FUR TRADE AXES & TOMAHAWKS

PAGE 12 HAMMER POLLED TOMAHAWKS

Home
PAGE 2- SOME ORIGINAL OWNERS
PAGE 3 SPIKE TOMAHAWKS
PAGE 4 SPIKE TOMAHAWKS- PART 2
PAGE 5 THE IROQUOIS SPIKE TOMAHAWKS
PAGE 6 CELT FORM AXES
PAGE 7 HALBERD TOMAHAWKS
PAGE 8- TRADE AXES
PAGE 9 BISCAYNE TRADE AXES - PART 2
PAGE 10 TRADE AXES - PART 3
PAGE 11 HUDSON'S BAY CO. TRADE AXES - PART 4
PAGE 12 HAMMER POLLED TOMAHAWKS
PAGE 13 BELT AXES
PAGE 14 PIPE TOMAHAWKS
PAGE 15 PIPE TOMAHAWKS - PART 2
PAGE 16 PERIOD TOY TOMAHAWKS
PAGE 17- FAKES, MISTAKES & REPRODUCTIONS - PART 1
PAGE 18 FAKES, MISTAKES & REPRODUCTIONS & MARKS- PART 2
PAGE 19 FAKES, MISTAKES & REPRODUCTIONS- PART 3
PAGE 20 FAKES, MISTAKES & REPRODUCTIONS- SUMMARY
PAGE 21 HALF AXES
Page 22 HOW OLD IS IT?
PAGE 23 REFERENCES
PAGE 24 LINKS
PAGE 25 ABOUT IRON & STEEL, MISC.
PAGE 26 TRADE AXES AS WEAPONS
PAGE 27 -- PRESERVING YOUR COLLECTION
Page 28 AXES OF THE WORLD
PAGE 29 OTHER TRADE ARTIFACTS
PAGE 30 MORE FAKES-- WILD WEST SHOW, LANCES, WAR CLUBS, KNIVES, ARROWHEADS. AXES ETC.
PAGE 31 DOCUMENTING YOUR FINDS
PAGE 32 CONTACT /AUTHENTICATIONS
PAGE 33 FOR SALE; MY TOMAHAWKS & TRADE ARTIFACTS
PAGE 34 OTHER FUR TRADE ITEMS FOR SALE BY MY FRIENDS

 
 
With polled axe heads it is easy to get carried away.  It would be easy if they were marked used for this or used for that.  But they aren't.  For every tomahawk collector who does not know what else it could have been used for this opens the door wide for confirmation bias.   Polled tomahawks are hatchets often with a typical tomahawk axe blade and a solid poll on the other side which extends further than what is used in  regular hammer poll hatchets used as tools & is usually decorated with simple to elaborate filing work.  Some polls will extend 2.5-3" long.  Also the polled tomahawk has a poll which angles slightly downward from the straight across axis.  In other words, the poll is not exactly 90 degrees from the handle but is angled slightly downward toward it.  Sometimes the blade is angled downward slightly too.  Usually the poll begins ~1/4" or more below  the highest point of the eye.  Now there are also instances where regular everyday handyman hatchets were adapted for use as a tomahawk but these are few and far between. 
 
Lathing hatchets (used on early plaster walls & ceilings with wood lath strips) are often mistaken for polled tomahawks but lathing hatchets will not have the poll extended as far & are usually square in cross section whereas the polled tomahawk has a octangular or round cross section.  Some have argued that only the lathing hatchets will have a notch in the blade for pulling nails & if it doesn't have that notch it is a tomahawk.  But the fact is lathing hatchets were made with AND without the nail pulling notch in the blade so the notch criteria does not eliminate it as being a lathing hatchet.  Lathing hatchets were made flat on top with the blade, eye and poll at the same highest level, so hammering could be done at the corner of the wall & ceiling to provide needed clearance.   (See pg 17 Fakes, Mistakes & Reproductions; Peck Stow & Wilcox catalog 1923;  Hibbard, Spencer, Bartlett & Co 1922 catalog). 
 
The other polled axes commonly found during colonial times can easily be confused  & intermixed with polled tomahawks.   Just like polled tomahawks, polled axes were also carried on the belt.   They may have been used as a weapon or not.  Usually the polled axe will have somewhat extended polls also although they average a bit shorter.   Polled 'tomahawks' were either designed or used as weapons. Polled axes/hatchets are really any tools that have a blade & a hammer poll-- those which may have been used as a hunter's belt axe might also fit in the tomahawk category and again that depends on who you ask.  Belt axes and small tomahawks are terms used interchangably sometimes but not really accurately.
 
