Thursday, August 15, 2019
Mr James Dakin claims that guns are the pinnacle of modern technology in two of his recent posts.
He makes the point that bartering away ammunition has to be one of the stupidest ideas, ever.
Mr Dakin is supported by history
The Northwest Trade Gun was one of the three, main items traded to native-Americans in exchange for beaver pelts, the others being wool blankets and distilled alcohol.
Even by the standards of the day (1600s-1830s) trade guns were cheap, crude and primitive. The native-Americans could not trade their bows-and-arrows away quickly enough to get the new guns.
People do not abandon stone-age technology because of a sudden shortage of rocks. In most parts of North America, the trade gun had huge advantages over bows and spears made from native materials.
The primary advantage was range. This is when the student of history whose primary source of information is television calls BS.
They will point out that the Mongolian hordes had laminated bows and could launch arrows much farther than the typical trade gun could effectively shoot.
This is a classic case of comparing apples and orangutans. Launching arrows over a city's walls into the massed peoples waiting out a siege is different than hitting a deer or moose center-of-mass at fifty yards.
The native Americans did not have laminated bows made from horn on the compression side and sinews on the tension side. Even if they did, the humid weather east of the Great Plains would have negated any of those advantages.
Nor did native-American bows have "sights" and the high cost of making bows, arrows and arrowheads limited the number of repetitions a typical native-American could practice, thereby making "instinct shooting" unattainable for most.
The primary advantage of bows is that they had slightly more range than a hand-thrown spear and they required far less motion to discharge. Estimated draw-weights of bows used by the Penobscot tribe were on the order of 25 pounds. Keep in mind that those wimpy bows were lobbing hefty arrows made of willow, dogwood or viburnum shoots tipped with a chunk of rock. It is not an exaggeration to say the trajectory approximated the arc of a rainbow.
The typical trade gun was a smooth-bore; a shotgun in modern parlance. It typically started out with a bore of 0.57", the smallest iron pipe that was economical to manufacture. As a reference, most modern muzzle-loading rifles have a bore of 0.50 inches and most 20 gauge shotguns have a bore of about 0.62" Even though the bore may have started out at 0.57", over time rust and re-boring caused that bore to get larger.
Traditions die slowly. Most of the rifles issued during the American Civil War also had nominal bore diameters of 0.57 inches.
The trade guns' sights were crude. The lock times were glacially slow by modern standards. The technology for manufacturing ammo was crude.
I will go out on a limb and suggest that forty yards was the maximum, effective range against deer sized animals. Any farther than that and more than half of the animals would not be recovered.
Forty yards might not sound like much but it is HUGE if your reference is a bow with fifteen yard capability. Not only could the new gun kill deer at a range three times farther than your old bow, but you were far less likely to alert your target because you only had to wiggle a few fingers to make the gun go off.
That ability to be stealthy was particularly important when your targets were other native-Americans. Although rarely documented, I expect that most war parties used the muskets for the first, devastating volley and then depended on bows and clubs for quick follow-up.