The Tomahawk

Though axes, and even throwing axes, have long been a part of history in Europe (the Vikings used throwing axes), the tomahawk deserves its own page in a site dedicated to violence because of its role in warfare in North America. The name tomahawk originates with the Algonquin peoples, but it was a dominant weapon across much of the continent, usually appearing at the side of the native warriors.

The tomahawk was a primarily hand-to-hand combat weapon used by Native North Americans. It was also used as a missile, and could be thrown with impressive accuracy. It was occasionally used for a rushed scalping job. The Native Americans could be called masters of intimidation, for they often stood a ways off from their enemy, screaming and brandishing bloody tomahawks before melting into the wilderness to attack guerrilla style (something the rank and file Europeans were not experienced at combating).

Until the coming of the Europeans (and with them steel), the tomahawk was usually made out of stone, typically with one or both edges sharpened. It could also be made out of a deer's horn or the jaw bone of a large animal. A wooden handle was fastened to the head in a number of ways: by sticking the tomahawk head through a hole in the wood, by tying leather thongs around the head and wood, or splitting the wood and tying the head into the crevasse. If the tomahawk was to be used as a throwing weapon, great care went into creating a balanced wooden handle and head.

Ceremonial tomahawks were richly decorated with painted feathers, and they often had a hollow stem fixed at the end with a pipe bowl for smoking. Amongst some Native American tribes, the tomahawk was buried in the earth when peace was attained with a former enemy. It is believe this is where the phrase, "burying the hatchet" originated.


More resources on Native American warfare: