The Eastern Woodlands Indians included many tribes of Native Americans, such as the Iroquois, Mahicans (also Mohicans), Wabanaki, Chippewa and Shawnee, who all spoke variations of the Algonquian language. These tribes lived in the great forests of the eastern regions of America before the coming of Europeans in the 1500s. Their weapons were crafted from the resources around them: stone, horn, bone, wood and copper, and included bows and arrows, tomahawks, spears or lances, knives and war clubs. Blow guns were also used, but more for hunting than as weaponry.
Bows and Arrows
Eastern Woodland bows were longer than those used by Indians in other parts of the country, generally 60 to 67 inches. Depending on the wood used, these bows were easy to make, didn’t break easily and worked well for a man on foot. Bows and arrows were used to hunt large game and were used in battle. Arrowheads were made from flint or obsidian but could also be made from bone, horn and copper. Bows and arrows would be used to kill enemies at a distance, and tomahawks, clubs and spears were deployed when closing with the foe.
Tomahawks were the quintessential Indian tool and weapon, used for chopping wood and killing enemies. Originally made of a stone sharpened on one end and bound to a short handle, tomahawks were the favored weapon of all Eastern Indians before the coming of the Europeans. When the Europeans arrived, they traded iron or steel-headed hatchets or tomahawks to the Woodlands tribes. Though most tomahawks were plain, some were ornately carved and decorated. A combination tomahawk and pipe also existed but was used for ceremonial purposes rather than as a weapon.
Spears and Lances
Spears or lances were anywhere from 40 inches to 70 inches long with as many variations as there were tribes and individual warriors. Though spears were often used in fishing, they were also weapons used in war. Once warriors came closer than arrow range, spears came into action. Once the tribes acquired horses, lances were often used to knock opponents off their animals. Lances allowed warriors to keep their distance and avoid hand-to-hand fighting, and they provided the fighter with leverage and protection. Spears and lancers were often highly decorated with paint, arrows and bead work.
War clubs varied greatly in design. Some clubs were made of hardened wood; others had a stone attached with sinew; and others used a sharpened stone or metal blade. Whatever the design, the 4-foot war club was a fearsome weapon, capable of smashing in an enemy’s skull from a distance of 7 or 8 feet. This favored weapon was highly decorated, the decorations and design varying among the tribes and according to an individual warrior’s style.
- Stillwater: Know Your Indians: Weapons, Moccasins, Headresses
- “American Indian Archery”: University of Oklahoma Press, Reginald and Gladys Laubin, 1991.
- Native Tech: Metal Arrow Points
- Kwintessential: Iroquois Indian Weapons
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