The Straight Dope

Go Back   Straight Dope Message Board > Main > General Questions

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 07-19-2007, 12:53 AM
Pel2na Pel2na is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jun 2007
Did Crow and Blackfoot Indians have guns in 1807?

A friend of mine asked me to comment on a screenplay he is working on. It's set in what is now Montana in 1807. He has the Crow, Flathead, Nez Perce and Blackfoot warriors carrying (and using) English and French Muskets. I was under the impression that the Indians didn't have access to these weapons until the white migration started 30 or 40 years later. Anybody know?
Reply With Quote
Advertisements  
  #2  
Old 07-19-2007, 01:26 AM
DrDeth DrDeth is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2001
Location: San Jose
Posts: 22,431
From Wiki: Re Mandan
"The first encounter with Europeans occurred with the visit of the French Canadian trader Sieur de la Verendrye in 1738. It is estimated that at the time of his visit there were approximately 15,000 Mandan residing in the nine villages on the Heart River.[15] Horses were acquired by the Mandan in the mid-18th century and were used for transportation and hunting. The horses helped with the expansion of Mandan hunting territory. The encounter with the French in the 18th century created a trading link between the French and the Native Americans of the region with the Mandan serving as middlemen in the of trade in furs, horses, guns, crops and buffalo products.In 1796 the Mandan were visited by the Welsh explorer John Evans, who was hoping to find proof that their language contained Welsh words. Evans spent the winter of 1796–7 with the Mandan, but found no evidence of any Welsh influence.

By 1804 when Lewis and Clark visited the tribe, the number of Mandan had been greatly reduced due to smallpox epidemics and warring bands of Assiniboins, Lakotas and Arikaras (whom they would later join together with to fight against the Lakota). "

http://www.pbs.org/lewisandclark/native/idx_ass.html
"The northeastern section of present-day Montana and the adjoining areas of Canada were home to the Assiniboins, a tribe that once belonged to the Sioux nation. At the time of Lewis and Clark, these regions had been claimed by the British. As a result, the Assiniboins and the British had established a trading relationship. A tribe of hunters, the Assiniboins exchanged dried meat for British guns, brass kettles and cloth.

But the British could not meet all of the Assiniboins’ trading needs. So each fall, taking their own goods and supplies obtained from the British, the Assiniboins headed south for the villages of the Mandans. The Mandan villages were a hub for trade in the Upper Missouri; Crow, Cheyenne, Cree, Assiniboin, and occasionally, Teton Sioux delegates arrived to exchange guns, buffalo hides and horses for Mandan corn.

In autumn 1804, the Assiniboins travelled to the Mandan villages and learned of the presence of the Corps of Discovery. The Mandan chief Black Cat arranged for a chief and several prominent men of the Assiniboins to meet with Lewis and Clark. Clark awarded the Assiniboin chief with some ribbons, and the meeting went on without incident."

From my reading of the Lewis and Clark exped, the natives had a few scattered and treasured firearms already by 1804.
Reply With Quote
  #3  
Old 07-19-2007, 01:51 AM
tomndebb tomndebb is offline
Mod Rocker
Moderator
 
Join Date: Mar 1999
Location: N E Ohio
Posts: 36,345
I don't have solid evidence, but the Dakota (farther East) had rather few firearms 69 years later when they took on Custer.

According to this site, the initial extension of the fur trade in what became the U.S. extended only as far as the Mississippi. Then
Quote:
The Lewis and Clark expedition to the Pacific Ocean in 1805 and 1806 led to the development of fur trading in the West. Several companies competed heavily for this western trade.
That would tend to make the presence of muskets in 1807 a bit problematic. They also note that
Quote:
Many Indians of the West had little interest in trapping, and so the fur-trading companies hired white frontiersmen to obtain pelts. These trappers became known as "mountain men" because they roamed through wild areas of the Rocky Mountains in search of fur.
If the Mountain Men were doing their own trapping and not trading for pelts, they would have had less reason to haul heavy muskets (nearly nine pounds, each, for the Brown Bess musket and more for a Pennsylvania Long Rifle) out a thousand miles for trade.

