Traits of War With The Indians


THE most important weapon of the Indian, when the Indian weapons, white men came, was the bow and arrow. The arrow
was headed with a sharpened flint or a bit of horn. Sometimes the spur of a wild turkey or the claw of an eagle was used to point the arrow. Next to the bow and arrow the Indian warrior depended on a war club, which had a handle at one end and a heavy knob at the other, or upon a tomahawk, made by fastening a wooden handle to a round stone, or a stone ax. But all their rude weapons were given up as soon as the Indians could get knives, hatchets, and guns from the white men. In some cases, it is said, they were so eager for gunpowder that they sowed what they got at first, supposing it to be the seed of a plant. The Pequots commanded two white girls, whom they had captured, to make some gunpowder, supposing that all white people knew how to make it.

At the first arrival of white men, they protected themselves by wearing armor, and the Indian arrows could not do them much hurt. But as soldiers could not get about very fast in heavy armor and with clumsy guns, they could not do much hurt to the Indians. Some of the guns used were matchlocks. In order to shoot, the soldier had to place in front of him a " rest " a kind of forked stick or staff and lay his heavy gun across it. In firing, the powder on the lock of his gun was set off with a lighted fuse or match ; and the soldier had to carry a burning fuse in his hand. If he let his fuse go out, he could not use his gun until he got fire again, for friction matches were unknown. But the Indians would not stand still while the white men got ready to shoot. This awkward matchlock gun was sometimes used as late as 1675, the time of Philip's war. The snaphance, or flintlock, was already coming into use when the colonies were settled. The flintlock was set off by the striking of the flint against a piece of steel, when the trigger was pulled. (Guns with percussion caps are a much later invention.) Some of the white men at first were armed with pikes or spears ; but it was found to be a very dangerous business to poke an Indian out of the brush with a pike. During Philip's war the pike began to go out of use in America.

When the Indians had procured firearms. the armor which the soldiers wore, being of little use against bullets, was rather a burden than an advantage. Long after the first settlements were made, white men ceased by degrees to to wear the head, and breast, and back pieces of metal, and they laid aside also the heavy buff coats, which were made of leather and stuffed, to resist bullets. The colonists also learned to march in scattering parties, as the Indians did, in order to avoid surprise, and to lie in ambush, and to load their guns while lying down. For a long time the savages made attacks on the Northern settlements in the winter, when the snow was so deep that the soldiers could not move about ; but, after stupidly suffering this for many years, the Northern colonies at length put their soldiers on snowshoes too, and then all was changed.

The Indian did not hesitate to resort to treachery to Indian stratagems, entrap his foes. He would profess friendship in order to disarm an enemy. He gloried in ingenious tricks, such as the wearing of snowshoes with the hind part before, so as to make an enemy believe that he had gone in an opposite direction. He would sometimes imitate the cry of the wild turkey, and so tempt a white hunter into the woods, that he might destroy him. An Indian scout would dress himself up with twigs, so as to look like a bush. Many of these things the white people learned to practice also.

The Indians were very cruel ; it was part of their Treatment of prisoners by the plan to strike terror by their severity. This is why they tortured their prisoners to death and disfigured the dead, and why they slew women and children as well as men. They not only put their prisoners to death in the most cruel way their ingenuity could devise, but, in some tribes, they even devoured them afterward. Sometimes, however, a prisoner was adopted into an Indian family, and kindly treated. Many hundreds of white children were thus adopted, and forgot their own language. Some of them afterward engaged in war against their own people. One boy, named Thomas Rice, was carried off from Massachusetts in childhood, and became a chief of the tribe which had captured him. The settlers learned after a while many ways of defending themselves. They built blockhouses in every exposed settlement, for refuge in case of attack. When Indians were discovered lurking about in the night, a messenger would be sent from the blockhouse to warn the sleeping settlers. This messenger would creep up to a window and tap on it, whispering, "Indians!" Then the family within would get up, and, without speaking or making a light, gather the most necessary things and hurry away along dark paths through the woods to the blockhouse. In some of the more exposed regions the dogs were even trained not to bark unless commanded to.

In some, if not all, of the colonies, the firing of three shots in succession was the sign of danger. Every man who heard it was required to pass the alarm to those farther away, by firing three times, and then to go in the direction in which the shots had been heard. In many places large dogs were kept and trained to hunt for Indians, as highway robbers were hunted down in that day in England. In all exposed places, a part or all of the men took their arms to church with them. The people became very brave, and were fierce and even cruel during these long-continued Indian wars. A wounded soldier would beg to have a loaded gun put into his hands that he might, before he died, kill one more Indian. Captives often escaped from the Indians by ingenious devices, and sometimes suffered dreadful hardships in getting back to the settlements. Escape of Prisoners. A young girl in New England, after three weeks of captivity, made a bridle out of bark, caught a horse running in the woods, and, by riding all night, reached the settlement. Two little lads named Bradley got away, but they were tracked by the Indian dogs, who came up with them while they were hidden in a hollow log. They fed the dogs part of their provisions to make them friendly. After traveling nine days the elder fell down with exhaustion, but the younger, who was the more resolute, dragged himself starving into a settlement in Maine, and sent help to his brother. Hannah Dustin, Mary Neff, and a boy were carried off from Haverhill, Massachusetts. At midnight, while encamped on an island, they got hatchets and killed ten Indians, and then escaped in a canoe down the river. This bold escape soon became famous in the colonies, and the Governor of Maryland, hearing of it, sent to the returned captives a present for their courage. Courage of the people.

Website: The History
Article Name: Traits of War With The Indians
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: A History of the United States and Its People by Edward Eggleston; American Book Company-New York 1899
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