Recreating the L’ Arbre Croche Spike Tomahawk

As tomahawk expert Mark Miller notes on his famous tomahawk come-to-Jesus website, regarding real American Indian tomahawks:

There are many, many outright fakes and honest reproductions whom sellers claim to be authentic which were made from the time that originals were to the present day.

Of the Ebay tomahawks being sold as authentic at any one time, a ‘misidentification’ rate of 99% or more is not unusual. Not all of these sellers are dishonest people . . . . [T]hese were experienced antique dealers who sold for decades & who were unable to distinguish a 30 year old tomahawk from a 300 year old one. It’s tough sometimes.

Mark Miller’s online tomahawk resource,

Talented modern day craftsmen can make some amazing stuff, and can antique them very well, so it’s very difficult to know. With this in mind, one of the major tenants of Scavengeology, is that when something is found in the ground, the context and location of the find, provides valuable information. Well maybe that’s archaeology, but with the exception of the venomous dislike of metal detectors, we share that opinion.

This spike tomahawk head was found, in the ground, by metal detector by Robert Bennett, in the vicinity of Harbor Springs, Michigan at the site of an Ottawa village called at “L’ Arbre Croche,” a series of Ottawa Villages existing in the mid 18th century, and was otherwise a highly traveled spot near Fort Michilimackinac at the Straits of Mackinac. 

Here’s a photo of this very same spike tomahawk on Mark Miller’s website, on the page about spike tomahawks, with the caption: “17th – mid 18th C. French spike tomahawk found by Robert Bennett in Harbor Springs, MI area. Spike had been blunted in use.”

One of the reasons I love this original spike tomahawk, is that I know where it was found; who found it; and the context of the location. Another thing I like is that you can still see the decoration: the engraving, the file work, and what appear to be “tally marks,” apparently counting something, like victims, battles, floods, sexual experiences, who knows.

Both pieces are about the same dimensions, minus of course the blunted end on the original. The overall length is 9 inches. The blade is 3.5 inches, and the spike is 3.75 inches. The width of the eye, from the outer edges, from tally mark, to tally mark, is about an inch.

We commissioned master blacksmith Jeff Cline, of Augusta, Kentucky, to craft a bench copy of the original, with the only differences being less metal loss from corrosion, and fewer tally marks, since it wasn’t quite retired yet. Jeff also made the recreation of the sweet original spike we had on display at the 2019 CLA show, and which also was twice on display at the Fort Pitt Museum. Jeff’s recreation is on the left, and the original is on the left, which has the original haft still attached.

Early flared-blade spike tomahawk found in Pennsylvania, with original haft, at right. Jeff Cline’s recreation, pictured in Gordon Barlow’s book, Following the Tradition

We picked the new recreated spike hawk up yesterday at Cline’s shop in Kentucky, and man, it came out beautifully. And in case you’re wondering, Jeff put his stamp on it, underneath the blade, where it meets the eye, so that there’s no mistaking its age, or authenticity, in the future.

We also had asked him to put a haft on the original, for display purposes. Being the artist that he is, he gave it a worthy haft, with an old split in it, and a deer leg repair at the base.

He was of the opinion that due to corrosion of the metal in the original, the bench copy would have to be slightly thicker in width, and this shows the difference between the two.

Jeff worked with engraver Bill Pritchard of Maysville, Kentucky (sorry had the name wrong at first) to replicate the original engraving on the eye of the hawk. It’s extremely difficult to make out on the original, due to corrosion and pitting. This was the engraving they could reproduce. It’s possible there were more details to it, but we just don’t know for sure.

The engraving is interesting, because it’s extremely rare on a spike tomahawk, as is any decoration. But it also provides us with more information on the intended use of the tomahawk. It suggests that it was intended as a weapon, or a status symbol, more than as a tool – though it very well may have been used extensively as a useful tool – as indicated the blunted spike on the original. How was it blunted? That’s anybody’s guess. No doubt it was used, and that’s how it came out of the ground, after being in there after approximately 300 years or so.

I know of two others very much like it which have also been found in the great lakes region. One was found in the Winnipeg River in 1966 and is detailed in “Voices from the Rapids…” by Robert C. Wheeler. Another one was recently found by metal detector by Kevin Hughey of St. Ignace, MI near the old Fort Du Buade, which was just across the strait from Fort Michilimackinac, and which dates to the 17th century (the fort). This is known as St. Ignatius Point. It is almost identical, minus the engraving and hatch marks (that I could see in the photos available). They definitely appear to be by the same hand. Here’s the Fort Du Buade hawk, which I believe I lifted from Mark Miller’s site, but I don’t recall:

There’s so much missing information with respect to original tomahawks, and spike tomahawks in particular, since they were rarely dated or decorated, and any time you can develop information on background, locate finds, etc. It’s a valuable tool for collectors, reenactsors, historians, and contemporary makers.

You may recognize the name L’ Arbre Croche, if you’ve read Allan Eckert’s books, as it comes up often regarding the Ottawa characters involved in his historical narratives. Perhaps the most famous Ottawa, discussed extensively by Eckert, and many others, is Pontiac, who ironically died, via a tomahawk to the skull, from behind – assassinated by another Indian, while in the Mississippi country.

In 1763, Pontiac led a small confederacy in rebellion against the Americans/British, which resulted in Cornstalk’s 1763 destruction of the Greenbrier Valley, not to mention the destruction of 9 British forts around the Great Lakes. However, the large forts at Detroit, and Fort Pitt, held – barely. This tomahawk could have been in the presence of Pontiac. It may have seen the fort at Detroit.

This area on the cost of Michigan was used as a capital of sorts for the Ottawa people in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Ottawa war councils were held around a massive crooked tree which could be easily seen silhouetted against the sky from Lake Michigan. This tree became symbolic for the entire area, and was the source of the French phrase, “L’ Arbre Croche.”

A tall, crooked pine tree overhanging a high bluff,
served to designate what was probably the most important
Indian village in the north, prior to the advent of the
white man. “Wau-go-naw-ki-sa” the Crooked Tree
could be seen for many miles by the occupants of approach-
ing canoes. After rounding the northwestern extremity
of what is now Emmet county, in the state of Michigan,
on their way south, it was a familiar sight, and one that
never failed to bring exultations of joy from the brave
and daring Ottawas.

Just where the Crooked Tree stood
we have been unable to ascertain ; but tradition says it was
in the vicinity of Middle Village of the present day. Ac-
cording to the legend it was bent by Na-na-bo-jo. For-
merly it was straight, but as the great hunter and chief-
tain was climbing the hill one day at this point, with his
canoe over his head, the end of the boat caught on the tree
and gave him a bad fall. In anger he struck the tree a
blow with his fist and bent it over. Where he hit the
trunk a large swelling came out, and henceforward every
knot or growth protruding from a tree was called
“Na-na-bo-jo’s Fist.”

The Crooked Tree: Indian Legends and a Short History of the Little Traverse Bay Region, by John C. Wright, 1917, at pp. xi

When the French missionaries arrived upon the scene, they named the place “L’Arbre Croche”; and in the course of time the whole of what is now Emmet county, from Harbor Springs north was known by that appellation.

L’Arbre Croche proper was once the center of missionary operations extending over a wide territory, and was the largest Indian village in the region of the Great Lakes. It was situated at a point now called Middle Village, where a mission was established in the latter part of the seventeenth century.

In later years the name L’Arbre Croche was applied to
the mission at Harbor Springs.

I am sure that one cannot visit the site of the famous
old village without being thrilled with inspirations of
nature or overcome by a feeling of sadness at the memories
of a departed race. The very trees and stones seem to
speak with living tongues of the glory of bygone days,
filling the soul with vivid impressions of the place that
early association made so dear to the heart of the red man.

The delightfully fringed valley and flats below the high
hill and along the beach cannot be surpassed for beauty
and loveliness of landscape anywhere on the western hemi-
sphere. Shady nooks and leafy bowers, where the Indian
lover wooed his sweetheart and told the old, old story
over again as songbirds caroled in the branches above, are
in evidence on every hand ; while long lanes and mossy
paths penetrate the forests in all directions. Standing on
the shore at the close of day, the magnificent sunset so re-
nowned in this northern country can be seen in all its
glory, filling the earth and sky with its splendor and majesty. Verily, the American Indian had a keen appreciation
of the beauties of nature.

The Crooked Tree: Indian Legends and a Short History of the Little Traverse Bay Region, by John C. Wright, 1917, at pp. xii-xlii

A large amount of fur trade era artifacts from that time period has been found in that stretch of shoreline, between Ft. Du Buade, Ft. Michilimackinac, and Harbor Springs. I’ve posted some of the items in our collection before, mostly found by the same individual who found this spike hawk.

Indian camps were first established all along the Lake Michigan shoreline at various points including Cross Village, Middle Village (Good Hart), Seven Mile Point (seven miles north of Harbor Springs), and Harbor Springs.

When the area now known as Good Hart was singled out, it was called Waw-gaw-naw-Ka-see, meaning “crooked tree” in Ottawa. It was also referred to as Opit-awe-ing, meaning halfway for halfway between Harbor Springs and Cross Village. White settlers would call it “Middle Village” and then “Good Hart”.

It’s hard not to be jealous of the rich metal detecting grounds which exist in this area of Michigan, as compared to where we are in the Appalachian Mountains. It’s always about location, location, location, of course. I’ll get up there someday. Understanding who the Ottawa people were is important to understanding the metal objects we find where they once lived.

Between 1615 and 1763, the Ottawa were one of the most important tribes in North America, but their homeland was remote to the British colonies on the Atlantic seaboard. When the Americans reached the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes, the Ottawa’s time had passed, and their role in the history of the United States after 1775 was small. A trading tribe even before contact, the Ottawa were businessmen before they ever met a European, so they immediately recognized the opportunity presented by the fur trade and attached themselves to it and the French. They soon became indispensable. Paddling their birchbark canoes for great distances, the Ottawa became the “French connection” to other Algonquin in the Great Lakes and brought the furs they collected to the Huron villages where the French were. The Huron provided warehouse space and protection from the Iroquois, but the Ottawa were the sales force who went out and got the business. Recognizing this, the French built their trade around the Ottawa and Huron. The Iroquois destroyed the Huron in 1649, but the Ottawa and some of the Huron (now called Wyandot) fled west and continued business as usual.

When the French organized an alliance to fight the Iroquois in 1687, the Ottawa and Wyandot became the “eldest children of Onontio,” the French governor of Canada, and when they spoke in the councils of the alliance councils, their words carried weight. By 1685 Ottawa middlemen were supplying two-thirds of the fur at Montreal. It was no accident the Iroquois tried to break the alliance in the 1690s by offering a separate peace to the Ottawa, or that the Ottawa and Wyandot were the first tribes the French invited to Detroit in 1701. Ottawa influence declined after the French defeat and British takeover of the Great Lakes in 1760. The Ottawa’s “fall from grace” was probably the most important reason for the Pontiac Rebellion in 1763. Other tribes had tried to organize an uprising against the British, but no one responded. But when an Ottawa chief called for revolt, every tribe listened and most joined, because the Ottawa would be leading it. This, more than anything, says who and what the Ottawa once were.

Ottawa History, First Nation Histories, by Lee Sultzman,

If you think the Ottawa lived peaceful lives up until the British, or Americans stole their lands, etc., you need to read this detailed history, which also mentions about when L’ Arbre Croche was settled during this period, and by whom within the tribe. The Ottawa were involved in heavy fighting with native enemies on all sides for extended periods of time. The Iroquois, Cherokee, Dakota, etc., etc.

For the Ottawa, the years of separation took the bands at Mackinac, Detroit, and Manitoulin Island down different paths. The Ottawa became the dominant tribe at Detroit. Among the most loyal of the French allies, their warriors raided the pro-British Cherokee and Chickasaw to the south. However, the Wyandot had many relatives who had been adopted by the Iroquois (1649-56) and this was hard for some of them to ignore. Orontony’s faction of the Detroit Wyandot refused to participate in a raid against the Cherokee. This was bad enough, but Orontony in 1738 helped the Cherokee ambush a Detroit war party which earned him the hatred of the other tribes at Detroit. He left Detroit for northern Ohio, settled on the upper Sandusky, and began trading with the British. Meanwhile, the Mackinac Ottawa were becoming closer to the Ojibwe than their relatives at Detroit.

The soil at Mackinac was exhausted by 1741, and they crossed over to lower Michigan and settled at L’ Arbre Croche on Grand Traverse Bay. Their villages eventually stretched from Little Traverse Bay to the Grand River with some bands moving across Lake Michigan to southeastern Wisconsin.

Ottawa History, First Nation Histories, by Lee Sultzman,

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