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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Native Americans' Acts And Paths Of Defense

Dallas Bogan on 18 September 2004
original article by Dallas Bogan
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

The writer personally feels that the Native Americans were unjustly taken advantage of. They were cheated, swindled and defrauded to a point that should have made our early legislators bow their heads in shame.
However, the writer will pen some details involving the tribes and their "acts and paths of defense."
Some early historians have determined that the North American Indian's chief subsistence were war and hunting. With this in mind, the Indian trails were most certainly used for warpaths.
The Ohio River Trail was a warpath used both for trade and travel; others were used more commonly for war. The white man dare not trespass, for no one but a warrior was authorized to travel the trail, that is, except the white Indian trader. He was never harmed, but he was immediately advised to change his course.
On these war roads the Indian braves exhibited the dress of a warrior, decorated their faces with grotesque war paint, the sign of war, and went in pursuit of their enemies. (The expression "on the war path" was derived from this custom.)
Before the white man appeared on the North American continent, the Iroquois might lay along these warpaths in wait for an unsuspecting Shawnee, or a Wyandotte would seek a confrontation with an unfamiliar Cherokee.
The North American Indian was the most brave and most heroic figure the world had ever witnessed. His physique was superb, due to his simple manner of living. His life in the open air made him both resourceful and energetic.
He was eventually defeated in war by the white man, not because of lack of courage or military ability, but because of lack of better weapons the white man used; the bow and arrow and tomahawk could not compete with the deadly rifle and cannon.
Complaints of war among the Indians were many; for instance, trials for injustice and murder were the leading offences.
Each Indian tribe was held accountable for the individual conduct of each member of his or her tribe. If an offense was committed the individual tribe must punish the guilty party. If one member of one tribe killed a member of another tribe, they would make a peace offering and kill the offender or another member of that tribe as an act of restitution.
This tradition was the cause of most of the friction and war between the whites and Indians. If a white committed a crime against the Indian, the settlers were expected to punish him, however, this seldom happened, causing the Indians to retaliate on any of the settlers they found.
Traditionally, many tribes were habitual enemies that caused much turmoil amongst them. As an example of this bickering the Iroquois of the northeastern part of the United States were always at war with their hated relatives, the Cherokees of the South and the Wyandottes.
As war was inevitable each tribe held council meetings before the act was proclaimed. Each brave voted for or against war, the meetings being held in complete harmony. When difficulties arose a friend, who acted as a peace maker, for war was not always the answer, soon quelled them.
However, if the council voted for war, Indians runners were promptly assigned the duty of notifying the other tribes and ask for their assistance. With remarkable speed several tribes would rendezvous at a certain point, usually a portage.
Language barriers were immaterial as the pow-pows were conducted in the common trait of the Indian, the sign language, and each tribe understanding the others perfectly.
Individual tribes had different war customs. Basically, when war was waged, the squaws, papooses and old men were left safely behind at the villages.
When the young male tribe member became of age he trained at the art of war, and when he reached full manhood, he performed certain rites and feats, thus becoming a much-feared warrior.
His allegiance to the tribe allowed him to take part in the council meetings, contrive to go to war, however, being fully restricted until he had much experience. He afterward became a tribal warrior.
Making plans for war, the braves fasted and drank tea made of certain herbs. The Creeks used the buttonsnake root as a charm against war ills. Strength and perseverance were the benefits received.
Before the grand attack, the braves mended their moccasins, laid up a supply of food, and sharpened their tomahawks.
Leaders were selected, plans were made, and each warrior was assigned a duty.
Wearing their decorated head-dresses, and with all their other ornamental apparel, the war dance began. The dance, along with the religious rites, was supposed to instill them with courage and bravery and enable them to show great insensibility to lasting tortures at the hands of their enemies.
War cries were also practiced as they were used as signals that were known only to the tribal members themselves.
Battles were conducted in early spring and lasted all summer. Some warriors wore only a belt, loin cloth, and a pair of moccasins. The upper part of their bodies were painted red and black, and one side of the face red and the other black. Red was for blood and represented the war path, while black was for death.
Essentials carried by the warrior was a pack that contained an old blanket, some parched ground corn, leather in which to repair his moccasins, and a war-pipe.
In earlier times his weapons consisted of a bow and arrows, a knife, a tomahawk hanging at his side, and a war club in his belt.
The warrior's war bonnet, or head-dress, was of black feathers, usually plucked from the ever-present crow.
Another custom was that they stripped the bark off the sides of the trees and painted them red and black as a warning to their enemy.
Hiding places were abundant. The greatest hazard for the warrior was the mountain passes where the enemy would lie in wait. An impressive maneuver of the tribal member would be to keep his foe away from a water source.
Warriors would kill and scalp women, but they never violated them. If taken prisoner the women were safe until they were returned, or given in marriage to the tribe that captured them.
The Iroquois would, quite often, sneak down on the Shawnee towns in Ohio, burn them, kill the inhabitants and return rejoicing with the many prisoners. They also fought on water, their large war canoes being quite adequate.
The great warriors of the plains and forests used many tactics in deceiving and outwitting their enemies. The Kentucky Cherokee Indians tied buffalo hoofs to their feet and walked along. The Shawnee, encountering these fresh footprints, followed them and fell into the trap of their enemy.
Fighting in single file was their general method of warfare.
If captured prisoners came before the council and then a decision would be made whether or not the prisoner would be put to death, or perhaps a just decision was made as to his outcome.
Prisoners were never made slaves. If caught they were either killed or, after a trial period, adopted into the tribe. Sometimes they were returned after peace was made.
More frequently a decision was made which condemned them to death at the stake after being tortured. One such torture was running the gauntlet, where each brave gave the prisoner a blow with his war club or other devices.
Peace would eventually come and an impartial Indian would act as mediator. He was sent to the other side bearing a white feather, usually the wing of a swan.
The next move was a meeting at the Treaty House. Here all involved tribes made peace. Turning aside all bitterness, they smoked the peace pipe, using white smoke, and became good friends again. The treaty campfires also gave forth a white smoke. White feathers now replaced the black war feathers in their head dresses as a symbol of peace.

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This page created 18 September 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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