Native American Weapons
Early Native American weapons almost always utilized stone in some way and Flint was the most effective stone to use when making a weapon. The process of making weapons from flint was called Flint Knapping and the weapon makers were called Flint knappers. Many Native American weapons were made from a combination of materials. An arrow or spear had a stone or bone arrowhead or point which was attached to a wooden shaft or handle all of which were held together with a cord usually made from animal sinew or with a type of glue. Arrows would also have feathers attached which improved the flight of the arrow. Native American weapons included Tomahawks, Axes, The Lance, bow and arrows, Shields, knives, Atlatl - spear throwers, Spear, Blowguns, War clubs, Arrowheads, Battle Hammers, Jawbone clubs and Slingshots. Although these were all made of stone these primitive weapons were still deadly.
Types of Native American Weapons
The later types of Native American weapons replaced those made of stone, horn, bone and hardened woods with metals such as iron and steel. But many of the replacement weapons were based on traditional native designs. Various embellishments were added to weapons such as engraving or carving and the addition of paint, quills, feathers and beads.
We have sorted the different types of weapons into five basic categories based on their functions:
- Cutting weapons e.g. Knives
- Striking weapons e.g. war clubs and axes
- Throwing weapons e.g. tomahawks
- Piercing weapons e.g. bows and arrows
- Defensive weapons e.g. shields
The Evolution of Native American Weapons
The rapid evolution of Native American Indian weapons occurred due to contact with the Europeans. Stone weapons were replaced by weapons using iron, steel, copper and brass. Then the Native American Indians acquired guns and rifles from the traders and settlers. The following chart details a list of the names and descriptions of the variety of weapons used by the Native American Indians.
List of Native American Weapons
The following list of Native American Weapons provides the names of the stone weapons and their descriptions together with details of later weapons that were developed due to the new technology brought by the Europeans starting in the 1600's.
- Bow and Arrow: The Bow and Arrows were the most common types of weapons used by Native Americans. Different types and sizes were designed for hunting and for fighting. Bows for horse back riders were smaller than those used on foot. The Bow and Arrow provided a long range, accurate weapon and the opportunity to shoot rapid shots. Also refer to Quivers and Poisoned Arrows
- Longbows: A large bow, aptly named a longbow, was used by foot soldiers and hunters from the tribe
- Short Bow: A short bow used when warriors attacked the enemy on horseback. The kind of bow used by riders was significantly smaller than the longbow for ease of handling
- Projectile Points: A projectile point was a blade that was hafted to a projectile, such as a spear, dart, arrow, or throwing knife. Tanged points are projectile points that have a tang at one end to facilitate hafting. Projectile points fall into two general types, the large spear or lance points and the smaller arrow points.
Clovis points are leaf-shaped and have a wide groove on both sides of the base for fitting into short wooden spear shafts.
- Arrowheads: An arrowhead weapon point or tip made of stone or sometimes bone usually fixed to an arrow. Arrowhead points were smaller than spear points and penetrated skin more deeply than when fired by a bow. Refer to Arrowheads.
- Tomahawks: The Tomahawk was an axe-like weapon that had a wooden handle with a head made of stone. The tomahawk could be used for close contact fighting or as a throwing weapon. The tomahawk weapon was originally made with a stone head but developed in the 1600's using European technology. The new style tomahawk was basically a lightweight axe that had a metal edge on a solid wooden handle.
- Axes: The axe had a heavy bladed head mounted across a handle
- Shields: Native Americans Shields are classed as defensive weapons.
- Lances: Long lances were used by horse riders to knock off their enemies from their horses. A lance provided Native Americans with leverage and protection during battle. They would often decorate their lances using feathers and scalps to give them an intimidating appearance.
- Knives and Daggers: A stone knife or dagger was always carried by the Native American Indian. They varied in size and would be held in a sheath at their side or small knives were hung around the neck. Knives were flaked from stone to form one or more cutting edges. Knives were essential tools used for cutting meat, hides, wood and food.
- War Clubs: War Clubs. The hitting edge of the war club was rounded and measured between 20 and 30 inches long.
- Jawbone Clubs: A Jawbone club weapon was constructed out of the jawbone of a buffalo or a horse. The Plains Native Americans would sharpen the hitting edge of the weapon while leaving the teeth inside the jaw bone intact. The jawbone club was used as a close combat weapon and had the ability to cut through the chest of an opponent.
- Slings / Slingshots: A sling or slingshot was one of the oldest and most primitive Native American weapons. Two pieces of cord made from plant fiber or sinew were tied to a leather pouch to hold the sling stones.
- Spear throwers (called Atlatls): Spear throwers called Atlatl were a device used to throw a spear with greater propulsion. They were commonly used by the Pueblo tribe and the Artic and Sub-Artic tribes for hunting large marine animals such as whales.
- Blowguns: A Blowgun was primarily a hunting tool used by the Cherokee and many other Native American tribes. A blowgun consisted of a tube made of cane or reed through which darts could be shot by the force of the breath. Also referred to as a blowpipe or a blowtube.
- Throwing Sticks - Rabbit Sticks: Throwing Sticks aka Rabbit Sticks were one of the earliest weapons used by Native American Indians. They were a basic short stave or wooden club that had a straight pointed wooden shaft or curved wooden club, similar to the boomerang weapon. Used to hunt small game such as rabbits or water fowl.
- Spears: A spear is a long, pointed weapon, used in war and hunting, by thrusting or throwing
- Hatchets: A Hatchet Axe is a small axe with a short handle that was used with one hand.
- Bolas: A bola is a rope with weights attached to the ends; is thrown to entangle the legs of an animal or person. The bola was common weapon in South America but was also used by the Inuit Native Americans.
- Battle hammers: A Battle hammer has a blunt, hammer-like head on one side of the handle or shaft, and usually a beak or point on the opposite side.
- Wooden Club: A club made of extremely hard wood used for close-quarter fighting, sometime referred to as a 'potato masher' club and developed by the Yuma tribe
- Pick Axe Style Club: The Pick Axe style club was made of either stone or metal blades. These types of clubs had a sharp edge on one side and a diamond shape point on the other side. The blades were attached to a wooden handle. These were used as weapons for hand-to-hand fighting
- Axe-Like Club: The Axe-like club was made of either stone or metal blades.
- Gunstock Club: The Gunstock Club was so-called because these weapons resembled the shape of a a musket or rifle body and carved in the shape of a European gunstock. Gunstock clubs were widely used across North America in the late 18th and 19th centuries, both as weapons and status symbols. They were often made with hard wood or whale bone and embellished with carvings on the handle.
- Stone Ball Club: The Stone Ball club was primitive but lethal. It consisted of a round-headed stone that was completely covered in heavy buckskin or rawhide and attached to a wooden handle. The head was relatively free-moving and used by the early Plains, Plateau and Southwest Native Indians.
- Fixed Ball Club: The Fixed Ball club was used with the intention of breaking the enemy's jaw with a violent upward thrust.
- Bird Head Club: The Bird Head club was elaborately designed to resemble the head of a bird.
Muskets and Rifles
During the late 1860s that the Native Americans began to acquire up-to-date weaponry from the Europeans. The first modern weapons used by Native Americans in any number were the Winchester rifle and the Springfield rifle. The first documented use of these modern rifles against the opposition was when the Native Americans used them during the battle against General George Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876.
- Flintlock muskets: Flintlock muskets are types of early guns. It is a muzzle loader having a flintlock type of gunlock that has flint embedded in the hammer. The flint makes a spark that ignites the charge.
- Winchester Rifle: Winchester rifles were among the earliest repeating rifles. The original Winchester rifle was made in 1866. This gun had a lever-action mechanism that allowed the rifleman to fire a number of shots before having to reload - hence the term "repeating rifle". The Winchester repeater rifle is known as "The Gun that Won the West" for its predominant role in the hands of Western settlers.
- Springfield Rifle: Springfield rifles took their name from the Springfield Armory, established at Springfield, Massachusetts in 1794. Smoothbore muzzle-loading rifles were produced between 1858 and 1865 followed by single-shot rifles and eventually the Springfield repeating rifle.
- Carbine Rifle: A carbine is a longarm similar to, but shorter than, a rifle or musket. A carbine rifle was short enough to be loaded and fired from horseback