a1 Professor of American Studies at the University of Hawai'i, Honolulu, Hawai'i, 96822, USA.
During the past fifty years few subjects of historical consequence have been more controversial than that of the population history of the American Indian. At one extreme, in 1939 Alfred L. Kroeber estimated the population of pre-Columbian North America at about 900,000. At the other extreme, in 1983 Henry F. Dobyns estimated it at about 18,000,000. Since the total North American Indian population by the early twentieth century was no more than 350,000 to 450,000, the human question concealed in the statistical controversy is staggering: did the North American Indian population decline by a ratio of about 2 to 1 between the end of the fifteenth century and the end of the nineteenth century – or did it decline by 50 to 1 ? Or more?