The Archery Library
Old Archery Books, Articles and Prints
Home > Articles > Arrows and Arrow Makers > Introduction
Arrows and Arrow-Makers

By Otis T. Mason
From: The American Anthropologist, Vol. IV., No.1, pp. 45-49, Washington D.C., January, 1891.
Part 1 of 2

A great deal has been written about the bow. Mr. Murdoch, of the Anthropological Society, published an elaborate paper on the Eskimo sinew-backed bow; Mr. Balfour, of Oxford, has recently discussed the compound bows of the world.

Down to the fifteenth century the arrow was the most celebrated and most widely distributed missile of destruction, when it began to be displaced by the bullet. Before it gave place to fire-arms, I have no doubt it wrought more death than the substitute has since produced.

The displacement of the arrow was tardy even in the birth-place of fire-arms and was brought about, not by the facility with which the musket could be handled, but by the efficiency of armor. In that perpetual conflict between offense and defense in the enginery of war, defense had been able to quench all the fiery darts of the adversary; the arrow could not pierce the harness of the enemy. At this point came the bullet, slow and not sure; the English archer could discharge thirty arrows while the arquebusier was making a single shot. But when he did get the machine to go off, and, per-adventure, if the missle struck its mark, it penetrated any known armor. Its terrible noise and longer range were also in its favor. In lands distant from the center of European culture the arrow has not yet disappeared, and the day of its birth is hidden in the remotest past.

The continent of America furnished the best of facilities for the development of this winged messenger of death. Every variety of climate, material, and game are here to create an indefinite diversity of structures. In its simplest form the arrow is a straight rod, pointed perhaps in the fire. Such a missile would be of little worth and could not be aimed with any certainty. The most highly developed examples in America consist of:

Head, involving point, faces, facets, sides, butt, tang, barbs, barb-piece.
Shaft, involving shaft streaks.
Shaftment, involving riband or owner marks.
Feather, including seizing, glue, and rifling.
Nock, including the footing.

Each of these parts may be varied in number, form, material, or artistic finish, and one or more of them may be wanting. It will be seen at once what an excellent instrument the arrow is for the study of the natural history of invention; how it has been influenced by climate, natural scenery, and material resources; how it has modified with function, and developed complexity with age. (Fig. 5.)