Now, farther North, The North West Company was founded to compete with the Hudson's Bay Company and sent trappers west to avoid conflict with the Hudson's Bay people, but whether they made it to the Rockies, or whether they carried trade rifles (given no evidence that the Indians in the Canadian Rockies were more eager to trade than their cousins to the South), or whether some number of trade rifles ending up in what would become Alberta would actually make it South (via theft?) would be still more problematic.
Reply With Quote
  #4  
Old 07-19-2007, 01:54 AM
tomndebb tomndebb is offline
Mod Rocker
Moderator
 
Join Date: Mar 1999
Location: N E Ohio
Posts: 36,345
Ahh! British traders/trappers passing guns through the more easterly Mandans makes sense.

I still suspect that the number of firearms was pretty tiny.
Reply With Quote
  #5  
Old 07-19-2007, 08:24 AM
Thrash the Almighty Thrash the Almighty is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2005
Perhaps a better question is "did the Crow and Blackfoot Indians have AMMUNITION in 1807?" A firearm is useless without something to reload it with. Production of gunpowder and bullets would have been essentially impossible for the the tribes. The only way for such a weapon to be practical for the Crow and Blackfoot is if they had a reliable supply network to the whites to keep them supplied with ammunition.

As it has been pointed out by previous posters it is entirely possible that some trade goods might have made it that far by 1807, but I am aware of no evidence that the kind of sustained trade network that would have made guns useful exsisted at this time. Also, guns of this period were using powder and ball not modern ammunition. You can take a moddern 7.62 rifle round, bury it in the ground and dig it out a year later with a reasonable expectation that it will fire, however, black powder is far less stable, it loves to absorb moisture, so if your powder isn't reasonably new it probably won't work.

While its true that the Dakota that took on Custer had some firearms it is also true that most of them were using traditional weapons (I'll look up the cite if ayone wants it).

So is it possible that the Crow and Blackfoot had a few muskets that were more cuiousities than anything else? Maybee. Is it likely that a person encountering warriors would see muskets in use? Not a chance.

Amateurs study tactics. Professionals study logistics.
Reply With Quote
  #6  
Old 07-19-2007, 08:52 AM
Rube E. Tewesday Rube E. Tewesday is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2000
Quote:
Originally Posted by Thrash the Almighty

While its true that the Dakota that took on Custer had some firearms it is also true that most of them were using traditional weapons (I'll look up the cite if ayone wants it).
I'd be interested in the cite, please, though I'm not doubting you. I had understood that the recent archaeology showed that the Indians had way more (modern) firearms than had traditionally been assumed, though I have no idea just what percentage of the fighters would have had guns, even based on the new research.
Reply With Quote
  #7  
Old 07-19-2007, 09:48 AM
Bookkeeper Bookkeeper is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Oct 2001
Location: Ottawa, Canuckistan
Posts: 2,264
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rube E. Tewesday
I'd be interested in the cite, please, though I'm not doubting you. I had understood that the recent archaeology showed that the Indians had way more (modern) firearms than had traditionally been assumed, though I have no idea just what percentage of the fighters would have had guns, even based on the new research.
While gun ownership may have been higher than assumed, I would hazard that gun use would be restricted due to the ammunition supply problems mentioned above. The weapons themselves would probably have been seen as some sort of status symbol, however, regardless of the inability to actually fire them (and their actual utility would vary as fresh supplies of powder were alternately obtained and consumed). Examples of highly decorated Indian trade muskets and captured firearms would tend to confirm the high status of these weapons.
Reply With Quote
  #8  
Old 07-19-2007, 09:50 AM
Rube E. Tewesday Rube E. Tewesday is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2000
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bookkeeper
While gun ownership may have been higher than assumed, I would hazard that gun use would be restricted due to the ammunition supply problems mentioned above. The weapons themselves would probably have been seen as some sort of status symbol, however, regardless of the inability to actually fire them (and their actual utility would vary as fresh supplies of powder were alternately obtained and consumed). Examples of highly decorated Indian trade muskets and captured firearms would tend to confirm the high status of these weapons.
I should have been clearer. I was referring specifically to research at the Custer battlefield site, which showed that the Indians were blazing away with way more firepower than had previously been assumed. (Although I can well believe that they hoarded ammo waiting for a fight that was worthy of it.)
Reply With Quote
  #9  
Old 07-19-2007, 10:03 AM
Gary "Wombat" Robson Gary "Wombat" Robson is offline
Vombatus Moderatus
Moderator
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Location: Montana, U.S.A.
Posts: 9,444
Remember that the Mountain Man era didn't really start for another 30 years after that, and trading posts were scarce. There certainly were guns around, but they would have been quite scarce. I'd guess they'd be mostly trophies and largely without ammunition, but I can't give a definitive cite on that.

