Subject: x'igaa káa warrior
Culture: Tlingit (Kolosh)
Setting: Russian-Tlingit warfare, Northwest Coast 1802-1867
Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)
* von Aderkas ill. Hook 2005 p5
"[The Tlingit] were a warlike tribe, intent on expanding their territory; they absorbed lands belonging to the Eyak, their neighbors to the north, and periodically fought with the Tsimshian. When Russian fur traders moved on to the Coast in the late 18th century they met fierce resistance from the Tlingit. The tribes refused to trade with them, burned down trading posts and attacked Russian forts. Their aggression was a contributing factor to the Russian decision to withdraw from fur trading on the Coast, and eventually sell Alaska to the Americans."
* Gibson 1976 p12-13
"The Koloshes tenaciously resisted Russian encroachment. New Archangel was situated in the very midst of the Koloshes, who were more numerous and better organized than the Aleuts, owing mainly to the rich environment of the temperate rainforest. The Koloshes were especially numerous on Baranof Island in the herring (spring) and salmon (summer) fishing seasons; during the 1820s up to 2000 Koloshes assembled in Sitka Bay every spring to fish. In 1851 Governor Nicholas Rosenberg (1850-53) told the head office that 'no fewer than 500 well-armed savage Koloshes, who are always ready to take advantage of our negligence, live right by our settlement [New Archangel].' They were also more aggressive than the Aleuts, particularly after they began to obtain liquor and guns, including cannons, from American and British traders from the mid-1790s. The Koloshes even managed to capture New Archangel in 1802, and they prepared to attack the capital in 1809 and again in 1813. As late as 1855 they destroyed Ozyorsk Redoubt and beseiged New Archangel; the Russians suffered some two dozen dead and wounded and the Koloshes up to 80 dead and wounded. Like the Chukchi, the Koloshes were never fully subjugated to the tsar, and they remained a threat throughout Alaska's Russian period. So it was not without reason that the Russian-American Company classified them as 'completely independent.' At the same time the company became dependent upon the Koloshes for provisions such as halibut, yamanina (wild mutton), potatoes, wildfowl, berries, and roots.
"The Koloshes were sometimes incited against the Russians by Yankee skippers, who offered formidable competition ...."
* Fitzhugh & Crowell 1988 p61
"Wars or lawsuits -- there was no distinction in Tlingit language -- were fought or prosecuted by clans, not by individuals or tribes, although several clans, even from different tribes, might join as allies. Any injury to a person or property of a clan member required compensation, the amount usually having been determined by consultation between the chiefs. In a serious case the whole clan was held responsible for damages if the defendant and his close kin could not make compensation. Most cases were settled by payment of property, but a killing, even if accidental, sometimes led to a feud, which ended only when the losses were evened. ...
"Feuds within a tribe or village were usually settled quickly because relatives on both sides pressed for settlement, but wars between clans in distant villages were savage and sometimes lasted for years, even breaking out again after peace settlements. The Tlingit war party traveled in large war canoes, the chief or his designated nephew directing from the bow and an elderly matron of rank steering. Warriors were equipped with daggers, spears, bows and arrows, and war clubs. ... Attacks were planned to surprise the enemy in their beds at night. The heads of slain warriors were taken as trophies, and women and children were often enslaved."
* Far North 1973 p166
"The Tsimshian ... remember a protracted period of conflict in which the Tlingit forced them out of their settlements along this coast [British Columbia]. For a while the Tsimshian went back up the Skeena in order to be safe from further Tlingit attacks. Shortly before European contact, the Tsimshian fought their way down the Skeena, pushing the Tlingits ahead of them along the coast of southeastern Alaska."
* National Museum of the American Indian Heye Center > Listening to Our Ancestors
"Lingit Latseen: Strength of Body, Mind, and Spirit Tlingit warriors were taught from an early age by their maternal uncles. Explorers and traders who visited southeast Alaska in the 1800s often reported seeing hundreds of young men bathing in the frigid waters in front of villages. They were taught not only to be physically strong but in their minds and spirit -- a code embodied in Lingit Latseen."
* Waldman & Braun 2000 p147
"Katlian was the principal chief of the Sitka band of Tlingit. In 1802, he led an attack on the Russian settlement of New Archangel (Sitka) on what came to be called Baranof Island, killing 20 Russians and 130 Aleut and taking back the pelts he hunted on Tlingit lands. His warriors held the post for two years ...".
