In the late 1700’s or early 1800’s a new weapon emerged among the Plains Native Americans. It was called the Gunstock War Club and was one of the deadliest weapons in the Native American arsenal. There is no true pinpoint time in history that reveals where the Native Americans first came up with this design, but it is believed that the plains tribes learned it from either the eastern woodlands tribes or the constantly encroaching American settlers. Some Native American historians believe the design existed long before the settlers brought their muskets, but it’s hard to deny that the Gunstock War Club looks a lot like the stock of an old musket.
|Art by TL Jeffcoat|
Despite its appearances, the Gunstock War Club was not made from the leftover wood of a musket. The shape of the club was similar, but the stock would have been unreliable as a standard club. The curve where the hammer and ammo once was would crack and splinter too easily after just a few strikes. The Native Americans crafted their own Clubs using various woods in their regions with the thought of creating a true club in mind. The wood was cut and smoothed down into the shape of a musket’s stock, but was thinner around the edges to give it sharp corners like an ax. Then a blade was embedded into the point where a musket’s hammer would have been. The blade could be made from anything like bone, flint, or old knives purchased or taken from settlers. Once complete, the club weighed no more than two or three pounds (0.9 to 1.3 kilograms). I could not find any documented length but from pictures I would guess it was about two to two and a half feet (0.6 to 0.8 meters) in length.
The Gunstock War Club held some prestige during its time and for certain tribes it is still a part of tradition. These days, the club is more ceremonial than anything and they are larger and covered in feathers and decorations. Many of the plains tribes that carried these in the 1800’s had a psychological advantage over tribes that did not. From a distance, the Gunstock War Club looked like a musket, so those tribes who had no firearms would be more intimidated at a glance. Psychological warfare is in every warrior culture. One of the biggest advantages to defeat your enemies is making them fear that you are superior. The sight of a hundred riders with what you see is muskets would be terrifying if you had none of your own.
I hope you enjoyed this edition of Weapons and Warriors, click here to view the entire catalog of weapons and cultures. Thank you, see you next week.