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Absolutely Brutal (And Smart) Tactics In Native American Warfare

Updated August 19, 2020 384.1k views15 items

Long before the first Europeans set foot on American soil, the native people who lived there had spent centuries perfecting the art of combat. Even after visitors arrived from across the vast oceans with superior technology and weaponry, Native American guerilla tactics prevailed so thoroughly that the invaders were forced to adopt similar strategies. From the Mourning Wars tactics to the tactics in the French and Indian War, Native American soldiers and scouts proved themselves capable of immense cunning and incredible feats of military prowess.

For more than a hundred years, the Native Americans fighting to protect their territory forged new means of defending against the people who were slowly spreading across the continent. Thanks to brilliant strategists and intrepid heroes like Pontiac and Geronimo, Native Americans have left an indelible mark on strategic combat. The success of their tactics led to American forces adopting their combat style, as seen with Robert Rogers

Some of the greatest strategists in the history of combat have acknowledged the genius of Native Americans. When asked about his plans for fighting in the Pacific during World War II, General George Marshall explained: "Go back to the tactics of the French and Indian days, [...] study their tactics and fit in our modern weapons, and you have a solution." Read on to discover the bloody lessons learned from the brutal and clever tactics used by Native American tribes. 

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  • Part Of The Plunder Was Replacement People

    More often than not, raids were initiated as an act of revenge intended to make amends for one or more deaths. As a result, battle survivors were often taken back to the prevailing tribes home in order to fill the spot of a lost relative.

    Several people who ended up assuming the role of a previous victim were adopted wholly, even going so far as to marry into the tribe. White settlers weren't immune from this treatment since the Native Americans didn't make racial judgments. Several colonial settlers found themselves full-fledged members of whatever tribe had originally assailed them.

  • Psychological Tactics, Such As Theatricality, Was Nothing To Shy Away From

    Psychological Tactics, Such As is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list Absolutely Brutal (And Smart) Tactics In Native American Warfare
    Photo: Harper's Weekly, May 3, 1873 / via Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Throughout the Native American tradition of combat, several tactics were employed to destabilize the enemy through psychological combat strategies. In other words, they tried to scare the heck out of their enemies in an attempt to strip them of their will to fight. One of the most popular methods of scoring a terrified response was the practice of scalping.

    While taken as a prize in combat or to frighten the populace, scalping served a valuable social purpose in Native American culture. Scalps were hung in villages, given to spouses, and even traded for rewards. 

  • Terrain Was Always Incorporated Into The Battle Plan

    Terrain Was Always Incorporate is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list Absolutely Brutal (And Smart) Tactics In Native American Warfare
    Photo: Unknown author / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    During the colonial era, European armies aimed to battle in wide open landscapes. That made it easier for commanders to direct the course of the strike. However, Native American chiefs used the terrain to their advantage when they drew a plan.

    Crazy Horse once led George Crook on a merry chase, disorienting and wearing the British General down until Crazy Horse had circled around and exposed Crook's flanks. One quick strike at Crook’s back was all it took to take out the men.

  • They Rode In Hordes, Not Lines

    Most Native American nations were reasonably well-versed in horsemanship, but their cavalry tactics were wildly different from the Europeans they fought. As survivor Anson Mills explained: "The Indians came not in a line but in flocks or herds like buffalo, and they piled upon us."

    The result of riding in a seemingly chaotic clump was simple. Opening volleys from defenders were unable to wipe out entire waves, and once the herd had hit its intended victim, the grouped Native American warriors were in a position to take a big chunk out of a focused area. The result could cripple a defensive line with little trouble.

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