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Home > Books > Book of archery > Section I: Juvenile Bowmen
Section I
Juvenile Bowmen
Part 2 of 6

But young gentlemen and young ladies, likewise, are sometirnes fickle and capricious even in their sports, the toy or pursuit which has amused them at one moment being often thrown aside in the next: the parents were aware of this, for human nature changes not with time or place; and knowing, moreover, that the lives and freedom, as well as the daily subsistence of their offspring, depended upon their adroitness, they adopted some judicious expedients to secure that constant application so essential to the acquirement of excellence in every art. Besides daily instruction from professors who taught the proper method of holding the weapon when aiming aloft, or at an object beneath them, their mothers never permitted them to breakfast until they had repeatedly struck a very small mark. Thus it is with the Bashkirs, a modern nation of archers subjeet subjectto Russia, who inhabit the shores of Lake Aral. A large squadron of these Tartar warriors hung upon and harassed the French, during their memorable retreat from Moscow, and entered Paris with the allied army in 1816. They were greatly esteemed by the Emperor, since, with no other weapons than their bow and quiver, they had rendered him most important services. Now, bread and vegetables being unknown to these uncultivated sons of the desert, they subsist entirely upon flesh procured in hunting; and when the reader is aware that, from age of seven years, their children receive no food except what they strike down with their arrows, he will not be surprised that the Russians should esteem a Bashkir archer equal to the best rifleman in their service. The Margravine of Anspach describes the exploits of a neighbouring horde of Tartars, several of whose young men had assembled one morning beneath her chamber window; at fifty paces they broke an egg, and killed a goose at one hundred.

In the same manner the little Indian of Demerara gets no breakfast until his arrows reach the maize cake and dried venison which his mother has placed in the fork of some lofty tree.

You may be disposed, my little friends, to consider these as hard conditions. Be resolute, however, in abstaining from yours every morning, for one twelvemonth, until half a dozen arrows have hit the target, and I'll stake my best yew bow against a hazel wand, your proficiency shall equal that of the Catabuwa warriors, who, about forty years ago, delighted the archery world by an exhibition of their skill at one of the London theatres.[22] Some of your parents probably witnessed these extraordinary performances: they can inform you the mark was scarcely bigger than a shilling; yet, for many evenings, they hit it at every shot; and, on an average, never missed oftener than two out of five.

In all operations dependent on manual dexterity, how great are the advantages possessed by the child over the grown man! A youth shall become a far better archer in one than the other in three years practice, and must infallibly prove victorious over his full-grown competitor in every contest. It is down right impiety says Xenophon, for such as have never learned to ride, to supplicate the gods for victory in a charge of horse; or for such as never learned the use of the bow, to ask the superiority over those who in childhood have laboured to acquire dexterity therein.

We esteem it the peculiar excellence of archery, that neither satiety nor fatigue attend it. At the close of the livelong summer's day, I believe no archer ever heard the upshot given.[23] without regret; without wishing his pastime was then but to commence. From the first initiatory lesson of stringing the bow, to the attainment of that excellence which enables the archer to "clap into the clout at twelve score," all is pleasurable excitement. Assiduity and exertion are indispensable; but

The labour we delight in physics pain.

The first bows used by Indian children are nothing more than a bent stick, their arrows a stout straw or small reed found abundantly in the savannahs. With this simple contrivance they will hit a small piece of tobacco-pipe twenty times successively, at the distance of a dozen yards. They have a favourite game practised with a bow and two shafts; one of which, short and unfledged, being east into the air, the archer aims to strike it with the other in its descent. As the youths approach manhood, their weapons are gradually strengthened, and more carefully constructed. Patient and laborious, the tawny hunter works at his bow from day to day, scraping it into form with a flint stone, or the sharp edge of some sea-shell; he next manufactures a string, tough and strong, from the entrails of deer, or a thong of hide carefully twisted. His task being thus complete, he lays it aside to acquire a little seasoning, and in the meantime sets about his arrows; for which he picks out a number of straight young sprigs, pointing them with a sharp bone, two inches in length. The great wood squirrel, wild turkeys, and other winged game are killed with these. Another kind of arrow he forms of a fine yellow reed, pierced with hard wood; the spur or bill of a wild turkey-cock, or a splinter of crystal, serves for the head; and in winging them the Indian exhibits similar ingenuity. With a knife made from a bit of reed, sharpened like a surgeon's scalpel, the feathers are cut to their proper form, and then neatly sewn on with cotton thread of his own spinning. The nock he forms with a beaver's tooth, set in a small stick; rubbing patiently until it is deep enough. Such is the slow, and often laborious process, by which the little North American savage equips himself for war or the chase.

