Saukamappee: Plains Indians Use Guns in Battle for the First Time

This is an account by the Peigan Indian Saukamappee, whose life and times were recorded by the explorer David Thompson. Saukamappee describes the radical effect of firearms on Plains Indian warfare. Before, battles were fought with stone clubs and bows, and ended in stalemate unless one side was much larger. With only a handful of guns, Saukamappee’s side was able to turn what looked like a sure defeat by a numerically superior enemy into a victory.

After some singing and dancing, they sat down on the ground, and placed their large shields before them, which covered them : We did the same, but our shields were not so many, and some of our shields had to shelter two men. Theirs were all placed touching each other ; their Bows were not so long as ours, but of better wood, and the back covered with the sinews of the Bisons which made them very elastic, and their arrows went a long way and whizzed about us as balls do from guns. They were all headed with a sharp, smooth, black stone (flint) which broke when it struck anything. Our iron headed arrows did not go through their shields, but stuck in them ; On both sides several were wounded, but none lay on the ground ; and night put an end to the battle, without a scalp being taken on either side, and in those days such was the result, unless one party was more numerous than the other.

Later, when they had guns:

When the War Chief had viewed us all it was found between us and the Stone Indians we had ten guns and each of us about thirty balls, and powder for the war, and we were considered the strength of the battle. After a few days march our scouts brought us word that the enemy was near in a large war party, but had no Horses with them, for at that time they had very few of them. When we came to meet each other, as usual, each displayed their numbers, weapons and shields, in which they were superior to us, except our guns which were not shown, but kept in their leathern cases, and if we had shown[them], they would have taken them for long clubs. For a long time they held us in suspense ; a Chief was forming a strong party to make an attack on our centre, and the others to enter into combat with those opposite to them.

We prepared for the battle the best we could. Those of us who had guns stood in the front line, and each of us had two balls in his mouth, and a load of powder in his left hand to reload.

We noticed they had a great many short stone clubs for close combat, which is a dangerous weapon, and had they made a bold attack on us, we must have been defeated as they were more numerous and better armed than we were, for we could have fired our guns no more than twice ; and were at a loss what to do on the wide plain, and each Chief encouraged his men to stand firm. Our eyes were all on the tall Chief and his motions, which appeared to be contrary to the advice of several old Chiefs, all this time we were about the strong flight of an arrow from each other. At length the tall chief retired and they formed their long usual line by placing their shields on the ground to touch each other, the shield having a breadth of full three feet or more. We sat down opposite to them and most of us waited for the night to make a hasty retreat. The War Chief was close to us, anxious to see the effect of our guns. The lines were too far asunder for us to make a sure shot, and we requested him to close the line to about sixty yards, which was gradually done, and lying flat on the ground behind the shields, we watched our opportunity when they drew their bows to shoot at us, their bodies were then exposed and each of us, as opportunity offered, fired with deadly aim, and either killed, or severely wounded, every one we aimed at.

The War Chief was highly pleased, and the Snake Indians finding so many killed and wounded kept themselves behind their shields ; the War Chief then desired we would spread ourselves by two’s throughout the line, which we did, and our shots caused consternation and dismay along their whole line. The battle had begun about Noon, and the Sun was not yet half down, when we perceived some of them had crawled away from their shields, and were taking to flight.

https://archive.org/stream/davidthompsonsna00thom/davidthompsonsna00thom_djvu.txt

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