Part 1 out of 4
Produced by Eric Eldred, Marvin A. Hodges, Tonya Allen, Charles Franks
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
[Illustration: THE SHADES OF SHERWOOD FOREST]
HUNTING with the
BOW & ARROW
With 48 Illustrations
* * * * *
A SPIRIT THAT AT SOME TIME DWELLS IN
THE HEART OF EVERY YOUTH
I.--THE STORY OF THE LAST YANA INDIAN.
II.--ISHI'S BOW AND ARROW.
III.--ISHI'S METHODS OF HUNTING.
IV.--ARCHERY IN GENERAL.
V.--HOW TO MAKE A BOW.
VI.--HOW TO MAKE AN ARROW.
VIII.--HOW TO SHOOT.
IX.--THE PRINCIPLES OF HUNTING.
X.--THE RACCOON, WILDCAT, FOX, COON, CAT, AND WOLF.
A CHAPTER OF ENCOURAGEMENT BY STEWART EDWARD WHITE.
THE SHADES OF SHERWOOD FOREST
A DEATH MASK OF ISHI
ISHI AND APPERSON
CALLING GAME IN AMBUSH
THE INDIAN'S FAVORITE SHOOTING POSITION
CHOPPING OUT A JUNIPER BOW
OUR CARAVAN LEAVING DEER CREEK CANYON
ISHI FLAKING AN OBSIDIAN ARROW HEAD
THE INDIAN AND A DEER
THREE TYPES OF HUNTING ARROWS
A BLUNT ARROW SHOT THROUGH AN INCH BOARD
"BRER" FOX UP A TREE
ART YOUNG SHOOTS FISH
DETAILS OF BOW CONSTRUCTION
SEVERAL STEPS IN ARROW MAKING
ARROW HEADS OF VARIOUS SORTS USED IN HUNTING
NECESSARY ARCHERY EQUIPMENT
AN ARCHER'S MEASURE, A FISTMELE
THE ENGLISH METHOD OF DRAWING THE ARROW
NOCKING THE SHAFT ON THE STRING
THE LONG BOW FULL DRAWN
WILL AND MAURICE THOMPSON, AS THEY APPEARED IN 1878
SHOOTING BRUSH RABBITS
ARCHERS IN AMBUSH
ISHI RIDING A HORSE FOR THE FIRST TIME
A REST AT NOON
A LYNX THAT MET AN ARCHER
THE CHIEF LOOKING OVER GOOD DEER COUNTRY
MR. COON BROUGHT INTO CAMP
A PRETTY PAIR OF WINGS
JUST A LITTLE HUNT BEFORE BREAKFAST
YOUNG AND COMPTON WITH A QUAIL APIECE
PORCUPINE QUILLS TO DECORATE A QUIVER
A FATAL ARROW AT 65 YARDS
THE CHIEF AND ART GET A BUCK AT 85 YARDS
TOM MURPHY WITH HIS TWO BEST DOGS, BUTTON AND BALDY
YOUNG AND I ARE VERY PROUD OF OUR MAIDEN BEAR
ARTHUR YOUNG AND HIS COUGAR
OUR FIRST MOUNTAIN LION
WE PACK THE PANTHER TO CAMP
CAMP AT SQUAW LAKE, WYOMING
THE RESULT OF OUR FIRST ENCOUNTER WITH GRIZZLY BEAR
BRINGING HOME THE TROPHIES
LOOKING FOR GRIZZLIES ON CUB CREEK
THE TREE THAT NED FROST CLIMBED TO ESCAPE DEATH
MY FEMALE GRIZZLY AND THE ARROW THAT KILLED HER
ARTHUR YOUNG SLAYS THE MONARCH OF THE MOUNTAINS
BULL MOOSE BAGGED ON THE KENAI PENINSULA
THE GREAT KADIAC BEAR BROUGHT LOW
ARTHUR YOUNG OUTWITS THE ALASKA BIGHORN
* * * * *
Hunting with the Bow and Arrow
THE STORY OF THE LAST YANA INDIAN
The glory and romance of archery culminated in England before the
discovery of America. There, no doubt, the bow was used to its greatest
perfection, and it decided the fate of nations. The crossbow and the
matchlock had supplanted the longbow when Columbus sailed for the New
It was, therefore, a distinct surprise to the first explorers of
America that the natives used the bow and arrow so effectively. In
fact, the sword and the horse, combined with the white man's
superlative self-assurance, won the contest over the aborigines more
than the primitive blunderbuss of the times. The bow and arrow was
still more deadly than the gun.
With the gradual extermination of the American Indian, the westward
march of civilization, and the improvement in firearms, this contest
became more and more unequal, and the bow disappeared from the land.
The last primitive Indian archer was discovered in California in the
When the white pioneers of California descended through the northern
part of that State by the Lassen trail, they met with a tribe of
Indians known as the Yana, or Yahi. That is the name they called
themselves. Their neighbors called them the Nozi, and the white men
called them the Deer Creek or Mill Creek Indians. Different from the
other tribes of this territory, the Yana would not submit without a
struggle to the white man's conquest of their lands.
The Yana were hunters and warriors. The usual California natives were
yellow in color, fat and inclined to be peaceable. The Yana were
smaller of stature, lithe, of reddish bronze complexion, and instead of
being diggers of roots, they lived by the salmon spear and the bow.
Their range extended over an area south of Mount Lassen, east of the
Sacramento River, for a distance of fifty miles.
From the earliest settlement of the whites, hostilities existed between
them. This resulted in definitely organized expeditions against these
Indians, and the annual slaughter of hundreds.
The last big round-up of Mill Creek Indians occurred in 1872, when
their tribe was surprised at its seasonal harvest of acorns. Upon this
occasion a posse of whites killed such a number of natives that it is
said the creek was damned with dead bodies. An accurate account of
these days may be obtained from Watterman's paper on the Yana Indians.
[Footnote 1: Vol. 13, No. 2, _Am. Archaeology and Ethnology_.]
During one of the final raids upon the Yana, a little band of Indian
women and children hid in a cave. Here they were discovered and
murdered in cold blood. One of the white scouting party laconically
stated that he used his revolver to blow out their brains because the
rifle spattered up the cave too much.
So it came to pass, that from two or three thousand people, the Yana
were reduced to less than a dozen who escaped extermination. These were
mainly women, old men and children. This tribal remnant sought the
refuge of the impenetrable brush and volcanic rocks of Deer Creek
Canyon. Here they lived by stealth and cunning. Like wild creatures,
they kept from sight until the whites quite forgot their existence.
It became almost a legend that wild Indians lived in the Mount Lassen
district. From time to time ranchers or sheep herders reported that
their flocks had been molested, that signs of Indians had been found or
that arrowheads were discovered in their sheep. But little credence was
given these rumors until the year 1908, when an electric power company
undertook to run a survey line across Deer Creek Canyon with the object
of constructing a dam.
One evening, as a party of linemen stood on a log at the edge of the
deep swift stream debating the best place to ford, a naked Indian rose
up before them, giving a savage snarl and brandishing a spear. In an
instant the survey party disbanded, fell from the log, and crossed the
stream in record-breaking time. When they stopped to get their breath,
the Indian had disappeared. This was the first appearance of Ishi, 
[Footnote 2: Ishi is pronounced "E-she."] the Yana.
Next morning an exploring expedition set out to verify the excited
report of the night before. The popular opinion was that no such
wildman existed, and that the linemen had been seeing things. One of
the group offered to bet that no signs of Indians would be found.
As the explorers reached the slide of volcanic boulders where the
apparition of the day before had disappeared, two arrows flew past
them. They made a run for the top of the slide and reached it just in
time to see two Indians vanish in the brush. They left behind them an
old white-haired squaw, whom they had been carrying. She was partially
paralyzed, and her legs were bound in swaths of willow bark, seemingly
in an effort to strengthen them.
