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Old 25th April 2017, 05:01 PM   #1
Jim McDougall
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Default Use of swords in American Indian tribes

I just noticed in the illustration of the Mohican (Mahican) chief posted by David, and holding an impressive ball head war club, he is also wearing a sword which appears to have a karabela type hilt.

This brought to mind the question, why would an American Indian chief be wearing a sword?

A little research noted that this particular chief , Etow oh Koom, while actually Mahican, was one of four chiefs who were taken to England to visit Queen Anne in 1710. This was effectively done by Jan Schuyler, a key figure in Dutch New York, as a diplomatic gesture in coordinating alliances versus the French.

Apparently the four chiefs (the others were all Mohawk), had their portraits painted by as many as three artists. This painting of Etow oh Koom was by Dutch artist Jan Verelst. The items held by these chiefs seem to have been provided by the artists or patrons, and included bow and arrows, a musket and other items including this sword.

It is unclear whether the Native American weapons were brought by the chiefs themselves or had been collected by the Dutch, however the European weapons were of course clearly 'props' (or perhaps diplomatic gifts).
The sword is classified by one reference as an English dress sword, but the style as noted is curiously with karabela hilt, not a form typical in English swords, but East European.

I recall some time ago in a photo of an American Indian chief, I believe Sioux and from around 1870, he was in his lodge, but on the wall behind him was of all things, a Japanese katana! This of course brought all kinds of wild ideas into play....it would have been odd enough to see a sword among Indian weapons.....but a katana?

I later found that he had been one of a group of chiefs who went to Washington DC in a diplomatic venture, and apparently he was gifted this katana which had been among items given by a Japanese embassy earlier. I cannot recall the details, but this was one case of a sword in Indian context.

It appears that swords were present in various cases, but they seem to be more symbolic of leadership or status, and not ever used as weapons.

It would be interesting to look into the presence of swords among American Indian tribes, as obviously they had considerable contact from the earliest European arrivals through the colonial and westward expansion times .
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Old 25th April 2017, 05:43 PM   #2
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Thumbs up Samurai swords in the Old West

I have always liked the photos presented in Peter Bleed, Indians and Japanese Swords on the North Plains Frontier, Nebraska History 68 (1987): 112 - 115
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Old 25th April 2017, 06:00 PM   #3
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Very interesting post . From contemporary illustrations it seems common for native Americans to adopt 'trophy' clothing from killed or captured westerners so it seems logical that status weapons such as swords would also have been taken .. so where are the pictures depicting suchlike ? I shall trawl through my books !
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Old 25th April 2017, 06:02 PM   #4
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Well observed, Jim.
Not only is the hilt of the sword the chief is wearing identifiable; the entire sword is clearly Ottoman work of the latter 17th century, right down to the belt.
Pity more period portraits aren't as well-drawn and detailed as this one.

Ottoman weapons weren't common but they were known (and sought after) in W. Europe. Plenty of W. Europeans traded with or fought the Ottomans in Eastern Europe, notably Captain John Smith (1580-1631) of Jamestown (and Pocahontas) fame.
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Old 25th April 2017, 07:10 PM   #5
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Default Karabella.

Salaams All ~ It is amazing to see the Ottoman sword on the Warrior Chief...Please see http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/showthread.php?t=5640 for examples of this weapon of Othmanli fame.
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Old 25th April 2017, 08:08 PM   #6
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Hi,
Sioux chief Yellow Hair. C1900? ( Looks like it might be a Blucher 1811 )
Regards,
Norman.
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Old 25th April 2017, 08:10 PM   #7
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Blackfoot warrior.
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Old 25th April 2017, 08:21 PM   #8
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Dog Child with Katana?, Blackfoot tribe, who served in the Northwest Mounted Police.
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Old 25th April 2017, 08:24 PM   #9
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Brave Sword, Blackfoot tribe C1885. This one and the one in post 7 could be the same sword, photographers prop?
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Old 25th April 2017, 11:18 PM   #10
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There is the "sword of the turtle people" from British Columbia.
A kastane that apparently was brought over by the Spanish.

http://infotel.ca/newsitem/similkame...ral-bc/it29759http://infotel.ca/newsitem/similkame...ral-bc/it29759
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Old 26th April 2017, 12:04 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by machinist
There is the "sword of the turtle people" from British Columbia.
A kastane that apparently was brought over by the Spanish.

http://infotel.ca/newsitem/similkame...ral-bc/it29759http://infotel.ca/newsitem/similkame...ral-bc/it29759
Interesting story .
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Old 26th April 2017, 02:25 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Norman McCormick
Blackfoot warrior.
Hi Norman,
This sword looks very similar to a sword in the Glenbow museum in Calgary. It might be the same one. This is a Solingen bladed British cavalry sword with a 1821 light cavalry officer's hilt. I will include the museum description.

Jeff
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Old 26th April 2017, 03:08 AM   #13
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Although to my knowledge there has never been a picture of this sword in the hands of a Sioux or other tribal chief; the Fetterman Massacre Sword was doubtless carried by its captor.

The Fetterman Massacre may well put the debacle at Little Bighorn to the blush.
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Old 26th April 2017, 03:11 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by machinist
There is the "sword of the turtle people" from British Columbia.
A kastane that apparently was brought over by the Spanish.

http://infotel.ca/newsitem/similkame...ral-bc/it29759http://infotel.ca/newsitem/similkame...ral-bc/it29759
Well the world really is a small place. I haven't seen this article before but I have seen this kastane before. In around 2006 I ran into a gentleman who said he found this sword with a metal detector on a historic ranch about 7 miles from where I live. I told him that it was a kastane, he didn't believe me . He seemed sincere. So out of curiosity over the years I have dug into it a little. The Spanish connection in the article is possible but I always thought it got here by trade. This area was first explored by Europeans in the early 1800's by the Pacific Fur Company. Other companies operated in this area as well. I suspected this sword was a trade item brought here by one of the companies from the surplus stock of a European manufacturer. This seems to be bore out as I came across this inventory from the Rocky Mountain Outfit that operated east of here.
https://user.xmission.com/~drudy/mtm...l/rmo1836.html
The "12 dragon Swords" listed would have been a perfect description of the original Kastane. I always meant to tell him this but I never ran into him again.

Jeff
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Old 26th April 2017, 11:59 AM   #15
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I second your doubts.
Spaniards were never in "control" of Ceylon ( Sri Lanka). Portuguese, then Dutch, then. ( post 1802) British.

AFAIK, the D -guard of kastane was introduced by the Dutch, but those did not venture into British Columbia.

The easiest explanation would involve a Brit , military or otherwise
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Old 26th April 2017, 12:50 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ariel
... AFAIK, the D -guard of kastane was introduced by the Dutch, but those did not venture into British Columbia...
I would elect this sword grip as being the most bizarre introduction to Kastane typology, whether it was a Ceylonese smith who made it or such modification found its way while travelling to America.
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Old 26th April 2017, 01:11 PM   #17
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An interesting topic Jim, its a shame there are not more posts about Native American weapons on the forum, especially as so many members reside in America...

Here are images from Oldman's early 20th century Catalogue of Ethographical Specimens, that shows a Plains ? Indian sword. It doesn't look like just an old European sword ... I wonder if the early colonists in North America included basic sword blades in their native trade goods inventory along with knife blades, axes, spear points, beads, mirrors etc ?