Of all the archers of the New World, those nations who inhabit the vast interior of its southern continent seem at this day to exhibit the greatest strength, adroitness, and accuracy of aim. Their ancestors bore a similar reputation, especially the Tupinambas, whose weapons De Lery has so accurately described: their bows were made of iron-wood, either red or black, longer and thicker than what are used in Europe; nor could any European bend them. A plant called tocon formed the string, which, though slender, was so strong that a horse could not by fair pulling break it. Their arrows were a full cloth yard in length, and curiously constructed in three parts-- the middle being of reed, the two others of heavy hard wood; the feathers were fastened on with cotton; and the head was either of bone, or a blade of dry reed, cut into the form of an old lancet, or the sting of a certain species of fish. They were incomparable archers. "With leave of the English," says De Lery, "who are so excellent in this art, I must say that a Tupinamba would shoot twelve arrows before an Englishman could let fly six." The Fidalgo of Elvas adds, that an Indian would shoot five arrows before the Spanish cross-bowman could make one discharge. "Well might they speak of the bows of the mighty," exclaims Dr. Southey, "for an arrow sent by a Tomoyo would fasten the shield to the arm that held it; and sometimes it has passed through the body, and continued its way with such force as to pierce a tree and hang quivering in the trunk."[24]

Among the bowmen of the far West, hardihood, strength, and address distinguish the natives of the Floridas. The exercise of archery forms the first sport of childhood; and their young and agile warriors consider its implements confer a peculiar grace on all who bear them. No sooner does the infant walk, than, actuated by the spirit of imitation peculiar to that age, he watches his father as he arms himself for the chase, and following his footsteps beneath the tall forest trees, earnestly begs from him a mimic bow and arrows. Should his request be denied or neglected--which, it may be presumed, is rarely the case--the little urchin himself forms a rude imitation with the branch of some small tree growing around the wigwam, and wages war upon mice and vermin which infest his native hut. When these are entirely driven away or destroyed, he sallies forth to hunt lizards and other reptiles concealed in the tall grass, or watches patiently for hours around their holes, until the want of food obliges them to come out, and affords their persecutor an opportunity of getting a shot. With muscles thus hardened by daily exercise, ere the Indian has attained his eighteenth summer he is master of a bow, such as even in the prime of manhood the most skilful modern Toxophilite is seldom found competent to manage. It is repeatedly asserted by the Spanish historians, that none of their countrymen could ever draw the string of a Floridan's bow to his face, while the young natives did so with ease even behind the ear.

In common with other parts of the New World, this country was exposed to the desolating visits of the Spaniards, who, under presence of settling a colony, wasted it with fire and sword, about the close of the fifteenth century. Among the troops composing the expedition was a body of 400 cavalry, all equipped in the completest manner, as they considered their coats of mail musket-proof, and used bucklers, for the admirable tempering of which their native armourers have always enjoyed a deserved reputation. How far these defences availed them against the arrows of a people unacquainted with the use of iron, I now proceed to show. In one of their earliest skirmishes with the Apalachites, a Spanish general called Moscoso received an arrow in his right side, which pierced his buff jerkin and coat of mail, but did not prove mortal, because it entered in a slanting direction. The officers of his staff, wondering that a piece of armour valued at more than 150 ducats should be unable to resist a reed arrow headed merely with a sharp flint, resolved to prove the temper of their own, in order to ascertain how far they might be depended on. Whilst, therefore, they were quartered in the town of Apalachia, several who wore that species of defence procured a wicker basket, very strong and closely woven, and flung around it a coat of mail which was judged to be about the heaviest and most impregnable in the whole army. Then ordering a youthful Indian captive to be introduced, they promised him freedom in case he pierced the mark at the distance of 150 paces. Immediately the barbarian clenched his fists, shook himself violently, and contracted and extended his arms as if to awaken all his force; then stringing a bow which had been previously delivered to him, he elevated it at the mark; and loosing his arrow, it drove through both armour and basket, and came out at the opposite side with violence sufficient to have slain a man. The Spaniards, finding a single piece of armour was ineffectual to resist the arrow, threw a second upon the basket, and ordered the Indian to repeat his shot; when he immediately pierced that likewise. Nevertheless, as the shaft did not pass entirely through, but remained sticking half in front and half behind, because, as the barbarian asserted, he had failed this time to put forth his utmost strength, he begged to be allowed to shoot a third time, on condition that if he failed to drive the arrow through and through, ho should immediately suffer death.

