Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
September 2004

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Lances Used by Indians



[This text was originally published in 1907 by the Bureau of American Ethnology as part of its Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. It was later reproduced, in 1913, by the Geographic Board of Canada. The work done by the American Bureau was monumental, well informed and incorporated the most advanced scholarship available at the time. In many respects, the information is still useful today, although prudence should be exercised and the reader should consult some of the contemporary texts on the history and the anthropology of the North-West Indians suggested in the bibliographic introduction to this section. The articles were not completely devoid of the paternalism and the prejudices prevalent at the time. While some of the terminology used would not pass the test of our "politically correct" era, most terms have been left unchanged by the editor. If a change in the original text has been effected it will be found between brackets [.] The original work contained long bibliographies that have not been reproduced for this web edition. For the full citation, see the end of the text.]



Lances. As an implement of the chase or of war the lance had a wide distribution among the ancient and the modern tribes of the North America . Though none of the objects of chipped stone called lance-heads that have been found in numbers on widely separated archaeological sites are attached to shafts, there is reason to believe that many of the leaf-shaped blades were lance-heads. The only survivals of the use of the ancient lance are found among the Rupa of California and the western [Inuit], but earlier writers have mentioned their existence among various tribes. Lances for the chase were used occasionally in war by the [Inuit], but the Plains Indians, whenever possible, used two distinct varieties for war and for hunting, the hunting lance blade being shorter and heavier. The lance appears to have originated through the need of striking animals from some distance in order to escape personal danger and to produce surer results than were possible with a stone knife or other implement used at close quarters. The efficiency and range of the lance when thrown from the hand was increased by the throwing stick, and the original lance or spear developed into a number of varieties under the influences of environment, the habits of animals, acculturation, etc. The greatest number of forms sprang up among the [Inuit], whose environment was characterized by a great variety and alteration of animal life, while in most other regions a simple lance was perpetuated.


The Plains tribes, as a rule, living in a region conducive to warfare and aggression through its lack of physical boundaries, made more use of the lance in war than did, coast, woodland, desert, or mountain tribes. Since the general occupancy of the plains appears to have been coincident with the introduction of the horse, the use of the war lance has been associated with that animal, but it is evident that the tribes that occupied the plains were acquainted with the lance with a stone head as a hunting implement before they entered this vast region. A Kiowa lance in the U.S. National Museum is headed with a part of a sword blade and is reputed to have killed 16 persons.


In accord with the tendency of objects designed for especially important usage to take on a religious significance, the lance has become an accessory of ceremonies among the Plains Indians. Elaborately decorated sheaths were made for lances, varying according to the society or office of the owner. At home the lance was leaned against the shield tripod, tied horizontally above the tipi door, or fastened lengthwise to an upright pole behind the tipi. In both earlier and recent times offerings of lance-heads were made to springs, exquisitely formed 'specimens having been taken from a sulphur spring at Afton , Okla.


Source: James WHITE, ed., Handbook of Indians of Canada, Published as an Appendix to the Tenth Report of the Geographic Board of Canada, Ottawa, 1913, 632p., pp. 262-263.



© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College