Anthropology Friday: Indian Warriors and their Weapons, (4/4) the Blackfeet, Apache, and Navajo

Map of Algonquian Language Family distribution

Hey everyone, today we’re wrapping up our look at om Hofsinde Gray-Wolf’s account of Native American cultures in Indian Warriors and their Weapons, with a look at the Blackfeet, Apache, and Navajo.

The Blackfeet live primarily in Canada and partly in northern America, and speak an Algonquin language–Algonquin languages are (were) otherwise dominant primarily in eastern Canada and the US. The Apache and Navajo are related peoples from the American southwest who speak an Athabaskan language. The rest of the Athabaskan speakers, oddly, live primarily in northern Canada and inland Alaska (Inuit/Eskimo/Aleut cultures live on the Alaskan coasts.)

Map of Athabaskan Language Distribution

According to Wikipedia:

Historically, the member peoples of the [Blackfeet] Confederacy were nomadic bison hunters and trout fishermen, who ranged across large areas of the northern Great Plains of Western North America, specifically the semi-arid shortgrass prairie ecological region. They followed the bison herds as they migrated between what are now the United States and Canada, as far north as the Bow River. In the first half of the 18th century, they acquired horses and firearms from white traders and their Cree and Assiniboine go-betweens. The Blackfoot used these to expand their territory at the expense of neighboring tribes. Now riding horses, the Blackfoot and other Plains tribes could also extend the range of their buffalo hunts.

The systematic commercial bison hunting by white hunters in the 19th century nearly ended the bison herds and permanently changed Native American life on the Great Plains, since their primary food source was no longer abundant. Periods of starvation and deprivation followed, and the Blackfoot tribe was forced to adopt ranching and farming, settling in permanent reservations. In the 1870s, they signed treaties with both the United States and Canada, ceding most of their lands in exchange for annuities of food and medical aid, as well as help in learning to farm. Nevertheless, the Blackfoot have worked to maintain their traditional language and culture in the face of assimilationist policies of both the U.S. and Canada.

“Historically” as Wikipedia uses it here merely refers to “in the 17 and 1800s.” The Blackfeet’s linguistic cousins on the eastern coast of the US, such as Pocahontas of the Tsenacommacah or Squanto of the Patuxet, were settled, agriculturalist people who raised corn, squash, and beans. It seems likely that the Blackfeet were originally similarly agricultural, only moving out into the Great Plains and adopting their nomadic, buffalo-based lifestyle after European colonists introduced horses to the New World. Without horses, following the herds on foot would have been very difficult–though perhaps they managed it.

Alfred Jacob Miller, Hunting Buffalo

According to Hofsinde Gray-Wolf:

“The traditional enemies of the Blackfeet were the Shoshoni, the Assiniboine, the Cree, and especially the Crow. Hostilities between these tribes were kept alive by continued raids upon each other, usually for revenge or to steal horses.

“The Blackfeet gave their highest tribal honor to the brave who captured an enemy’s horse, weapons, or ceremonial gear. … Parents asked him to perform the naming ceremony for their newborn baby boy. He was elected to perform special services at rituals and social affairs. These services added to the man’s wealth.”

EvX: I wonder if anyone has attempted to replicate Napoleon Chagnon’s quantitative work on reproductive success among the Yanomamo with other tribal societies. I’d love to know if warriors were similarly successful among the Blackfeet, for example. Back to Hofsinde Gray-Wolf:

“In the early 1800s the Missouri Fur Company started to construct a post at the mouth of the Bighorn River in Crow country. The Blackfeet thought these white people had allied themselves with the Crow. That alone was enough to set the Blackfeet on the war trail against them. … Time and time again the white men were killed, and their guns, their personal belongings were taking. The Indians traded the furs to the British posts.

“After a few of these raids, most of the trappers gave up and were ready to seek their furs in less dangerous parts of the country. For years thereafter, few white men dared enter the Blackfeet country.”

According to Wikipedia:

Up until around 1730, the Blackfoot traveled by foot and used dogs to carry and pull some of their goods. They had not seen horses in their previous lands, but were introduced to them on the Plains, as other tribes, such as the Shoshone, had already adopted their use.[17]

Horses revolutionised life on the Great Plains and soon came to be regarded as a measure of wealth. Warriors regularly raided other tribes for their best horses. Horses were generally used as universal standards of barter. … An individual’s wealth rose with the number of horses accumulated, but a man did not keep an abundance of them. The individual’s prestige and status was judged by the number of horses that he could give away. …

After having driven the hostile Shoshone and Arapaho from the Northwestern Plains, the Niitsitapi began in 1800 a long phase of keen competition in the fur trade with their former Cree allies, which often escalated militarily. … by mid-century an adequate supply of horses became a question of survival. Horse theft was at this stage not only a proof of courage, but often a desperate contribution to survival, for many ethnic groups competed for hunting in the grasslands.

The Cree and Assiniboine continued horse raiding against the Gros Ventre … They had to withstand attacks of enemies with guns. In retaliation for Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) supplying their enemies with weapons, the Gros Ventre attacked and burned in 1793 South Branch House of the HBC on the South Saskatchewan River near the present village of St. Louis, Saskatchewan.

Meanwhile, further south:

“Long ago the Apache and Navaho tribes of the Southwest were once people. Between the years 1200 and 1400, these Indians came down from the far north of Canada and Alaska, following a route along the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. The tribes lived in small family camps instead of permanent villages, and their personal belongings were meager. A little over 400 yeas ago the Navajo separated from their Apache brothers. …

“The Apache were raiders. They raided for food, clothing, horses, guns, and slaves. To them raiding was a business, and a dangerous business, but the Apache raider was a past master at commando tactics, and he did not take risks. … He tried not to kill those he raided. In Apache wars it was considered far better to take the enemy as slaves, and threby enlarge the tribe.”

EvX: It appears that the constant warfare had such a debilitating effect on tribal numbers that many tribes ended up relying on captives to keep their own numbers steady–though we must keep in mind that these tribes had also suffered unimaginable losses due to Western diseases. I have seen estimates that as much as 90% of the Indian population had already died before whites arrived in significant numbers in America, simply because their diseases spread much faster than they did.

Here is Wikipedia’s account of early Navajo history:

The Navajos are speakers of a Na-Dené Southern Athabaskan language … It is closely related to the Apache language, as the Navajos and Apaches are believed to have migrated from northwestern Canada and eastern Alaska, where the majority of Athabaskan speakers reside.[4] Speakers of various other Athabaskan languages located in Canada may still comprehend the Navajo language despite the geographic and linguistic deviation of the languages.[5]

Archaeological and historical evidence suggests the Athabaskan ancestors of the Navajos and Apaches entered the Southwest around 1400 CE.[7][8] The Navajo oral tradition is said to retain references of this migration.[citation needed]

Until contact with Pueblos and the Spanish, the Navajos were largely hunters and gatherers. The tribe adopted crop-farming techniques from the Pueblo peoples, growing mainly corn, beans, and squash. When the Spanish arrived, the Navajos began herding sheep and goats* as a main source of trade and food, with meat becoming an essential component of the Navajo diet. Sheep also became a form of currency and status symbols among the Navajos based on the overall quantity of herds a family maintained.[9][10] In addition, the practice of spinning and weaving wool into blankets and clothing became common and eventually developed into a form of highly valued artistic expression.

*Note that sheep and goats are not native to the Americas.

Geronimo, chief of the Apache

I find this progression of economic systems fascinating. Here we have three groups–first a group of Athabaskan hunter-gatherers decided, for unknown reasons, to leave their frigid, far northern homeland and migrate to the baking heat of the American Southwest. (Perhaps they were driven out of their original homes by the arrival of the Inuit/Eskimo?) Here they encountered already established Pueblo peoples, who IIRC are related to the Aztecs of Mexico, an advanced civilization. The Pueblo people built cities and raised crops, a lifestyle the Athabaskan newcomers started adopting, or at least trading with.

Then the Spaniards arrived, with their domesticated animals. One group of Athabaskans, the Navajo, decided to adopt sheep and goats, becoming pastoralist/agriculturalists. Another group, the Apache, decided to adopt the horse and fully realize their hunter-gatherer potential.

But back to Hofsinde Gray-Wolf:

“Although the Apache method of attack was devious, it was not cowardly. Cochise, with less than two hundred warriors, held off the United States army for more than ten years. He was a great leader and did not risk the life of any of his warriors in attacks on wagon trains or supply trains. He did not even attack small caravan patrols outright; instead he literally wore them down.

“A typical attack followed this pattern: from high on the rocks and cliffs an Apache band followed a group of white travelers, showing themselves from time to time, then silently vanishing again. Ahead and behind them the travelers saw smoke rising from signal fire, never knowing what i might mean. With the Apaches trailing them night and day, the nerves of the white men became frayed. They had little time for rest and even less for sleep. Water holes were few and far between, and when they finally reached one, it was usually occupied by hostile Apache. … When at long last nerves had been strained to the breaking point… it was time to expect a raid. …

“The Apache were excellent horsemen, and small groups of them were able to raid and terrorize large areas. These raids, thefts, and captures lasted for two hundred years. Only after the Americans arrived around 1850 was any attempt made to stop them, and this effort took forty years.

