Axes and Tomahawks

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A tomahawk, also referred to as a “hawk,” is a type of axe native to North America, which resembles a hatchet with a straight haft. The word “tomahawk” comes from the word “tomahak” or “tamahaken” from the language of the Algonquin Indians of Virginia. It was, however, a dominant weapon across much of the continent, usually appearing at the side the Native American warriors.

The tomahawk was typically made out of stone, usually with one or both of the edges sharpened. It could also be fashioned out of a deer’s horn or the jaw bone of a large animal. The tomahawk head was fastened to a wooden handle in a number of ways. It could be placed through a hole in the wood or tied by leather straps around the head and wood. Splitting the wood and tying the tomahawk head into the crevasse was another method used. If the tomahawk was fashioned to be  a throwing weapon, great care went into producing a balanced wooden handle and head.

The tomahawk was primarily a weapon used for hand-to-hand combat weapon by Native North Americans. The tomahawk was also used as a missile, and could be thrown with impressive accuracy. Sometimes it was even used for a rushed scalping job. The Native Americans used tomahawks quite effectively for intimidation. They often stood a distance from their enemy, screaming and brandishing bloody tomahawks before dissappearing into the wilderness to attack guerrilla style. This was a form of warfare most Europeans were not experienced at fighting.

Although the earliest definitions (early 1600′s) of “tomahak” or “tamahaken” applied to stone-headed implements used as tools and weapons, subsequent references involved all types of striking weapons, including wood clubs, stone-headed axes, and metal trade hatchets. As the years passed a tomahawk was thought of as any hatchet-type instrument used by a Native American. That association changed somewhat as frontiersmen in the New World such as traders, trappers, and explorers, came to rely on the tomahawk as standard equipment.

As time went on, tomahawks were manufactured on a large scale in Europe or created by individual makers in America. Metals used for the heads (in rough chronological order) were solid iron, iron with a welded steel bit or cutting edge, brass with steel bit and lastly, solid brass. (Tomahawks with solid brass heads were less useful as a wood-chopping tool). The end of the head opposite the cutting edge provided a place for a spike, hammer poll, or a pipe bowl.

The pipe tomahawk, with its smoking pipe bowl and a drilled or hollowed handle, became the most popular “hawk” of them all. It became a trade good by Euro-Americans for trade with Native Americans. Iroquois men traded furs for these much-desired tomahawks. Ornate pipe tomahawks, with fancy engraving and pewter or silver inlaid blades and handles, were presented at treaty signings as diplomatic gifts to tribal leaders, who carried them as a sign of their status.

The majority, though, were personalized by their owners. Vastly different methods of adornment abounded, according to the materials available as well as the customs and styles of the time and region. Hafts were polished smooth, scalloped, carved, inlaid, tacked, branded with hot files, wrapped with copper or brass wire, covered with rawhide, cloth or leather, painted, stained, and hung with every type of ornament imaginable. Ceremonial hawks were decorated with painted feathers.

Among some Native American tribes, the tomahawk was buried in the ground when peace was established with a former enemy. It is believed that this is where the phrase, “burying the hatchet” originated.

Used in Wars
During the Revolutionary War state militia soldiers often carried a tomahawk instead of a sword. in In a resolution dated July 18, 1775, the Continental Congress of the United States decreed that militiamen must provide themselves with a tomahawk or sword in addition to muskets and bayonets.

The last time the tomahawk was used for combat within the United States of America was at the Little Bighorn Battle between the Sioux and the 7th Calvary, on June 25, 1876. However, the tomahawk was used again in combat in the Vietnam War with a shorter version called the LaGana Hawk. It proved itself in battle again after almost one hundred years.

History of Throwing Axes
A throwing axe is an axe that was used primarily as a missile weapon. Throwing axes have been in use since ancient times. They were developed into the axe called the francisca by the Franks in the third century AD.

The francisca is a throwing axe that was used by the Franks as a weapon during the Early Middle Ages. It was considered to be a national weapon at the time of the Merovingians from about 500 to 750 AD. The francisca is also known to have been used during the reign of Charlemagne (768 – 814). Although most often associated with the Franks, it was also used by other Germanic peoples of the period including the Anglo-Saxons. Several examples of this axe have been found in England. Likewise, from ancient times the Celts were using battle axes in warfare.

Axe Throwing and Tomahawk Throwing – A Thriving Competitive Sport Today
The ancient sport of axe throwing and tomahawk throwing are still being practiced today. Usually, tomahawks and throwing axes are thrown in an overhand motion, much like throwing a baseball. Iti is thrown in a manner that causes the axe to rotate as it travels through the air. A skilled axe thrower will cause the axe to rotate exactly once throughout the flight so that the sharpened edge of the head will penetrate the target.