EAA Research Consultant
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Route 66
"...the lance was the favorite weapon of the Presidial soldiers in the northerm frontiers of New Spain. The use of the lance was so thoroughly engrained into the population of this region that even as late as the Mexican War the lancers were some of the most effective troops in the service of Mexico".
("Spanish Military Weapons in Colonial America 1700-1821",
S. Brinckerhoff and Pierce Chamberlain, 1972, p.108)
This is well illustrated in particular in the case of the Battle of San Pascual, August 18,1846, at a location nortn of San Diego, California (an excellent work on this is "Lances at San Pascual", Arthur Woodward, 1948).
A contingent of insurgent 'Californios' led by Don Andres Pico, clashed with U.S. First Dragoons, and the effect of the deadly lancers is described, "...almost every dragoon in the forward party suffered from the point of the willow lances".
I recall research a number of years ago with an official of an Arizona museum who was trying to locate information of lances that were apparantly made for a unit of Californio lancers who were to join Confederate forces in Arizona during the Civil War. I cannot locate notes on this at the moment, but the object was to illustrate that the lance remained a viable weapon that late.
Returning to Spanish colonial lances of the 18th century, Brinckerhoff & Chamberlain note that most extant lance blades found in the southwest appear to be products of local smiths, and the variety in shapes and sizes is almost endless (op.cit. p.108). Many were of socketed form, while many had the tang driven into the shaft.
It should be noted that in these frontier regions, even in Santa Fe, there was typically a regimental armourer/blacksmith who had a number of ironworkers and tried to keep weapons servicable, as well as meet local demands. All manner of surplus and scrap iron was used in fashioning utility items as well as lance heads among knife blades etc. It seems most of the varying forms of these items, though sturdy and workmanlike, I dont think reach the rather exalted description noted in the book cited. Personally, I think they have a rugged charm to them, as Spanish Colonial weapons have always been a fascination to me.
Many local Indian tribesmen were trained in metalwork, and according to Marc Simmons and Frank Turley ("Southwestern Colonial Ironwork", 1980, p.31) they even produced long iron tipped lances for trade with Pueblo tribes.
Though the lance remained a regulation weapon with Presidial troops, there was little uniformity in the examples used, and not all lances were confined to military use (Simmons & Turley, p.177). For the plains, the 'cibolero' or lance for buffalo hunting had a wide blade and wide tang with holes punched in tang or rags cut in edges to secure the head.
Since the Comanches seem to have entered New Mexico mostly in the Northeastern regions, apparantly in thier quest for horses, and finding these as well as other trade with the Spanish, also adopted the lance. In "Native American Weapons" (Colin F. Taylor, 2001,p.10) there is a illustration of a George Catlin painting of a Comanche warrior, His-oo-San-Ches (Little Spaniard), holding a lance with his shield and bow and arrows. It is noted that the southern plains tribes made extensive use of the lance due to contact with Spanish-Mexican soldiers, most of whom were highly skilled lancers (p.62), and that "...only a brave man carried such a weapon as it meant hand to hand combat". Interestly it is also noted on p.122 that a favorite point for lance heads was a sword blade, procured in great numbers from Mexicans, and according to Comanche informants some could be up to 30 inches long.
Could the graceful lance heads have actually been sword blades?
As for the expertise of the Spanish Colonials with the lance, according to Simmons and Turley (p.177) ; "...owing to the scarcity of firearms and a perennial shortage of lead and gunpowder, the lance remained an important weapon in the Spanish Colonies long after it had fallen into disuse elsewhere".
For the quality, it is noted that "...there is no doubt that many ordinary lance points were forged by local smiths, while those of superior workmanship in most cases were imported from the south". This would presume workshops far south of the Santa Fe center in New Mexico, probably as far as Mexico City itself.
I hope someone out there might have some examples of Spanish colonial lances or lanceheads to post. I have as noted, seen them over the years in museums and collections and most seemed quite simple. I have not seen the tomahawks mentioned though, and would like to see more on these.
All best regards,