“When the Apache first migrated into the Southwest, one weapon they possessed was the arctic-type bow. It was of Asiatic origin, and far superior to any bow then made in their new homeland. …

“The sign of the cross existed in much of the Apache symbolism, but it held no Christian meaning for them. It represented the four cardinal points and the four winds. Thus a warrior painted a cross on the foot of his moccasins before he went into strange country, in hopes that it would keep him from becoming lost. …

“As early as 1538 a Spanish priest wrote about the Navaho and called them Apache del Navahu. …

“Even Navaho women went to war, and thereby gained high positions within the tribe. War usually meant a raid on one of the peaceful Pueblo tribes or on a Mexican village. …

“Raids on other tribes were conducted primarily to capture slaves. … Unlike the Apache, they did not torture their captives, though at times they did take scalps.”

EvX: This brings us to the end of this series; I hope you have enjoyed it, not just for the glances back at the history of the peoples of America (and Canada,) but also for a look at the sort of books children in the 50s were reading.

 

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Anthropology Friday: Indian Warriors and their Weapons (3/4) the Sioux

Chief Sitting Bull, Lakota Sioux, ca 1831 – 1890

Welcome back to Anthropology Friday. Today we’ll be looking at the Sioux Indians, from Hofsinde Gray-Wolf’s series about Native American culture with selections from Indian Warriors and their Weapons. According to Wikipedia, there are about 170,000 Sioux alive today, primarily the Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota. (I’m going to hazard a guess that Da, La, and Na are prefixes that refer to directions or locations.)

Hofsinde Gray-Wolf begins the section on the Sioux with an entertaining (but too long to recount here) story about a Sioux scout who spots some Pawnee hunting on Sioux land. A band of Sioux warriors pursues and surprises the Pawnee, getting the upper hand on them. Wikipedia notes:

Author and historian Mark van de Logt wrote: “Although military historians tend to reserve the concept of “total war” for conflicts between modern industrial nations, the term nevertheless most closely approaches the state of affairs between the Pawnees and the Sioux and Cheyennes. Both sides directed their actions not solely against warrior-combatants but against the people as a whole. Noncombatants were legitimate targets. … It is within this context that the military service of the Pawnee Scouts must be viewed.”[16]

The battle of Massacre Canyon on August 5, 1873, was the last major battle between the Pawnee and the Sioux.[17]

Air burial of a Sioux chieftain

On Massacre Canyon:

The Massacre Canyon Battle took place on August 5, 1873, in Hitchcock County, Nebraska. It was one of the last battles between the Pawnee and the Sioux (or Lakota) and the last large-scale battle between Native American tribes in the area of the present-day United States of America.[2] The battle occurred when a combined Oglala/Brulé Sioux war party of over 1000 warriors attacked a party of Pawnee on their summer buffalo hunt. More than 60 Pawnees died, mostly women and children. Along with the assault on Pawnee chief Blue Coat’s village in 1843, this battle range among “the bloodiest attacks by the Sioux” in Pawnee history.[3] …

John Williamson (23), was assigned as the Pawnee trail-agent at the Genoa Agency, the Pawnee reservation, and accompanied the Pawnee on their hunt. He wrote his recollections of the battle decades after the incident.[24]

“On the fourth day of August we reached the north bank of the Republican River and went into camp. At 9 o’clock that evening, three white men came into camp and reported to me that a large band of Sioux warriors were camped 25 miles [40 km] northwest, waiting for an opportunity to attack the Pawnees for several days, anticipating that we would move up the river where buffaloes were feeding. Previous to this, white men visited us and warned us to be on our guard against Sioux attacks, and I was a trifle skeptical as to the truth of the story told by our white visitors. But one of the men, a young man about my age at the time, appeared to be so sincere in his efforts to impress upon me that the warning should be heeded, that I took him to Sky Chief who was in command that day, for a conference. Sky Chief said the men were liars; that they wanted to scare the Pawnees away from the hunting grounds so that white men could kill buffaloes for hides. He told me I was squaw and a coward. I took exception to his remarks, and retorted: ‘I will go as far as you dare go. Don’t forget that.’

Chief Bone Necklace an Oglala Lakota from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (1899)

“The following morning August 5, we broke camp and started north, up the divide between the Republican and the Frenchman Rivers. Soon after leaving camp, Sky Chief rode up to me and extending his hand said, ‘Shake, brother.’ He recalled our little unpleasantness the night previous and said he did not believe there was cause for alarm, and was so impressed with the belief that he had not taken the precaution to throw out scouts in the direction the Sioux were reported to be. A few minutes later a buffalo scout signaled that buffaloes had been sighted in the distance, and Sky Chief rode off to engage in the hunt. I never saw him again. He had killed a buffalo and was skinning it when the advance guard of the Sioux shot and wounded him. The Chief attempted to reach his horse, but before he was able to mount, several of the enemy surrounded him. He died fighting. A Pawnee, who was skinning a buffalo a short distance away, but managed to escape, told me how Sky Chief died.” …

The whites rode up the canyon in the afternoon. “The first body we came upon was that of a woman”, remembered Platt.[32] Army doctor David Franklin Powell described the march up the battleground, “We advanced from the mouth of the ravine to its head and found fifty-nine dead Pawnees …”.[33] A number of the killed women lay naked. “Although the Pawnees made a stand and fought through the day, over a hundred were wounded, killed, or raped and mutilated”.[34]

(So much for “Primitive people were peaceful and never made war.”)

