Notes on the Bows, Arrows, and Quivers of Various Tribes
Part 4 of 7
"I saw few lances among the Blackfeet, but many war clubs which they have taken from the Flatheads. Many have thick leather shields painted green and red, and hung with feathers and other things."
All the Sioux tribes use a short arrow, with long shaftment bearing three eagle feathers. The shafts were marked with the lightning fur rows, and streaked in different colors. The Sioux procured iron centuries ago and substituted it for the stone head. One of the rarest specimens in any museum is a Sioux arrow with a jasper point.
Mr. Dorsey says that the Omaha use the following as their arrow-measures: From the inner angle of the elbow to the tip of the middle finger, and thence over the back of the hand to the wrist bone.
"When in need of arrow points the Sioux would take his rawhide or buckskin sack or bag and go in search of the above-mentioned stones; when found would take another heavy stone, and by striking and breaking the stone, would gather the fragments that would serve for arrow or spear points. Those flakes which required less work in trimming or chipping would be placed in his sack, and when enough were collected he would take them to his lodge to fashion. Holding the arrow, spear, or knife piece in his hand, he would chip carefully with another flint or iron rock, or placing the sharp edge against the projecting piece or par ticle to be removed, being careful in only chipping or forcing off sufficient to make the stone in proper shape, with sharp edge and point. They made the grooves in war clubs, axes, hammers, or bone breakers by constant pecking. "There was another kind of arrow point they made of which I never heard before, and that was out of the front part of the foreleg of an elk, between fetlock and knee joint. They would take that bone and break it, and slivers that would answer were made into arrow points by grinding them on a stone. They make a good arrow point, but not so strong as the flint points.
"The stone arrow points were each separately bound with sinews to protect them from breaking even in the quiver, and the arrows were unwrapped before starting after a herd of buffalo.”
The unwrapping of the sinew before shooting is quite new testimony, but Mr. Allen has lived on the frontier many years in Montana.
"Among the plains Indians," says Dodge "a good bow takes a long time and much labor in its construction. The best wood is the osage orange ('bois d'arc' of the old French trappers, corrupted into 'bow dark' by plains Americans). This wood grows in comparatively a limited area of country, and long journeys are sometimes made to obtain it. Only the best are selected, straight, and as free as possible from knots. The seasoning process is slow and very thorough. A little cutting, shaping, and scraping with knife or piece of glass, then a hard rubbing with buffalo fat or brains, and the stick is put aside in a warm place, to be worked at again in a few days or weeks. A good bow with fair usage will last many years, but it is liable to be broken at any time by accident. Each warrior, therefore, possesses several sticks of bow wood in various stages of completion.
"The strings are formed of closely-twisted fibers of the sinews of animals. These sinews are cut out their full length. Each is then sub divided longitudinally into strings, and these picked and re-picked into fibers as fine as hair and as long as possible. With the rude means at their disposal it requires no little skill so to put and twist these fibers together as to form a string perfectly round and of precisely the same size and tension from end to end.
"The arrows require in the aggregate much more labor than the bow. Any hard, tough, straight-grained wood is used. It is scraped to proper size and shape, and must be perfectly round. The head is either of stone or iron-of late years almost exclusively of iron, for stone of the necessary hardness is extremely difficult to work, and twenty or more stones are spoiled or broken for each arrow-head made.
"Under the most favorable circumstances, however, the most skillful Indian workman can not hope to complete more than a single arrow in a hard day's work. In a short fight, or an exciting dash after game, he will expend as many arrows as will keep him busily at work for a month to replace.
"The constructive industry of the men was confined principally to the making of arms, bows, arrows, shields, and spears. These were all objects in which they took great pride. The favorite material for bows was bois d'arc (Maclura aurantiaca). When these could not be obtained hickory or coffee bean (Gymnocladus Canadensis) was used. The name ti-rak-is, bow, seem to indicate that bows were once made of bone, the ribs of the buffalo or other large animal, skillfully fitted and wrapped throughout with sinew. Forty years ago bows of this kind, and also of elk horn were occasionally found in use. Choice bows were some times made of red cedar, and if carefully used answered well, but were extremely liable to be shattered by any rough handling. The making of a good bow was a task involving long and painstaking labor. It was wrought into shape only a little at a time, being repeatedly oiled meanwhile, and constantly handled to keep the wood pliable. When finished the bow was sometimes wrapped with sinew and its strength thereby greatly increased. The string was of sinew from the back of the buffalo. As soon as the sinew was taken from the animal the par ticles of flesh adhering were scraped off and the minute fibres carefully separated. The best of these were selected and twisted into a string of uniform size and elasticity. One end of this string was fastened securely in place upon the bow, and the other furnished with a loop so adjusted that in an instant, as occasion required, the bow might be strung or unstrung.