• A tomahawk is a single-handled ax from North America.
  • It closely resembles a hatchet.
  • This multi-purpose chopping tool was familiar to both Native Americans and Colonials.
  • It could also be used as a weapon, either in hand-to-hand combat or thrown from a distance.
  • The tomahawk is thought to have been invented by the Algonquin Indians.
  • The first designs were made from flint, bound by rawhide to a wooden handle.
  • When the Europeans arrived they introduced a more effective metal blade.
  • They are usually about 2-feet long with maple, hickory, or ash handles.
  • The opposite side of the blade could form a spike, hammer, or be drilled to make a smoking-pipe.
  • The tomahawk became a popular symbol when Colonists and Native Tribes met – they could choose the pipe of peace or the ax of war!

Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch

Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch (a.k.a. The Hole in the Wall Gang)

  • The Wild Bunch Gang was founded by Butch Cassidy (Robert Leroy Parker) in a place known as Hole In The Wall, part of the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming.
  • They were the most successful train-robbing outfit in history.
  • These colorful outlaws were active from 1899-1901.
  • Although they had a large ‘body-count’ between them, these desperados claimed never to have intentionally killed an innocent by-stander.
  • Famous members – aside from Butch Cassidy – included The Sundance Kid (Henry A. Longabaugh), Kid Curry (Harry Logan), News Carver (Will Carver), and The Tall Texan (Ben Kilpatrick).
  • There were a total of 19 train-robbers who branched out into bank, stagecoach, and store heists, as well as cattle and horse rustling.
  • They were often assisted by the Bassett Sisters (Ann and Josie) who supplied them with food, fresh horses, and female company.
  • What differentiated the Wild Bunch from other gangs is their intelligent planning and good-mannered bantering.
  • The gang broke up after Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were forced to flee the United States.
  • Their fame and success ultimately attracted too much attention from the law!


Nash, Jay Robert, “The Real Butch Cassidy and His Wild Bunch,” at

Rosa, Joseph, G. Age of the Gunfighter: Man and Weapons on the Frontier, 1840-1900. Oklahoma: U of Oklahoma P, 1995.

Wikipedia, “Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch,” at


Ball Play, Stick Ball, And The Game of Lacrosse

  • Ball Play / Stick Ball was the early version of lacrosse, popular with many Native American tribes.
  • It was originally called Anetsa (“little brother of war”), and was frowned on by Christian missionaries who recognized the pagan practices and influences associated with the game.
  • Originally, huge bets were wagered on the winners – choking an opponent was a common practice – and broken limbs were expected.  These particular aspects lessened over time.
  • Ball Play was a popular spectator event and people dressed up for the occasion.
  • It was a full-contact sport that included wrestling and tackling moves.
  • The participants were young men, clothed in only a team waist-cloth, with their exposed flesh covered in bear grease.
  • An elaborate ritual took place the night before the game which involved scratching the players.  Spells were cast on the opposition to make them weak.
  • Players remained hidden while the game-director cleared a large, level plain of all sticks and stones.  Two stick-goals were set up about six hundred yards apart.
  • Teams were kept even and they numbered anywhere from 20-100 participants, though 30 warriors on each side was the average.
  • They entered the field whooping and shouting and then marched slowly to the center.
  • Each player carried a pair of ball sticks.  These were made from hickory wood and had a braided net at the end.
  • Lacrosse balls were about the size of a golf ball and were made from stuffed deer hide.
  • Before the game started, young women dashed onto the field and gave favors of belts and handkerchiefs to their champions.
  • After a lengthy speech from the game-director the ball was thrown in the air and the contest began.
  • The game was refereed by two drivers.
  • Rules were similar to that of modern-day lacrosse.
  • The first team to score 12 goals against their rivals won the competition.
  • Stick Ball was vigorous, fast, and exciting.
  • Games lasted about 2 hours, then the contestants ran to the river for an icy bath.


Finger, John R. The Eastern Band of Cherokees, 1819-1900. Tennessee: U of Tennessee P, 1984.

