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I Forge Iron

History of American Indians and Forging

Alan DuBoff

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Ok, here goes what I know about Indians and smithing and tools etc. for what its worth.

THE SOUTHWEST - There were thriving spanish communities in the Southwest before Columbus landed on the east coast. The Spanish brought Priests with them that were trained craftsmen in Smithing, Woodworking and related crafts. The Priests converted the Indians and then proceeded to teach them the manual arts. They spread into present day Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California. In California the priests built mission along the coast and each of these missions had natives taught by the priests in the manual arts.

THE NORTHWEST - This are was predominately Russian and I have no idea if they instructed the natives in the manual arts or not.

THE SOUTH EAST - I imagine the spanish priests also taught the natives around St. Augustine the manual arts when the Spanish moved into that area.

THE NORTHEAST - The metal tools and such in this area were mostly trade axes and knives of dubious quality used as trade goods for influencing the natives to trade for their furs, along with glass beads, small mirrors and so called trade blankets.

THE EAST COAST - Some of the first Treaties with the Indians were in this Area and the Indians realizing the importance of iron weapons and utensils etc, often required as a part of the Treaty, that a smith and smithy be established in a central location.

PEACE PIPE, TOMAHAWKS - Were generally forged from old gun barrels by other than Indian smiths.

CENTRAL PART OF THE COUNTRY - The indians generally traveled great distances with their furs and such to trade for metal tools, etc. Some of the best known of these locations are, Pueblo, Santa Fe and Pontiac, Michigan.

ARROW HEADS METAL - In certain parts of the country you will come across felling axes with lots of chisel marks on them. The indians used them as an anvil to cut out metal arrow heads with a chisel and hammer from strip metal they had acquired thru trade or sometimes from armour or such from battle.


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There is no evidence of iron forging before the Europeans came. Recent discoveries point to the fact that the Vikings were probably here long before Columbus and they smelted iron while living here. This would have given local Native Americans a chance to learn the techniques but it does not appear they were interested so most of the early European settlements that failed were not used as a training ground for the natives. Instead, they seemed to have viewed those locations as places to be avoided.

Most authentic peace pipes I have seen in pictures or handled were cast. Some may have been forged but casting out of brass or some other material makes more economic sense. Trade for furs was one of the very earliest forms of commerce with the Indians so some form of currency was needed and guns, knives, mirrors, beads, pipes, etc. were all considered fair exchange - but with CHEAPLY MADE as the primary concern. Unfortunately, the philosophy of simply exterminating all native people combined with their tendency to not have permanent settlements has resulted in very little remaining of the total items which were made for trade purposes.

As the land became settled some natives became skilled at various trades. You might want to read up on Ned Christie, a Cherokee who made a living as a blacksmith and gunsmith in the late 1800's. He became an outlaw through some unfortunate events and was eventually killed in a shootout but records indicate he was quite skilled at his business prior to that ending.

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ALAN-- I fear that you have seen too many movies of the Cowboy and Indian era. The cowboys for the most part were just over worked and underpaid laboers for the cattlemen.

Indians moved their villages when the place they were at, got so nasty with the refuse of a normal village. They had several places that they preferred to be in the different seasons of the year.

As for the changing of locals for the different tribes. Generally when a entire tribe picked up and moved to a new area. It was because a stronger warring tribe had made them run for their lives. This is how the Apaches/Comaches come to be in N.Mex. and Texas. The Navajos had run them out.

Then the whiteman came into the equation. Bringing horses/weapons and steel/copper and a new meaning of talking through both sides of their mouths.


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All I remeber seeing from history and pre-history are stone and bone tools and flaked points for arrowheads and spear points.
I do know that pre white folk, aboriginals in Canda used heated stones put into leather "pots" to cook food. It would seem to me that if they had figured out smelting and forging that they would have created metal pots for cooking rather than leather "pots" with hot stones dropped in.
Also tribes were nomadic in nature. Moving to more favourable habitation places in summer and winter.


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ALAN-- Indians and their beliefs are very interesting. The Natives to the North American continent were more religous than any whiteman ever thought of being. They(every tribe) had a superior being that gave them life and they had all sorts of different objects(animals, places, areas) of worship. None of them that I know of had any Pagan sort of beliefs. Not sacrificing of the young or maidens.

Central and South America had some of this. It is my thoughts that this came across from the Polynesian/Asian people but this to be proven as yet.

