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On the Structure and Affinities of the Composite Bow
Part 4 of 17

To enumerate the several Esquimaux varieties of what I should propose to call "free" sinew backing (as opposed to the backing of sinews moulded on to the wood or horn, which may for convenience be called "close" backing), would be merely to repeat the substance of Mr. Murdoch's paper; and I shall here leave this form and pass to a very distinct type, which may well be regarded as a survival of an early form in the direct line which has led to the perfected Asiatic bows. The peculiarity of this type, which is distributed over a fairly wide area of North-West America, is that, instead of the sinew backing being composed of plaited sinew cords, kept close to the bow by means of cross binding of similar material, it consists of a mass of sinews[7] taken from the back or neck of some animal, not divided up into strands or cords, but moistened and then moulded in layers directly on to the surface of the bow, so that the whole forms a very compact weapon, the composite structure being far less obvious than in Esquimaux bows with "free" backing. In making these bows, as Sir E. Belcher tells us, the wet layers of sinew are applied so as to entirely encase the wood: "The horns of the bow are also moulded entirely from it, and, when dry, it presents the translucent features of horn. The face of the bow is then polished off to show the wood. These bows are preserved with the utmost care in fur cases to prevent moisture reaching them, by which their strength would be materially diminished."

Catlin[8] gives an interesting description of the bows of the Blackfoot tribe (between the Missouri and the Yellowstone, about 34° W, 41° N.), which I quote in his own words : "The length of these bows is about three feet, and sometimes not more than two and a half. They have, no doubt, studied to get the requisite power in the smallest compass possible, as it is more easily and handily used on horseback than one of greater length. The greater number of these bows are made of ash, or of 'bois d'arc' (as the French call it), and lined on the back with buffalo or deer's sinews, which are inseparably attached to them, and give them great elasticity. There are very many also (amongst the Blackfeet and the Crows) which are made of bone, and others of the horns of the mountain sheep. Those made of bone are decidedly the most valuable, and cannot in this country be procured of a good quality short of the price of one or two horses. . . . The bone of which they are made is certainly not the bone of any animal now grazing on the prairies, or in the mountains between this place and the Pacific Ocean; for some of these bows are three feet in length, of a solid piece of bone, and that as close-grained, as hard, as white, and as highly polished as any ivory. . . . It is my opinion, therefore, that the Indians on the Pacific Coast procure the bone from the jaw of the sperm whale, which is often stranded on that coast, and, bringing the bone into the mountains, trade it to the Blackfeet and (Sows, who manufacture it into these bows without knowing, any more than we do, from what source it has been procured."

I have figured (Plate V, Fig. 3) a good example of this kind of bow, which was obtained by Capt. Belcher in California, now in the Pitt Rivers collection. In some of the bows of this type the sinew layer is moulded on the back from end to end and bound round at the ends with sinew strands, and sometimes porcupine quills in addition, to prevent its coming away from the surface of the bow; but in others, as, e.g., the Californian bow figured, an advance on this is observed in the sinew layer being moulded so as to enclose completely the last inch or so of both ends, thus doing away with the necessity for binding at the extremities. In these latter forms the sinew extends beyond the ends of the wood or horn body of the bow, and forms solid tips, which are so moulded as to form the nocks. Nearly all are bound round at the centre with thongs of hide, or other material, for the hand grip. In order to give a firm hold to the sinew, the surface of the "back " of these bows is scored over with deep scratches, so as to present a rough surface. A marked recurved outline in the unstrung state is frequently exhibited, from the tension of the sinews, as will be seen from the figure, the curve in this specimen being of a very regular C shape.