* Fitzhugh & Crowell 1988 p77
"From the south, via the Haida, British and Americans offered supplies of weapons, firearms and powder, even cannon, should the Tlingit mount an effort to oust the Russians. In fact, contemporary Russian sources considered the outbreak of hostilities between the Russians and the Tlingit a direct result of British and American meddling. Whatever the cause, whatever the trigger of the conflict, when it erupted the Tlingit initially had the upper hand.
"In spite of the existing tension, Medvednikov, in charge at the post of St. Michael the Archangel at Sitka, felt himself secure. In the spring of 1802, he dispatched most of his men to Frederic Sound to hunt sea otters. Others were sent out to hunt sea lions and seals for food. Only 21 men remained at the unfinished fort, with its palisade not yet completed. On Sunday, June 18, 1802, most of the men were fishing, hunting, or resting. About 12 men were in the main building when the Tlingits attacked in force. Several American sailors are said to have fought on the Tlingit side. Tlingit leader Katlian led the attack. There were few survivors. The fort was burned. ... In the meantime, near Angoon, a party commanded by Urbanov was attacked by the Tlingit and almost wiped out."
* Chevigny 1965 p145
"[T]he settlment at Ilyamna Bay was surprised by the natives and there was a massacre.
"Speaking of massacre, the reason for much of it is that the Bostonians trade guns for skins and the Kolosh eagerly acquire them."
* Chevigny 1965 p155 (quoting Nikolai Rezanov)
"[The Kolosh] appear to be subdued, but for how long? They have been furnished by the Boston traders with the finest guns and pistols and they have even acquired a few falconets. All along the Sound they have built forts. The fierceness and treachery they have already shown teach us all the greatest caution in dealing with them."
* Krause 1956 p172 (writing in 1885)
"The general use of firearms has ... caused a change in fighting methods, since the old armor which protected against daggers and arrows is of no use against bullets." [CONTRA von Aderkas ill. Hook 2005 p45, Waldman & Braun 2000 p147]
Armor (Helmet, Hide & Coin Cuirass, Rod & Slat Cuirass)
* Bancroft-Hunt 1995 p188
"A Tlingit war party was impressive. Each fighter wore a heavy elkskin tunic beneath an armored breastplate of wood slats or rods, painted with the crest figures by which he was inspired, and above a collar or visor which covered his face towered a massive wooden helmet carved and painted to represent a war animal or bird, or a human face depicting a shamanic spirit. Such figures step straight from the mists of mythical time and are endowed with supernatural strength[.] They are no longer human, transformed instead into seven foot giants whose terrifying visages are intended to strike fear into the hearts of their opponents. These masked warriors invoked the power of the shamans who guided and protected them, and their helmets may relate to the northern use of decoy hats to lure their victims to the hunters' weapons."
* Krause 1956 p145-146 (writing in 1885)
"In former times the customary garb for war consisted of thick leather armor worn, according to Dixon, in several layers. Of the five specimens which we brought back, one, kēk-ke, reaches to the knees, the others, chlǔch-tschí-nē, are shorter and cover only the upper body. One of the latter, obviously of recent make, is cut like a jacket without sleeves and is buttoned down the front with brass buttons; the second consists of separate breast and shoulder pieces, the latter being fastened front and back like a broad packstrap. The left one of these packstraps is attached both front and back to the breast piece by means of wooden pegs which are put through loops. The breast piece itself is fastened in the front by means of thong lacings which are drawn through a row of eyelets. These were made by drawing strips of leather through cuts like buttonholes and knotting them on the inside. A similar loop is found on the left side of the breast, probably to slip through a knife."
* Crowell 2010 p214
"Tlingit warriors wore battle helmets depicting crest animals or ancestors, along with wooden visors, thick leather tunics, and body armor made of wooden rods or slats. They armed themselves with bows and arrows, spears, clubs, and daggers."
* McNab 2010 p200-202
"The early accounts of settlers in the Northwestern region reveal very sophisticated types of armour indeed. Tlingit warriors observed in the late eighteenth century, for example, wore entire suits made from wooden slats stitched together with thick cord or rawhide. This flexible system sometimes protected the warrior from his neck to his ankles, and included arm protection also, while the entire head was encased in a solid wood helmet -- vision came via a thin eye-slit in the front. Thus protected, the Tlingit would have been hard targets to wound or kill, not least because the wooden armour was worn over the top of a thick leather coat. In fact, stories from around this period state that the Tlingit armour was even capable of stopping a musket ball at relatively close range. A Russian account of 1792 observed that Russian troops engaging the Tlingit fired directly at the helmets to achieve penetration."
