Native American Sword (Pawnee/Otoe)
I could use some help identifying the sword in the attached pictures. One is of Crooked Hand, a Pawnee, and the other of an unidentified Otoe man. I've been told that it is a Model 1832 Foot Artillery Sword. I am curious to learn how and when these swords made their way to Nebraska and how they came into the possession of the Pawnees, Otoes, and possibly other tribes. I've only seen photographs of these two Native Americans with these swords and I wonder if there are more.
Most Native American swords were cavalry sabers, which make the foot artillery sword somewhat unique. Most texts I found state that Native Americans used these swords mainly for decorative and ceremonial purposes and treat them merely as signs of status. I am not sure that is always the case. I suspect that Indians may have used these weapons in battle. See the attached Arikara ledger drawing depicting battle lines that show an array of weapons (neatly organized) that includes a saber. Any thoughts on the use of swords/sabers by Native American in battles (the US Cavalry did use sabers in battles on occasion) are much appreciated.
re. Native American sword
The sword shown in the pictures look very much like the U.S. model 1832 heavy artillery sword, though it is hard to see the distinctive fullers and wasp-waisted blade that would make identification more certain.
It is a little-known fact that, though the model 1832 sword was current military issue and therefore not readily obtainable by civilians, a number of them were made available to "free state" guerillas during the so-called "Kansas- Nebraska War" in the late 1850's. Whether this was done through official or non-official channels is unknown, but photographs from the era show them being worn by free state partisans, and the swords used to murder 5 "Jayhawker" prisoners during the Pottawotamie Massacre in 1856, though referred to as "broadswords" in newspaper accounts, were actually 1832 artillery swords. As the Kansas-Nebraska War took place in the middle of Otoe and Pawnee territory, it is possible that Indians obtained them from the Free Staters, or perhaps from whatever source supplied them to the Free Staters.
Incidentally, many years ago I worked on an archaeological project at Mission San Diego de Alcala, in San Diego, California, a mission built in the 18th century and occupied by U.S. troops as barracks in the 1850's. In a cavity beneath a tile floor we discovered a cache of several model 1832 artillery swords. The assumption was that they had been stolen by a soldier who intended to sell them, but for some reason never retrieved them.
Thank you for this very informative post and the first hand knowledge of the dig in San Diego. Great to have your expertise here.
Crooked Hand's Sword (Pawnee)
Thanks so much for this highly useful information, BAW!!! This provides some useful context and possible new avenues to look at. Much appreciated!
Of course there is 95% of chances that these short swords are US in origin.
But remember that the US artillery sword is based on the French model.
This model existed since the 18th c. and Lafayette with the models 1767-1771 and 1774-1783.
I'm not in the head of a 19th c. Indian, but a sword with an eagle head is a really cool totem... Think about it....
So you need to look at the photos closer, maybe these Indians had French swords.
see also my post here: http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/showp...89&postcount=38
Many French and other european Gladius style infantry swords did not have the waisted and fullered blade of the US Artillery one. Even a brit one like in the other post of mine from the UK Land Transport Corps. French mid 19c and later ones had a flattened diamond x-section, no fullers at all.
an oddball one as another example: My Double edged 'Yataghan' blade, both edges sharp.
This is an excellent post and query! and very much addresses a seldom investigated aspect of American Indian weaponry. I am curious about
the Otoe warrior pictured and if there is a date or period (Crooked Hand was c.1870s) also more detail on the Arikara artwork.
I am not sure of the occurrence of a single warrior among battle lines holding what appears to be a saber represents it being used as a combat weapon. These were symbols of power, status and imbued with these as well as deep spiritual protective values, much as the case with warrior's shields.
As noted, the ceremonial use of swords by various tribes is well established, and as noted by Colin Taylor ("Native American Weapons" , 2001, p.54, p.121) swords were traded to Eastern Woodlands tribes as early as 17th c. but 'fell into disuse as weapons'.
It is further noted that after the Napoleonic wars, the British were disposing of huge stockpiles of arms as surplus, which brought many M1796 cavalry sabers into America, many of which ended up at the Bordeaux Trading Post near Chadron, Nebraska. Naturally this is but one of probably many locations, but this one notably recorded.
In these references it is described how one Crow chief had a red painted saber and displayed it symbolically representing his power.
see: "Crow Lance Cases or Sword Scabbards", G. Galante
'American Indian Art'
Vol. 6, #1, p 64-73, 1980
"Crow Indian Beadwork" W.Wildschut; J. Ewers. 1959
In the so called 'Indian Wars' which extended from during the Civil War through the 1870s (I had a grandfather in the cavalry in Minnesota during the Sioux Uprising 1862)....the US cavalry did of course use swords in varying degree, but by the time of the Custer event (1876) they were typically left behind (as in the Little Big Horn battle).
Getting to these images of Pawnee and Otoe holding what are apparently US M1832 'Foot Artillery' swords (produced 1832-1862 by Ames):
Absolutely outstanding entry by BAW! I know little of these events in the Kansas-Nebraska 'war' of the 1850s, and I am most curious about the detail of these M1832 swords being used by John Brown abolitionist group in the killing of these 5 men. May I ask where that detail is obtained? I have always been curious about the employing of these interesting swords, which are virtually always described as 'unfit for combat use'.
Here I would suggest that these photos of these warriors are likely CdV images (carte de visite) which were popularly produced from 1860s onward and where the photographers often carried a stockpile of props, usually including weapons.
The images of Civil War soldiers who seem almost invariably holding a Colt Navy pistol and Bowie knife are great examples of this license.
These M1832 swords seem to have been curiously, almost carelessly, disposed of or traded, sold off in their time, and turned up in many curious circumstances. I once saw one found in an archaeological site in New York, and the immediate, bizarre thought was that they had found a 'Roman' sword!!!
For further research on the disposition of these type swords into Nebraska I would recommend contacting Mr. Jim Hanson of the Museum of the Fur Trade in Chadron, Nebraska (site listed online).
Some of the images I was referring to.
At the Solomons Fork (Kansas) battle in 1857, the Cheyenne medicine man convinced warriors that they were impervious to soldiers firearms if they held their hands up when fired upon. When the soldiers put carbines at ready, the Cheyenne advanced regarding the guns harmless. The Pawnee scouts must have interpreted what was going on and advised Col. Sumner.
He ordered troopers to sling carbines and draw sabers, and charge.
The confidence of the Cheyenne evaporated and broke in confusion, as they had no defense against the long knives.
In another case, a saber captured by a Piegan (of Blackfoot) warrior from Sioux was carried in battle, and when surrounded by Crow, he was said to have stuck the sword into a sage brush, where it burst into flame, and the Crow retreated.
At the Little Big Horn a Sioux was seen wielding a heavy saber taken from Gen. Crook's forces at Rosebud fight, and was probably the only saber on the Little Big Horn that day, since none of Custer's men carried swords in that fateful campaign.
"Custers Fall: The Indian Side of the Story"
D.H. Miller, 1957
"..our western Indians made good use of cavalry sabers taken from troopers they captured or killed"
"The American Indian"
A,\. Hyatt Verrill, 1927. p.187
The picture shown of Red Cloud with a Japanese katana is most interesting as this was one of two or possibly more cases of Japanese swords turning up on the Plains. This was discussed in a 1987 article by Dr. Peter Bleed, whom I was communicating with in 2004 on this topic.
These were apparently acquired by Red Cloud and another chief likely independently during visits of Japanese diplomats to Indian agencies.
There is no evidence of direct trade or other routings to support any significant entry of these swords into the Plains beyond these incidental occurrences.
So....yes cavalry troopers did use sabers in some degree from 1850s to the 70s, but those weapons captured seem to have had a certain metaphysical or symbolic imbuement in the view of American Indian warriors. One reference does claim that there was some use of the sword as an offensive weapon by some southern and central plains tribes but no further detail was noted.
With these carte de visite photos of the Pawnee and Otoe men, similar to examples I have attached staged with prop weapons, though unusual seeing these type swords used........there is no evidence that suggest these were their weapons, nor that these would have been used in combat.
In "The Old West" (Time Life books, 1973, p.105) it is noted that "...the cavalry saber was practically worthless in combat because attacking Indians seldom got within striking distance. On campaigns it was routinely left behind".
This was clearly not the case in the 'Fetterman massacre' in 1866 (in the illustration posted from "Reckless Pursuit Halted" by Kevin Randle, Military History, August, 1986). There are a number of swords that were captured in that battle.
In answer to Jim McDougals' query as to how I concluded that the 1832 foot artillery sword is the "broadsword" used by John Browns' men at Pottawatomie: An 1832 artillery sword is displayed at the John Brown Museum State Historic Site in Osawatomie, Kansas, where it is described as a "Broadsword similar to ones used by Brown and his sons", and another displayed at Harpers Ferry National Historic Park in Harpers Ferry, W. Virginia, is described as a sword "believed to have been carried by one of John Browns' men in a raid against pro-slavery settlers in Pottawotamie, Kansas." Neither description mentions that it is a Model 1832 foot artillery sword, or that it was a current U.S. military item.