The last week of August, Williamson was back in Massacre Canyon. He covered the dead with dirt broken down from the banks.[43] …

This incident, in particular, caused the government nationwide to intensify “its efforts to keep the Indians confined to their reservation” in an endeavor to curtail intertribal warfare.[49] On local level, Major General George Crook “dispatched a small force” to protect the Pawnee Agency. The presence of troops did not stop the Sioux Raids.[50]

It would take half a century, before the Pawnee and the Sioux smoked the pipe of peace during the Massacre Canyon Pow Wow in 1925.[51]

Note that there were also wars between whites and Sioux, EG the Dakota War.

Scalp dance of the Minitarres

But back to Hofsinde Gray-Wolf:

“On their return to the Sioux encampment the men rode around the village. They had lost only warrior and only one other was wounded, so there was great jubilation. …

“In the evening a victory dance was held. The victory dance was also called a scalp dance because during it the warriors displayed the scalps they had taken. Afterwards the scalps were burned. … Those men who had earned coups in the battle had prepared their coup feathers before the dance. Two of the warriors wore and eagle feather standing upright behind their head. To the tip of the feather they had tied a tuft of horsehair, dyed brilliant red. Those coup feathers were of the highest order and showed that the wearers had, without any weapons in their hands, ridden in among the enemy. … they had dared to ride close enough to strike warriors with their bare hands. … One warrior hand a notch cut into the edge of his feather, and by this sign everyone knew that he had cut an enemy throat. …

“When he had won thirty coup feathers, a Sioux had earned the right to wear a full war bonnet.”

Chief Mato-tope of the Sioux in his headdress

EvX: One of the men in the band is considered a coward, and publicly shamed:

“Suddenly three older women stepped out of the dark outer circle. Each had been widowed when her husband had been killed in battle. Each had been left crying when her son had followed his father to the land beyond. … the middle woman carried a full war bonnet before her. …they turned their steps directly toward the great boaster, the toucher of dead enemies, and to him they presented the bonnet. …

“Would the coward run out of the circle? If he did, he would be banned forever from the tribe and become an outcast. If he accepted the bonnet, he wold have to go on the war trail at once, not returning until he could bring back proof that he was a man and a warrior. …

“Very slowly, he reached for the bonnet, took it, and with bowed head left the circle.

“There was one other way in which a bonnet could be given as a challenge. from time to time, for various reason, two families within the tribe feud. Each family always tried to get the better of the other, especially in public. These feuds could last a long time before they came to a climax. On a night when the tribe had gathered for a dance, a member of one of the feuding families might step forward and present a bonnet to the young son of the other lodge.

“The challenge was a brutal one, for it offered no escape. The youth had to join the next war party that was formed. …

“War societies, which were somewhat like men’s club, existed among the various tribes. The members were warriors of proven merit, and they were usually grouped by age. Often the members of a war society carried shields bearing the same designs, and on the war trail they gave the same war cry. …

Pehriska-Ruhpa of the Dog Society of the Hidatsa tribe of Native Americans

“Among the Plains Indians the best bow makers were the Sioux and the Crow. …

“A lance bent at the top like a shepherd’s crook and wrapped in otter fur was the insignia of the Dog Soldiers, the Sioux tribal police. This society, made up of the bravest men of the village, ran the buffalo hunts, making sure no one started toward the herd until the proper signal was given. The members kept an eye on the sometimes hotheaded young men, to prevent hem from sneaking out of camp on horse-raiding expeditions. They kept order during ceremonies and, in general, acted to enforce the tribal laws.

“In battle the Dog Soldiers held the foremost position. …

“When the tied of battle turned against them, these great warriors dismounted and jabbed the sharp point of their lance through the trailing sash [that they wore.] Anchored to the ground by it, a Dog Soldier stood and fought to the end. Only a man of his own tribe could free him, and one who freed himself would be forever disgraced and dishonored. …

Sioux horse racing

EvX: Among Indians, the Sioux and tribes similar to them seem closest to our stereotypical idea of the “Wild West Indian.”

To be continued…