Wikipedia, “History of Lacrosse,” at


The Ghost Dance Prophet

Wovoka (1856 – 1932)

  • Wovoka was the Paiute religious leader who triggered The Ghost Dance Movement.
  • His white name was Jack Wilson.
  • When the prophet was orphaned as a child he was adopted by the Wilson Family – Nevada ranchers who taught him English and Christianity.
  • He left the ranch to become a tribal Holy Man.
  • Wovoka claimed he could control the weather, and several of his followers told of his miraculous deeds.  He was said to be able to light his pipe with the sun.  Some people claimed he was the new Messiah – the Native version of Jesus.
  • On January 1, 1889 Wovoka experienced a vision during a solar eclipse.
  • He saw the resurrection of their dead ancestors, and a removal of the white people from North America.
  • To bring this vision to pass, his followers had to perform a 5-day dancing and singing ritual called The Ghost Dance.
  • Some believers made special Ghost Shirts for the ceremony.  They were said to be bullet proof.
  • The prophet, however, never left Paiute land.  Followers came to him. He relied on missionary disciples to spread his teachings across the various tribes.
  • Unfortunately, this allowed his words to be misinterpreted and misrepresented.
  • Although he taught a non-violent restitution to former glory, men like Short Bull and Kicking Bear manipulated his pacifism to insight rebellion on some of the reservations.
  • The Ghost Dance gained such rapid popularity it was seen as a threat to white stability.
  • The Pine Ridge Agency was singled out as a hotbed of dissention, which culminated in the tragedy of the Wounded Knee Massacre and the end of the Ghost Dance Movement.


Brown, Dee, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Wilson)

PBS:The West, “Wovoka / Jack Wilson,” at

ViewZone, “Wovoka,” at

Wikipedia, “Wovoka,” at

“The Worst Indian Who Ever Lived”

Geronimo (1829-1909)

  • Geronimo was an Apache war leader and medicine man.
  • Although he was highly feared and respected, he was too unpopular to ever be made a chief.
  • He fought the Mexican and U.S. Armies over Apache land.
  • His hatred for Mexicans came after they murdered his mother, young wife, and three children.
  • Although he later had eight other wives, Geronimo’s legendary aggression was fuelled by this horrific crime.
  • He became one of the most brutal warriors on record and committed several infamous atrocities.
  • White settlers called him “the worst Indian who ever lived.”  In one raid he “pillaged ranches, swept up livestock, and killed randomly, torturing men in every conceivable way, roasting women alive, and tossing children into nests of needle-crowned cacti” (Cozzens, 385).
  • Geronimo’s followers believed he had supernatural powers, including prophecy and magical protection.  Rifles jammed when trying to shoot him, and anyone riding with him was also protected from bullets.  It was said he could make rain, and stop the sun from rising.
  • During the Apache wars he “surrendered” three times and was sent to a reservation in Arizona.  Each time he escaped.
  • After his third breakout in 1885 he was exiled to Florida.
  • In later life the war leader became a celebrity, appearing in President Theodore Roosevelt’s inaugural parade, and signing autographs at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.
  • He died in the Fort Sill hospital of pneumonia following a riding accident.
  • Chatto (an Apache leader) said, “I have known Geronimo all my life up to his death and have never known anything good about him.”
  • Lieutenant Britton Davis (U.S Army) called him a “thoroughly vicious, intractable, and treacherous man,” whose only redeeming qualities were “courage and determination” (Cozzens, 380).


Cozzens, Peter. The Earth Is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West (New York: Knopf, 2016)

History Lists, “7 Things You may Not Know About Geronimo,” at

Wikipedia, “Geronimo,” at


Peyote Medicine

Peyote Medicine.

  • Peyote comes from a small, spineless cactus that produces the psychedelic compound, mescaline.
  • The Spanish word peyote translates into glistening.
  • In the Nahuatl language peyote means  Divine Messenger.
  • Native Americans have used peyote in their spiritual ceremonies for at least 5,500 years.
  • This cactus is native to Mexico and Southern Texas.
  • It blossoms from March – May, sometimes blooming into September.
  • The flowers are pink, white, yellowish, or reddish in color.
  • After blooming, a small pink fruit appears.  This is edible and contains black, pear-shaped seeds.
  • The plant produces little buttons that contain hallucinogenic properties.  These are chewed or boiled to make a bitter tea.
  • Native Americans also use peyote for medicinal purposes: fevers, tooth complaints, skin diseases, rheumatism, colds, diabetes, and to aid in childbirth.
  • During religious ceremonies this plant is said to induce a mystical experience, whereby the users feel a special connection to God – the Great Mystery.
  • Peyote is both a practical and a spiritual medicine.

Sources:, “Peyote,” at

Native American Churches, “The Sacrament (Peyote) Ceremony,” at

Wikipedia, “Peyote,” at