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Home > Books > Mason > North American Bows, Arrows and Quivers > The Arrow - Part 4
The Arrow
Part 4 of 9

The North American savages were excellent quarrymen. In every region they knew the very best kinds of siliceous stones, the very best places to find these stones, the natural conditions under which they were kept in the most fracturable state, the best way to break, flake, and chip each stone into the desired shape.[23] The Indian was also a good lapidary, as numerous sites examined by Holmes will attest.

Arrow-heads are found in immense numbers about the fields and along the banks of rivers in the United States. It would not be an error to say that they are numbered by millions. They occur in great abundance upon the sites of ancient camps, near shell heaps, fishing grounds, and about the fields where used to wander the deer and other game sought by the Aborigines. This is evidence that the making of an arrow-head was an easy matter, while the shaft required much time and patience to finish.

It has been said that by means of the stone, the shape and artistic skill with which it is wrought, the edges, the tang, and the consequent attachment to the shaft, arrows differ from tribe to tribe and individual makers show certain idiosyncrasies in the same tribe. Chert, slate and ivory in Eskimo land, wood and bone along the volcanic portions of the Pacific Slope, in British Columbia and Alaska; the most beautiful heads in the world of obsidian and jasper series in Oregon and California, coarser stone in the East at once proclaim what kind of arrows this or that tribe used.

According to Holmes the stages in making an arrowhead are fracturing, chipping, flaking. Fracturing is done at the quarry or wherever the original stone is picked up. The simplest fashion is breaking one stone with another; but stone from a quarry works better than surface bowl ders. When the workable stone was in masses the Indian had more convenient tools, stone hammers or sledges, picks of wood or antler, and even fire if he had need of it. The first operation is to break up the original bowlders or masses so as to get out of its interior spalls capable of being wrought into blades. Each kind of stone had its own best way of treatment, whether quartz, quartzite, rhyolite, chert, agate, jasper, chalcedony, obsidian, or what not. There did not exist in the United States so pliable a form of flint as that occurring in great abundance in western Europe. Obsidian and jasper gave the best results.

Chipping was also done with a hammer, but, this time, a pebble of hard stone, oblong, convenient for the thumb and two fingers, and somewhat bluntly pointed. The writer has often seen arrow-makers hold a spall of stone in the left hand between the thumb and closed fore finger, and by means of a dainty hammer stone knock off flakes with the greatest rapidity, barely touching the edge of the spall at each blow. Arrow-heads for common use may be finished by this means. (Plate I.)

The flaking of blades was done with a flaker. The simplest form of the flaker is a piece of bone from the leg of a deer, pointed at one end. The essential characteristics of the working end of this tool are that it be stout enough to stand any amount of pressure that a man can give, and that it be of such a texture that it will "take hold" of the stone. The outer side of antler, hard bones from the legs of ruminants, and even soft iron are excellent, but ivory or steel are not good materials for flakers. (I.)

The Eskimo[24] make the best flakers, working the point from antler of the caribou and the handle from ivory, carving the latter to fit the hand and to give to the workman the best "purchase." The point is set in the end of the handle and firmly lashed in place by means of rawhide.

All tribes do not use the flaker similarly. If the reader will take a tooth-brush handle in his right hand and a chip of siliceous stone in the other, he may try the following methods:
(1) Lay the spall or chip on a table or bit of wood, holding it firmly in place with the left thumb and forefinger. Grasp the tooth-brush firmly in the right hand, with the thumb on the top. The handle will work better if it be sharpened like a husking peg. Press down the point near the edge of the spall firmly, and remove chips along the under side.
(2) Lay the chip on the palm of the left hand gloved, or upon a bit of rawhide, holding it in place with the fingers, but not the thumb. Press off flakes along the edge of the chip.
(3) Grasp the chip between the thumb and forefinger, so that its outer edge will lie along the ball of the thumb. Hold firmly with fingers and press off flakes toward the thumb.

In all cases the operator needs confidence and knack. Wonderful results are achieved by good workmen in such brittle material as bottle glass, obsidian, and the jaspers.

There are in Washington several men connected with the Bureau of Ethnology who are capable of producing the most beautiful arrow heads from bits of obsidian or glass.

Within the past year or two a new light has been thrown upon the whole operation of arrow-head-making. Extensive ancient quarries have been opened in Washington City, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Arkansas, and the processes revealed. There were several steps followed certainly by the eastern fletcher.[25]
(1) The digging of moist stone from the quarry.
(2) The making of blanks on the spot.
(3) The finishing by the processes named.

The arrow-maker among the Virginia Indians, for making his shafts, used a knife with a blade of beaver tooth set in a wooden handle. This served him for saw, knife, and chisel. John Smith tells us that he made the notch in his arrow-shaft by grating with this knife. For chipping his arrow-heads of stone he used "a little bone, which he ever weareth at his bracer, or any splint of a stone or glasse in the forme of a hart." The arrow-head was fastened to the shaft with deer sinew, held firm by means of a glue made of the tops of deer horns boiled to a jelly. This method is not unlike that of the Apache, Utes, and other tribes of the great interior basin.[26]

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