Archery is nearly a lost art. Among civilized peoples it survives only as a game. It is well known, however, that even as late as two centuries ago the how was a vigorous competitor with the flintlock in warfare. Benjamin Franklin at the beginning of the Revolution seriously considered the possibility of arming the American troops with the longbow, as a cheaper and more effective weapon than the flintlock1 musket. That the archery even of the American Indian was, during the early periods of occupation, substantially as effective as the musketry of the period is attested in the historic records of some of the explorers.2 Such aboriginal archery has, of course, undergone a great decadence since the rifle has supplanted the bow. It is now almost, extinct. As a matter of fact, we have very little accurate information as to how the Indians used their weapons, and still less as to how they made them. The present paper is an attempt to present the facts concerning the archery of one tribe, the Yahi or Deer Creek Indians of north-central California, the most southerly division of the Yanan3 stock, as represented in the person of its last survivor, Ishi, who lived from 1911 to 1916 at the University of California. The paper will deal first with the very interesting methods of the Yahi for the manufacture of the implements of archery, and, second, their style of shooting.
It must be remembered that the performances of civilized archers, who practice with the bow as a sport, far surpass those of savages. It is a curiouis fact that archery was brought to perfection only after the bow became obsolete as a serious weapon It is interesting, therefore, to compare the Yahi "style" with that of the more skilful archers who follow the rules of the modern game.
Ishi, the native informant for the present paper, comes of a tribe famous for its fighting qualities. The group lived to a considerable extent on wild game and the bow was their glory and their delight. We have no reason to believe that their skill or the strength of their weapons was inferior to that of the average American savage. Concerning the informant himself, the following might be said:
Ishi loved his bow as he loved nothing else in his possession.
He knew what a gun was, but he had never shot one until after 1911 when he entered civilization. The bow he had used ever since boyhood. When captured he had no weapons, though a bow and many arrows were taken from his lodge by those who first discovered the camp where the remnant of his people were living. Some of these arrows we later recovered, some through the generosity of the finders and some by purchase, but his original bow is missing.
What the writer knows of Ishi's archery is based upon three years' association with him. In this period many hours were spent in making bows and arrows, in talking about shooting, in target practice, and in hunting trips in the fields and woods. During the years 1913 and 1914 there was opportunity for two extended trips in the mountains in his company. Dr. J. V. Cooke and the present writer took up the practice of archery in 1912 under Ishi's guidance, at first according to the Indian's own methods, though later we followed the English style. At first Ishi was our master in marksmanship, but at the end of a few months we were able to outdo him at target work, and to equal his performances in shooting game. This does not in any way imply greater skill on our part, but does point clearly to the actual superiority of the "civilized" methods.
In speaking of the techniques of manufacture used by Ishi, it must be remembered that he soon adopted civilized tools in this work. The jackknife and file supplanted the obsidian blade and the scraper of sandstone. He only returned to his primitive ways when requested to show the processes he formerly performed.
He was a most painstaking and finished workman. His dexterity and ingenuity were delightful to watch. No better specimens of arrowheads, shafts, and bows are contained in the Museum of the University than those made by him. Probably better ones were never made anywhere. His eye for form and symmetry was perfect.