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Home > Books > Mason > North American Bows, Arrows and Quivers > The Arrow - Part 6
The Arrow
Part 6 of 9

"A good deal of the sharpener's work, too, consisted in freshening up the edges of points blunted by use. "One arrow-head, weather-worn by exposure, was shown me, with a border of fresh fractures extending from one-eighth to one-fourth of an inch in from the edge, where the sharpener's tool had been.

"There results from this process a serrated edge, which in the best specimens is beautifully line and regular, but in rougher tools is often coarse. The old workman was careful of his stock in trade, and rolled up the fruit of his industry in a piece of ragged blanket to prevent its being injured while in transit from place to place."[29]

In this charming bit of description the old man played the following roles:
(1) Discriminating the best pieces of stone to work, mineralogist.
(2) Obsidian knapper, stone-breaker.
(3) Flaker, with deer-horn tool working on the palm.
(4) As retouching injured blades, repairer of arrow-heads.
(5) Preserver of forms, a kind of wild Vishnu, laying up against future work all his stock in trade.

There seems to be little modern testimony to the assertion that the savage had learned to bevel the sides of his arrow heads alternately, for the purpose of making his arrow revolve in the air. Mr. Cushing has shown that this alternate beveling of the edges was a natural result of holding the piece of stone in a certain way along the thumb during the operation of chipping.

Lieut. Ray was the first to actually send to the National Museum a bit of antler, 6 inches long and about three quarters of an inch in diameter, to be used like a stonecutter's punch or pitching tool or a smith's punch in knocking off chips in the process of arrow-making.[30] But there are constant references to this intermediary tool. The writer, who has experimented in most aborginal stone-working methods, has not attempted to use this apparatus in order to know its limits.

The substitution of hoop iron and other metal and glass for arrow heads was one of the first lessons of acculturation learned by the American tribes. No custom or fashion was violated by this; the shaft and feather, that is, the manual part of the arrow, and all social and mythic portions remained unchanged.[31] This is the universal law of transfer from lower to higher grades. It is for the reason that woman's arts merely take better tools to do the very same work that savage women are easier to elevate than men.

For straightening the shafts of arrows, and even the bone or ivory used for points, the aborigines employed a kind of wrench. In the south it was merely a convenient bit of wood, spindle-shaped, having a hole through the middle. The Utes used the end of the horn of the mountain sheep, perforated with holes of different sizes. The Plains Indians utilized the hard bones of the buffalo. The West Coast tribes made use of blocks of elk horn, and the Eskimo carved out of walrus ivory excellent tools for this purpose.[32] (Plate XXXIX.)

For grinding down and polishing arrow shafts the Indian had a special set of tools. There are in the U. S. National Museum from several localities small slabs of sandstone with a shallow groove running longitudinally in which the arrow shaft was laid and drawn back and forward. The leaves of grass containing siliceous matter served for the smoothing process. Finally, a smooth stone or bit of bone served to rub down the shaft and put on the finishing touches. The term "shaft grooves " is preferable for those straight or serpentine or zigzag furrows cut on an arrow shaft between the shaftment and the head or the fore-shaft. They have been alleged to be symbolical of the lightning to invoke the spirit of destruction to dwell in the arrow. Others denominate them "blood-streaks," supposing they promote bleeding from a wound, so that the hunter could follow up his game by the trail of blood. The reed shafts never bear such streaks; the Eskimo do not make them, neither do the Northwest Coast Indians. Athapascan, Shoshonean, Siouan, Kaiowan tribes are especially given to this practice. The fur rows do not always follow the same plan, and it would have been easy some years ago to work out series of patterns for these marks and determine their relation to tribes. They are in general: (1) straight and parallel; (2) wavy and sinuous; (3) zigzag, without design. (PL XLI, fig. 3.)

The same tribe used arrows of about one length and weight, as correct shooting, like good penmanship, is a balancing of a hundred sensibilities. Every good archer drew his bow to the arrow-head every shot, for near or for far. If one's bow be drawn always to arrow-head, and one's arrows be always of the same length, whether from his own quiver or from another's, the elements of variability are much reduced. It must be from some such cause that the arrows of each tribe agree so nearly in length. Indeed, since neighboring tribes shoot one another's arrows, there is undoubted inter-tribal agreement in length within limits. It is not here affirmed that the arrows of a tribe are exactly of a length. The variations are within certain narrow limits.

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