The Cutting-Off Way

Indigenous Warfare in Eastern North America, 1500–1800

By Wayne E. Lee

300 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 2 drawings, 10 halftones, 9 maps

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-7378-3
    Published: August 2023
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-7377-6
    Published: August 2023
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-7379-0
    Published: August 2023
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-6356-0
    Published: August 2023

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Incorporating archeology, anthropology, cartography, and Indigenous studies into military history, Wayne E. Lee has argued throughout his distinguished career that wars and warfare cannot be understood by a focus that rests solely on logistics, strategy, and operations. Fighting forces bring their own cultural traditions and values onto the battlefield. In this volume, Lee employs his "cutting-off way of war" (COWW) paradigm to recast Indigenous warfare in a framework of the lived realities of Native people rather than with regard to European and settler military strategies and practices.

Indigenous people lacked deep reserves of population or systems of coercive military recruitment and as such were wary of heavy casualties. Instead, Indigenous warriors sought to surprise their targets, and the size of the target varied with the size of the attacking force. A small war party might "cut off" individuals found getting water, wood, or out hunting, while a larger party might attempt to attack a whole town. Once revealed by its attack, the invading war party would flee before the defenders' reinforcements from nearby towns could organize. Sieges or battles were rare and fought mainly to save face or reputation. After discussing the COWW paradigm, including a deep look at Native logistics and their associated strategic flexibility, Lee demonstrates how the system worked and evolved in five subsequent chapters that detail intra-tribal and Indigenous-colonial warfare from pre-contact through the American Revolution.

About the Author

Wayne E. Lee is the Bruce W. Carney Distinguished Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
For more information about Wayne E. Lee, visit the Author Page.


"An ambitious and thoughtful reassessment of Native American war-making before and after permanent European settlement in the early 17th century...Lee draws upon extensive new evidence to engage with existing scholarship and investigate previously unexplored territory."—Wall Street Journal

"One of the benefits of studying the military histories of non-European groups is that it reminds us that there are very different means of waging war, as well as reasons for doing so. In The Cutting-Off Way, Wayne E. Lee argues that the fluid, Native American style of war was quite alien to the European soldiers who encountered it . . . . The aims of their wars were also different, argues Lee."—New York Times Book Review

"The Cutting-Off Way contributes something genuinely new to Native American, early American, and military history, and achieves an unusual degree of engagement between military history and the other fields."—James D. Rice, author of Tales from a Revolution: Bacon's Rebellion and the Transformation of Early America

"This is an ambitious, sweeping study that demonstrates mastery of secondary and primary sources—historical, archaeological, and anthropological."—Sherry L. Smith, author of Hippies, Indians, & the Fight for Red Power