Among the southeastern and southern North American chiefdoms of the Mississippian period (900-1540
Among the southeastern and southern North American chiefdoms of the
Apparently, there was no effort on the part of Native American groups in the South and Southeast to develop what could be called empires. The chiefdoms controlled large areas that included many towns, but distance was an important factor in the amount of control a small group of native nobles and priests could have over a large territory. The
Other politically advanced chiefdoms were groups later known to the Europeans as the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Seminole, Timucua, Quapaw, Catawba, Tunica, Caddo, Shawnee, Chitimacha, Calusa, Tuscarora, Pamlico, and Powhatan. This Mississippian, or “temple mound,” group of
Native Peoples of Eastern North America, c. 1600
One of the most politically advanced groups in the East and Northeast was the Iroquois
Another significantly developed political entity were the
West Indian natives and Spanish explorers clash at Columbus’s settlement at La Navidad.
Along the coast of British Columbia, reaching into southern Alaska and Washington state, lived tribes such as the
The archaeological record reveals that during the early fourteenth century there were hostilities between Native Americans who lived along the river valleys of the Dakotas and those who occupied the river valleys of Kansas and Nebraska. The southern group, probably responding to drought conditions, moved northward, forcibly encroaching upon the Dakota group. At the Crow
It is certain that warfare did exist between Native American groups during the prehistoric period, though it was almost always on the small scale of war parties, perhaps the size of squads or platoons. Battles were seldom fought for the purpose of territorial conquest, but rather in response to encroachments into hunting territory, over misunderstandings due to language differences, for theft of prestige items, or in raids to obtain slaves or wives.
Because no written historical record exists for North America north of the Valley of Mexico before 1500
The weapons of prehistoric Native American warfare would have been essentially, if not exactly, the same weapons as those used in hunting. These would have included the throwing and thrusting spear, dart, bow and arrow, hand ax, war club, hand pick or tomahawk, knife, accoutrements such as the
Two types of Mohawk weapons.
The spear point was made of a variety of lithic materials. In the West, flint and basalt were used. Slate, being easily chipped, was common in the Northeast, whereas chert and flint were utilized in the South and Southeast, as well as the Great Plains. Horn was also known to be used. These points were hafted into a groove at the end of the shaft and secured with sinew and glue.
The spear was constructed from hard, straight woods such as hickory and oak in the East; yew and sometimes cedar in the West; and spruce, especially Sitka spruce, in the Northwest. Atlatls were often constructed of horn, such as that of the bighorn sheep, as well as wood. They had stone weights attached to their handles that enabled effective balance of the weapon in the hand of the thrower. The atlatl-thrown spear was a very effective weapon, but it was neither as effective nor as easily portable as the bow and arrow. During the temple mound period in the South and Southeast, the spear became a ritual item.
The bow and
In the lower and middle Columbia River region of Washington and Oregon, small projectile points inferred to be arrowheads date as early as 550
From these northwestern and northeastern locations, weapons technology moved into the Great Basin and the West Lakes regions by about 100
Before the introduction of the
The notch on the arrow that fit on the bowstring was at the feather end of the arrow. This end was made a bit bulbous to facilitate a better grip with the thumb and index finger. The string was pulled with the other three fingers.
Arrowheads took many forms even in the early periods of bow and arrow usage. By the late Woodland period, points were side notched and corner notched on the hafting, or attaching, end and these were of varying lengths to suit various purposes, such as hunting and warfare. The war arrowhead was the longest and most slender. Toward the end of the Woodland period and the beginning of the Mississippian, or temple mound, period, the triangular-shaped point became increasingly prominent.
These points were crafted by chipping and flaking any of several substances. Chert, flint, and obsidian were the most common materials; all are varieties of quartz. Chert, a poor-quality flint, was used when better qualities of raw materials were not available. Most arrowheads were made of good-quality flint. Flint, composed of extremely fine-grained sediment, has a concoidal fracture that easily lends itself to accurate chipping or pressure-flaking. Obsidian, or natural glass, is a volcanic rock and was available only in parts of the Rocky Mountains and the Cascade-Sierra Nevada ranges of the far West. Obsidian produced a super-sharp edge and could be easily sharpened when it became dull.
The arrowhead was hafted to the tip of the arrow shaft with sinew and glue. A notch was cut in the tip of the shaft, and the head was wedged into the notch. In the case of the war arrow, the head was sometimes detachable. It was loosely hafted to the shaft, and no sinew or glue was used. The head was simply wedged into the notch. If the arrow’s victim attempted to pull the arrow out, the arrowhead would remain and increase the severity of the wound.
The bow and arrow was a very effective weapon of war. An arrow could be projected up to 500 meters and, in the hands of a skilled marksman, was extremely accurate at distances of 100 meters or more. The penetrating power of an arrow shot from a bow with a 40-pound pull had more penetrating potential than did a bullet shot from a Colt .45, and it was more accurate at long distances.
Bows were usually carried in highly decorated bow cases, and arrows were carried in equally elaborately decorated quivers that were slung over the shoulder and hung almost horizontally near the waist.
In the Great Plains and in eastern North America, prehistoric bows often had a long flint blade or knife hafted to one end. These were used as
A type of
It is not known whether the Native American warrior wore distinctive dress or a type of
It does not appear that any Native American group in prehistoric times had a standing army or even a warrior class. Warriors were able-bodied young men who, when called upon to engage in violence, left their normal duties as farmers, hunters, and craftsmen and assumed the role of warrior.
Most violent encounters between groups seem to have been conducted by small bands of warriors numbering no more than twenty or thirty. Oral tradition indicates that battles started with an
Little or nothing is known of prehistoric military doctrine or strategies, and what is known of tactics is simple. Some of the tactics would have come from hunting, involving moving silently before the attack. The shock of ambush with bows and arrows, usually followed by close fighting with clubs and knives, seems to have been the favorite tactic used in hostile encounters. The strategies and tactics used by Native Americans after European contact, involving large numbers of warriors, probably were not traditional and could easily have been due to European influence.
Native Americans north of Mexico, prior to European contact, had no written languages; therefore, no information except the archaeological record remains. Apart from some Viking and Welsh legends, which may or may not have any historical foundation, there is little in the Native American legends to provide details on the military history of the region before 1500. Castañeda de Nágera (fl. sixteenth century), chronicler for
Ballentine, Betty, and Ian Ballentine, eds. The Native Americans: An Illustrated History. Atlanta: Turner, 1993. Cressman, L. S. Prehistory of the Far West: Homes of Vanished Peoples. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1977. Fagan, Brian M. Ancient North America: The Archaeology of a Continent. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1991. Fiedel, Stuart J. Prehistory of the Americas. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992. Lewis, Thomas M. N., and Madeline Kneberg. Tribes That Slumber: Indians of the Tennessee Region. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1958. Mann, Charles C. 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. New York: Knopf, 2005. Stewart, Hilary. Indian Artifacts of the Northwest Coast. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1973. Sutton, Mark O. An Introduction to Native North America. Boston: Pearson, 2008. Broken Arrow. Feature film. Twentieth Century-Fox, 1950. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Feature film. HBO, 2007. Crazy Horse. Film. Frank von Zernick, 1996. Dances with Wolves. Feature film. TIG, 1990. Five Hundred Nations. Documentary. Tig Productions, 1995. Geronimo: An American Legend. Feature film. Columbia Pictures, 1993. The Great Indian Wars. Documentary. Centre Communications, 2005. Last of the Mohicans. Feature film. Twentieth Century Fox, 1992. The Trail of Tears: Cherokee Legacy. Documentary. Rich-Heape, 2006. Ulzana’s Raid. Feature film. Universal, 1972.
The Maya and Aztecs