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Home > Books > Mason > North American Bows, Arrows and Quivers > The Arrow - Part 2
The Arrow
Part 2 of 9

The feathers of the arrow are usually taken from the wing or tail feathers of rapacious birds, though others are sometimes used. The feather is carefully split from one end to the other, and the pith and unnecessary parts of the quill carefully removed, so as to leave the plume and only a strip of the midrib. In laying the feather upon the arrow-shaft differences of manipulation existed among the different tribes. In some of them the midrib was laid close to the shaftment and glued tight, while the ends were seized with sinew, and the plume was shorn either very close to the shaftment in a parallel line or into some other artistic form. Not only the knowledge of birds was necessary in the choice and the arrangement of the feather, but there was a great deal of mythology connected with the proper bird whose feathers should be placed upon the arrow and the position and seizings connected with the feathering. (Plates XX-LX.)

The manufacture of the head of the arrow and its various parts involves knowledge of bone, ivory, or horn, and also familiar acquaintance with stone and stone-working. Arrowheads differ from one another in material, in size, in form, and in methods of attachment. The savage arrow-maker was a mineralogist. He not only knew the qualities of rocks but also their best methods of working, as well as the best conditions in which they existed for his purposes in nature. In each country the material employed is in every case the best from that region. In a large collection from the United States arrow-heads have been made of every variety of quartz, chalcedony, agate, jasper, horn-stone, chert, novaculite, slate, argillite, and obsidian. In rare cases even quartz crystal, carnelian, amethyst, and opal were used. In working these materials the savage inventor soon found that the physical properties and availability of the material changed by natural surroundings. He knew by experimentation that a stone lying in a brook yielded him better results than one exposed to the sun and the weather on the open fields, and that a bowlder buried in the damp earth where it has lain for many centuries gave him safer results with less work than the brook pebble, so that he not only became a critical expert in the qualities of materials, but also was led to become a quarryman in order to exploit the proper materials. It has been very well shown by Professor Holmes that many spots supposed to have been the refuse heaps of Indian camps for many years, are only the sites of ancient stone quarries, and the pieces found buried in these heaps are the refuse of their manufacture. In places the necessary rock could not be found in bowlders either on the surface or in the streams or in the gravel beds, but the materials were part of ancient ledges under ground, as in Ohio, Arkansas, and other places. It was necessary there to remove the surface soil, to dig out great pits, and by means of sledges and fire and other means within the capabilities of this Indian workman, to detach cores and masses of material which could be subsequently worked up into arrow-heads and other implements. As soon as the arrow-maker had secured his stock he began to work it up into the shape desired, first, with a stone hammer, by means of which he knocked off flakes or spalls of the proper size and shape. Sometimes he would introduce between his stone hammer and the block of material a "pitching tool" of antler or hard bone. As soon as the flake of proper dimensions was removed, the next thing with the artist was to bring this into proper form by means of the flaking tool or flaker. The method of dressing the chip of flint into shape varied from tribe to tribe; in some the pressure was downward; in others it was upward; and the method of holding the hand and doing the work will be described under the head of "arrow-makers' tools." Arrow-heads are frequently confounded with spear-heads and knife or dagger-blades. The smallest objects of this class are usually arrow heads, and the size alone would decide in many cases, because, after reaching a certain weight, the blade would defeat its own purpose by being any larger. But there is no difference in shape between the arrow-head and the other objects mentioned. A great deal of attention has been paid to the forms of arrow-heads, but they may be reduced to a few simple classes, such as the leaf-shaped, either com plete or truncated; the triangular, and the stemmed. Sub divisions of these classes have been formed by archeologists, but many of these are such as have resulted from the limitations of the material in the hand of the artist. He has simply made that particular form because the material would yield to that and no other. Prof. Thomas Wilson, in classifying the arrows in the National Museum, mentions those, first. with beveled edges, the bevel being in one direction; second, with ser rated edges; third, with bifurcated stems; fourth, with long barbs at the ends; fifth, triangular in section; sixth, broadest at the cutting end; and, seventh, all polished arrows.

As will be seen in the general and special descriptions of arrows, other substances besides stone were used for the heads. In the north and among the Esquimauan stock, frequently bone, ivory, antler, horn, and wood are found taking the place of stone. In each case that material was selected which would bring about the best results. For instance, what is called the "rankling" arrow, for the destruction of the reindeer, has its head made from the leg bones of the deer, the barbs upon the side are very sharp, and the dowel, for the insertion into the shaft of the arrow, very small, so that when the animal is struck the head would easily come out of the shaft and at every movement of the victim be carried further in toward its vital parts. Coming southward along the Pacific Slope, slate replaces chipped stone, and for barbed arrows native copper, bone, and wood are used. A few arrows from this region have also heads of shell. Along the Rocky Mountain slopes, in the land of the buffalo, before the days of iron heads; bone was used quite as often as stone in the fabrication of arrow-heads. Very few specimens are preserved in cur museums of arrows from the tribes of the Eastern States, but historians convince us they were not different from their Western relatives in the material and form of their arrow-heads. Of the ancient inhabitants of this continent the perishable material of arrows constituting the shaft and other parts has rotted and left us naught but the stone heads. Even those of bone and wood and other material have passed away, so as to leave the impression that the Indians of this eastern region used only stone; but all authorities agree that other substances were employed quite as frequently as the last named.

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