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‘Were Indian Women Armed?’
Crackpot Mailbox: Mister Grey Wants to Know
“It makes sense, in a barbarian society, where the men would be away hunting and fighting that the women would have some means of defense—against animals at least. Have you come across any reference to Eastern Woodland Indian women being armed?”
In certain Eastern Woodland tribes women were known for enthusiastically plying their sticks in the running of the gauntlet. Their military role seems to have been as a packhorse, although there were female chiefs. As demonstrated in Thunderbird, one of my fictions focused on Eastern Woodland Indians, Iroquois women had a lot of say-so when it came on voting for war and authorizing war parties for raiding. Some of this took the form of providing a list of captives they would like to replace fallen family members.
My point is, on focusing on tribal women, is that they had rights to demand vengeance and protection, in the context of a tribal organization that did not consist of one masculine mass of warriors, but usually of numerous, often seven, clans and three age groups of men. A tribe could go to war in various configurations, perhaps sending two clans to attack, one to parley with potential allies and the others to defend. At the minimum women would be protected by old men and youths.
As part of their everyday pack women had access to sticks for tools and for whacking dogs. I have not read references to them using weapons of war other than the gun. Their logical contribution to tribal society included many roles that civilized men filled in civilizations, such as farming, medicine, shelter erection and transporting goods. However, the perfect weapon for the woman who might be travelling in the forest without a man would be the spear, which was an underused weapon among men in the woodlands. This is nothing but a theory.
Indian women provided for their protection through being domestically indispensable and intelligently advising their men, although their influence sometimes resulted in disaster. Do keep in mind that many of these women were Caucasian, runaways from slavery or people abducted from cruel bondage and then inducted into a family. Such women understood what their men fought against, having come from the enemy society.
Once firearms were introduced women had a greater possible contribution in war, such as the Shawnee Grenadier Squaw, a large woman who advocated peace with the Americans and commanded the loyalty of some warriors. Most notable was the wife of Dragging Canoe, a man who was obviously Caucasian. This girl was half English, and when her husband died fighting the invaders, she took up his gun and fought, and later taught dairy farming to her tribe…
My favorite example of how a woman could be expected to be armed was from the Soto Entrada in 1541. There was a certain lawyer from Spain who hired onto the expedition as a shoe repairman. After suppressing one village, the rear guard found him on the side of the trail, having tried to rape a squaw, who held his genitals in one hand and her knife in the other. There is no truth to the rumor that this lawyer was the founder of the SPLC.
Every Indian woman used knives a lot, small concealable knives. This, taken together with the fact that Indian women owned their bodies and rape was regarded as taboo for a warrior, suggests the knife as the perfect defensive weapon against strange men and men who fell short of the warrior standard taking liberties with a lone woman.
Much of this depends on tribal structure, with Algonquin women often regarded as sexy laborers and having no say in tribal affairs other than an appeal to their father’s affection. This was typical of the Powhaton women, who bathed naked every morning in the river, painted their faces blue, and encouraged the little boys in archery, even setting out and tossing targets for them. Most Indian women in most tribes were dedicated noncombatant lovers, wives, mothers, healers [a role men held in Civilized societies] and pack animals, owning most property. They spent most of their time under close or perimeter protection provided by men.
My best guess is that women used sticks and perhaps a spear to fend off animals when in the wild without a man, that they had a knife for a last ditch spite weapon against successful invaders and for rape defense, and that some women, in crisis, would have the moral authority to claim their slain husband’s gun for tribal defense. War-making in the Eastern Woodlands was close up and brutal and there were precious few suggestions that women of civilization or the tribes engaged in warfare or went armed for defense, but rather manipulated social standards and used good sense to avoid violent confrontations with men or beasts. The over told story of Hannah Dunstan suggested she killed Indian warriors, but rather she murdered her captor band’s women and children in their sleep with the aid of a youth while the men were away.
The most lethal weapons in the hands of an Indian women were the knife and the firebrand, with which they mutilated captured warriors being tortured and burned at the stake, which reinforces the main point, that the Indian woman’s ultimate and most often deployed weapon, was her man.
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