Part 6 of 8
Both in New Mexico and in Alaska the natives make twine by means of a twister that works after the fashion of the watchman's rattle. But this device may be an innovation. The string of the Cherokee bow is said to have been made of twisted bear's gut. The same material is mentioned in other connections east of the Mississippi River. There is a faint suspicion that in some instances the narrator mistakes the sinew cord for gut strings.
The study of the knots of savages is yet incomplete. Again many bows are sent to museums without strings, or unstrung, or falsely strung. The lower end of a bow-string, technically called the noose, was fastened on by the "timber-hitch," two half turns or hitches. There is no "eye," so called, wrought on the string, but the bow is strung by making two or more half hitches around the notches at the upper end. Neither is there any nocking point seizing on the bow-string of any American tribe.
The ancient bowyers made these ends of their bows of horn and trimmed and polished them in great fashion. Many examples from the Malayan and the Papuan area have the extremities very daintily carved. But the American bow has nothing approaching this. In a few Oregon examples the sinew backing is at the extremities gathered up in a hornlike extremity and finished off with fur, beads, and the like.
Otherwise the end of the bow stave is rounded, cut in on one side or on two for the bow-string.
It was not the custom to apply a "packing" or a woolding on the grip of bows. The eastern tribes did not. But the compound bow of the Sioux, the flat yew bows of the California tribes, and the ellipsoidal sinew-backed bow of the Shoshonean tribes, were so treated. In addition to this, in many cases, the bows were painted in several colors, geometric figures were marked on them, and additions of bead-work made them quite fine. This decoration of the bow occurs among west coast tribes that manifest extraordinary artistic tastes in baskets and other work.
The warrior and the hunter tended their bows with as much care as though they were children. Every time they were used they were careful to oil them in order to preserve their elasticity. The western Eskimo wound up his bow when he desired to use it, and was careful to unwind and straighten it as soon as the hunt was over. This winding was done by twisting the sinew cable along the back by means of ivory levers making only a half turn, and then sliding their whole length through the cable before repeating the process. The ordinary self-bow when not in use was straightened and pushed into the bow case. (Plate XCIII.)
The author can find little authentic information concerning the bracing of the bow by the North American Indians. Those that he has seen perform the operation followed the old English method, placing the bottom horn against the hollow of the left foot, holding the upper horn in the left hand, bending the bow with the left knee, and tying the bowstring with the right hand. There was usually no eye in the bow string that slid down on the bow and pushed up into the nock in bracing.
Frequent reference is made to the bracer or wrist guard of the North Americans. In the far north the gloved hand and the long sleeve made such device almost unnecessary, but a few specimens of carved bone or ivory objects in collections from the hyperborean area bear that name. The Indian, par excellence, wore upon his left wrist a band of rawhide, from 2 to 3 inches wide, as a guard against the bowstring. Many of these come from the Southwest, where they are ornamented with silver and worn in ceremonies.
"Among the Yurok bows and arrows were made by old men skilled in the art." As will be seen further on in studying the arrow, there was really no guild or craft of bowyers. In his childhood the Indian made the best bow he could. Whatever ingenuity he expended upon it yielded him an immediate patent. He not only had the exclusive use of it, but every improvement which he made upon it inured to his advantage at once in the form of sustenance, flattery, and substantial social reward. So far as known the savages of America were right-handed. But there is nothing in any bow from the northern portion of the continent to show this fact. Left-handed archery was certainly quite uncommon. In a large number of darting boards or throwing sticks, which under certain technical exigencies are used by. the Eskimos in place of the bow, there are only two specimens that are left-handed. Among the women of the same areas, not one implement has been found fitting the left hand.
The conditions of sending an arrow into the vital part of any game are distance, wind, varying elasticity of the bow, varying weight of the arrow, proper shape of the weapon, penetrability of the game. Each one of these variables is rendered as constant as possible by the hunter, in skulking, getting to windward, using wood of the greatest strength for bows, and making one's own arrows. The intellectual stimulus in the creation and using of the bow and arrow was incalculable.