The Spaniards, satisfied with what they had already witnessed, refused to comply with his request, but ever afterwards held their coats of mail in little esteem, and contemptuously styled them "Dutch Holland." However, as a more effectual protection for the horses, they invented a sort of body clothes made of strong thick felt' doubled and trebled until about four fingers thick, which covered the animal's breast and croup, and was found to repel the arrow better than any thing besides.[25]

These examples will serve to illustrate the force and vigour with which early discipline enabled the Indian youth to ply their bows. I will but detain my little readers with an additional anecdote to show the minute accuracy of their aim. A poor mariner named Alexander Cockburn, about a century since, suffered shipwreck upon the shores of the Isthmus of Darien, and being desirous of reaching some Christian settlement, penetrated into the interior of the country for several hundred miles on foot. During this long and painful expedition, his sole dependence was upon the hospitality of the tawny inhabitants of the forest; and as each declining sun successively admonished him to seek food and shelter for the night, he boldly entered the first reed-thatched dwelling which presented itself, and was ever welcomed to both. "One day about noon," says he, "I came to a great river, where, after I had allayed my thirst, I sought about for wood to make a fire, and whilst busied about this, I espied a wigwam on the other side of the river; then, instead of minding my fire any longer, I ran, catched up my nets, swam across to it, and then had the mortification to find nobody near. Looking about withoutside the wigwam, I saw an arrow sticking in the sand at one end of it, and within there hung a net containing two ripe plantains, which I made bold to eat." He then visits another dwelling, "where I found," says he, "a fire, and an earthen crock full of plantains and wild hog boiling. Without so much as considering what I was about to do, I presently took the victuals off the fire, and ate so heartily that I thought I should never be satisfied. Never had I met with such delicious fare as this seemed to me at the time, not having tasted anything for above forty days but cocoa-nuts and such like food."At length he is joined by the owner of the wigwam and his two sons, who provide him with a second supper, with a couch of warm skins, and on the following morning proffer their services as guides. After describing how these hospitable Indians detained him several days in order that he might recruit his strength, and heal with the juice of herbs the wounds he had received in "fencing with the rocks," he adds, that the two boys grew extremely attached to him, and were curious to know whether he could use a bow and arrows. Having made them understand, in broken Spanish, that he was entirely unacquainted with them, because in his own country guns only were used, they often displayed astonishing feats of dexterity by striking down the smallest bird flying. He says that he has seen them stand perhaps a hundred yards from a bird feeding upon the ground, and, by shooting directly upwards, cause the arrow to pin it to the earth; and mentions, as a further instance of their skill, that they would stick a shaft upright, and, retiring a great way off, shoot perpendicularly as before, when the arrow so shot descended exactly upon the other which was fixed in the ground, and split it in two.

Beltroni describes how dexterously some Indian children hit a five sous piece, in size equal to our sixpence, which he fixed up at twenty-five paces as a mark, often at the second trial. By-and-bye he was fain to remove it ten paces further, or very soon they would have emptied the little purse prepared for his visit to their encampment.

The Indians of Manilla, especially those called Zambales, who live in the mountains, are dexterous archers. They have, in fact, no other weapon, offensive or defensive, than the bow and arrow. M. Navaretti, a French gentleman, who landed there during his voyage to China, witnessed a remarkable feat performed by these savages. "I had heard," says he, "ancient men narrate such marvels of their skill as I could not but consider mere fables. Experience, however, soon taught me that if it becomes us to be cautious in implicitly receiving all we hear, neither ought we to be so incredulous as I was. In rambling through some mountains in the interior of the island, a party of natives overtook me. Among them were four boys about seven or eight years of age, all equipped as archers. Considering this a fair opportunity to witness a specimen of their skill, I took an orange from my pocket and threw it high into the air, saying, 'Shoot that, my lads.' All four struck it in its descent, and beat it to pieces. This occurred in the little town they call Albucanamtas."

Let us next draw a few illustrations from the "Oriental Book of Archery."

