Scoria-cone eruptions are typically low in volume and explosivity compared with eruptions from stratovolcanoes, but they can affect local populations profoundly. Scoria-cone eruption effects vary dramatically due to eruption style, tephra blanket extent, climate, types of land use, the culture and complexity of the affected group, and resulting governmental action. A comparison of a historic eruption (Parícutin, México) with prehistoric eruptions (herein we primarily focus on Sunset Crater in northern Arizona, USA) elucidates the controls on and effects of these variables. Long-term effects of lava flows extend little beyond the flow edges. These flows, however, can be used for defensive purposes, providing refuges from invasion for those who know them well. In arid lands, tephra blankets serve as mulches, decreasing runoff and evaporation, increasing infiltration, and regulating soil temperature. Management and retention of these scoria mulches, which can open new areas for agriculture, become a priority for farming communities. In humid areas, though, the tephra blanket may impede plant growth and increase erosion. Cultural responses to eruptions vary, from cultural collapse, through fragmentation of society, dramatic changes, and development of new technologies, to little apparent change. Eruptions may also be viewed as retribution for poor behavior, and attempts are made to mollify angry gods.