M15891 | Ball-headed club
Anonyme - Anonymous
1800-1840, 19th century
12.6 x 7.3 x 59 cm
Gift of the Natural History Society of Montreal
© McCord Museum
Keywords: Club (57)
Keys to History
The ball-headed war club, made from a root burl, was one of the principal weapons used by Aboriginal people in the Eastern Woodlands region and beyond. The shaft of this club is engraved with cosmological beings - on one side two Thunderbirds and on the other an Underwater Panther. Additional incised lines may represent a record of the owner's exploits in battle.
Aboriginal warriors in the Eastern Woodlands drew their power and skill from a particular understanding of the universe and the forces operating within it. According to this cosmology, the universe comprises three parallel worlds. The earth is at the centre, a large island floating on a great lake. Below lies the Underworld, dominated by powerful manitos or spirits who control the plants and animals of land and water. Most significant of these are the Underwater Panthers (called Misshipeshu in Ojibwa), cat-like beings with horned heads and long tails. Above the earth arches the dome of the sky and the Upperworld. This realm is dominated by equally powerful spirits, the Thunderbirds. For guidance, a person could call on the animal associated with their clan, or on their dodem, an Ojibwa word signifying a guardian spirit.
This is a ball-headed war club made from the burl of a small hard-wood tree, probably a maple. This club also displays engraved cosmological motifs - an Underwater Panther and two Thunderbirds - which served to connect the warrior to powerful supernatural forces.
We do not know the exact region where this club was made; however, Aboriginal people across the Eastern Woodlands and Great Lakes regions made and used war clubs similar in style to this one.
This war club came to the McCord Museum from the Natural History Society of Montreal, which was founded in 1827 and disbanded in 1925. The style of this club suggests that it most likely dates from the early to mid-19th century. Ball-headed clubs continued to be made and used long after firearms became available.
Notes from the original catalogue indicate that the club was purchased from a warrior named Shawanabee in 1838. Shawanabee fought (with his Chief Tecumseh) at the battle of the Thames, and died on Walpole Island in 1851.