Why reinvent the wheel: Do as the Native American Indians did and survive the coming collapse

This guest post is by Michael and entry in our non-fiction writing contest .

Pre-Columbian Native American Indians needed nothing other than what Mother Nature provided to ensure their own survival. Metal was a game changer. It could be shaped to make the tools needed to make the tools needed to create firearms and knives. Although metal is a superior material for making tools and weapons, stone was the hardest material at hand, hence the term Stone Age.

Everything required for living was provided to them by nature. Feathers for fletching, plants/herbs for medicine/food, and leather for clothing and home construction. They needed little to thrive, so why do we need so much?

Meat and fish preserved for the Winter were dried by the sun or smoked. Pemmican was made from rendered fat, berries and pounded dried meat. It would keep for a very long time. Almost everything on an animal was used including eating the eyeballs. The brain was used to tan hides, the hooves were used as glue and the innards were used as food or water pouches.

Now don’t get squeamish, guts are used for a lot of stuff – Europeans used sheep guts for instrument strings, catgut was used for sutures and sausages were stuffed in, yep, you guessed it. Bones were used for tools or were broken apart to get at the fat rich marrow. Antlers were used to make stone arrowheads. Animal teeth were used for decoration on person and clothing. Those double rowed chestplates you see on Native warriors was actually made from bird bones. Beads were made from clam or mussel shells.

On red meat is tough, white coverings called sinew. Modern butchers call this ‘silver skin’ and it’s removed by the butcher. Natives would dip stone arrowheads into the glue made from animal hooves, attach it to the spear/arrow and wrap sinew in the glue to give it strength. Bowstrings were made from the sinew along the backbone of large animals.

Natives also had a thriving agricultural enterprise. When Europeans first came to this continent they would find seed caches and usually took them to eat. When the Natives finally had enough of this from these wretched white people, they showed how to make a depression in a small dirt hill, place two or three small fish and drop in corn, bean and squash seeds. This was called the Three Sisters. The corn provided a trellis for the beans, the squash shaded the ground to keep it moist and to keep weeds away. Corn takes nitrogen from the soil, beans put it back.

Now to my point, there is no reason why we can’t take lessons from the Natives. Our superior metal tools would greatly enhance Native ingenuity. We can use machinery or horses to pull plows for our own agriculture and use Native knowledge to grow the Three Sisters. Use the animals raised or harvested to the full advantage of our own survival just as they did.

Natives lived in groups or bands to help one another. Everything was shared to ensure the survival of them all and this is one aspect we all are looking into. One family can get by if properly supplied with a cache of food and weapons, and hunkered down in a bunker. A small group of like-minded families can thrive quite well working together to provide mutual sustenance and protection.

In the 60’s we started hearing the term ‘commune’. Back then it was a group of pot smoking hippies that were hell-bent on getting high and letting the Soviets destroy America. Wisely set up and governed, a commune of families could provide the level of comfort and protection required when SHTF. Folks have been doing that for thousands of years, so there is absolutely no reason to discard a proven system. As a matter of fact, there are a number of communes that have been in existence for decades. Check this website (http://directory.ic.org/records/communes.php), it’s a real eye opener. There are a bunch of communes, both national and international, that are forming as I write.

I’ve seen entries from other folks pointing out we need to get to know our neighbors. A good sentiment, but what do you and that neighbor have or do that would compliment each others own survival? Too old to hunt? Be a gardener and trade your Three Sisters for meat the neighbor hunts. Find other groups or communes and set up trade. Years ago I found a cache of what I think are stone blanks (personal opinion). There were about a dozen spearhead sized stones that could be transported for trade. They were partially knapped and could be used to make knives scrappers or weapon points.

Natives actually had an extensive trade system set up before the whites arrived and that extended right up to the end of the Civil War. The Blackfoot Sioux controlled trade on the upper Mississippi and got ‘rich’ skimming from the top of anything passing through their country. That was after the whites had pressured the Eastern Indians West and pushed the Blackfoot onto the prairie. By that time the horses the Spanish had introduced to this continent had become the most valuable thing to own.

We have our own valuables we put by and sometimes we get more than what we need simply because we don’t really know what we’ll need when the time comes. Set up trade and thrive!!

This contest will end on October 10 2012 – prizes include:

  • First Place : $100 Cash.
  • Second Place : $50 Cash.
  • Third Place : $25 Cash.

