Quebec History Marianopolis College

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


Clubs Used by Canadian Natives



[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 American 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.]



Every tribe in America used clubs, but, after the adoption of more effectual weapons, as the bow and the lance, clubs became in many cases merely a part of the costume, or were relegated to ceremonial, domestic, and special functions. There was great variety in the forms of this weapon or implement. Most clubs were designed for warfare. Starting from the simple knobstick, the elaboration of the war-club may be followed in one line through the straight-shafted maul-headed club of the Zuni, Pima, Mohave, Paiute, Kickapoo, Kiowa, and Oto, to the slungshot club of other Pueblos, the Apache, Navaho, Ute, Oto, and Sioux, to the club with a fixed stone head of the Ute, Shoshoni, Comanche, Kiowa, and the Siouan tribes. Another line begins with the carved, often flattened, club of the typical pueblos, the Zuni and Hopi, and includes the musket-shaped club of the northern Sioux, and the Sauk and Fox and other Algonquian tribes, and the flat, curved club with a knobbed head (Alg. pogamoggan, Fr. casse tête) belonging to some Sioux, and to the Chippewa, Menominee, and other timber Algonquians. Clubs of this type are often set with spikes, lanceheads, knife-blades, or the like, and the elk horn with sharpened prongs belongs to this class.


The Plains tribes and those of the N. forest country furnish many examples of dangerous looking ceremonial clubs of this character. There is, however, archaeological evidence that rows of flint splinters or horn points were set in clubs by the Iroquois and the Indians of North Carolina, forming a weapon like the Aztec maquahuitl (Morgan, League of Iroquois , 359, 1851).


A series of interesting paddle-shaped clubs, ancient and modern, often with carved handles, are found in the culture area of the Salishan tribes. They are from 18 to 24 in. long, made of bone, stone, wood, and, rarely, copper. Shorter clubs, that could be concealed about the person, were also used. Le Moyne figures paddle-shaped clubs that were employed by Floridian tribes which in structure and function suggest a transition toward the sword.


Outside the Pueblos few missile clubs are found. Most Indian clubs are furnished with a thong for the wrist, and others have pendants, often a cow's tail, a bunch of hawk or owl feathers, or a single eagle feather.


The stone-headed clubs were usually made by paring thin the upper end of a wooden staff, bending it round the stone in the groove, and covering the withe part and the rest of the staff with wet raw-hide, which shrank in drying and held all fast. In many cases, especially on the plains, the handle was inserted in a socket bored in the stone head, but this, it would seem, is a modern process. The head of the slungshot club was a round or oval stone, entirely inclosed in rawhide, and the handle was so attached as to leave a pliable neck, 2 or 3 in. long, between the head and the upper end of the handle, also inclosed in rawhide.


The heads of the rigid clubs were of hard stone, grooved and otherwise worked into shape, in modern times often double-pointed and polished, catlinite being sometimes the material. The pemmican maul had only one working face, the other end of the stone being capped with rawhide. The hide-working maul followed the form of the typical club, but was usually much smaller.


The tribes of British Columbia and S. E. Alaska made a variety of clubs for killing slaves, enemies, salmon, seal, etc., and for ceremony. These clubs were usually handsomely carved, inlaid, and painted. The [Inuit] did not make clubs for war, but a few club-like mallets of ivory and deer-horn in their domestic arts.


Mauls resembling clubs, and which could be used as such on occasion, were found among most tribes, the common form being a stone set on a short handle by means of rawhide, employed by women for driving stakes, beating bark and hide, and pounding pemmican.


Ceremonial clubs and batons were used, though few specimens of these now exist. The chief man of the Mohave carried a potatomasher-shaped club in battle, and clubs of similar shape have been found in caves in S. Arizona . The Zuni employ in certain ceremonies huge batons made of agave flower stalks, as well as some of their ordinary club weapons, and in the New-fire ceremony of the Hopi a priest carries an agave-stalk club in the form of a plumed serpent (Fawkes). Batons were often carried as badges of office by certain officers of the Plains tribes and those of the N. W. coast. Captain John Smith describes clubs 3 ells long. The coup stick was often a ceremonial club. It is noteworthy that the parrying club was not known in America .


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., p. 107.

© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College