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Old 30th September 2008, 12:11 AM   #1
chevalier
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Default spanish colonial lances

lances where used in new mexico as a mans primary weapon in new mexico right up through the early-mid 1800s as the settlers had relatively few firearms until the mid 1800s. i was wondering if anyone had seen examples of these weapons? in charles kenner's "the comanchero frontier" he writes about the new mexicans making tomahawks and lances "of unrivaled grace" and trading them to the comanches and other southern plains indians..
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Old 30th September 2008, 06:20 AM   #2
Jim McDougall
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"...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,
Jim

Last edited by Jim McDougall : 30th September 2008 at 07:14 AM.
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Old 30th September 2008, 07:01 AM   #3
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Found the Civil War info:
Apparantly it was not for the Confederate forces, but the Union, and
the unit was the 'First Battalion of Native California Cavalry', California Volunteers.
Ironically, the first choice to command the unit was to be none other than Don Andres Pico, who had led the Californios at the Battle of San Pascual.
He was unfortunately of ill health and unable to take the command.

These were Mexican/Californio vaqueros recruited in Los Angeles area, and mustered in 1863-64, and though intended to serve in Texas, they were assigned to locations in California, with some going to the Arizona/Sonora frontier. The troopers equipment was a Colt Army revolver, sabre, and a lance manufactured at the Benicia Arsenal (near San Francisco) which had a red pennon.
* I believe the red pennon may have had traditional associations to the 'deguello' or 'no quarter' familiarized in the Battle of the Alamo.

That was what the research was, trying to find one of these 'Benicia' lances. I didn't find one, but am not sure if he did or not.

Last edited by Jim McDougall : 30th September 2008 at 07:12 AM.
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Old 30th September 2008, 01:25 PM   #4
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ive reread the passage in "the comanchero frontier" dealing with the lances and it refers to the new mexican lances and tomahawks being "lighter and more graceful" than the british or american trade weapons of the day.
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Old 30th September 2008, 01:31 PM   #5
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on another point, i find it extremely interesting that the comanches where able during the period between 1800 - 1860 to raid as far south as guatemala and honduras and made almost regular forays as deep into mexico as san luis potosi and tampico.
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Old 30th September 2008, 09:26 PM   #6
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Thank you Chevalier for the extra detail on the wording in the book, which makes a great deal of sense. It seems that the British and American weapons were probably relatively heavier, especially in the polearms, as I have not seen the Spanish 'tomahawks' to guage. The British polearms were typically spontoons and some halberds I believe, which of course would not have been traded, and I dont believe either British or Americans used lances here in those times.

As has been discussed, the Spanish Colonial use of the lance was in many if not most cases a primary weapon, rather than a secondary or ancillary weapon. Its manner of use was probably much in the way used by the American Indians of southern plains, as a shorter spear or stabbing weapon. I would imagine the shafts of the Spanish lances must have been shorter than the typical lances of Europe, which were around 8 feet long or so. These were tremendously awkward in the melee, and used as a primary weapon in shock action, with movement to secondary weapons after contact. The Spaniards kept stabbing with them, in one instance narrating the Battle of San Pascual, it notes that one American dragoon was stabbed sixteen times by lance before falling.

In the Brinckerhoff & Chamberlain reference, there is no mention of tomahawks among the weapons described, which of course does not mean they did not exist in these Spanish Colonial regions, but it seems as comprehensive as the book is that they should be mentioned if of any significance. There are of course halberds and spontoons shown, and Taylor (op.cit.) notes that early 'tomahawks' were often comprised of heads of these weapons among tribes in Iroquois regions as the familiar pipe tomahawk developed. I found no specific mention of tomahawks in the Simmons and Turley reference, though one spontoon is shown and the head is more like a very large lance head, ornate, and probably from regions to the south.

You're right on the Comanches, it is truly amazing what amazing distances they travelled in thier raiding. The intensity of thier raids for horses seems to be often the key subject on them in regions all over Texas, which in my own travels across the state has come up many times. One small city has its town square and virtually the entire town history focused on a monumental Comanche horse raid there in about the 1870's if I recall.

Thank you bringing up this topic....you always bring in good ones!!!
It was great revisiting old notes and remembering how fascinating the weapons of New Spain really were!!!
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