Tools & Weapons 
of the Plains Indians














            Indians had many types of weapons from guns, bows, lances, axes, war clubs and knives. Warriors carried their scalping knives, but they didn’t always take axes on war parties. Blackfoot warrior Weasel Head recalled, ”we carried no axes on war parties. But our sharp scalping knives were as useful as any axe could be.” A warrior would take knives, shields (when on horseback), clubs, and/or tomahawks, bows, lances, and guns. They might also carry a powder horn, and a possible bag for balls and patches or bullets. They also had a rawhide case for clothing and gear such as war bonnets, quirts, sinew, awls, war paint bags, extra moccasins, pipes and tobacco, robes and blankets. 


             Hunting was the primary way that Plains Indians got food for their people. They hunted big game like buffalo, elk, deer, and antelope or small game like rabbits. The Plains Indian tribes wanted guns, but did not use them while hunting buffalo from horseback. Their shots were more accurate with a bow and arrow or a lance.


             The Plains Indians had become a horse and bison culture by the 1800’s. They learned how to adapt to the land, and follow the buffalo. For the plains tribes warfare was a regular part of life. A young plains Indian could never expect to become a man unless he engaged in warfare. It was important to protect their territory and hunting grounds. They became adept at moving villages and processing large amounts of meat. A woman could butcher three buffalo a day. But even a skilled woman needed someone to help her with the meat, because a man could easily kill more than three buffalo on a hunting day.


              The most important meat in their diet was the buffalo. People ate the liver, kidney, heart, tongue, eyes, testicles, marrow from the bones, and cuts of meat. The meat was dried and preserved or eaten right after the kill often raw. The meat was dried and then pounded with hammers. Wild choke cherry juice was boiled with crushed meat bones. After this mixture cooled, the grease was skimmed off and mixed with the dried meat. Pemmican made this way could last for months and was easy to carry.  


               The Plains Indians had to have sturdy and effective weapons and tools.  They had to use the resources that were available in their area.  They made tools and weapons from the stones: they couldn’t rely on always being able to find the right wood for tools.  They did not yet have the technology to use metal.  The tools and weapons were very efficient.  To research about Plains Indians and their weapons and tools, I visited a local man who has been collecting and finding Indian artifacts for forty years.  Mr. Dudney has many types of arrowheads in his collection.  He has found many of the arrowheads around Rossville and the Cross Creek and Kansas River area.  He looks around a water source and along high ground where a campsite would not have been flooded.  He usually goes searching after the farmers have tilled the ground.  He looks for flint chips along the ground.  He says to always keep your eyes open, because you never know what you might find.




Arrowheads are found in many sizes, shapes, materials and colors.  How the arrowhead looks depends on the culture that made it, the area, the material, and the intended use of it. Certain types of arrowheads are, however, more commonly found in some parts of the country than in others, depending on the availability of stone, the obsidian arrowhead and gem point made of agate, jasper and the mere colorful stones are far more common in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest, where these materials are more abundant.  In northern Colorado, by contrast, obsidian deposits are difficult to find.  An arrowhead made of petrified wood would probably be more common in Arizona, New Mexico or Colorado, than a Great Plains state.  An arrowhead made of quartzite might be found in almost every state, because it is one of the most commonly available materials.  Chert is also commonly found in many areas.




The parts of an arrowhead consist of the point, body and base.  The bevel is the slope or slant of the surface or face of the edge of the arrowhead at each side.  Their notch type categorizes arrowheads.  The notching of an arrowhead makes it different from other arrowheads.  Arrowheads are classified into seven categories: side notched, bottom notched, corner notched, corner and bottom notched, side and bottom notched, stemmed and bottom notched, and notchless triangular or notchless stemmed. Most tips are the same, other than the flaking pattern.




The materials that arrowheads and knives are made of are very hard, the harder the stone the better the point or blade will be.  The Indians did not have steel or hard metal to gouge out hard stone; many people thought that a strange process was used to make the tools.  Material for points are found in natural pebbles found along creeks or it is broken from rocky ledges of flint, novaculite, jasper, chalcedony, chert obsidian, or other hard brittle stone.  A piece is held in the left hand and struck a curving blow with a hammer-stone.  The hammer-stone trims off the chips on one-sided at a time, or both as the nature of the stone and its shape dictates.  Chipping the stone requires directing the blow in the right direction and using the right amount of force.  The blow causes a shell –shaped chip to come off. The chipping process continues until the stone is takes its general shape.  To finish the process a bone or antler-chipping tool is used to press off a small flake. It takes great skill to cut in the barbs of the edge.


Pressing out a small chip, turning the blade over and pressing in on the other side, does this.  The process is kept up by alternating the direction of the chipping, from side to side, until the notch is deep enough.  Many products were ruined before they were finished, because flint breaks so easily.




The stunner is a type of arrowhead.  Mr. Dudney said the stunner was used to stun an animal that the hunter did not want to kill.  Some tribes did not believe in killing certain animals, like an eagle.  An eagle might be stunned so that feathers could be collected.  But some collectors think the stunner was used hafted onto a short shaft and used as a knife, gouge, or scraper for removing marrow from bone.