The battle of the Little Bighorn was 69 years later, so the presence of guns with the Lakota, Dakota, and Cheyenne there is pretty much irrelevant to this question.

If your friend needs a definitive answer, I'd call the Crow Agency or contact the Chief Plenty Coups museum in Pryor.
Reply With Quote
  #10  
Old 07-19-2007, 10:25 AM
crowmanyclouds crowmanyclouds is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Sep 2005
Quote:
Battle of Little Bighorn: Were the Weapons the Deciding Factor?

... There were 2,361 cartridges, cases and bullets recovered from the entire battlefield, which reportedly came from 45 different firearms types (including the Army Springfields and Colts, of course) and represented at least 371 individual guns. The evidence indicated that the Indians used Sharps, Smith & Wessons, Evans, Henrys, Winchesters, Remingtons, Ballards, Maynards, Starrs, Spencers, Enfields and Forehand & Wadworths, as well as Colts and Springfields of other calibers. There was evidence of 69 individual Army Springfields on Custer's Field (the square-mile section where Custer's five companies died), but there was also evidence of 62 Indian .44-caliber Henry repeaters and 27 Sharps .50-caliber weapons. In all, on Custer's Field there was evidence of at least 134 Indian firearms versus 81 for the soldiers. It appears that the Army was outgunned as well as outnumbered.

Survivors of the remaining seven companies of the 7th Cavalry asserted that the Indians were equipped with repeating rifles and mentioned Winchesters as often as not. Major Marcus Reno claimed: "The Indians had Winchester rifles and the column made a large target for them and they were pumping bullets into it." Although some white survivors claimed to be heavily outgunned, Private Charles Windolph of Company H was probably closest to the truth when he estimated that half the warriors carried bows and arrows, one-quarter of them carried a variety of old muzzleloaders and single-shot rifles, and one-quarter carried modern repeaters. ...
CMC fnord!
Reply With Quote
  #11  
Old 07-19-2007, 10:44 AM
Gary "Wombat" Robson Gary "Wombat" Robson is offline
Vombatus Moderatus
Moderator
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Location: Montana, U.S.A.
Posts: 9,444
That's all fine, crowmanyclouds, but the Battle of Little Bighorn took place almost 70 years after the period that the OP was asking about (and there were few Crow or Blackfeet involved).

The question is, did contemporaries of the grandparents of the warriors who fought Custer have large numbers of operable guns with ammunition? Certainly there were some firearms in the hands of the Crow and Blackfeet by 1807, but there wouldn't have been a lot, and ammunition would have been saved for when it was really needed.
Reply With Quote
  #12  
Old 07-19-2007, 10:50 AM
Jodi Jodi is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: May 1999
Quote:
Originally Posted by Thrash the Almighty
Perhaps a better question is "did the Crow and Blackfoot Indians have AMMUNITION in 1807?" A firearm is useless without something to reload it with.
Well, sure they did, if they had guns. They were well aware that a gun without powder and shot was essentially a big stick, and about as useless. Trade for guns included trade for the accessories necessary to make the guns work.

Quote:
Production of gunpowder and bullets would have been essentially impossible for the the tribes. The only way for such a weapon to be practical for the Crow and Blackfoot is if they had a reliable supply network to the whites to keep them supplied with ammunition. As it has been pointed out by previous posters it is entirely possible that some trade goods might have made it that far by 1807, but I am aware of no evidence that the kind of sustained trade network that would have made guns useful exsisted at this time.
But, in fact, such "sustained trade networks" did in fact exist -- they just came from the North, not the east. This was the height of the fur trade years, and many western tribes had sustained contacts with whte trappers and/or fur buyers, like the Hudson Bay Company, the North West Company, and later John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company. They hunted and trapped and then traded the animal hides for goods, chief among them whiskey (unless or until forbidden by the chiefs or the trading post) and guns. And ammo.

