Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Route 66
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.