Regards.
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Old 26th April 2017, 01:38 PM   #18
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see 'red sun' 1971 - charles bronson/toshiro mifune/unrsula andress, wild west, katanas, samurai, comanches, got it all... sword sent by emperor to the president gets stolen in a train robbery, samurai mifune teams up with bronson to recover the sword and the rest of the looted stuff. many bad people succumb to the samurai's katana. Red Sun

p.s. - mifune's katana winds up stuck in a corn field maybe the black feet found it - (my family is in part, alabama black foot)
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Old 26th April 2017, 02:21 PM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by colin henshaw
... I wonder if the early colonists in North America included basic sword blades in their native trade goods inventory along with knife blades, axes, spear points, beads, mirrors etc ?...
No doubt about that, Colin; the world has always been a society of trade. With a glimpse at Spanish XVI century History, you will read that Atahualpa Inca warriors used to pay Pizarro soldiers 1500 gold coins for a horse, 60 for a quartillo (pint) of whine, 50 for a Spanish sword, etc. Certainly this was not an isolated case; only that not all New World natives used to swim in gold.


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Old 26th April 2017, 04:25 PM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lee

Lee, thank you so much for this linked article, which in seeing it is exactly the one I was thinking of, and it was Peter Bleed that I was talking with as we discussed the circumstances of these swords being with American Indians some years back.
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Old 26th April 2017, 04:48 PM   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kronckew
see 'red sun' 1971 - charles bronson/toshiro mifune/unrsula andress, wild west, katanas, samurai, comanches, got it all... sword sent by emperor to the president gets stolen in a train robbery, samurai mifune teams up with bronson to recover the sword and the rest of the looted stuff. many bad people succumb to the samurai's katana. Red Sun

p.s. - mifune's katana winds up stuck in a corn field maybe the black feet found it - (my family is in part, alabama black foot)

I always loved this movie!! and it was such a fantastic confluence of cultures between the Samaurai and the 'cowboy'/gunfighter of the west. When I first became interested in the actual levels of sword use by American Indians, and seeing that katana in Red Cloud's possession this movie was my first thought.
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Old 26th April 2017, 05:38 PM   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by colin henshaw
An interesting topic Jim, its a shame there are not more posts about Native American weapons on the forum, especially as so many members reside in America...

Here are images from Oldman's early 20th century Catalogue of Ethographical Specimens, that shows a Plains ? Indian sword. It doesn't look like just an old European sword ... I wonder if the early colonists in North America included basic sword blades in their native trade goods inventory along with knife blades, axes, spear points, beads, mirrors etc ?

Regards.
Thank you Colin,
That Oldman catalog is a goldmine! and while I don't have it, I wish I did.
According to Colin Taylor ("Native American Weapons" 2001, p.121) swords were sold to the Eastern Woodlands Indians as early as the 17th c. but these were usually held as weapons of rank .
Apparantly in other cases, particularly in 1820s onward, many swords, mostly surplus British M1796 light cavalry sabres, were sold in America. One key outlet was the Bordeaux Trading Post in Nebraska, but is unclear just how these were diffused, and trade was much more erratic than following set trade routes.
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Old 26th April 2017, 06:38 PM   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jeff D
Well the world really is a small place. I haven't seen this article before but I have seen this kastane before. In around 2006 I ran into a gentleman who said he found this sword with a metal detector on a historic ranch about 7 miles from where I live. I told him that it was a kastane, he didn't believe me . He seemed sincere. So out of curiosity over the years I have dug into it a little. The Spanish connection in the article is possible but I always thought it got here by trade. This area was first explored by Europeans in the early 1800's by the Pacific Fur Company. Other companies operated in this area as well. I suspected this sword was a trade item brought here by one of the companies from the surplus stock of a European manufacturer. This seems to be bore out as I came across this inventory from the Rocky Mountain Outfit that operated east of here.
https://user.xmission.com/~drudy/mtm...l/rmo1836.html
The "12 dragon Swords" listed would have been a perfect description of the original Kastane. I always meant to tell him this but I never ran into him again.

Jeff
Jeff, its fantastic to have you here on this, we don't hear from you nearly often enough here! It truly is a small world, and this information on what is clearly a kastane is phenomenal. Especially remarkable is that excellent bit of research with the 1836 records describing 'dragon swords'. I think that pretty compellingly describes the kastane!