Not every tribe was equally involved in the fur trade. The Flathead (Salish and Kootenai), for example, could trap in the mountains of Northwest Montana, but they could not cross the mountains to access the HBC trading posts on the Alberta plains without being killed by the much more powerful Blackfeet (called Blackfoot in Canada), who intentionally monopolized that trade. So they would trade their skins to the Blackfeet (or anyone else they could find), and consequently the Blackfeet to some extent controlled their access to goods.

Tomndebb, sorry to chop your post so fine, but I think it's inaccurate in a number of points.

Quote:
Originally Posted by tomndebb
Now, farther North, The North West Company was founded to compete with the Hudson's Bay Company and sent trappers west to avoid conflict with the Hudson's Bay people . . .
In fact, the NWC trappers competed directly with the HBC trappers, and cultivating and maintaining good personal relationships with the Tribes was therefore imperative.

Quote:
. . . but whether they made it to the Rockies . . . .
They certainly did; there were trading posts up and down the Rocky Mountain Front in Alberta, to deal with the fur trade from the Rockies and across the Rockies.

Quote:
. . . or whether they carried trade rifles . . .
In 1807, we would not be talking about rifles. Muskets could be obtained, although not in great numbers, from the trading posts. The Tribes in contact with the posts (including the Blackfeet and the Absarokee) would not need the rifles hand-carried by trappers to their settlements.

Quote:
. . . (given no evidence that the Indians in the Canadian Rockies were more eager to trade than their cousins to the South) . . .
There is, in fact, ample evidence that the Blackfeet were very eager to engage in and exploit the fur trade, to the extent they could do so consistent with not wanting their own lands overrun by white trappers. They worked hard, and with some success, to control access to the available furs in their territories. But it is also true that the fur companies were more interested in beaver than they were in buffalo, and the Blackfeet could not produce the high number of beaver pelts that would make them of great interest as a trading partner. (This would change once the beaver market collapsed about 1830, but by then the Tribes' control of their lands was slipping.)

Quote:
. . . or whether some number of trade rifles ending up in what would become Alberta would actually make it South (via theft?) would be still more problematic.
It's not that problematic, and it wasn't necessarily or even mostly theft. The Tribes traded among themselves, and all kinds of goods moved south from Alberta and north from Mexico.

For the OP:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Pel2na
A friend of mine asked me to comment on a screenplay he is working on. It's set in what is now Montana in 1807. He has the Crow, Flathead, Nez Perce and Blackfoot warriors carrying (and using) English and French Muskets. I was under the impression that the Indians didn't have access to these weapons until the white migration started 30 or 40 years later. Anybody know?
I don't know the story he's telling, of course, but he's got a few tribes in there that did not get along with one another. And he's got a mix of tribes who normally would not have anything to do with one another for geographic reasons (the Flathead and the Nez Perce, for example). It's also unclear if by "Blackfoot" he means the Blackfeet, who loathed the Crows, or the Blackfoot Lakotas, who didn't because both Absarokee (Crow) and Lakota were Siouan tribes.

It is worth noting, however, that while it would not be remarkable for the Tribes to have some guns at this period, it would be remarkable for any of them to have a lot of guns, because they probably didn't. Many bands probably would not have had any. It also would be remarkable if they were using those guns indiscriminately, which they almost certainly did not, given the issue of obtaining powder and shot.
Reply With Quote
  #13  
Old 07-19-2007, 10:52 AM
Jodi Jodi is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: May 1999
Quote:
Originally Posted by InvisibleWombat
Remember that the Mountain Man era didn't really start for another 30 years after that, and trading posts were scarce. There certainly were guns around, but they would have been quite scarce. I'd guess they'd be mostly trophies and largely without ammunition, but I can't give a definitive cite on that.
This is simply incorrect. There were fur trading posts up and down the Rocky Mountain front in Alberta, dating from at least 1790. The fur trade was certainly in full swing by 1807.
Reply With Quote
  #14  
Old 07-19-2007, 11:18 AM
Tamerlane Tamerlane is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: SF Bay Area, California
Posts: 10,359
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jodi
It's also unclear if by "Blackfoot" he means the Blackfeet, who loathed the Crows, or the Blackfoot Lakotas, who didn't because both Absarokee (Crow) and Lakota were Siouan tribes.
Just a minor nitpick on your nitpicks , but linguistic similarity was no guarantee of good relations. For one I don't believe the Crow/Hidatsa language was mutually intelligible with Lakota. Beyond that I believe at the very least the Hunkpapa band of Lakota had pretty bellicose relations with the Crow.