The cow and the men that worked them were of very little value till after the Civil War. This being some 3/4 hundred or so years after the Spanish started showing up on various parts of the Continent.

The horses that the Natives learned to use at a later date were the offspring of the horses that escaped from the conquistodors. The Spanish did not castrate any of their mounts so if they escaped they were in the colt making business.grin. Out on the plains of the mid-continet they were not many predators to eat these fast running horses so they multiplied quite rapidly.---Still do, they are still a problem.

Interesting subject-- Native Americans. A proud people.


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G'day guys!

I've been watching this thread for a while - very interesting reading!

I would say that a couple of thoughts have crossed my mind vis-a-vis Native Americans and smithing.

Firstly, there is a map of Aboriginal tribes and their territories prior to white settlement hanging on the wall in one of the corridors at my university. Desert areas tend to have larger territories, and higher rainfall areas have smaller territories. I'd imagine this is because you need a larger area to support a viable population.
With that in mind, it becomes a question of necessity - Do you need to shoe horses, if you can cover your entire territory in less than a week? If horses are needed, you just might need to change horses more often. Remember that many cultures used shoes of leather and even straw, prior to the invention of metal horseshoes.

Secondly, economy - A Native American could, more than likely, obtain furs and trade goods by themselves, easier than they could make objects of steel. It would make more sense to trade even a whole lot of furs for one tomahawk, being as collecting the furs would be a whole lot less time-consuming than smelting, forging hardening and all the other processes involved.
Remember that in colonial times, even the smallest scraps of metal were hoarded by the local blacksmith. How much do you think would be available to the local natives?
If we consider that tools made of wood, stone, and bone were at least servicable, compared to steel, then the relative abundance of that kind of material, compared to iron and steel would certainly tip the scales in favour of "the old ways."

Personally, I think that Native Americans more than likely went without metal working, except in close proximity to European settlement.

A good book to read on this kind of topic is Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs and Steel." It has also been made into a TV special by PBS.

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I've done some reading up on the subject (via Wikipedia) and it seems there are three main reasons for fitting shoes.

1. Diet. Apparently the feed they get in domesticity are low in Beta carotene, which is an essential nutrient for hooves. Wild feed equals stronger hooves.

2.Travel. A horse in the wild is constantly walking and feeding. This walking stimulates and hardens the "sole" of the horses foot, and it becomes hard like a callus. A domesticated horse walks much less, the hooves become weakened and are more vulnerable to injury.

3. Weight. When you add the weight of a person, the hooves wear quicker.

There's other stuff, but the main idea is that wild horses don't need shoeing, domestic ones do, largely because of the fact that they are domesticated. It's sort of a catch 22 :)

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The Thuggee of India were not supposed to attack and kill blacksmiths as a sacrifice for Kali.

In the "Heroic" period in Ireland smiths were of high status, the King's personal smith having a place at the kings table and in the story of how Cuhulian (sp!) got his name the king had been invited to dinner by a smith and was going!

As iron became more prevelant the status of smith went down though they were always an honoured and important craftsperson.


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Before the Spanish, there were no horses in North America (near as anyone can tell). That means everyone walked and/or used dogs - period - so there was no historic tradition for shoeing. Sandpile can correct me but wild horses either wear down their hooves or they founder - the whole weight of the horse bears down on the coffin bone and without the attachment to the hoof wall, the bone rotates down and the horse is crippled, i.e., dog meat. However, horses thrived in North America barefoot and the Indians didn't need to shoe them. Fat white men in saddles carrying lots of gear over rocky terrain have better reasons to shoe horses with iron.

Flint about covers the entire continent so dart points and knives could be made almost anywhere. Bows were cut locally and strings were made from sinew but it seems no matter how civilized or advanced the tribe, none of them rose above the Stone Age with regard to certain mechanical skills which were taken for granted in other parts of the world. That doesn't mean that a certain level of wealth, culture and material comfort wasn't attainable, but no Indian tribe spent nearly as much time obsessed with money as the Europeans did. They were happy with what they had...although after the advent of the horse, many tribes became quite wealthy by the standard of the time. The Comanche are a case in point. Before the horse, they were a minor tribe, pushed around by their neighbors. After the horse, they became one of the most feared and respected rulers of the plains.

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It has allways struck me as odd that if the american indians migrated here from the bearing straits / how come they didnt bring with them the tecnology with them like gunpowder and such and if they did decend from the far east as some experts believe then if they didnt bring the technology with them then why did their learning not keep pace with their ancestors after the straits were covered in water

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