MISSOURI WAR HATCHET

$1,250.00 SOLD

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Item Code: 836-134

Also known as a “Missouri War Ax,” these tomahawks with large, markedly triangular blades and comparatively short handles were likely introduced by French traders in the late 1700s. Lewis and Clarke found them in the hands of the Mandan in January 1805. Clarke made a drawing of one and noted the expedition’s blacksmith was kept busy making them on request for trade with the Indians for corn. Lewis described them in detail, regarding them as rather impractical, noting the blades were made entirely of iron (i.e.  without a steel cutting edge,) thin, and too long in relation to the small handle, but noted that the Indians “uniformly use this instrument on horseback,” indicating that however much he might have improved the design, it was a weapon and not merely ceremonial.

Peterson notes these appear among the Iowa, Sauk, Fox, Kansa, Pawnee, Comanche, Dakota, Osage, and Oto peoples as well as the Mandan, largely in the area along the Missouri River between the Great Bend and that river’s junction with the Mississippi. He dates their popularity as spanning “somewhat more than fifty years,” with its height about 1810-1830, but notes they were passed down as heirlooms and ceremonial objects long after. (He, too, criticizes the form for weakening the blade with pierced decorations and usually unsharpened edges, but admits that is looking at them through European eyes.)

The handle measures 20-inches from top of the socket to bottom of the handle, with overall length a bit more from flare of the blade. The head is 9 1/2-inches across in maximum width (including socket, with the blade from socket to edge at center 8-inches.) The cutting edge is 4 1/2-inches tip to tip in a straight line. The handle appears original to the head. There are two lines of brass tacks circling the handle just below the socket. Below that the handle is carved, showing some light serrations and slightly wider, deeper bands alternating with raised portions that are decorative, but toward the bottom would assure a better grip. Both the wood and the tacks have a nice, aged, patina. The head is largely dark gray in color with just light corrosion or crustiness.

This would be a great addition to a collection of Native American material or concentrating on exploration and the early American west.  [sr] [ph:L]

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