FUR TRADE AXES & TOMAHAWKS

PAGE 26 TRADE AXES AS WEAPONS

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


"Indoctrination...is often distinguished from education by the fact that the indoctrinated person is expected not to question or critically examine the doctrine they learned."
-  Wikipedia 2012




For many decades collectors, scholars have purported that the common trade axes were never used by Native American warriors.   Collectors of pipe tomahawks in particular are eager to point out this despite the fact no study has ever been done on the subject.  This collector elitism has been self perpetuating with each succeeding generation repeating the same tired statements without the evidence to support it.  The information below should make it clear that at times common trade axes of various sizes were on occasion used by Native Americans during the trade period as weapons and not used exclusively by the women.

Weapon hafts are not always decorated but decorated hafts are generally only found on weapons or those used as ceremonial weapons.
 
Cat. Number:  023178.000 of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian collection is a typical round eyed trade axe with the haft wrapped at the butt end with a beaded fringed drop 24" long.  Harold Peterson in his book American Indian Tomahawks describes this example as an 18th to early 19th C.  "traditional belt axe" on page 90, Fig. 43, even though it is a trade axe head in every way including the blacksmith markings on the blade.  Its interesting how the term 'trade axe' is disguised by other terms by authors when its use as a weapon is clearly apparent. 

A photo of a 19th C forged "Indian war tomahawk" on page 29 of  "The Missouri War Axe" by Mark Francis, 2010, shows a typical round eyed polless trade axe with a hide wrapped and an elaborately beaded drop.  Although Francis doesn't use the word trade axe and he does not identify it, that is what is shown in the photo.  He indicates these are anomalies and 'defy categorization'.   They are relatively rare compared to undecorated hafts, but they are certainly not beyond categorization.   The truth is sometimes inconvenient.
 
They are trade axes that were utilized as weapons --whether authors/collectors/dealers choose to rename them as tomahawks, war axes, or belt axes ---they are still what we all know as trade axes.  

7.75" X 4" head on trade axe with DECORATED haft
jebstradeaxe.jpg
JEB TAYLOR COLLECTION

View #2 Trade Axe haft
jebstradexe3.jpg
JEB TAYLOR COLLECTION

View #3 Decorated hafts only found on weapons
jebstradeaxe4.jpg
JEB TAYLOR COLLECTION

I'm often asked if trade axes are tomahawks or not?  It depends on who you ask.  That answer varies even among the experts & tomahawk terminology is often not clear and has always been in a state of flux.  The term trade axe is our modern term for a simple bladed round polled (some say polless) axe/tomahawk that was traded to Indians.  So identifying them as trade axes indicates that particular shape to us.  I think of them not so much as whether they are a weapon or not, but more like what was their potential utility to the individual.  Taking a particular trade axe head without the haft in hand & calling it a weapon is impossible to determine without a time machine.  However It is clear some were used as weapons at times & certainly not at all times.  What further conclusions we draw from that point on are inevitably going to be clouded by our own subjective prejudices. 

 
 
In an 1887 publication written by Andrew J. Blackbird,
his Indian name Chief Mack-E-Te-Nessy, (Black
Hawk), is a rare first hand "History of the Ottawa & Chippewa
Indians of Michigan".  Black hawk was the son of a Ottawa
Chief, born in 1822 who grew up among them during the fur
trade era, acted as U.S. Interpreter and he was formally
educated among the whites.  This is the only instance where
a native "Odowa" Indian has recorded the story of his people
as passed on generation after generation.  Historians have
largely ignored such oral histories in the past.
 
On pg. 94 of this book Black Hawk says:
 
"Intercourse had been opened between the French and the
Ottawas and Chippewas on the straits of Mackinac and being
supplied with fire arme and axes by the French people, it
occurred to the Ottawas that these implements would be
effective in battle.  Anxious to put them to the test they
resolved to try them on their old enemies, the Mush-co-desh,
who had not yet seen the white man and were unaquainted
with firearms." 
 
Only one family of the Mush-co-desh tribe
survived the battle which escaped to the West to find a new
home.  An estimated 40,000-50,000 Mush-co-desh were killed in this battle.
 

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Pg. 74

“Clubs and hatchets were used to crush most of the heads beyond recognition.”21

 

21 L. B. Dougherty to J. B. Dougherty, August 29, 1854, Miller Papers.





“Despite the intervention of a few influential men among the Sioux, the warriors used tomahawks and axes to break through the door to the fort and overwhelm the occupants.” 24

 

pg. 77

Fort Laramie and the U. S. Army

On the High Plains

1849 – 1890

Douglas C. McChristian

National Park Service

Historic Resources Study

Fort Laramie National Historic Site

February 2003

 

24 Didiar deposition; Frank Salaway, one of the employees, recalled that Charles Gereau, the interpreter, fled all the way to Green River in Utah, while his wife and child joined her band at Fort Laramie. Gereau did not return for a month. Salaway interview.

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                                                               Trade Axes As Weapons

                                                                              by Mark W. Miller

(Published in part by Central States Archaeological Society Journal, Oct. 2012)

Most fur trade scholars contend the commonly known iron poll-less axes now referred to as 'trade axes' were never used as weapons in any significant numbers.  Many are unaware that the term "squaw axe" was not even recorded until the early 19th C. when referring to trade axes, yet none the less, the label is applied liberally to axes before that time as well.  Undoubtedly many of the common iron hatchets traded to Native Americans were used by women and children, serving mundane utilitarian purposes, but they were also identified as weapons at times, particularly before spike & pipe tomahawks had become widely available.    Captain John Smith of the Jamestown, Virginia settlement wrote of the first known English reference to the Algonquin word in 1607,  "tamahack", when translating the term stone axes & their iron replacements in 1607.  3, 4   Their stone axes reportedly served as tools and weapons.  What "tomahawks" had applied to changed with time and geography.  But long before the beginning of the Jamestown the simple iron poll-less trade axes from Spanish Biscay Bay iron mines were being traded by Spain & France to Native Americans, replacing stone axe weapons/tools, beginning at least from the 1520's.  5, 6, 7

1711 Tuscarora Tribe North Carolina
1711tuscarora2.jpg

This pen drawing from an early document is depicting a 1711 scene of the Tuscaroras. Notice the 2 round eyed polless trade axes in the center and right side. Evidently they weren't cutting trees with them here!

In 1650 Van der Donck of the New Netherlands colony writes: "At present they also use small axes (tomahawks) instead of their war-clubs." 3,11   Notice the tomahawks among the Dutch were clearly identified as small axes as evidenced by this particular description, not some new spiked or pipe version.  George Mercer writes on April 26, 1757 to Col. George Washington commander of the Virginia forces, "I sent down to the Ohio store for some things there.  Col. Cresass writes me that Trent has made a contract with Sir William Johnson for them [Indian goods].  There is neither paint, scalping knives, wampum nor pipe tomahawks to be had there..." 12    In a separate list of Indian goods needed which was dated February 12, 1761, the famous British Indian agent Sir William Johnson makes a clear connection between the terminology of a plain (non-pipe) tomahawk and a small hatchet:

.....

 "Tomahawks or small hatchets well made"

"Also Pipe Hatchets"   14  

.....

The key word indicated in this case is "or".  The point being that small hatchets served the same purpose as the tomahawks at this time, although the exact shape of each is not specified, it is likely the small hatchets were of the type already offered and widely available to the Indians as small camp hatchets [trade axes].

 

iroquoiswarriorsketched1700bylouisnicolas.jpg

Shown above here is a sketch done in Virginia by Louis Nicolas ~1675 of an Iroquois warrior smoking a pipe in one hand and a standard round polled trade axe with a decorated haft in the other. Clearly the artist was trying to describe items attributed to a warrior and not the women.  From ("Codex Canadensis and the Writings of Louis Nicholas: The Natural History  of the New World, Histories Natuellle des Indes Occidentales" by Louis Nicholas, 1700.)   

codexplate9.jpg

This above sketch also is from the Codex Canadensis sketched around 1665 shows a young Iroquois warrior proving his ability to withstand torture by having several of his fingernails pulled out and the tip of his nose cut off.  He holds a 'trade axe' with a decorated haft similar to the previous one.  This was not a women's axe by any means.


Edwin Thompson Denig relates his experiences as a fur trader between 1833-1856 in a quote that not only mentions axes as weapons, but also draws a clear distinction between axes and tomahawks.  About the Assiniboines he writes, "It is not unusual to see a war party start with lances, war clubs, axes, tomahawks, bow and arrows, and other primitive weapons to contend with the well-armed, superior numbers of Blackfeet."  13   The North West Company trader Daniel Harmon wrote in his journal on January 13, 1812-- "As their village stands on a border of a long lake they perceived us at a considerable distance & came out to meet us (Men & Women) armed with Bows & arrow & others with Axes or Clubs & c." and in another quote in 1813: "Eighty or ninety of the Indians armed themselves, some with guns, some with bows and arrows, and others with axes and clubs, for the purpose of attacking us." 

15   Once again the reference is to axes being used as

 weapons. 

A 1701 cargo list of trade goods delivered to Fort Biloxi, Mississippi by the French ship L'Enflamme' lists presents intended for the tribes in the region to gain their trust and support.  Among this list are '300 medium hatchets' and '600 small hatchets'. 16   No large hatchets or tomahawks were listed, although four different types of trade muskets were.   If the cutting of trees and firewood were their primary purpose it seems likely that the larger axes would have been the predominant choice.  The presumption is that this far greater quantity of small hatchets would have served both as tool and weapon as need be.  Anytime a trade good could serve more than one purpose it meant fewer encumbrances to carry in which mobility on foot was more often a necessity than not and carrying both a trade axe as well as a tomahawk would have created more unwarranted baggage. 

Rev. Sauel W. Pond described the Dakota's use of the common poll-less hatchets we now refer to as trade axes in 1834:

"Men made little use of any tools except such as were needed in hunting and war.  For edged tools they had little beside hatchets and knives, and with these they made whatever they manufactured of wood...The hatchet which they carried with them when hunting was a very small, was tucked underthe girdle and was used in cutting animals out of hollow trees, killing wounded deer, etc.  tomahawk and scalping-knife were nothing more than the common hatchet and knife".  Some might contend Pond was referring to the Missouri War Axe instead of the common trade axe.  The very long thin and wide bladed (average 3/16" thickness or less), all iron Missouri War axes with unsteeled edges would have precluded any extended use as a wood chopping tool.  Pond indicates these hatchets in question served dual usage as both weapon and tool.  He goes on to describe..."No weapons were used only in war except spears and war clubs".      At least in Pond's descriptions, a common trade hatchet served both roles as needed, depending on who used them and for what purpose.  If it was used for war the common hatchet (trade axe) once again became referred to as a tomahawk. 

 

standingbuffalo.jpg

It seems odd for a Sioux chief to be holding a 'squaw axe" unless it had also served some purpose as a weapon. The term squaw axe was more of a Western 19th C. term used by those ordering trade goods.

 

While there is no question trade axes were used as general camp tools, this is clearly not the limit of their use as is the case with so many of the trade items used by historic era Native Americans.  Kettles were reworked into arrowheads, hoes into hide scrapers, musket parts into decorative ornaments, etc.  One Pawnee scout account relates how an arrow was removed from a person's buttock with the metal head made from a frying pan handle.    It was not always so important to them what they were made for, but more importantly what they could be used for.   Such uses  were never printed on trade goods lists.  Most historic trade items assumed a multitude of uses & rarely were restricted to a single use, as evidenced by artifacts. Their flexibility to adapt European materials to their varying needs had become a part of their very culture.  There are many more records of what we now refer to as trade axes having been used specifically as weapons just as pipe tomahawks were used as camp tools. Each bladed axe served in the other's capacity as weapon or tool as need be. Terminology of the day (past and present) was often entangled by time, place, tribe, language differences and collector elitism, yet when examined carefully the connection between iron trade axes as weapons is indisputable. To exactly what extent we may never know.

 

 

1. Peterson, Harold L., American Indian Tomahawks, Contributions From The Museum of the American Indian Heye Foundation, Vol. XIX, 1965.

2 Russell, Carl P. Firearms Traps and Tools of the Mountain Men, Alfred A. Knopf, NY,1967.

3) Holmes, William H., The Tomahawk, American Anthropologist, Vol. 10, 1908.

4) Gerard, William R., The Term Tomahawk, American Anthropologist, Vol. 10, 1908.

5) Lowrey, Woodbury, The Spanish Settlements Within The Present Limits Of The United States 1513-1561, p. 230, Russell and Russell, Inc., NY. 1959.

6) Haggerty, Gilbert W.; Wampum, War and Trade Goods West of the Hudson, Heart of the Lakes Publishing, Interlaken, NY. 1985.

7) Kidd, Kenneth and Martha; Excavation of Sainte Marie I, University of Toronto Press, 1949.

8) Neuman, George C., Swords and Blades of the American Revolution, 3rd Ed., Rebel Publishing Company, Inc., 1991.

9) Pond, Rev. Samuel William, THE DAKOTAS OR SIOUX IN MINNESOTA AS THEY WERE IN 1834, p.357-358, Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society, Vol. VII, St. Paul, MN. 1908.

10)Wilson, Clifford, The Beaver, June 1947, "Founding Fort Yukon", Hudson's Bay Company, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

11) Van der Donck, New Netherlands, 1656, p. 211, Collections of the New York Historical Society, 2nd Ser., I, 1841.

12)  Mays, Edith ed., Amherst Papers, 1756-1763. The Southern Sector: Dispatches from South Carolina, Virginia and His Majesty's Superintendent of Indian Affairs, Heritage Books, Inc. Westminster, Maryland, 2006.

13) Denig, Edwin Thompson, "Five Indian Tribes Of The Upper Missouri", p. 95, University of Oklahoma Press, 1961.

14) Johnson, Sir William; The Papers of Sir William Johnson, Vol. III, p.334-336, University of the State of New York. Division of Archives and History, 1921.

15) Harmon, Daniel Williams, "Harmon's Journal 1800-1819", p. 139, TouchWood Editions, Surrey, BC., 2006.

16) Hanson, James, Museum of the Fur Trade Quarterly, V.44:2, 2008.

17) Baldwin, John, Indian War Clubs of the American Frontier, pg. 5, Early American Artistry Trading Co., West Olive, Michigan; 2001.

 

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This engraving published in 1591 by De Bry in "A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia", he depicts a scene in 1564 in Florida done by Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues of the "Murder of Pierre Gambre, A Frenchman".  What is noteworthy is the use of a common metal round eyed  axe in use as a weapon.  While not the standard design as the trade axes we are familiar with it indicates a common iron axe/hatchet was used as a weapon.  The closeup indicates this shape hatchet was possibly a hewing hatchet designed for use in the coopering trade.   Although biscay axes were available at this time no doubt other types of axes in the possession of European explorers also were traded in some small degree.

1564 engraving Murder of Pierre Gambre, Frenchman
1591engraving.jpg
Southeastern U.S.

Closeup of round polled axe
lemoy931.jpg

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Notice the "50 round head tomahawks" are clearly not referring to spike or pipe tomahawks but trade axes.  Trade axes are tomahawks afterall --well at least at this place in 1836 it was!  Also interesting is that the Indians were trading for small American axes, half axes and felling axes so not all the axes they used were of the round eyed type.

 

Invoice of Sundry Merchandise from the Rocky Mountain Outfit 1836
under charge of Fontenelle, Fitzpatrick, & Co.

3 1/6

dz

Small Am Axes

150

 

Half Axes

50

 

Round Head Tomahawks

10

 

American Felling Axes

[From Papers of the American Fur Company 7 vols. Reel Y and Z. Missouri Historical Society. Extended prices not shown.]

The next few photos are of a standard size trade axe with a period looking haft with low dome brass tacks decorating it.  Jeb Taylor Collection

Most, if not all, Indian trade relics that had brass tack decoration were weapons so it supports the argument that trade axes with period tacked hafts were likely used as weapons.

A brass tacked trade axe 2.4 lbs
j.taylorcollection.jpg
Jeb Taylor collection

View #2
j.taylorcollection2.jpg

j.taylorcollection5.jpg

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Another example of a light weight trade axe with two rows of brass tacks on the period maple haft.  15.75" long.  Jeb Taylor Collection.

Jeb Taylor Collection
002_edited-1.jpg

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This is an excerpt from Narratives of New Netherland, 1609-1664, edited by J. Franklin Jameson. pg. 303 in the year 1650   & pg 403, 1658 for the Dutch colony showing that "hatchets" were used as weapons.  Most trade hatchets of this period were Biscayne trade axes.  Pipe tomahawks were not invented until a century later.

16502copy.jpg

1658.jpg

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This next trade axe was discovered in a Texas collection with an eagle with spread wings stamped on it along with the letters "C.S." below it.  It very likely may have been used in the Civil War by Indians aligned with the 'Confederate States'.  Tribes hoped by joining forces with the opposing side they would receive better treatment from the victor.  Some joined the Union forces with the same hope.  I've never seen another like this example but before it was hammered apart it may well have been used as a weapon in hand to hand fighting.  We may never know for sure.

marked C.S. with Eagle
c.s.eagle5.jpg

c.seagle.jpg

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In the book American Indian Tomahawks by Harold Peterson No. 42 & No. 43 are trade axes with distally sleeve beaded hafts & fringe.  They are both attributed to the Sioux.  While its also possible they were ceremonially used, clearly they had a greater intended purpose than to chop wood.  At the time of publishing these were in the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation which is now housed in the Smithsonian.

"We did not ask you white men to come here. The Great Spirit gave us this country as a home. You had yours. We did not interfere with you. The Great Spirit gave us plenty of land to live on, and buffalo, deer, antelope and other game. But you have come here; you are taking my land from me; you are killing off our game, so it is hard for us to live. Now, you tell us to work for a living, but the Great Spirit did not make us to work, but to live by hunting. You white men can work if you want to. We do not interfere with you, and again you say why do you not become civilized? We do not want your civilization! We would live as our fathers did, and their fathers before them." . . . .

Crazy Horse Tashunca-uitco (1845?-1877)

(c) Copyright Mark Miller 2009-2014. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED--REPRODUCTION PROHIBITED WITHOUT PRIOR CONSENT