INDIAN WEAPONS CONT.
Picking up where I left off in the last chapter, covering the bow and arrow. I have pretty much exhausted my material on the equipment. I reviewed my books and even looked on the Internet and did not find much more of interest. One site, a fellow had a extensive list of bows made by various tribes, but it was kinda repetitive and dry in my opinion. To boil it down to basics, average length of a bow was from 36″ to 48″, and average draw weight was 40#. This is pretty consistent with all my books. The average arrow length including the head is from 24″o 26″, This seems pretty short for me but considering the length of the bow and the weight must be about right. Some bows did test up to 80# butwere rare. (I stand a just shy of 6′ and my arrows measure at 32″, but my bow was a 65# compound also). The woods varied from locale to local and included Ash, Hickory, Osage Orange (most common) some Yew, Cedarand even Mesquit for the Navajo. Also I did find quite a few recurve bows mentioned.
On the plains good bow material was scarce and often a few braves would go on a expedition to far locales to obtain it, bringing back large bundles of the staves making them very popular in the tribe. As I said the limbs would be dried slowly to cure them. It often would take several months to make a suitable bow. A brave also would try to have several spare weapons as breakage was always possible. and he would carry a spare on a raid.
The bow remained the weapon to be relied upon even after the gun became available. Guns were at first unreliable. The flintlock was next to useless in wet or damp weather. Gunpowder was not always available, and when one broke the Indian had not the tools or skill to repair them, and had to rely on a white-man for repairs. So the bow was always available as a back up. A skilled Indian could reload on horse-back in 30 seconds. But he could also despense six to eight accuratete arrows in the same time. Percussion guns while some what more reliable also were subject to breakage and it was easy to lose all your precision caps at one time, and reloading was also slow.
When cartridgeguns became available, either through trade or capture a Indian felt wealthy. But again to availability of ammo became a issue. It was not until the late 1870’s and 80’s did the Indian slowly begin to become more dependant on the firearm than the bow. By the time of the late Indian wars (say Custer’s time) The Indian was often better armed than the white-man.
One of the first tools and weapons the Indian had was the knife. Of course we all know of the flint or stone tools that early man had. But the first and in use until the steel knife came along was bone. Most often the long leg bone would be split and gradually filed down to a point and edge. Bone made up many of the Indians, from hide scrapers to hoes. Many fine examples of bone knives are still in private and museum collections. Flint was flaked to keen edges for weapons and tools. Obsidian flakes to a surgical sharpness and makes a beautiful tool. Handles were of wood, bone or raw-hide wrapped to protect the hands.
Once the white-man entered the scene steel became available and was greatly desired and coveted. Knives came in many shapes and sizes. The Spanish introduced the Dagger and many Indians wanted them for fighting knivesand lance heads and for war clubs. Indians almost always would regrind their knives to have only one side beveled, this was because it made a better scraper that way. The English traders began importing their knives as butcher knives and became the most common on the frontier. The Russel Company began trading their “Green River” knife which was a thin butcher knife, about a 8″ blade. It was popular with the Mountain Man Fur Trappers also. It most often was packed into the trading areas for the Indians with no handles attached, this allowed a number of the to be stacked together conserving space and weight. the Indians would trade for them and fashion their own handles. Many are very artfull and clever and prized collector items today. The Indian would also fashion blades for their knives from the steel of frying pans and files taken in raids.
The sheaths fashioned by the Indian are as varied and individual as the Indian his-self. the are simple, studded with brass tacks, beaded, quilled and painted. Animal fur, claws, shells and feathers adorned them. All I can advise is look at as many books as you can find.
Probably the first weapon used by man was a club in the form of a stick grabbed of the ground. And wood was extensively used by the Indian, some are knobby things and others wonderfully carved and polished. Soon stone came into Vogue, attached to the end of a shaft by raw-hide. Some were just found stone fitted into a slot or grove and bound into place. Some were pain-staking shaped by grinding or flaking. Eventually they were decorated by animal or human hair pendants. Claws,feathers , beads and quill work was worked into the design. With the introduction of steel knife blades and steel spikes were added to some clubs. Another interesting club was one with a wooden handle and a round stone head incased in raw-hide attached to the handle with a flexable, twisted or braided cord some-what like a mace in medieval times. the flexibility added momentum to a blow.
