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Absolutely Brutal (And Smart) Tactics In Native American Warfare

Updated August 19, 2020 384.7k 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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  • Whoops Were Used As Engagement And Communication Signals

    Native American chiefs always insisted that their braves knew what to do in battle. Individual combat was highly valued, but most good braves were also taught to follow instructions (or at least follow the direction) of their local chief.

    For example, in the Battle of Little Bighorn, chiefs wore flags with colors intended to identify their tribe. Legendary combatant Crazy Horse used mirrors to relay orders to his men. Several chiefs also used "eagle horns," bellowing whistles carved from the leg bone of an eagle. The Native American's trademark of whoops signaling combat was also used as a means of communication on the front. 

  • Confusing The Enemy Was An Oft-Used Strategy

    In addition to using their own highly advanced communication on the front, Native American tribes would often surreptitiously take control of their enemy's comparatively rudimentary means of talking back and forth. Sioux and Cheyenne men would often capture buglers or bring bugles into battle in order to serve a two-fold purpose.

    The first was to communicate between individual tribes, and the second was to disorient British servicemen.

  • Know Thy Enemy

    Native Americans proved to be insightful students of the people they were fighting. Take, for example, the strategy employed by various braves at Little Big HornCrazy Horse and his boys had noticed in prior battles that the commonly used Springfield .45 rifle has a huge design flaw. Namely, when it was fired too often, it stopped ejecting cartridges and subsequently jammed.

    So, when the battle began for Little Big Horn, Crazy Horse rode out back and forth along the American lines, letting the soldiers open fire on him. Then, once their guns were overheated and jammed, Crazy Horse sent his men in to take down the essentially defenseless men.

  • After European Contact, Native Americans Drafted Armies Where Each Tribe Employed Their Own Tactics

    Once Europeans had laid their claim on the New World, Native American combat swelled from small forces to entire tribes of hundreds and thousands to defend their territory. In typical fashion, when one chief felt a battle was merited, a messenger was sent to the other chiefs with a pipe in hand. The chiefs who smoked the pipe were agreeing to join the conflict.

    In so doing, they were allowed to choose their course freely, a tactic that ostensibly made them (and the warriors they brought with them) more invested in the coming fight.