Evolution of Native American Hunting and Warfare, Research Paper Example
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Throughout history, Native Americans have employed a variety of weapons for use in hunting and warfare. During the times of the American frontier, which ranged between 1600 and 1890 A.D., Native American tribes experienced a revolution with regards to the types of tools that were used. Before Europeans landed on the American continent, the primary tools used were made of flint. As time progressed, trade with these new settlers allowed Native Americans to access iron and steel, in addition to finished weapons such as knives, axes, and guns. These weapons were considered to be more efficient and deadly than their predecessors, including tomahawks, spears, and bow and arrows. Different Native American groups were introduced to these weapons at different times. Tribes that inhabited the East coast were the first to adapt to life with these new goods. This facilitated trade among Native Americans and Europeans in the country, and soon these goods in addition to a mechanical understanding of these weapons spread to tribes living in the West. The evolution of Native American hunting and warfare tools demonstrates that the communication of ideas and the physical trade of goods can influence the culture of a society. Prior to European arrival on the continent, Native Americans lived off the land and therefore made their weapons from natural items. Following the introduction of European life, many Native American groups adopted aspects of the European lifestyle, which is reflected by the evolution of their weaponry.
Human history is marked by the need for different societies and cultures to develop tools that will enhance their ability to survive. In the past several centuries in addition to those preceding this time period, humans created objects that would allow them to access an expanded food supply to increase the likelihood that they would be able to have a constant supply of nutrition for their families and tribe members. While tools were originally simplistic, such as sharpened sticks meant to injure animals, the efficacy of these tools evolved as the need to hunt larger animals occurred (Krupat). As a consequence, these groups learned how to use more of the materials that were accessible to them in their immediate environment to build stronger tools.
As time continued, human hunters recognized the need to construct tools for protection as well as hunting. Unlike modern humans, early humans faced threats to their survival on a daily basis and therefore need to be equipped to protect themselves against wild animals. As the human populations grew, conflicts between human tribes over food and territory became more common, and there was also a need to develop greater weapons than these groups to ensure success during battle. There was therefore motivation among humans to develop more advanced weapons in addition to battle techniques in order to make sure that both their hunting and defense needs would be met.
By the time that Europeans began to travel to the Americas to settle in the early 1600s, the weaponry utilized by Native Americans had evolved a considerable amount. Just prior to this time period, Native American groups had refined their use of the bow and arrow, which was traditionally used to hunt animals on either horseback or foot. Several sizes of bow and arrow were developed for different purposes in order to achieve accuracy. In addition, arrowheads which were generally made from flint, were modified to be different shapes and sizes to serve different purposes as well (McEvoy). For example, horseback riders utilized smaller weapons than those on foot. This long-range technology was occasionally further refined by the use of poison arrows. Users would simply dip the arrow into poison extracted from a plant before hitting a target. Since Native Americans were highly concerned with the pain felt by the animals that they hunted, the poison was used as a means by which hunters could ensure that their targets died a quick and painful death. While the bow and arrow was utilized primarily for hunting, this weapon served as an important defense against hostile Europeans when they arrived to the Americas. Unfortunately, the precision of this instrument proved to be ill-equipped to match the steel weapons of the Europeans, such as guns.
Prior to the introduction of steel weapons to the Americas, Native American tribes used a variety of different weapons for different purposes. The bow and arrow, discussed above, was one of the most popular weapons, but it is important to consider that these tribes also used tomahawks, axes, shields, lances, knives and daggers, clubs, throwing sticks, hatchets, and more. It is clear that the Native Americans had developed a variety of weapons that would be relevant to their daily use. A majority of these items were developed for hunting different animals. While the bow and arrow was equipped to larger and faster animals, items like throwing sticks that function similarly to boomerangs with a point at the end, were used to hunt smaller animals like rabbit. Weapons such as this were developed to replace more primitive weaponry like the slingshot, although these devices were still utilized by the youth of many tribes even after it was deemed to be less effective than many of the alternative options. Some of these tools were developed primarily for defense. For example, Native Americans designed several types of clubs for use in close range combat for use either against hostile animals or humans.