Ordinary polled frontier hatchets used as tools are not usually decorated with filings, notches or other purely decorative features and overall patterns although some do.  Just because it is a polled axe that was hand forged more than 150-250 years ago does not make it a tomahawk.   The term tomahawk is added when the axe was used as a weapon.   Polled axes/hatchets had far more uses than as a weapon.  Collectors can convince themselves that they all could have been used as a weapon but who are they really fooling?  
90% of the population back then were farmers in colonial times.   Only a relatively small percentage were trappers, traders and mountain men & fewer still used polled hatchets as a weapons.  Take from that what you wish, but in my mind the odds are stacked against most polled hatchets of the period being used as weapons.   They are all an interesting part of history either way & there is no need to turn them into anything other than what they are.
 
The following are not definitive but rather characteristics in support of a tomahawk ID based on proven examples.  With so little absolutes it is rare to find one that fits perfectly.  Remember that most polled hatchets were hammering nails, not people. They don't sell for 100 bucks on ebay, but the misidentified ones do. Like any category of tomahawk, identifying starts with studying those polled tomahawks which have a proven irrefutable  provenance.  Compare all others to that--nothing else. 
 
 
 
The 3 general criteria for determining whether a polled hatchet is a polled tomahawk needs to include at least one the following.  Everything else must be considered a tool.  Conjecture doesn't prove a thing.
 
1) Verifiable documentation of Indian/explorer/trader usage as a weapon.
 
2) The shape and construction method is identical to known proven examples
 
3) The axe has authentic Indian decoration on a haft original to it.
 
 
 
Some Attributes of polled tomahawks:
 
~ often elongated polls 2.5-3" or more although not all; often flaring
 
~ decorative filings, decorations
 
-resembles shape of pipe tomahawks only with hammer poll
 
~ blades often shaped like pipe tomahawk blades with similar angles
 
~ thin eye walls
 
~ poll angled downward slightly & widens toward end is a common pattern
 
~light weight close to 1 lb. range
 
~ forged iron
 
~verifiable provenance
 
~atypical of known tool patterns
 
~ one style has the blade flaring bilaterally with short thick polls
 
*  The absence of nail pulling notches does not necessarily indicate a polled hatchet was used as a weapon.  Many polled hatchets made & used as tools never had nail pulling notches as evidenced by old hatchet manufacturer catalogs.   Since it can weaken the blade cheek it was not always preferred, particularly on iron hatchets with small steel blade inserts.  Also there are some rare tomahawks where nail pulling notches were added after their use as a weapon had ended.  Farmers that plowed up these heads might occasionally put them to use again as a tool and add a notch. (See page 5 -- top of page). 

POLLED TOMAHAWK- DUG IN UPSTATE NY. Nails in eye
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Image courtesy of Sergei of metaldetectingworld.com

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Here is a very rare engraved with silver inlay Revolutionary War polled tomahawk which sold for $87,000+ from a 2006 Bonham Auction.  It has been published in 5 or 6 books including Peterson's & Hartzler & Knowles.

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This polled tomahawk at the top of the next photo was found in 1924 by amateur archaeologists at Nicholas Deny's trading post (circa 1645) on Lameque Island, in the Acadian Islands region of Canada.  It was discovered with four other French biscaine trade axes.  This example is probably the oldest polled tomahawk found to date.  The size is not available to me but judging by its photo next to the other axes I would guess it to be 8.0-8.5" long with an octagonal shaped poll that expands/flares outward.  Among antique hammers that same kind of flaring outward of the octagonal hammer poll occurs in the mid 1700's & on back to the Roman era.

Top - Polled Tomahawk circa 1645
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Others are Biscayne Axes common from 1580-1680

Closeup- Polled Tomahawk Crica 1645
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note the slightly downward angle of hammer poll

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This polled tomahawk does have a somewhat flat profile on top like a lathing hatchet except it is round, elongated & polled tomahawks often had this kind of decorative molding on it.  Also the poll is elongated much further than a tool would be and the overall small size and light weight tend to indicate use as a weapon. 

POLLED TOMAHAWK
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Top polled tomahawk-is a later form
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POLLED TOMAHAWK W/BRASS INLAID LETTERS
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HOWARD BUSSE COLLECTION

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Kentucky-Pennsylvania rifle gunsmiths preferred curly maple hafts for the tomahawks they made.  Often these were special orders for white men or Native American chiefs.  KY rifle gunsmiths were highly skilled craftsmen and capable of highly elaborate detailed work with many inlays as found on their rifles.  Curly maple hafts on tomahawks are a primary indicator of one of these specialized smiths.

Ca. 1790-1820 Rifleman's Polled Tomahawk
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TIGER MAPLE HAFT INLAID W PEWTER TYPICAL OF KY/PN. RIFLE MAKERS

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This is a picture of Sitting Bull's polled tomahawk with a utilitarian style head, atypical short poll and an longer than average haft for better reach from horseback.  It is referred to as a tomahawk because it was known to have been used as such. This was a tool adapted as a weapon, sometimes known as a Cow Killer Axe for stunning the animal in the forehead & general farm use.  It has a manufacturers name but it is no longer legible along with the words "Steel Warranteed" which is a term used on manufacturered tools.   Indians didn't care about whether the steel was warranted or not & steel wasn't even required for a weapon.  Hard to return it anyway should it fail  ;).  This was what he surrendered in 1881 at Fort Randall.  This may be the same one shown in an 1849 painting by Farny now in a Finland Museum.  He also owned a pipe tomahawk with a heart cutout and a beaded drop which is now on display the West Point Museum, (see More Pipe Tomahawks page 14).

sittingbullhammerpollmarked_edited-1.jpg

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This one has the bilaterally flared blade common on a number of known polled tomahawks.  Crow from Montana.  The hammer is generally octagonal with moldings at top and bottom.  Additional moldings are filed above and below the eye, and two deep file lines form an X across the area.  

 
 From the Smithsonian collection & shown in Peterson's book.

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Ojibwa polled tomahawk.  From the Smithsonian collection.
 

Polled Tomahawk
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This is a Hunkapapa Sioux polled tomahawk from the Smithsonian collection.  The hammer is 10 sided for most of its length, but terminates in a round band at the top.  There are filed molding above and below the eye.

HUNKAPAPA SIOUX W/ 10 SIDED POLL
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                                                                    POLLED HATCHETS -- NOT TOMAHAWKS
 
THE FOLLOWING ON THE REST OF THIS PAGE ARE JUST A FEW EXAMPLES OF MANY TYPES OF POLLED HATCHETS THAT ARE NOT TOMAHAWKS:
Polled AXES or HATCHETS from the same frontier period were designed as tools & tend to get categorized as polled tomahawks.   Not everyone had access to a hardware store so the village blacksmith made many things asked of him including hammer hatchets.  Some collectors will buy virtually ANY polled hatchet & desperately claim it could have been a tomahawk--collector bias at its worst.  The term  tomahawk is often applied by sellers in order to beef up it's selling price, though it rarely is true.  I'm not sure I can clear up all of it which would satisfy all other than showing more examples of each.   While they are variable in style they are not undefinable.

Authors show examples of polled hatchets and polled tomahawks, yet never define them.  Polled hatchets such as those below were actually designed as tools.  Whether they were used as belt axes or as weapons is impossible to say without provenance.  Polled tomahawks were something different and were originally designed as weapons.  Early style polled hatchets were used by frontiersmen, explorers, hunters, carpenters, plasterers, dry goods dealers, and farmers to name just a few.  Course the farmers & carpenters use doesn't sound nearly as glorious.   Their past use is unfortunately indistinguishable unless the haft has some decorative characteristics such as legitimate brass tacks, etc.
 
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Never mind the center one for now in the photo  below.   The other two are early polled hatchets (tools) of the 'Spanish' pattern with two halves of iron sandwiched together on either side of the eye.  This term Spanish pattern also is a bit of a misnomer since this type of sandwich construction has also been found on occasion among British, French & American made hatchets as well.  I have another one marked by the blacksmith "DODGE"--certainly not a Spanish name.
 
The top head weighs 1 lb. 5 oz., measures 7.5" x 3.25" and was found in 1908 near or on the site for Fort Quiatenon, Indiana Circa 1740's-1780's.    French inhabitants from the Voyageurs who traveled there intermarried in this site with natives.
 
The bottom one weighs 12 oz. total and measures 5.125" x 2.5" wide, circa mid to late 18th C.  Charles Hanson in MFTQ, Vol 15, No. 1 identifies these an  '18th C. iron hunter's tomahawk' which had better balance & workmanship than the 'squaw axe' [common round polled trade axe] which was better adapted for both chopping & throwing.  Unfortunately Hanson never gave any sources or reasons as to why he identifies them as such.   I've never heard of the term "hunters tomahawk" from any other source before or since.   Hartzler and Knowles identify the same exact style as belt axes but mention no criteria for doing so either.    The terminology is loose and fancy free in these categories and will change with each writer that addresses them.  Whether they were used as weapons or not is usually in the eyes of the beholder and no more so in this category does Confirmation Bias affect that decision.   There is a tendency for some collectors to see only what they want to see--all the more reason to rely on verifiable physical evidence based on proven examples & physical features rather than indiscriminate feelings.  To my knowledge none have ever been proven or even show evidence of having been used as weapons.
 
Years ago I remember looking at a table at a show with an unusual item people were trying to guess what it was.  One guy who collected colonial items thought sure it was a colonial homestead piece of some kind.  Another guy who collected early Indian items thought it was definitely an early Indian related item.  They debated about it for awhile back and forth with seemingly convincing arguments while a crowd began to gather.  Then the seller arrived with a big smile on his face saying it was neither.   He had made it last summer at a Rendezvous reenactment to carry his display cases in.  ;)   Well, what can you say.   Afterwards the seller was asking everyone who went by what it was, hoping for another laugh.  Sometimes it ends up being whatever people need it to be.  
 
 

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This looks a little like the Sitting Bull tomahawk but it is marked B&O railroad & larger in size.

RAILROAD AXE
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Carpenters tools were brought over from the new world from Europe by immigrants.  Among them were polled hatchets.  Some assume every tool brought over was a potential tomahawk and the na´ve are eager to buy it. 
 
These first 2 examples are of a 19th C. or earlier Spanish made one that are still currently in Spain.  The 3rd example is from France and still currently in France.  They hammered nails with these.  A polled hatchet meant that you didn't need to carry a hammer AND a hatchet.  Variations of these were extremely common in nearly every country.  Some of these  various types have been imported to the U.S. recently to be resold as tomahawks et al.
 
 

SPANISH CARPENTERS POLLED HATCHET
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SPANISH CARPENTERS HATCHET --STILL IN SPAIN
polledspain.jpg

18TH-19TH C. FRENCH CARPENTERS HATCHET
6inchhatchet.jpg
STILL IN FRANCE

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Polled tomahawks are easily confused by those not familiar with old hatchets of various countries. This 1801 British Lathing Hatchet was shown in a rare Joseph Smith's 1801 Explanation or Key to the Various Manufactories of Sheffield shows.  (Very few catalogs survived from prior to mid 19th C.)  American lathing hatchets were somewhat different in shape.  Laths are  the split wooden longitudinal  strips holding  the loose plaster  matrix together  in walls commonly used during the colonial period to early 20th C. or later.  Notice the narrower brick hatchet below that.  Both typically had continuous forged iron strapping, sometimes confused with langlets which are separate pieces of metal strapping extending through the inside of eye,  extending down the sides of the handle to be riveted to the wood.  Yet another British variety also with strapping was used/marketed for applying the copper sheathing on ship's hulls and yet another for roofing and another narrower version for bricklayers.  (See page 28 --6th photo for an actual example of this)

1801 Lathing Hatchet
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It matters what country the polled hatchet is from to determine it's intended use.  It also matters what time period.  Some hatchet shapes evolved over the centuries for the same use.   Some had a variety of shapes for an intended tool.   Farmers by necessity sometimes did their own blacksmithing to make their own tools as needed.  I'm sure they would have gotten a kick out of hearing their work was now considered a  "tomahawk" by some.  Naturally polled hatchets were very
useful tools at any of the early frontier homesteads and were hand forged.  Considering how many different countries made forged polled hatchets which sometimes changed slightly with time that makes for an awful lot of shapes that applied to an awful lot of uses other than a weapon.

American Polled Hatchets-Early 20th C.
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The next is from an old Elwell catalog 1867-1875  (British) which shows a polled axe No. 321 as a "Mauritius Shingling Hatchet" sold in different sizes.  Also interesting is  #323 which looks like our trade axes do.
 
I'm not going to list all the varieties of polled hatchets from all the countries & companies & individuals all over the world throughout history which had nothing to do with the our N. American frontier history, but suffice it to say there could be a book written on that subject alone.  Just because it is a forged polled hatchet does not make it a tomahawk/weapon.   And just because it is in this country now does not mean it was always in this country.

BRITISH MAURITIUS SHINGLING HATCHET
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LATHING HATCHETS
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         "O' GREAT SPIRIT, help me always to speak the truth quietly, to listen with an open mind when others speak, and to remember the peace that may be found in silence. "
~ Cherokee Prayer

 
(c) Copyright Mark Miller 1/29/09. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED--REPRODUCTION PROHIBITED WITHOUT PRIOR CONSENT