* Oberg 1973 p10
"The Tlingit ... used armor made by lacing yew wood sticks, the thickness of one's finger, together to form a broad belt around the middle. Along with the armor, the warrior often wore a wooden helmet."
* Bancroft-Hunt 1995 p188-189
"Bows and lances were carried into battle, but the preferred arms of the Tlingit were for hand-to-hand fighting. Their characteristic war daggers, admired today for the beauty of the wolf and bear figures on their carved hilts and the elegance of their tapered double-edged blades, were highly effective and deadly weapons capable of passing easily between the ribs of an enemy or severing the jugular vein."
* Crowell 2010 p215
"Tlingit warriors possessed iron-bladed knives long before Western contact, crafted from metal found on Asian ships that drifted across the Pacific. Sophisticated indigenous iron-working techniques produced honed and tempered blades, often with ground-on flutes. The double-ended war dagger was worn around the neck in a leather sheath and used in hand-to-hand combat. George Ramos said that a warrior tied his knife to his wrist before going into battle so that it would not be lost."
* Feest 1980 p62 f70
"Double-bladed daggers of iron or native copper used by the Tlingit and other tribes of the Northwest coast of North America were largely replaced by single-bladed daggers whose blades were of European origin."
* Infinity of nations 2010 p235
"A dagger is called gwálaa, literally 'it strikes' or 'it hits.' Referred to as x'aan.át, it is something used in battle and kept close at hand."
* Taylor 2001 p43-44
"The hand-fighting weapons, especially knives and daggers [fabricated from iron], were now developed to a high degree and those of the Northern tribes such as the Tlingit were particularly distinctive. [...] Blades exhibited a midline ridge ... and the handles were nearly always terminated by the family or clan crest".
* Metropolitan Museum of Art > Americas
"Daggers and Amulets The daggers of Northwest Coast peoples have been admired by outsiders since Europeans first saw them in the late eighteenth century. Necessary warrior equipment -- used for raids, revenge attacks, and a form of stylized combat with strict rules -- the daggers were made of a wide variety of materials with a wide variety of imagery on the hilt. Some daggers were forged in one piece with figurative pommels in raised relief, while others have sculptural pommels that depict aggressive animals and/or men, at times interacting. Carefully worked with lively fine surfaces, the small sculptures add meaning to the daggers, which were often important clan possessions and had a long history within it. The inventive use of locally found materials, from whale baleen to hardwood scavenged from European guns, is common to works of all sizes, as is the inclusion of figurative imagery in all manner of tools and in other functional and ceremonial objects."
* Weapon 2006 p205
"The Tlingit people of the northwest Pacific coast were skilled metalworkers, producing good quality copper and iron blades. ... Fighting in close combat, the Tlingit warrior would wrap the loose leather strap around his wrist to ensure a secure hold on the weapon."
* Krause 1956 p172 (writing in 1885)
"The dagger is the only one of the old weapons still in use. The form of the dagger is not always the same; occasionally it has two blades, the upper one being only about one quarter as long as the lower. The blades are stuck in leather sheaths which are worn around the neck on a leather strap. The handle is also wound with leather that continues in a long strap, which, according to Holmberg, is tied to the hand during combat and which Dixon reports is secured to the middle finger by means of a hole at the end. Formerly there were also copper daggers; Erman saw them among the natives of Sitka. 'These were about one and one-half feet long and four or five inches wide running to a point, some formed like a saber with a convex blade and some straight and two-edged like the old Roman swords. Above the narrowed handle there was a wooden knob, often carved in the shape of a bird head or something similar, or the second smaller blade, sometimes the whole thing was smooth and carefully polished.[']"
* Wardwell 1978 p116
"In the early nineteenth century, the dagger was an important weapon. With the introduction of firearms, the dagger gradually came to be used as a status symbol. It was worn in a sheath that hung from the neck and carried in front of the wearer."
* Crowell 2010 p215 (quoting George Ramos, 2005)
"After you become a warrior, the knife is always on you. It's the first thing that you put on in the morning, the last thing that you take off at night. It's called jaxán át, 'something close at hand'; it is there to protect your people at all times."