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

The nock of the American arrow is far more important than that on the bow. A good classification may be based on this characteristic as pointed out long ago by this writer. The following classes are easily recognized:
(1) The flat nock, as in all Eskimo arrows and in very few others.
(2) The cylindrical nock, most noteworthy on all reed arrow shafts of the South and in those of the far Orient.
(3) The bulbous nock, exaggerated in size on the West Coast, by cut ting away the cedar wood as much as it would permit, and then wrapping the butt end of the arrow with a narrow riband of birch bark until it resembled a small Turk's head knot. The Plains Indians also created a bulbous nock by whittling away the arrow shaft a fourth of an inch above the end, leaving a cylinder for a finger grip.
(4) The swallow-tail nock, an exceedingly dainty form affording a wide open notch and flaring finger grip, without waste of material. (Examples in Plates XLIII-XLVII.)

Notches for the bow-string were either very shallow, angular gashes, U-shaped cuts with parallel sides or gracefully curved incisions resembling the horizontal portion of the Greek letter psi.

Combining the notch with the nock the student has a mark which is helpful in deciding the band or tribe. At any rate, American arrows differ in both.

There is another characteristic noticeable at this point, the distance of the nock from the feathering. In some tribes the latter crowds down over the nock. In other, more dainty specimens, the feathering is several inches away.

This special characteristic connects itself with Prof. Morse's most interesting study respecting " arrow release." It will be easily seen that the thin, flat nock of the Eskimo lends itself easiest to the second or the third class of Prof. Morse, while the bulbous nock and the flaring nock conform most easily to his first class, in which the thumb and first joint of the forefinger pinch the butt of the arrow. Coming south, into the reed arrow country, where the nock is cylindrical, the Tertiary release might be looked for.

Dr. Shufeldt describes the method of arrow-release among the Navajoes.[38]

"Having read, with great interest, Prof. Morse's pamphlet on arrow-release, it was with no little curiosity that I handed a bow and two or three arrows to an old gray-headed warrior present, and asked him, 'Draw-as if you were about to kill the worst enemy you had in the whole world.' The old fellow seized the bow and arrows, and immediately drew one of them to its very head. This is the position he stood in at the time: His left foot was slightly in advance of the right, the bow was firmly seized at its middle with the left hand, while it was held somewhat obliquely, the upper moiety inclining toward the right from the vertical line, and, of course, the lower limb having a corresponding inclination toward the left side. The two spare arrows were held with the bow in the left hand, being confined by the fingers against its right outer aspect. With the right hand he seized the proximal end of the arrow in the string, using the thumb and index finger, at a point fully an inch or more above the notch, and consequently including the feathers. The ring finger bore against the string below this seizure, and its pressure was re-enforced by its being overlapped by the middle digit, the little finger being curled within the palm of the hand.

"This corresponded to Prof. Morse's secondary release as figured on page 8, of the above referred-to pamphlet, with the exception that the middle finger should overlap the annularis, and was not of itself used to draw back the string. I noticed, too, that the arrow at its head was on the left side of the bow and simply rested on top of his clinched hand. This man wore, in common with all the others who used the bow, a stiff leather bracer, fastened by buckskin strings about his left wrist, the collar being about 2 inches deep, and this, in several others who stood near and who wore them, was ornamented with silver but tons. He drew the arrow back and forth three or four times without changing the position of his linger or hands, when I suddenly asked him to shoot as if he were going to kill a squirrel running up a tree. He smiled at this and simply drew the bow the same way. Upon further questioning him, he told me that the Navajoes rarely held their spare arrows in the bow hand, as he now had them, but carried a scab bard (quiver of buckskin) full, in front of them, from which they could be removed with great rapidity while firing; this he immediately demonstrated to me from one of the scabbards worn by an Indian there present."

In archery-arrows and in Asiatic examples a piece of hard wood is inserted at the nocking end of the arrow. But in American arrows the nock is always a part of the wood of the shaft. This piece, in technical language, is called the "footing," but it need not be here discussed.

The subject of poisoned arrows in North America is a vexed one. A very high authority has said that the thing was unknown. But I have the testimony of Bourke to the contrary. No one avers that these aborigines prepared a vegetable poison, like the curari. But the toxic effect of putrid flesh was known, whether or not bitten freely by rattlesnakes. Dr. W. J. Hoffman will bring together the evidence on this subject.[39]

Powiaken, a Salish chief, declared to Mrs. McBean that obsidian and glass points in arrows were poisonous (U. S. N. M. letter).

The Koniagas poisoned their arrow and lance points with a preparation of aconite, by drying and pulverizing the root, mixing the powder with water and, when it fermented, applying it to their weapons.

Bourke furnishes the following: "Selecting the roots of such plants as grow alone, these are dried and pounded or grated." {Sauer, Billing's Ex., 178.)

They made arrow points of copper, obtaining a supply from the Kenai of Copper River; and the wood was as finely finished as if turned in a lathe.

"Die Pfeilspitzen sind aus Eisen oder Kupfer ersteres erhalten sie von den Kenayern, letzteres von den Tutnen." (Baer, Stat. u. Ethn., 118.)

"De pedernal en forma de arpon, cortado contanta delicadeza como pudiera hacerlo el mas habil lapidario." (Bodega y Quadra, Nav., MS., 66.)[40]

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