BAW, I would like to thank you for acknowledging my posts and responding to my question concerning the comments on the 'broadswords' (as per news accounts) used by John Brown's men in these events and shown in museum contexts as similar or believed to have been used.
In these cases concerning museum descriptions, and display of items in 'soft' association it is often hard to rely on them to qualify various elements in the history of a particular form. However, it the cases you cite, it does seem compellingly plausible that these were indeed the curious M1832 foot artillery swords.
These swords (which were double edged so in fact broadswords by definition) were as noted M1832 and produced by Ames Sword Co. of Chicopee, Mass. in considerable numbers between then and 1862. While intended for use by the foot artillery, in 1834 and 39 they were ordered to be used by infantry as well.
Harold Peterson ("The American Sword" ,1954/73) notes these were unwieldy and completely unsuitable for combat. In their use they served mostly in a utility purpose.
This is an interesting and well known description of these somewhat defying the plausibility of these particular weapons being used by the Pawnee, Otoe or any other American Indian tribe. this is especially notable in view of the reticence of warriors to even use other types of swords combatively in any measurable degree. That is why I consider that these examples may likely be photographers props.
Having said that, and returning to the M1832 swords, it is interesting to know about a number of these being found under floor in excavations of the San Diego de Alcala mission. This was one of the first missions in California and in the 1840s given to an officer of the California Battalion. After the Treaty of Cahuenga it seems he continued providing support for US military so it would be interesting to discover more on what units were there.
The idea of being hidden for possible sale later seems odd, but even though not especially valuable as a weapon, these blades could be repurposed, as most items often were in these times in these areas.
This of course digresses from the original topic here, so I would very much like to discuss further via private message if possible. Having grown up in Southern Calif. I developed a very keen interest in Spanish colonial history as well as western history. Now in Texas, I am typically near the Alamo, where I have been interested in many of the excavations undertaken there.
Thank you again for the response.
Crooked Hand's Sword (Pawnee)
Thanks everyone for contributing! This has been most instructive and I've learned a lot. The impact of metal weapons (inc. armor) on Native North American societies has been overshadowed by firearms. I got interested in this subject after stumbling upon obscure references to metal weapons and armor in American Indian oral traditions. I really appreciate your contributions to this thread!
I have run out of facts on the subject, but ParikiMarks original posting solicited "thoughts", of which I have an abundance. These are my personal opinions, neither provable nor unprovable, and if others are not offended by my sharing them, I for my part, promise not to be offended if no one agrees with me.
Mention was made of the 1832 swords' worthlessness in combat, and it probably would have been for defending a battery against saber-swinging horsemen or a company of infantry armed with bayonets, but would probably be very useful in the disorganized melee of single combats practiced by the Kansas Jayhawkers, who probably looked upon them as a sort of super-Bowie knife. I have no doubt that American Plains Indians looked on them the same way. Contrary to the Hollywood legend, American Indians did most of their fighting against other Indians. The average length of the Plains Indian stone-headed war clubs in my collection is 23 inches. I imagine that an Indian would find a 25 inch sword a suitable weapon for an encounter with an opponent armed with a stone club. As for Indians considering a sword to be a "symbol of status", I have no doubt that ownership of a sword conferred status in the same way that the ownership of a repeating rifle did, but it does not necessarily follow that the owner considered either sword or rifle as anything other than an efficient weapon for practical use.
I am also not sure that the swords found at Mission San Diego de Alcala were intended to be "re-purposed." They were the same size as some of the shorter examples of the espada ancha traditionally carried fixed to the saddle by the native Californios, and were a great deal more decorative. Had he been successful in getting out the gate with them, the thief probably would have found a ready market..
Adding this for visual references from a 2006 sale.
By appearances they were coveted weapons.
They were very much weapons of status and prestige, as well as symbolic of authority and power.
Colin Taylor's works note various cases of the sword in American Indian culture and they are sometimes seen in pictographs and drawings. Apparently a good number of British M1796 light cavalry sabers came into America probably after 1830s. One trading post , the Bordeaux near Chadron, Nebraska seems to have acquired a good number of these and traded to various tribes.
The Yankton Sioux chief To-ka-cou had one which represented his power and his tribe entirely recognized this. The Crow also had a red painted example representing supernatural power.
While not used in the traditional sense, as a weapon, they were considered profoundly in the act of 'counting coup' on the battlefield, probably with recognition of these as in use by the 'long knives' (American cavalry).
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