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Poisoned Arrows
By Dr. W.J. Hoffman
Part 2 of 2

The Seris of northwestern Mexico prepared poison by putting into a hole in the ground a cow's liver, rattlesnakes, centipedes, scorpions, etc., and beating them up with a stick. Into this mass the arrow-points were dipped.[9] The Jovas and other tribes of the same region also prepared a deadly poison. The Apaches and several neighboring tribes were, until recently, in the habit of smearing upon the arrow-head and foreshaft a mixture said to consist of decomposed deer liver and rattlesnake venom. In some instances crushed red ants, centipedes, and scorpions are also reported to have been used. An examination of such a coating upon arrows obtained from Apache Indians in 1871 showed the presence of blood corpuscles and a crystalline substance apparently identical with viperine (Bonaparte) or crotaline (Mitchell), the acting principle of crotalus venom. It remains to be learned how long such venom will retain its active properties, as wounds inflicted did not present symptoms of crotalus poisoning, but of septicaemia. One instance mentioned to me was originally but a mere scratch upon the upper portion of the scapula, but previous to death the flesh fell from the back as far down as the nates, exposing at various points the ribs and spinal processes. Dr. Lauderdale, U. S. Army, also informed me that he had observed the practice among the Apaches as above stated. Instances of the treatment of poisoned-arrow wounds are also on record.[10]

The Lipan Apaches dip arrows into the sap of the Yucca angustifolia, which they claim is very poisonous. Ordinarily the fleshy roots are eaten without the slightest hesitation. The leaves of the plant are sharply serrated, and it is believed by the Indians that the points possess a mystic power which will affect the victim. For a similar reason the Sisseton Sioux employ the small spines of the Opuntia misseuriense, which are mixed with grease so as to make them adhere to the surface of the weapon to be anointed. Bullets are also prepared for the reception of this mixture by making small holes with a sharp-pointed instrument in which the spines are placed. The Blackfeet, Bloods, and Piegans employ rattlesnake venom, as do also the Teton Sioux, the latter mixing it with the liver of deer or antelope and permitting the whole to become putrid. The Shoshoni and Bannack Indians state that the proper way to poison arrows, as formerly practiced by them, is to secure a deer and cause it to be bitten by a rattlesnake, immediately after which the victim is killed, the meat removed and placed in a hole in the ground. After the mass has become putrid the arrow-points are dipped into it. By this method the serpent venom is supposed to be the most essential in the operation; but it is extremely doubtful if the venom has time to fully enter the circulation in the short interval between the time that the victim is bitten and then killed. If the method was actually practiced by these Indians, as they affirm it was, and only for the destruction of noxious beasts, the poison of the putrescent matter may have caused death by septicæmia.[11]

The Pit River Indians of California are reported by several authors to have employed dog's liver mixed with the juice of the wild parsnip. From among the numerous other references to tribes indulging in the practice of arrow-poisoning I will mention but one or two. The Clallams of Puget Sound made arrow-points from native copper, or from fragments of this metal obtained from the sheathing of vessels, which were afterward dipped in sea water and permitted to corrode. The old chief, the "Duke of York," stated, however, that these arrows were never used against human beings. Such a statement may be taken for what it is worth, as I have yet to find an Indian who will admit the use of alleged poisoned arrows in warfare against man.

The natives on the Siberian side of Behring's Strait are said to dip their arrows in the liver of the white bear, which substance is mentioned as poisonous even while fresh.

I was told of a curious practice of the Aigaluxam?t Innuit, who endeavor to obtain pieces of flesh of a deceased whaler. The arrow-points are rubbed with this, after which the piece of flesh is worn as an amulet, in the belief that through it the wearer becomes possessed of the skill and powers of the whaler; and also that it insures accuracy of aim and success in the capture of game. In nearly all instances when poisons are prepared by Indians, cither for internal administration or for the anointing of weapons or missiles, the operation is performed with more or less ceremony, chanting and incantation, for the purpose of invoking the aid of the evil spirits or demons; otherwise the compound would be ineffective.