As far as these arriving in British Columbia via Spanish means, I would doubt that being the case and am inclined to think these might have arrived via possibly British trade, which likely acquired them in some means via Dutch conduit.
There are any number of possibilities for that conundrum, however what is clearly apparent is this item, said to be of the 'Turtle People' (probably a clan name of tribe not specified), is indeed a kastane.
It does appear of the character of these swords, with likely a Dutch hanger blade of 18th century, as many of these were assembled with for the Dutch East Indies trade. What is puzzling is how it came to be in British Columbia and not singly, but in a grouping of a dozen.

As noted, the Spanish had little to do with Ceylon, however one of the earliest examples we have found of the kastane hilt in its well known zoomorphic motif is the one found in Sendai, Japan's holdings.
This was from the Keicho Embassy sent by Masemune 1613-1620 to a number of countries, which included a visit to King Philip III in Spain in 1615.
Tsunemaga of this embassy was apparently presented with several items including the kastane (which he had from source unclear).
The reason for this appears to have been it was unlawful to present Spanish weapons to foreign visitors so this was given in lieu.

That would appear to be the entirety of Spanish connection to the kastane swords.

The stories of Spanish 'conquistadors' seems to have been embellished throughout North American folklore into virtually every corner of the continent. However, they do make for absolutely fascinating research and investigation.

All very best regards, and again thank you for this outstanding entry!

Jim
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Old 26th April 2017, 07:13 PM   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rick
Although to my knowledge there has never been a picture of this sword in the hands of a Sioux or other tribal chief; the Fetterman Massacre Sword was doubtless carried by its captor.

The Fetterman Massacre may well put the debacle at Little Bighorn to the blush.
Rick,
Thank you for this, what an incredibly historic sword, and with intriguing and mysterious stories. Apparently this was a Staff & Field officers sabre with blade by Clauberg (Solingen) presented to Lt. George Grummond by his fellow officers in Tennessee (14th Mich. Inf.) in 1863.

This was apparently used in combat at the Fetterman battle Dec. 21, 1866 and indeed taken by a warrior after Grummond fell. It is unknown who or which with tribe the sword was kept, but it was with either Lakota, Cheyenne or Arapaho. It was surrendered to U.S. years later.

It is noted in an auction description that it is alleged that an American Indian warrior named 'Hurts the Enemy' changed his name to 'sword owner' or to that effect. It is unclear how the sword lost the guard, whether damaged or removed, but likely it was used a the ceremonial or status oriented manner, symbolic of power .
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Old 26th April 2017, 07:25 PM   #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jeff D
Hi Norman,
This sword looks very similar to a sword in the Glenbow museum in Calgary. It might be the same one. This is a Solingen bladed British cavalry sword with a 1821 light cavalry officer's hilt. I will include the museum description.

Jeff
Hi Jeff,
I am wondering if this M1821 might have had anything to do with Canadian military use. These were among others quite heavily used among these units, though it would seem there would be markings in accord with that.
It is interesting how tribal traditions and accounts can sometimes be melded into unusual renditions, and absorbed into those of other monumental events such as the Little Big Horn.
As far as I have ever found, there were no swords at LBH, and actually Custer and his men had left their sabres at Ft. Abraham Lincoln. By this time, there was little use of the sword by U.S. cavalry in campaign during the Indian Wars.

Still, regardless of how acquired, the fact is that swords were most definitely present among American Indian tribes and although " ..seldom employed in actual warfare " (Taylor, 2001. p55) they were used symbolically.

