Native American Tomahawks

The tomahawk is one of the most closely associated items with Native Americans and comes from an Algonquin word "tamahak or tamahakan" which was applied to the stone headed implements of the 1500s and 1600s. Tomahawks were more closely associated with warfare but had multiple uses outside of the arena of battle. The stone tools were used for chopping down trees for canoes, building lodges and gathering crops; the tomahawk was also used in sowing seeds, and tilling soil prior to planting. The most common version of the tomahawk was one weighing about a pound and being about a foot in length. Most tomahawks had wooden shafts made form straight branches or were mass produced in Europe and the US after colonization.

The stone, and later metal, heads were lashed onto the handle after being wedged into a small slit cut into the wood. The handles would be decorated with colored markings or feathers or animal parts to signify accomplishments. Branding animals and carving reliefs were common but were entirely dependent on the area and tribe to which its owner belonged. During warfare the tomahawk was used to scalp white invaders and enemies. Warfare between tribes did not employ the use of scalping and very few lives were lost in a tribal conflict; the killing of an enemy was a ceremonial action and not typically physical. Some tomahawks were hollowed out and a pipe bowl was attached at the bottom for a dual use tomahawk. Sometimes a spike or large solid ball would be added for balancing and an alternative use as a weapon.

Their use became more widespread as frontiersmen worked and traded with the Native Americans; it became standard operating equipment for all men on the frontier. The tomahawk became a symbol of peace and prestige following treaties and agreements with white settlers and the US government. In particular were the pipe bowl tomahawks which were held in the highest regard. Today the tomahawk's name is part of missile systems on US submarines; more specifically the Tomahawk Cruise missile and is capable of targeting land, air and sea targets which is a testament to the versatility of the original tomahawk.

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