Unless you were referring more to issues of mutual, if very hostile, respect vs. a total lack of such.
Reply With Quote
  #15  
Old 07-19-2007, 11:47 AM
Jodi Jodi is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: May 1999
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tamerlane
Just a minor nitpick on your nitpicks , but linguistic similarity was no guarantee of good relations. For one I don't believe the Crow/Hidatsa language was mutually intelligible with Lakota. Beyond that I believe at the very least the Hunkpapa band of Lakota had pretty bellicose relations with the Crow.

Unless you were referring more to issues of mutual, if very hostile, respect vs. a total lack of such.
Your point is well-taken. Based on this brief vocabulary comparison, it appears that Crow and Lakota would not be mutually intelligible. In a culture without rigid political structure or long-term alliances, it is hard to say who was fighting with whom, and when. Even within tribes, the various bands didn't always get along.

Last edited by Jodi; 07-19-2007 at 11:49 AM..
Reply With Quote
  #16  
Old 07-19-2007, 12:59 PM
DrDeth DrDeth is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2001
Location: San Jose
Posts: 22,431
According to "the Journals of Lewis and Clark" (Edited by A. Brant, Nat'l Geo press, 2002), The L&C's blacksmith, one John Shields was very useful in "trading" with the natives. The Exped did not bring much trade goods, and certainly no muskets to trade but John Shields repaired the native's muskets and made hatcheets out of scrap metal for trade. The book also mentions one of L&C's goals was to divert trade away from the two British companies: which did trade guns, ammo, and booze.

So, yes a few scattered muskets in the hands on the natives would be OK in 1807.
Reply With Quote
  #17  
Old 07-19-2007, 07:56 PM
Thrash the Almighty Thrash the Almighty is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2005
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rube E. Tewesday
I'd be interested in the cite, please, though I'm not doubting you. I had understood that the recent archaeology showed that the Indians had way more (modern) firearms than had traditionally been assumed, though I have no idea just what percentage of the fighters would have had guns, even based on the new research.
Two cites

1. Already mentioned the eyewitness quote about "half the warriors carried bows and arrows, one-quarter of them carried a variety of old muzzleloaders and single-shot rifles, and one-quarter carried modern repeaters" if you figure a few of the warriors were short of bullets on the eventful day you get to 51% without firearms really easy.

2.The official American government report of the battle. It's quoted a book titled "The Peacemakers" by RL Wilson. The government found that the idea of the well armed Indian was a myth. Only a minority of warriors ever owned modern firearms and most of those ran into signifigant problems keeping their guns in working order and obtaining suffecient ammunition.

Some of the Dakota that defeated Custer had guns. Some didn't. The exact percentages will probably never be known.
Reply With Quote
  #18  
Old 07-19-2007, 08:25 PM
Thrash the Almighty Thrash the Almighty is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2005
I'm going to have to reverse my previous comments. I was rather curious about how far west guns hot gotten in 1807 so I pulled out my copy of "Guns on the Early Frontier" by Carl P. Russell who is an authority on firearm history. He claims on page 35 that by the 1780's American, French, and British traders had penetrated deep into the interior and the Blackfoot tribe had "plenty of guns" and had begun using them against their traditional enemies the Shoshoni.

I apologize for my first post. I should have checked my facts before typing away.
Reply With Quote
Reply



Bookmarks

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 04:50 AM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2014, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@chicagoreader.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Publishers - interested in subscribing to the Straight Dope?
Write to: sdsubscriptions@chicagoreader.com.

Copyright © 2013 Sun-Times Media, LLC.