Types of Messages sent by Smoke Signals
The Native Americans used smoke signals to communicate messages over long distances to a number of people. The types of messages sent by these signals were:
- Warnings and Alarms: Smoke Signals that signified a warning such as sickness or the approach of an enemy or a stranger and even the number of guns that they carried
- Help Needed: Smoke Signals that signified that reinforcements were needed in a battle
- News: Smoke Signals that signified a battle had been won or lost and even the number of scalps that had been taken or the number of horses that had been won in battle. Pre-arranged signals might also be used to convey the death of a chief or an important birth
In order to send smoke signals over greater distances, some tribes would set up a chain of fires to relay messages from one location to the next. More than one fire and set of signals could also be used. An example of this a single fire was built first with one smoke signal that indicated success in battle. Then a number of smaller fires, in a line side by side, might indicate the number of scalps and horses taken. Smoke signals were sent by day and fires conveyed signals at night.
Meanings of Smoke Signals
The meanings of smoke signals varied. In general, there was not one set meaning as enemy tribes would also be able to read the messages that were being sent. if there were no enemies who could use the messages to their advantage then a simple code could be generally used. The simple code used for commonly understood smoke signals was:
- The Meaning of one puff of smoke meant ATTENTION.
- The Meaning of Two puffs of smoke signalled ALL'S WELL
- The Meaning of Three puffs of smoke, or three fires in a row, signalled DANGER, TROUBLE OR A CALL FOR HELP
The meanings of the smoke signals that needed to be kept secret in times of battles or Indian tribe warfare were pre-arranged, so only the sender and the recipient would understand the meaning of the signals.
Smoke Signals and other Non-verbal forms of Communication
The meanings of smoke signals was just one of the forms of non-verbal communication methods used by Native American Indians. The different types of non-verbal communication methods were: