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Tartar Bows

Part 2 of 2

This bow weighs 3¼ pounds and when drawn 28 inches it pulls 98 pounds. The string of the bow is an immense rawhide rope, the size of rope ordinarily used to lassoo cattle. It is composed of many twisted strands, ending in large loops at each end. Here, as in the smaller bow, the loop is tied with a bowline knot, and rests upon a large bone block or fulcrum. This string is 65 inches long from loop to loop, ⅜ inch thick, and 6 ounces in weight. The bow is so strong that it is necessary to place the handle in a bench vise and call upon another man to assist in bracing it. When braced no white man could pull it. My brother asserts that the Chinese who gave him the bow not only could string it himself but could shoot it. Neither Mr. Compton nor I could pull the string back more than one foot, so we resorted to a method of strapping the bow to our feet and while lying on our backs pulling the string with two hands. By this means we were able to shoot the weapon. It could be drawn up over 30 inches this way, and apparently lost none of its casting power in the maneuver.

The war arrow which came with the bow is a huge shaft 38 inches long with an iron head 4 inches in length (pl. 12, fig. 1). Its diameter is ½ inch and its weight is 4 ounces. Drawing this arrow 30 inches, it flew only 100 yards.

A special bamboo flight arrow 37 inches long was con­structed, having a bone nock and made expressly large to fit the string. Its weight was 1½ ounces. It shot 110 yards when drawn 36 inches. The Ishi flight arrow, drawn 29 inches, shot only 90 yards.

The poor showing of this bow was a great disappoint­ment, because we expected a long flight from it. Tartar bows are supposed to be capable of shooting a quarter of a mile. There seemed to be no structural deficiency in the implement, but its cast was slow, dull, jarring, and im­potent considering the great amount of force necessary to draw it. Part of this lubberly action seemed to be due to the excessively heavy string. I therefore constructed a string of 90 strands of Barbour's number 12 Irish linen, well waxed and twisted, and having strong hemp loops for the nocks. It weighed 2 ounces and had a diameter at the center of 3/16 of an inch. With this string the bow cast the war arrow 105 yards, the bamboo flight arrow, 161 yards, and the Ishi flight arrow, 175 yards. Many other arrows were tried on this bow, all with the same disappointing results. Evidently, at least for light arrows, a heavy string may seriously impede the cast of a bow. (See below under An Experiment in Bow Strings.)

That none of the failure of this bow to come up to our expectations might be due to our method of shooting it with our feet, we tried shooting the English longbow for comparison, drawing it with two hands and the feet. Its cast was 250 yards, or practically the same cast as when shot in the proper way, showing no loss of cast ascribed to this change of release.

This Tartar bow exemplifies two things: first, that the excessive leverage of the inflexible end limbs is no advan­tage, but rather detracts from the resiliency of the bow, and throws most of the work of the bow up near the handle where it does little good; second, that apparently the Chinese conception of warfare entailed the use of dreadful appearances and intimidation, and that these principles applied to bows do not make them more efficient engines of destruction. They shot mighty bows and enormous arrows, which more nearly resembled jave­lins, but these were so impotent when compared with the robust, effective shooting of the English longbow, or the Turkish composite bow, that the Chinese suffer by com­parison, as they must have suffered in martial contest.