|Illinois Spear Head|
Spears were commonly used as hunting weapons, but like most hunting weapons it could be used for war too.
Spears were a much older technology for the hunt. Once the bow and arrow had been introduced it quickly replaced the spear as the preferred hunting tool, most likely because the hunter had to advantage of long range attacks. Nevertheless the spear was important in the hunting ceremony, and would have still have been used to some extent even after the introduction of guns to maintain ceremony. On the other hand, replacing the spear with the bow, and then the gun and the horse , would change the hunt in a way that threatened tribal ceremony and social hierarchies.
The buffalo hunt was the main ceremony which involved the use of the spear. Two methods of hunt that were commonly used to effectively kill the buffalo were the Buffalo Pound and the Buffalo Jump. In the Buffalo Pound, a warrior would dress as a buffalo to lure the animal(s) near. Once within range, the rest of the hunting party would surprise attack the creature before he could realize what was happening, and pound it with spears. The Buffalo Jump was quite similar in that a lead chaser would lure a pack of buffalo towards an area near a cliffs edge. Once the prey were in range the rest of the hunting party, in hiding, would surprise the fleeing creatures in an attempt to scare them over the cliffs edge. At the bottom of the cliff, another party would be ready to receive an injured prey, and, like in the Buffalo Pound, would set upon their prey with spears to finish the hunt.
These hunts involved mass participation by the entire tribe, including women to lure and surprise the buffalo. Since everybody had a role, it helped to maintain an egalitarian society. The luring role in the Buffalo Pound and the chaser in the Buffalo Jump would have been reserved for the man. specifically, this role would have been reserved for an established hunter, or a young man as a rite of passage to prove his bravery by taking what was the most important role in the hunt. For tribes where agriculture was not possible, the buffalo was the main or the only source of subsistence. The spear was an effective tool within the hunt because it was lightweight, could deal a devastating blow, and was as it was easy and cheap to make it could be mass produced to equip a large body of people involved in such a communal activity.