When the frontier period began, Native Americans were fascinated by the weapons carried by the Europeans and termed them “fire sticks”. During the initial period between the 1600s and 1700s, Native Americans did not generally have access to these items due to a decreased tendency for trade between the tribes and the new settlers. However, over time, the Native Americans and Europeans noted a need for mutual defense and survival that resulted in trade. Europeans also wished to acquire Native American lands, and guns were used as a component of these exchanges as well. The first steel weapon acquired by the Native Americans was the musket, which was used in the period that occurred between 1700 and 1800. This marked the first type of firearm that Native Americans had seen, as this weapon was developed in Europe using raw materials that the tribes did not recognize access to. Several different types of muskets were utilized by Native Americans during this period and muskets were acquired whenever possible because they allowed for advanced hunting and defense compared to the bow and arrow that had been used exclusively for this purpose prior to access to European technology.
The first type of musket introduced to the Native Americans was known as the flintlock musket which was named so because flint was embedded in the hammer. This was viewed as an ideal tool by the Native Americans because flint was a readily available resource in the Americas. The flint would rub against the hammer and create friction that would cause a spark and release the bullet. This weapon was very noisy and shocked the Native Americans a lot when it was first utilized. However, these groups adapted to the noise so that they would be able to remain on competitive groups with the Europeans who used them regularly. The Native Americans recognized that just as they developed tools to effectively compete against nature and warring tribes, they would need to adapt to the tools that the Europeans brought to the country in order to survive against them as well.
Native Americans first experienced the power of the musket during the Villasur expedition of 1720 and entered common use among the Native American tribes several decades later (Riley). This weapon was generally accepted by the Native Americans due to the ease with which it could be carried because it was lightweight, but it did not replace conventional hunting and wartime tools because the weapons of their ancestors proved more effective and required less load time. Furthermore, because the weapon wasn’t very accurate, there was a need for a more improved firearm. Over nearly a century, the European weapons continued to evolve and change shape in a manner that was more conducive to function. This evolution helped meet the needs of Native Americans, who wish to acquire an even more lightweight and accurate weapon that could assist their ability to hunt on horseback. As a consequence, the rifle entered common use.
The rifle solved many of the problems that the Native Americans had concerning use of the musket, and readily engaged in trade with the Europeans to acquire it. A common trade was the exchange of the weapon for furs (Taylor). As a consequence of the implementation of this weapon, a power struggle was created between the Native American tribes who harnessed the power of the weapon and those who didn’t. The tribes who were considered to be more powerful were therefore those who lived closer to the East cost of the continent due to their proximity to the European settlers. However, as the European settlers moved west, the influence of this weapon moved west as well. This power struggle created a clear advantage for the Europeans to claim power over all Native American tribes because all groups relied on negotiations with the Europeans and new settles in order to obtain this weapon (Weir). As a result, negotiations were made in a manner in which the Europeans clearly benefitted and the Native Americans were harmed.
As the Europeans moved west and traded guns with more Native American tribes, these guns became more in demand due to an increasing need for tribes to have rifles of their own to ensure a proper defense. A major power imbalance between Native American tribes was demonstrated in the Beaver Wars several large tribes including the Hurons were destroyed by the Iroquois. It is clear that the favor that this tribe was granted by the Europeans allowed for their war intentions to be carried out. Over time, as more tribes acquired their own rifles, they were modified in order to be align with the spirit of the tribes by which they were owned. Many previously developed weapons made from wood and other natural tools included tribal symbols placed by shamans, which were expected to improve weapon efficacy. The same symbols were placed on the rifles acquired by the Europeans as a way by which power could be increased. Although this did not in reality make these weapons more accurate, this activity is representative of the desperate need that many tribes had to remain powerful compared to their neighbors for fear of an inability to survive in the changing world.
Ultimately, the evolution of Native American hunting and warfare tools demonstrates that the communication of ideas and the physical trade of goods can influence the culture of a society. Prior to the colonization and frontier period, Native Americans operated under this principle in order to ensure their own survival over wild animals and neighboring tribes. Weapons evolved as a consequence of the need to design more efficient hunting tools in order to acquire food to meet basic needs in addition to the need to create weapons that are better than those of neighboring tribes in order to shift the power balance during conflicts. When the Europeans arrived to the Americas, this power struggle game changed significantly. Because Native Americans were faced with new technology, they were forced to decide whether it would be advantageous to acquire and implement into daily practices. The tribes who decided to take this risk quickly found out that this was the correct and necessary choice, as power became weighed in their favor.
The spread of European weapons to the west marked a need for Native Americans to determine how they would alter their defense strategies. Many tribes who were accustomed to their traditional hunting and defense methods recognized that they would need to adapt to the European methods of doing so in order to remain competitive with the new settlers and to out power tribes who did not wish to change their ways. Successful tribes replaced their conventional use of the bow and arrow with that of the rife and partnered with the Europeans against their enemies. As a consequence, many Native Americans died out in large numbers during the frontier period due to these struggles.