Contest ends on October 10 2012.

About M.D. Creekmore

M.D. Creekmore is the owner and editor of TheSurvivalistBlog.net. He is the author of four prepper related books and is regarded as one of the nations top survival and emergency preparedness experts. Read more about him here.


  1. Good work Michael.

    I would agree that the knowledge of ‘how’ to survive by utilizing methods that have been in place for hundreds of years and more, and by incorporating modern improvements would make many of the tasks easier.

    I have brain-tanned buckskins and used every part of the animals for different items, and yes mass manufactured items like knives and saws and hand axe’s made the job that much easier. No, I did not use the sinew make bowstrings for my longbow, but I did use it with bone to sew my buckskins together that I wear during rendezvous events. Besides, my compound bow is much more accurate and powerful than either my hand made longbow or recurve bow, which I have used both to also take down deer and elk.

    My concern would be the overall population; where so many of us live in proximity to our neighbors that we do not have the land available to sow the fields. Sure, neighbors could band together and create their own sustainable commune, but that would take time and money to obtain property sizable enough to sustain the group.

    Back in the days of the “Pre-Columbian Native American” era, how many thousands of Natives spanned the entire country? Now, in the Twenty-First Century, how many millions span that same area? More people per square mile equates to fewer resources with everyone else competing for the resources.

    You are absolutely correct that the methodology is available to provide a sustainable lifestyle in small groups helping each other out, and more of us should obtain that experience, but I feel the current population is counter productive in doing so. Perhaps the Georgia Stones are correct that in order to sustain a balance between nature and humanity ‘the world population’ cannot be more than 500,000,000.

    • hi. here in youngstown, ohio, gardening would not be a problem for most of us thanks to arsonists and decay. about every second or third house in our area is empty. there are plenty of empty lots available. the city recently sold a lot for one dollar to the neighbors, who were maintaining it anyway. i would want to test any land where a house has stood for such things as lead from paint. also care must be taken not to cut onesself with glass or other leavings where buildings have stood.
      population in these rust belt cities is thinned and many could at least raise enough fresh veg to see them and neighbors through the summer and autumn.
      is that too wishful thinking?
      deb harvey

    • I think you hit the nail on the head. Back in the time being discussed, the world population was about 6.5 billion fewer than today. Additionally, life was hard and lifespan was rather short, perhaps into the late 30’s.
      Finally, with everyone doing back to the land who would run the steel mills and factories to give us those modern tools, who would do the research to give us modern medications that have helped extend our live spans into the 80’s. For small groups, this lifestyle might be interesting and work well, not like in some ways, the local Amish; however, even the local Amish use the local grocery and hospital and purchase modern tools.
      I agree there are things we can learn, but going back to that ancient society is IMHO just a nice dream.

  2. It is surely correct to say that we can learn survival skills from the traditional Native Americans. The problem is that the vast majority of young Native Americans are ignorant of the traditional ways. Moreover, we do not live in a pristine environment populated with buffalo. We live in a world overpopulated by humans and depopulated of wild game and the resources the Native Americans found so plentiful back in the day.

  3. SurvivorDan says:

    Sounds good as far as utilizing useful things in nature and simple but efficient farming techniques like the ‘three sisters’. I have no problem with using survival skills that work ( in the short term) but it only reinforces what many folks including myself assert about the poor outcome of surviving in the wilds while attempting to live off the land. The use of already proven survival techniques of the American Indians may prolong your survival in the wilds. But will not be enough if you aspire for your children to live more than into their thirties. Even though organized into working groups (villages, tribes, etc.) the average American Indian was short lived. The average lifespan of the American Indian prior to the 1700s (and before the introduction on a mass scale of European diseases) was 37 years.

    I like your premise of combining those ‘primitive’ skills with modern tools, machinery and know-how to produce a hybrid society that thrives. That has potential.
    The old and the new combine to make a way for mankind to survive the coming Collapse. Food for thought. Nice Job.

    • apacheoftheearth says:

      Mans destiny to conquer mother earth is real and happening. The cities will soon connect into which there will be no wilderness. Todays lust for technology is but a path to destruction. May I be a doctor administering chemotherapy to a cancer patient to only prolong there life. So as I may make efforts to promote conservation in the end I will not win. Native Americans from the beginning were connected and respected where they came from, you can not find that in todays youth.

  4. There certainly are a lot of skills we can learn from those who went before us. Recently I bought a Civil War Cook Book, just because that might be where our technology may end up.

  5. Thanks for the feedback, folks!!! Very good counterpoints, as well. Ya’ll are the best!!

  6. MountainSurvivor says:

    You hit the nail on the head, Michael. And I couldn’t agree with you more. Your article was so interesting that when it came to an end, my brain had a fit, screamed “MORE WORDS!” and nearly kicked my eyes out of their sockets.

  7. good post Michael…technology and old world skills both can and should be utilized. When the majority of people are no longer able to access manufactured goods, then no doubt the only available resources will be in their raw and present forms…out of that majority, the people who can adapt the fastest to the different times/scenarios will have an edge.

    Hooves for glue, or a drop of loc-tite or superglue.
    Buckskin/leather for clothing/mocasins, or goretex shelled insulated clothing.
    Stone axe, or steel hatchet
    Rubbing 2 sticks together, or using a firesteel.
    A bark shelter, or a heavy duty tarp.
    A Bark canoe, or one made out of a sheet of roofing iron or the inner tube of a tractor.
    Twine from tree vines, or paracord/nylon rope.
    Brew some herbal tea, or take 2 aspirins.
    Cover myself when settling down to sleep when out in the elements with Some paperbark from the tree, or a lightweight sleeping bag.
    Torch from twigs/branches, or a solar charged LED headlamp.
    Shrubs with leaves that lather, or some hand sanitizer.
    Hardened length of branch by passing it through the flames/coals of a campfire, with some barbs/thorns on the end for fishing, or line and steel hooks.
    Weaved branches for sea fishing off the beach, or a nylon cast net.

    It would be prudent to know how to make and use the former, and to have plenty of the later…

    Then combine and multiply that knowledge with a wide and varied network of like minded people – all seeking to trade with one another…surely that will ensure a better outcome for all involved.

    I read Geronimo’s story a few weeks ago – downloaded free from the Gutenberg site. Amazing physical strength and mental toughness was evident throughout the story.

    Agree with your point regarding utilizing metal tools and Indian ingenuity…use whatever has worked for others before our time, plus whatever current or future technology is available to us.

    good article…cheers.

  8. Hunker-Down says:

    I have good luck with tomato plants when burying a small fish near the plants. Except this year was too hot and the plants did not have any blossoms.

    The weather is changing and so is the wildlife; we are in our 12th year of retirement in Central Wisconsin. In that time I have never seen a snake in the area until this year. I don’t slog in the woods, but do live out of town. This summer I saw a common garden snake in our yard, and today ran over (with the car) a 4 foot snake with light and dark tan markings. He was not in a snake crosswalk.

    Whenever reading about growing food I get hung up with concerns about below freezing temperatures and how to survive if we cant can our veggies in the preceding summer. We do stock rice and beans.

    I’ve looked and searched and asked in stores and online and cannot locate anyone who sells a seed packet of heirloom peanut M&M’s.

    • robert in mid michigan says:

      you have to plant the green ones, lol or are those the ones you gave your girl friend in high school. anyways.
      good luck
      god bless
      keep on prepping

  9. I lived part time primitive, tanned hides, make buckskin clothing for a living for 30 years and experienced native american life as you mentioned. It is a hard life for natives, but a short life. I had a home to come back to after a week in primitive mode, with modern medicine,technology,and convieniences.

    I am agreeing with survivor Dan. Short term communes can help when everything collapses at first to gather ideas to survive, but it is the rugged individual, freedom, and capitalism we are used to with community support (not dependency) to get us through.

  10. Goatlover says:

    I used the “Three Sisters” planting method to raise corn, beans, and pumpkins to feed my pigs…..best meat I’ve ever eaten, AND the pigs enjoyed their clean food—they even ate the corn stalks and bean plants after the harvest. (Yes, I DID eat some of the veggies, too, but I intentionally grew plenty for us all.)

    • AND I bet the Three Sisters have complementary nutrition, as well as growing habits! It’d be interesting to search that out.

  11. Interesting use of terms in the title: Reinvent the wheel…somebody once pointed out to me that American Indians never did discover the wheel. Not dissing, just an interesting observation.

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