Busjady, one of the youthful descendants of Kajan, was renowned for his expertness; and having on a certain occasion quarrelled with his brother, they met on horseback to decide their mutual differences with the bow; but fear entered into the heart of Cabuscheira at the moment they were about to commence the duel. He therefore leaned his body quite on one side, and held his bow directly before him, trusting to the proudly arched neck of his steed as a protection from Busjady's shaft. This pusillanimous saved his life, for pity succeeded to rage within the brother's breast; he resolved not to kill him, as he could easily have done, but merely to exhibit some memorable token of his skill. With this view, he aimed at Cabuscheira's cheek, and struck from his ear the pendant of pearls, leaving behind the gold ring to which it had been attached.[26]

I will next present my little disciples with a few flowers plucked from an Eastern parterre; or, to speak less figuratively, the history of a young Indian archer, written with that amusing extravagance of language for which Oriental people have always been remarkable. Should the reader chance to light upon a scarce work called Inatulli, or the Garden of Delhi, he may there peruse the original.

Let it not be concealed that from this period, about twenty years, your atom-like slave lived as a soldier. One day, in company with some faithful friends and similarly minded companions, I went to visit a fruit garden. In it was a tree taller than all the rest, its dates hanging in clusters, like moist confections, delicious, full of juice, sweet, and full-flavoured; but, from the great height, the hand of no one's power could pluck the fruit. No person having yet had the boldness to climb the tree, its produce was free from the devastation of man.

It was a date tree of tallest growth,
From whose size the garden received honour;
Every cluster of its fruits was a storehouse of sweets,
From which the crow arid paroquet seized a treasure.

As your slave, in the exercise of climbing trees, especially the date, the cocoa-nut, and the palmyra, had attained the utmost agility, and my friends esteemed me famous in this art, all of them at once laying the hand of avidity on my skirt, said, 'Under the auspices of your kindness, we hope that we shall taste the rare and richly flavoured dates of this tree, and also have the pleasure of beholding how you can ascend so lofty a stem, whose head reached the battlements of the sky, and of whose fruit none hath yet eaten but the soarers of the air. It must be by miracle, for what power has humanity to scale the turrets of the heavens?' Though I turned myself aside from this request, begging in every mode to be excused, and evaded the trial, my friends, out of extreme longing for the dates, would not withdraw their hold from my poor person. At length, in spite of disinclination, I tucked up my skirts like a running footman, and drawing in my sleeves in the manner of a magic acting rope-dancer, climbed up this heaven-touching tree, which you might have styled the ladder of the sky; while a vast crowd below formed a circle round the trunk to admire my agility.

When I got to the top, the tallest and lustiest men seemed from its towering height to my eye as little children, and sometimes my sight was lost halfway. The crowd began to form alarming conjectures in their minds concerning my safety. In short, having gathered some clusters of great beauty, richness, and fragrance, I put them in the skirts of my vest, and threw others to my friends below, when suddenly a black snake, with a white hood tinged with yellow, of great thickness and length, from whose life-destroying glance the gall would melt to water, and the stoutest heart dissolve like salt, appeared among the leaves, and darted towards me, devoted to death. A trembling seized my whole frame at the sight; and, from dread at his monstrous figure, my joints and members seemed as if they would separate from each other, and the bird of life would quit the nest of my body. Should I throw myself down, reasoned I to myself, the spiritual soarer will' half-way in the descent, break her elemental cage; and if I stop here, this heart-melting serpent, which resembles a divine judgment or sudden calamity will devour me in an instant at one morsel. Both these are grievous; but what is still more afflicting is my becoming a mark for the tongue of mankind, who will say, 'This foolish wretch, a slave to gluttony, sacrificed his life for a few dates.' While I was thus meditating, the blood-devouring serpent reached me, and folding himself around me, hung from my neck like a wreath, distending his jaws, full of wind and venom, close to my mouth; and fixing his dark poisonous eyes upon my face, began to dart out his tongue.

From affright my senses now deserted me, so that to describe my alarm and despair is out of the power of relation. My hair even now stands erect at the remembrance. Such a dryness seized my joints and members from terror, that not the least moisture remained in my body, and the blood became stagnant in my veins. My nails clung so closely to the trunk, that you would have said they were the fingers of the Chinar[27] growing from the tree. A vast concourse of people stood around below, who beat together their hands in distress, and from despair uttered cries and shrieks, which reached my ears in horrible sound; while my kinsmen and friends in despondency scattered dust upon their heads.

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