While many tribes used the weaponry developed by the Europeans, they ultimately lost this power struggle. Ultimately, the supply of weapons that the Native Americans could obtain was limited by the number that the Europeans were willing to give them. As a consequence, the Europeans held control of this relationship since their initial landing in the east and the initial trades conducted that introduced Native Americans to these new metal weapons. Tribes that were willing to work with the Europeans quickly found out that they would be able to dominate over their enemy troops, but this would not help them overcome the desires of the Europeans for their land. As a consequence, the drive for enhanced weaponry piloted the genocide of the Native Americans, which paved a way for the Europeans to completely claim their land as their own.
It is unlikely that the mass deaths caused by European weaponry was intentional, but Native Americans engaged in much warfare during the frontier period that eliminated large populations of many different tribes. These struggles evolved from an evolutionary need for groups to eliminate their enemies in order to ensure that they themselves will survive. As a consequence, many Native American groups felt driven to collaborate with the Europeans to eliminate common enemies. This became problematic when the enemy groups acquired powerful rifles as well, and the fight for dominance became widespread even after the Europeans ceased to be directly involved with some of these conflicts. Unfortunately for the Native Americans, their way of life was quickly changing and going to become more European than they had initially expected.
In the end, the Europeans proved to be dominant over the Native Americans because of their weaponry. Even though Native Americans had some access to these weapons, they were created by the Europeans who were able to maintain a constant supply of new guns and to modify the ones that they had to be more effective than those that were provided to these native groups. The conflicts that had occurred during the frontier period ended many Native American lives in addition to causing many tribes to lose their native lands. As a consequence, Native American groups were beginning to be subject to European law against their will. It was this time period during the 19th century that American Indian Boarding Schools were established to provide the remaining individuals about the European and European American way of life.
As a result of their loss in the power struggle that occurred over several centuries, Native Americans were forced to be stripped of their culture and live an “American” life. At this time, many reservations were put aside for these individuals as reparations that would allow them to have access to land, although the land given was undesired and unfertile. The Native American lifestyle had changed significantly as a consequence of an inability to compete with powerful weaponry, and this event resulted in many unfortunate deaths as well.
In conclusion, tools and weapons have evolved throughout history in a manner that allows groups to achieve dominance over both their neighbors and over nature. The groups that are able to create the more powerful weapons have the enhanced ability to survive over those who do not. In ancient history, the ability to survive was therefore directly related for the ability of people to use the natural resources they have available to them to develop these weapons and technologies. Furthermore, the need to do so is enforced by the technological developments of surrounding tribes, as competition is a driving factor of technology development. It is evident that Native American technology was subject to these same evolutionary forces. Simple weapons, like the sling shot, evolved over time to become the bow and arrow and the club. While smaller weapons were once practical for hunting small game, a need for a more diverse food source developed which led to the development and implementation of larger weapons.
When the Europeans first came to the Americas, Native Americans were subject to this evolutionary pressure once again. The groups that were willing to engage in contact and trade with the Europeans quickly became dominant, as they had power both in terms of weapons and support against enemy tribes. However, these groups were unable to continue to adapt to the evolutionary pressure implemented by the Europeans, as they were not able to refine steel and metals on their own in order to further enhance the weapons that they were provided with. Furthermore, the Native Americans were unable to understand the technology that they were using in the same manner that the Europeans were able to. As a consequence, evolutionary dominance existed on the behalf of the Europeans, who used this power to take control of the territory.
Ultimately, this European desire for control in addition to the power that they held over the Native Americans resulted in the undoing of the Native American lifestyle. The power struggle experienced by the Native Americans and early European settlers is still observable today due to the current minority status of Native American groups and the continued use of Indian reservations. It is likely that if the Native Americans had been able to adapt to the new technology they were presented with when the Europeans landed on the east coast, the current lives of those of Native American descent would be very different from those they live today.
Krupat, A. Native American Autobiography: An Anthology. Madison, Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1994.
McEvoy, A. The American West. NY, New York: Chelsea House, 2009.
Riley, A.R. “Indians and Guns”. The Georgetown Law Journal 100 (2012): 1675-1745. Web. 26 February 2015. <http://georgetownlawjournal.org/files/2012/06/Riley.pdf>
Taylor, C.F. Native American Weapons. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 2005.
Weir, W. 50 weapons that changed warfare. Franklin Lakes, New Jersey: New Page Books, 2005.
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