All best regards
Jim
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Old 26th April 2017, 07:30 PM   #26
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I just wanted to thank everyone for so much great response on this thread!!
Sorry for the blast of entries, but I wanted to respond as much as possible directly to these most important entries and outstanding support.
This is a fascinating topic and I hope we keep the entries coming as we learn more. I have some advantage in material from research some time ago, so I am glad to share as much as I can here, along with the material you guys are bringing in.
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Old 26th April 2017, 09:31 PM   #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kronckew
see 'red sun' 1971 - charles bronson/toshiro mifune/unrsula andress, wild west, katanas, samurai, comanches, got it all... sword sent by emperor to the president gets stolen in a train robbery, samurai mifune teams up with bronson to recover the sword and the rest of the looted stuff. many bad people succumb to the samurai's katana. Red Sun

p.s. - mifune's katana winds up stuck in a corn field maybe the black feet found it - (my family is in part, alabama black foot)
Great movie. I love it. a lot...
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Old 27th April 2017, 02:16 AM   #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jeff D
Well the world really is a small place. I haven't seen this article before but I have seen this kastane before. In around 2006 I ran into a gentleman who said he found this sword with a metal detector on a historic ranch about 7 miles from where I live. I told him that it was a kastane, he didn't believe me . He seemed sincere. So out of curiosity over the years I have dug into it a little. The Spanish connection in the article is possible but I always thought it got here by trade. This area was first explored by Europeans in the early 1800's by the Pacific Fur Company. Other companies operated in this area as well. I suspected this sword was a trade item brought here by one of the companies from the surplus stock of a European manufacturer. This seems to be bore out as I came across this inventory from the Rocky Mountain Outfit that operated east of here.
https://user.xmission.com/~drudy/mtm...l/rmo1836.html
The "12 dragon Swords" listed would have been a perfect description of the original Kastane. I always meant to tell him this but I never ran into him again.

Jeff
This one really has me intrigued, and I entirely agree this kastane ended up in British Columbia through trade in one way or another. What always baffles me is the often unusual or tenuous assumptions presented in news items supposedly from interviews with persons of standing in museums and such organizations.
The notion of Spanish presence in these regions has some degree of validity. There were a number of Spanish voyages to secure Spanish interests in the Pacific Northwest in the last quarter of the 18th c. and they had claimed Nootka in attempt to control these from Russian dominance. By the 1780s apparently local tribes offered both Russian and Spanish materials in their trade. The Spanish also had a fort at Vancouver for a time.

The news item claims that there was a Spanish sword of 16th century located in these areas, but unclear about this 'kastane' which they assume is Spanish. The note on the Dutch influence on the Ceylonese swords is well placed and probably correct in degree regarding the knuckleguard, and these were most often fashioned with Dutch or German hanger blades (as on this one). There were many of these with VOC blades, and brought back to the Netherlands by their ships.
So why would Spaniards have these Ceylonese swords? Possibly due to the Netherlands being under Spanish control in the 18th century.
There was considerable traffic between England and the Netherlands in these times as well.

To consider that some of these kastane, as an exotic novelty, entering British trade stores from Dutch sources, which may have travelled to America, the Dutch areas of New York seems plausible. These may have entered American Indian tribal context, which could account for the curious note that this sword was of the 'turtle people' (perhaps the Eastern Woodland tribes whose mythology and clan names were deeply rooted with turtle totemism).

This may have accounted for a transcontinental intertribal trade system/ route for this sword or swords of kastane form moving westward into these regions.

On the other hand, a Spanish arrival through trade contact in the East Indies via Asian sources might have brought these to Spanish ports in North America via Philippine routes.

What is also curious is that this kastane, while intact other than the grip alteration, would seem to be unusual, and such 'custom' alterations of what appears to be staghorn grip not too likely for as many as 12 swords of such exotic nature.

It seems the Spanish presence, though relatively limited and brief in these Northwest regions, is somewhat well established in the coastal regions. However there is really no support for more profound colonial activity inland, and the case for the armed Spanish force remains unproven. This sword (kastane) really is not instrumental for these situations as far as proof.
But it surely is interesting, and strongly suggests probable American Indian context, though circumstances unclear.
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Old 27th April 2017, 12:56 PM   #29
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Jim, could you make it more clear to me the part in which you say:
What is also curious is that this kastane, while intact other than the grip alteration, would seem to be unusual, and such 'custom' alterations of what appears to be staghorn grip not too likely for as many as 12 swords of such exotic nature.
Do you mean there is a record of circa 12 kastanes have/had their grips altered in this discussed manner ?
... For i realize this modification is a vital detail is this sword history definition; as certainly such intervention took place after leaving Sri Lanka and before getting into America; in Spain, when matching with current provenance theory.
Also interesting is the interpretation of the so called "turtle people" attribution; with one source betting this was due to incoming Spaniards wearing front and back armour (and helmet) gear, giving them a turtle look (a plausible perspective), while other remembers that by this time and place, they were no longer using such heavy armour. However i wouldn't discard the possibility that the natives would call them so becaue they were aware of their earlier outfit. A far shot would be that, the said natives were aware or told of the real origin of these swords; in fact Sri Lankan people were eentually 'a (not the) turtle people', as in their island sea turtle abunds, even kastane hilts and scabbards often being made with turtle shell.
Here we have some of the two dozen pictures published in 2013 by Cass Chowdhury, a British Columbia resident, whose professor Dr. Stanley Copp had done a fair amount of background work on this sword. Cass's task at the time was to try to narrow down the kastane's origin to a few plausible theories, or at least definitively rule some out.
It doesn't seem to me that the grip is stag horn, but a rudimentary work done with a less exoticmaterial ... wood ?


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Old 27th April 2017, 05:36 PM   #30
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Fernando, thank you so much for adding to this with excellent research, these great close up photos and most pertinent observations.
Your question on my comment regarding the alteration of this kastane is well placed, and my wording was indeed oblique.

What I meant was that regarding the 1836 inventory found by Jeff which showed 12 'dragon swords' ( compellingly suggesting the kastane) among stores supplied to this fur company. .....it does not seem they would have all been altered. It seems that the grouping of 'dragon swords' would have been noted as such for the grotesque zoomorphic creature of the pommel giving the 'dragon' term.

This example seems to have a bone hilt grip, as given the degree of goethite from age and being deposited or in conditions taking it to 'excavated' condition, and the fact it still exists. Wood I think would have been gone.

This example then may well be one which was apparently remounted with bone, and it seems well peened, more in accord with an armourer than a native remount. This suggests more use of an individual of the trade industry than a native, but it seems perhaps that the other 11 swords may have filtered into native use. Without corroborating examples it is not possible to know exactly what these dragon swords looked like, nor how many were altered.

That they were entered into inventory in original state seems likely as noted by description.

Good reference on the fact that 'turtle people' seems an early colloquial term by natives for Spaniards, for their armored countenance. However, by these times, as noted, the Spanish were typically not wearing such armor.
Oral tradition is a profoundly maintained thing among native peoples, and it does seem this term would have carried forth regardless of such detail as it no longer being worn. The term indirectly may have been broadly used to describe 'foreigners' in the manner of 'firangi' with blades in India.

One thing I have discovered in studying the Spanish in colonial situations is that they often, almost stubbornly, continued the use of long obsolete arms and armor. The main problem causing the reluctant abandoning of many items was unserviceability and lack of armourers to maintain them. The Spaniards aboard the vessels seen by natives in coastal areas may have had such armor, or even without the body armor, probably had helmets. The hard 'shell' effect would recall the turtle in native parlance.

The turtle seems well used in mythology and lore of many cultures beyond Native American, and as noted, in Asian areas as well.

Returning to the problem of how this sword, or the other 11 which we presume might have accompanied it, might have arrived in these vastly incongruent circumstances in British Columbia, we still have no solution.

As Jeff has noted, and I agree, this sword seems to have come into this context in trade circumstances rather than being a weapon from any Spanish incursion as mentioned in the news items. I am thinking more likely of Dutch-Spanish contact via trade situations in the areas in Philippines an environs, and perhaps these reaching Spanish ports in Mexico, then to Alta California and of course beyond.
I would imagine this being around 1770s as I have noted, the blade on this seems much like Dutch hanger blades of 18th century.
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