A poison point arrowhead could be any arrowhead that was used to poison an animal as well as pierce its skin.  Most poison points were notchless an triangular shaped so the arrowhead could detach easily and remain in the wound in case the shaft of the arrow should be jarred lose or fall.  The arrowhead would be soaked in rattlesnake venom or decayed meat.  Some people speculate that another method of poisoning was to imbed an arrowhead in an animal liver and the place it on an anthill, while the liver decayed, ants would bite into it.




The birdbpoint arrowhead gets its name from its small size and that it was thought to be used to hunt birds an other small prey.  At one time, all small arrowheads were called birdpoints.  But a small arrowhead if properly placed can kill a large animal.  This would be true, especially if several birdpoints were shot into the animal.




A scraper could be used to clean a hide, bones and other similar materials in the making of food, clothing or weapons.  Any good-sized piece of flint material could be used as a scraper.  A thumb scraper usually has a perfect place for the thumb to fit.  It is usually no beige than a fifty-cent coin.




The knife was an essential tool used for cutting meat, hides, wood and food.  It could also be a formidable weapon.  A knife was a weapon, tool and eating and cooking utensil all in one.  An Indian could use it to put up dwelling, mend moccasins an clothing, make arrows, skin animals, clean fish, build traps, scrape hides, take scalps.  It never left the Indian’s side.  It was either carried around the neck on a rawhide string or sheathed at his side.  This simple instrument could be crucial in a life or death struggle with man, beast or the elements.  Mr. Dudney has a tang knife.  He said that it was one of his favorite finds.  He took it to the Kansas State Historical Museum and they identified it.  It was worn around a male Indians neck on a piece of rawhide. It was a utility knife, like a pocketknife.  Mr. Dudney found the base of the knife.  Every year he returns to the field where he found it, hoping to find the tip of the knife.





The maul was made from river rocks.  It was grooved for hafting onto a handle and used like an ax.  It is different from an ax, because it has a blunt or rounded end.  It can weigh from one to twenty pounds.  Mr. Dudney told a funny story about his wife and his hammer.  She asked hm what it was and he told her about it.  He came home one day and found her using it to hammer in nails.  She said she couldn’t find a regular hammer.  He asked her “What the hell are you doing?”  He couldn’t believe she would do that.




A shaft straightener is used to straighten the shaft of the arrow.  The shaft is usually made from branches of wild cherry, birch, ash, chokecherry or willow trees.  This wood is harder and more durable that others.  The braches usually weren’t perfectly straight and had knots.  The shaft straightener was used to smooth out the imperfections and make it straight.  It was usually made of sandstone, because it is abrasive.  Mr. Dudney’s shaft straighteners is doughnut shaped.  Running the ring up and down the shaft until it was perfect used it.




The grinding stone is usually made out of a smooth well worn river rock, because it would be more comfortable to use and not hurt a woman’s hands. It could be used for long hours and not cause a lot of discomfort.  It is usually oblong and 4 to 6 inches lond and 3 to 4 inches wide.  It was used to grind corn, berries, or seeds to be used for cooking. Mr. Dudney’s grinding stone was unbelievably smooth, from being used so much.




Pipes are an important symbol to the American Indian.  It is used for both secular and ceremonial purposes.  It was usually brought out for group functions like, war rallies, trading, ritual dances, healing ceremonies, marriage negotiations, or to settle a dispute.  Tobacco was considered a gift from the supernatural powers to man.  The smoke from the pipe would carry the prayers to their destination.  Pipes were made from catlinite or pipestone. In the United States it can only be found in Wisconsin or Minnesota.  The Dakota Sioux gained control of the mining of pipestone in the 1700’s. Therefore, pipestone could only be acquired with permission from the Sioux. 

Mr. Dundey’s pipe was brought to this area by the French explorers to trade.  The Kansas State Historical Museum verified its authenticity.  Part of the pipe is broken off.  Mr. Dudney keeps looking for the rest of the pipe.




A friend gave Mr Dudney this artifact.  The friend told him that his great-great grandmother was a friend with a little Ute girl that stayed at the cabin during the winter.  The little girl was sick and had been left with the white family for the winter.  In the spring, her family came back to get her.  As a gift of thanks the white family was given the war club.  The club has a horses tail tied to it and the handle is covered with leather and the end is a round rock with leather.  The rock is about the size of a baseball.  It is special piece in his collection.


It is always exciting to find an Indian artifact.  It is a mystery to think about who had made the arrowhead or how was the knife used.  Exploring an ancient culture and learning its history has been interesting.  Keep looking at the ground and sifting through dirt because you never know who has been there before and what they may have left.




Moulton, Candy V. Everyday Life Among the American Indians, Cincinnati, Ohio, Writer’s Digest Books, 2001.

Yeager, C. G. Arrowheads & Stone Artifacts A Practical Guide for the Amateur Archaeologist, Boulder, Colorado, Pruett Publishing Company, 1986

Parker, Arthur C. The Indian How Book, New York, Dover Publications, Inc. 1954

Dudney, Pete. Personal Interview. 30 October 2002. Jordan McKenzie. In person Interview

Friedhoff, B. “Tools and Weaponry of the Frontiersman and Indian” The American SmorgasBoard. 1997. (4 Nov. 2002)

Kansas State Historical Society. “Cool Things” Indian Pipe and Pipe Bag. 2001 (4 Nov. 2002)


Jordan McKenzie

8th Plains History