Dec 2, 2013

Weapons & Warriors: Gunstock War Club of the Native Americans

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 long thin end of the club was the handle and was rounded more where it was held. There were various ways to use the club, either from horseback or on the ground. From horseback the rider could use the club like an axe and chop down at anyone in their path. It was light enough to not throw the wielder off balance, and even of the blade did not hit its mark, the thin wooden edges could cause devastating damage to a cranium. On the ground, the Gunstock War Club gave the warrior range that his knife and tomahawk didn’t in close range combat. Although a knife or tomahawk is equally as deadly and versatile in the hands of a tribal warrior, the Gunstock War Club was a force in its own right. The thin edges allowed the club to be swung in multiple directions. Even if the edge was not sharp enough to cut, the weight of the weapon focused into the finer edge magnified the force of the impact. Anyone struck by either side of the Gunstock War Club would be bludgeoned hard enough to crack bones or split skin.

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.

1 comment:

  1. I received on of these which uses a triangular blade. The weight of the weapon is perfectly balanced. The weapon feels good in the hand. At it's weight a throw will hit the target hard and sure.