Rufus Sage, a bonafide mountain man, felt strongly about a Roman colony in America. Does his argument persuade you?
Prehistory, or history before it was written down, is mysterious stuff. All we can definitively know is what we can find and prove. Sure there are lots of interesting theories out there, but unless you have the evidence, it doesn’t stand. It is wild to think that well over 97% of our history isn’t even really understood. Lots of mysteries abound from this period, and proving them true or false is the arduous work of archeologists and historians. One entertaining theory from America’s pre-history, is of an ancient Roman colony in America.
It is little known today, that in the early 1800’s there was some support for the hypothesis that the Roman’s had colonized America at some point in the past. Personally, I first came across this theory while reading Rufus Sage’s Rocky Mountain Life. Needless to say, it caught my eye.
Sage was a mountain man who headed west in 1841 after the fur trade had passed its apex. While in the west he recorded his adventures, observations, and experiences for readers to enjoy. Most of the journal is what you’d expect from a mountain man’s life. Much of it covers description of the country he saw, the people he met, and how his life played out. However, at a few junctures, Sage expounds upon a theory of a Roman colony in America.
He first postulates this theory by comparing Sioux language to Latin on page 158. According to Sage:
“… enough, I trust, has already been said to fortify the position so largely warranted by the premises, to wit; that in former ages the Romans maintained a foothold upon the American continent, and had intercourse with this nation, either by arms or by commerce.”
Sage also goes on to state:
“It is by no means a conjecture of recent origin, that the ancient Romans did actually colonies portions of the American continent. The industrious researches of antiquarians have long since brought to light many items which prove and strengthen it, though none of them so tangible and obvious as those previously noticed.”
Following this in his journal, Sage goes on to note several pieces of evidence he feels backs up his claim that Romans colonized America.
Later in the journal, Sage once again picks up this hypothesis, only this time while spending time further west. His story begins on page 234 of the journal.
He recounts meeting a trapping party coming out from the Gila country of the present day Southwest. They have a friendly discourse with the trappers and discuss activity in the region. He then relates a tale the trappers told him about the Munchies, a tribe of white indians in the extreme northwestern part of Sonora. The wandering group of trappers even told Sage they had stayed with the Munchies for four weeks.
Sage recounts their tale of staying with this group of white aborigines, and how their skin was more fair than the whites. They reportedly subsisted through agriculture, and raised cattle, horses, and sheep. The Munchies had what would have amounted to a republican government, “arts and comforts of a civilized life”, and had a religion similar to other Native people of the region. Sage goes on once again to say:
“…are they not the remote descendants of some colony of ancient Romans? That such colonies did here exist in former ages, there is good reason for believing. The great lapse of time and other operative causes combined, may have transformed the Munchies from the habits, customs, character, religion, arts, civilization, and language of the Romans, to the condition in which they are at present found.”
It is there Rufus Sage ends the conversation on a Roman colony in America.
What are we to make of this? Sage is providing us with a primary source from the time period. These are supposed to be our most accurate widows into the past. Did the Romans colonize America? Did trappers stay with a group of white Indians? Sorry to say, the answer to these entertaining theories is likely NO, at least in my mind.
Fist off, try researching the relationship between Lakota and Latin today. There simply isn’t anything out there on the subject. Today there are linguists who do nothing but study language, and they haven’t been producing volumes of work on the connection. In fact, I couldn’t find a single shred of modern evidence to back up a relationship between the two languages. That’s not to say there might not be any, I certainly couldn’t find it.
Secondly, Sage’s second report on the theory of a group of white Indians is second hand. It also came from trappers, a group with a hard-earned reputation for telling tall tales. There may be little doubt that trappers did in fact tell Sage this story. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean it was true. I’d wager that the closer Sage leaned in, the wilder the tale actually became. My guess would this would be one of those instances where Sage got duped by an entertaining tale. He then felt compelled to either dupe more people, or he bought it hook, line, and sinker. That of course, is speculation on my part.
Although there are still modern attempts to claim Roman colonization of America, the claims are generally disputed. As with many aspects of prehistory, we may never know the answer to question of Roman colonization in America. It can be fun to think about though.
More than anything, the Rufus Sage journals can teach us about the life and thoughts of an American mountain man. We can learn about the theories of the time, their lives, and more about the world they lived in. When you read the journals you certainly get a better feel for the mystery the world still held at the time. Everything was new, much had not been documented, and people still lived vastly different lives depending on where you went.
Sage was gracious enough to have recorded his experiences, and reading them is a real treat. They certainly do offer up a great deal of knowledge about the lives of mountain men. If you have the time, and are interested in western history, they certainly are worth a read. When you read them, enjoy them for what they are; the wonderful adventures of a rambling mountain man.
Thanks for taking the time to read this article on a mountain man’s theory of a Roman colony in America. If you enjoyed it, please follow this blog by clicking the button near the bottom of the page. You may also enjoy this post on a mountain man poem he penned in the same journal.