Since about 200 C.E., it is believed that the Beothuk had been living in Newfoundland. Around the end of the 10th century the Vikings reached Newfoundland and came across the Beothuk, who they referred to as . Relations were generally peaceful until the Vikings left in the 11th century. The Beothuk next encountered Europeans when explorer John Cabot came to Newfoundland in 1497. His tales of the abundance of fish in the area on his return to Europe sent loads of fishing boats into the area. Unfortunately some of these fishermen were interested in more than just fish. Dozens of Beothuk were captured and taken to Europe as slaves. Before long European fishing summer villages had sprung up along the coast. The Beothuk constantly raided the settlements and a climate of mistrust and hate was established.
The Beothuk were known as Red Indians because of their use of red ochre. A greasy mixture of red ochre would be applied to the face, body, hair, and any personal possessions.
Not much is known about the culture of the Beothuk people because of their isolation. Rather than being farmers the Beothuk were
hunters, with the main target being caribou. These were to be found in large numbers on the island. The coastline also presented many opportunities to acquire food, with plenty of fish, seals and other seafood. As a result the Beothuk became very skilled fishermen and clever at maneuvering their canoes while using their spears to harpoon their prey.
The Beothuk lived in small, independent bands made up of extended families. Their homes were either conical wigwams, which were covered with sheets of birch bark, or larger square shaped wigwams used in the summer. By about 1800, however, they had begun building European style log houses. By that time the Beothuk had also substituted many of their traditional tools and weapons with metal implements. Rather than trading for such items, the Beothuk became extremely skilled at stealing them from the French and English settlers of Newfoundland.
The British set up the first permanent settlement on the island in 1610. Soon thereafter the French also set up permanent settlements. In 1613, a French fisherman shot a Beothuk who was attempting to steal from him. The response from the Beothuk was swift. . The French now attempted to encourage their Native American friends, the Micmac, to live on the island in order to afford them protection. With the advantage of French guns, the Micmac were able to drive the Beothuk into the middle of the island.
For the next 150 years the Beothuk basically kept to themselves. Even though they managed to avoid the epidemics that would have come from contact with Europeans, the Beothuk people were starving to death. Those that did go into European settlements in search of food were shot on sight. When contact was re-established in the 1820s, there was a lot of mistrust and murder on both sides.
Upon first European contact in the 16th century, there were about 2,000 Beothuk people. By the early 1800s, they had been completely wiped out.