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The Bow
Part 3 of 8

The Pawnee warrior always preferred a bow of bois d'arc, and besides the one in actual use he would often have in his lodge a stick of the same material, which at his leisure he would be working into shape as a provision against possible exigency. Bows of this wood were rarely traded away. Bois d'arc, however, was to be obtained only in the South, and for the purpose of procuring it a sort of commerce was kept up with certain tribes living there.[12]

The Blackfeet made their bows of the Osage Orange, but they were compelled to procure it by trade from the tribes down on the Arkansas River.[13] The Blackfeet are Siouan in language and dwelt in the buffalo country in northwestern Dakota. They were in the same mode of life as the Pawnees, who dwelt farther south and are of the Caddoan stock. The whole length of the Missouri River was traversed in this Blackfeet commerce. (Plate LXXXIV, fig. 2.)

The Central Eskimo, about Hudson Bay, have two kinds of bows (pitique), a wooden one (Boas's figs. 438 and 439, p. 502), and another made of reindeer antlers (Boas's figs. 440 and 441, p. 503). Parry gives a very good description of the former (II, p. 510):

"One of the best of their bows of a single piece of fir, 4 feet 8 inches in length, flat on the inner side and rounded on the outer, being 5 inches in girth about the middle, where, however, it is strengthened on the concave side, when strung, by a piece of bone 10 inches long, firmly secured by treenails of the same material. At each end is a horn of bone, or sometimes of wood covered with leather, with a deep notch for the reception of the string. The only wood which they can procure not possessing sufficient elasticity combined with strength, they ingeniously remedy the defect by securing to the back of the bow, and to the horns at each end, a quantity of small lines, each composed of a plat or "sinnet" of three sinews. The number of lines thus reaching from end to end is generally about thirty; but, besides these, several others are fastened with hitches round the bow, in pairs, commencing 8 inches from one end, and again united at the same distance from the other, making the whole number of strings in the middle of the bow sometimes amount to sixty. These being put on with the bow some what bent the contrary way, produce a spring so strong as to require considerable force as well as knack in stringing it, and giving the requisite velocity to the arrow. The bow is completed by a woolding round the middle and a wedge or two here and there, driven in to tighten it.

The bow represented in Boas's fig. 439, p. 503, is from Cumberland Sound and resembles the Iglulik pattern. The fastening of the sinew lines is different and the piece of bone giving additional strength to the central part is wanting. In Cumberland Sound and farther south wooden bows each made of a single piece were not very rare; the wood necessary for their manufacture was found in abundance on Tudjan (Resolution Island), whence it was brought to the more northern districts.

The bows which are made of antler generally consist of three pieces, a stout central one beveled on both ends and two limb pieces riveted to it. The central part is either below or above the limbs, as represented in Boas's fig. 440, p. 503. These bows are strengthened by sinew cord in the same way as the wooden ones, and generally the joints are secured by strong strings wound around them. A remark able bow made of antlers is represented in Boas's fig. 441, p. 503. The grip is not beveled, but cut off straight at the ends. The joint is effected by two additional pieces on each side, a short stout one outside, a long thin one inside. These are firmly tied together with sinews. The short piece prevents the bow from breaking apart, the long one gives a powerful spring. The specimen figured by Boas was brought home by Hall from the Sinimiut of Pelly Bay, and a similar one was brought by Collinson from Victoria Land and deposited in the British Museum. The strings are attached to these bows in the same way as to the wooden ones."[14] Plate LXIV, fig. 4; LXV, figs. 1, 2.

The compound Eskimo bow is found in a region where timber does not grow, where driftwood even does not come in such state as to be serviceable, and where whale, narwhal, caribou, and musk ox furnish ideal material for the purpose. Last of all came the whaler with plenty of hoop wood, and the ship's blacksmith. In the National Museum the material for the compound bow is baleen, antler, horn, ivory, and wood from whale ships. The grip is the foundation piece, round and rigid. The limbs are worked to shape, spliced on to the ends of the grip and seized in place by a wrapping of sinew yarn or cord or sinnet. The notches are cut on both sides of the nock, which is often pegged on to the end of the limb with treenails. The whole class of projecting weapons must be looked upon as a lesson in techno-geography and as a remarkable example of the power of human ingenuity to throw off all precedents and predilections under sufficient stress and resort to those new methods which nature declares to be the only thing to do.