Before horse back warfare clubs were usually about 20″ to 24″ long. When the horse came along clubs needed to be longer and some were as long 36″ a Popular plains club is called the gun-stock club. It starts out with a hand grip and swells out to the shape of a rifle stock and is quite wide at the end at the bend usually one to three knife type blades are inserted at the bend of the stock. The flat sides of the club was always decorated by Brass tacks or paint. suspended from the hand grip of most clubs were pendants of hide strips, feathers, hair or ribbons. Often all the weapons of a warrior contained some reference to his spiritual helper.
Rounding out the warriors arsenal was the lance. There were two types of lance, the one used on foot and one used on horse back. On foot the lance was generally thicker in diameter 1″ upto 3″ (the 3″ seems pretty heavy to me but that is what the book says, and he is supposed to be a authority). In length, including the head, it seldom measured a foot longer than the Man. It’s head was often heavier than on on horse back. It was most often used in a stabbing fashion, overhead or in a thrusting motion. It could be thrown, but once it leaves your hand you are empty handed until you can rearm yourself.
A lance for horse back use needed to be longer and lighter. A average lance was 5/8′ to 1 1/2 inch in diameter often was a long tapper. Standard use was locked under the right side at the elbow and using the horse’s momentum to deliverthe thrust. There are reports that some tribes like the Kiowa and Crow use lances as long as 12′-18″ in length. Often lances were wrapped with fur and trade cloth and beaded quite heavily with a profusion of feathers and horse hair and human scalps.
Lances were often equipped with slings so they could be carried across the back or on the horse when in travel. Bows were unstrung when not in use and carried in cases along with the arrow quiver, either slung on the back or on the horse. Clubs were stuck in the belt or suspended by loops on the handle. Of course knives were in sheaths on the belt or another common custom around he neck like a necklace.
Just to be brief here, tomahawkswere a white-man invention. They came about as trade hatchets. With the instant appeal to the Indian manufacture as a trade item soon followed. The English blades were just a smaller version of the battle-axe. The French provided a “Fleur-De-Luis”; design, while the Spanish introduced a spade style. All were a instant hit. As in all other weapons artistic design followed the taste of the individual and tribe. Soon the Peace pipe tomahawk made its appearance. It was never intended as a weapon but as a symbol of peace. It was often of cast metal and broke easily if used as a implement.
Shields are a defensive and religious devise. They were made with much thought and religious ceremony, and care. They were always treated with much respect and care. A shield was the last implement a warrior was allowed to make, only after receiving permission from someone of authority within the tribe. Usually the warrior went to a holy man or leader of respect for assistance. A old buffalo was selected because of its age and survival instincts, and also because its hide would be thick. A piece a little twice the size of the shield was cut out of the hump area. It was carefully de-haired and while still green, in a ceremoniously way was carefully srinked to almost half the original size. This caused the hide to thicken to almost twice the original thickness, to sometimes 1/2″to1″; thick. It was then smoothed and cut to the final shape, the hand and arm straps placed on the back. The shields were most often convex, But I just discovered that some were concave, The reason being that any thing deflected was bounced away from the bearer. With a convex shield a arrow or bullet could bounce into the bearer. And yes, there are a number of reports of a good, well made shield turnning a arrow or bullet of a muzzle loader a medium range. Then the decorations began. Almost always a spiritual helper from a vision was Incorporated. Feathers, claws, skins, trade cloth and paints were used. Once the shield was completed a shield cover was made to protected it. The cover was often as elaborately decorated as the shield it’s self. Then often a second cover was made for every day travel. On every sunny day the Shield was usually placed outside the tee pee in the sun on a tripod to absorb the energy of the sun and anounce the owner, much as our house numbers do for us.
Well this concludes this amateur ramble for now.
thanks for sticking it out to the end.