabited by nonpeople called savages”:
European explorers and invaders discovered an inhabited land. Had it been pristine wilderness then , it would possibly be so still today, for neither the technology nor the social organization of Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries had the capacity to maintain, of its own resources, outpost colonies thousands of miles from home. Incapable of conquering true wilderness, the Europeans were highly competent in the skill of conquering other people, and that is what they did. They did not settle a virgin land. They invaded and displaced a resident population.
This is so simple a fact that it seems self-evident.”
— An Indigenous People’s History of the United States, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz