Indian Defense

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Indian Defense – The simplest defenses were furnished to the Indians by nature. In the forest regions battles were fought in the shelter of trees, and in stony sections from sheltering rocks. That war was waged and defensive measures were necessary in prehistoric times is shown by the remains of fortifications in the mound area of the United States. These are of different types, the most common being the so-called hill forts, where defensive walls of earth or stone surround a peak or hilltop or skirt a bluff headland, as at Ft Ancient (q. v.) , Ohio. There are also circular, square, octagonal, and other enclosures on the lowlands which are generally supposed to have been built for defensive purposes, but they could hardly have been effectual unless stockaded. There are, or were until recently, earthen embankments and enclosures in New York which, as Squier has shown, mark the sites of palisaded forts similar to those of the Iroquois observed by Champlain and Cartier. These were often polygonal, of double or triple stockades, as that at Hochelaga which Cartier says was of “three courses of rampires, one within another.” Some were strengthened by braces and had beams running round them near the top, where stones and other missiles were placed ready to be hurled upon besiegers. The walls of some of these fortifications were 20 ft high. One of the polygonal forts in w. New York, however, was overlooked by a hill from which arrows could easily be shot into the enclosure. Most of the early figures of these forts represent them as having a single entrance between overlapping ends of the stockade; there is one, however (Under bill, News from America, 1638), which shows two overlapping. When first seen by the whites most of the villages from Florida to the Potomac were protected with surrounding stockades, which are represented in De Bry as single with one opening where the ends overlap. The construction of these surrounding palisades was practically the same, where they enclosed a single house or 50 houses. In some sections a ditch was usually dug, both within and outside of the palisade. A few of the forts in s. New England were square, but the circular form generally prevailed (Willoughby in Am. Anthrop., viii, no. 1, 1906). The fortress built by King Philip in the swamp at South Kensington, R. I., consisted of a double row of palisades, flanked by a great abatis, outside of which was a deep ditch. At one corner a gap of the length of one log was left as an entrance, the breastwork here being only 4 or 5 ft high; and this passage was defended by a well-constructed blockhouse, whilst the ditch was crossed by a single log which served as a bridge. Stockaded villages were also common as far was Wisconsin. Stone walls, which C. C. Jones considered defensive, have been observed on Stone mtn., Mt Yona, and other peaks of N. Georgia. De Soto found strongly fortified villages in his passage through the Gulf states and Arkansas.

Vancouver (Voy., in, 289, 1798) mentions villages on Kupreanof id., situated on the summits of steep, almost inaccessible rocks and fortified with strong plat forms of wood laid upon the most elevated proof the rock, which projected at the sides so as to overhang the declivity. At the edge of the platform there was usually a sort of parapet of logs placed one upon another. This type, according to S wanton, was quite common on the N. W. coast. The Skagit tribe, according to Wilkes, combined dwellings and forts, and a similar custom was followed by some of the Haida clans. Wilkes mentions also enclosures 400 ft long, which were constructed of pickets about 30 ft long thrust deep into the ground, the interior being divided into roofed lodges. The Clallam also had a fort of pickets, 150 ft square, roofed over, and divided into compartments for families. No stockades seem to have been used by the Ntlakyapamuk, but for tresses or fortified houses were at one time in use in a few places. These defenses, according to Boas, consisted of logs placed lengthwise on the ground one above another and covered with brush and earth, loopholes being left at places between the logs. According to the same authority, some of the stockades of British Columbia w r ere provided with underground passages as a means of escape. It has been a general custom of the Indians of the plains, when in danger of being attacked by a superior force, to dig a pit or pits in the loose, generally sandy soil, throwing the earth around the margin to increase the height of the defense, the bank of a creek or a gully being selected when within reach, as defense of one side only was necessary. Native drawings of some of these defenses are given by Mooney (17th Rep. B. A. E., 271-274, 1898). In the S. W. the cliff-dwellings (q. v.) w r ere places of security, easy of defense. The large compound structures known as pueblos (q. v.), in which the lower stories formerly had few or no wall openings, were fortifications as well as habitations, while in some cases the mesas on which they are built are in themselves well-nigh impregnable. In the drainage area of the Gila and Salado of s. Arizona there w r ere defensive structures, as shown by their massive walls, in which the former inhabitants could take refuge in time of danger. Many of the isolated peaks of s. Arizona, N. Sonora, and Chihuahua contain the remains of stone breastworks and fortifications. See Architecture, Casa Grande, Cliff-dwellings, Habitations, Mounds, Pueblos, War and War discipline.

In addition to the authorities cited, consult Bancroft, Native Races, I, 1886; Bry, Collectiones Peregrinationem, 1590-1634; Jesuit Relations, Thwaites ed., I-LXXIII, 1896-1901; V. Mindeleff in 8th Rep. B. A. E., 1891.



MLA Source Citation:

Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 17 October 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/indian-defense.htm - Last updated on Jul 18th, 2012


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