The old squaw was wrinkled with age, her hair was cropped short as a
sign of mourning, and she trembled with fear. The white men approached
and spoke kindly to her in Spanish. But she seemed not to understand
their words, and apparently expected only death, for in the past to
meet a white man was to die. They gave her water to drink, and tried to
make her call back her companions, but without avail.
Further search disclosed two small brush huts hidden among the laurel
trees. So cleverly concealed were these structures that one could pass
within a few yards and not discern them. In one of the huts acorns and
dried salmon had been stored; the other was their habitation. There was
a small hearth for indoor cooking; bows, arrows, fishing tackle, a few
aboriginal utensils and a fur robe were found. These were confiscated
in the white man's characteristic manner. They then left the place and
returned to camp.
Next day the party revisited the site, hoping to find the rest of the
Indians. These, however, had gone forever.
Nothing more was seen or heard of this little band until the year 1911,
when on the outskirts of Oroville, some thirty-two miles from the Deer
Creek camp, a lone survivor appeared. Early in the morning, brought to
bay by a barking dog, huddled in the corner of a corral, was an
emaciated naked Indian. So strange was his appearance and so alarmed
was the butcher's boy who found him, that a hasty call for the town
constable brought out an armed force to capture him.
Confronted with guns, pistols, and handcuffs, the poor man was sick
with fear. He was taken to the city jail and locked up for safekeeping.
There he awaited death. For years he had believed that to fall into the
hands of white men meant death. All his people had been killed by
whites; no other result could happen. So he waited in fear and
trembling. They brought him food, but he would not eat; water, but he
would not drink. They asked him questions, but he could not speak. With
the simplicity of the white man, they brought him other Indians of
various tribes, thinking that surely all "Diggers" were the same. But
their language was as strange to him as Chinese or Greek.
And so they thought him crazy. His hair was burnt short, his feet had
never worn shoes, he had small bits of wood in his nose and ears; he
neither ate, drank, nor slept. He was indeed wild or insane.
By this time the news of the wild Indian got into the city papers, and
Professor T. T. Watterman, of the Department of Anthropology at the
University of California, was sent to investigate the case. He
journeyed to Oroville and was brought into the presence of this strange
Indian. Having knowledge of many native dialects, Dr. Watterman tried
one after the other on the prisoner. Through good fortune, some of the
Yana vocabulary had been preserved in the records of the University.
Venturing upon this lost language, Watterman spoke in Yana the words,
_Siwini_, which means pine wood, tapping at the same time the edge of
the cot on which they sat.
In wonderment, the Indian's face lighted with faint recognition.
Watterman repeated the charm, and like a spell the man changed from a
cowering, trembling savage. A furtive smile came across his face. He
said in his language, _I nu ma Yaki_--"Are you an Indian?" Watterman
assured him that he was.
A great sense of relief entered the situation. Watterman had discovered
one of the lost tribes of California; Ishi had discovered a friend.
They clothed him and fed him, and he learned that the white man was
Since no formal charges were lodged against the Indian, and he seemed
to have no objection, Watterman took him to San Francisco, and there,
attached to the Museum of Anthropology, he became a subject of study
and lived happily for five years.
From him it was learned that his people were all dead. The old woman
seen in the Deer Creek episode was his mother; the old man was his
uncle. These died on a long journey to Mt. Lassen, soon after their
discovery. Here he had burned their bodies and gone into mourning. The
fact that the white men took their means of procuring food, as well as
their clothing, contributed, no doubt, to the death of the older
Half starved and hopeless, he had wandered into civilization. His
father, once the chieftain of the Yana tribe, having domain over all
the country immediately south of Mt. Lassen, was long since gone, and
with him all his people. Ranchers and stockmen had usurped their
country, spoiled the fishing, and driven off the game. The acorn trees
of the valleys had been taken from them; nothing remained but evil
spirits in the land of his forefathers.
Now, however, he had found kindly people who fed him, clothed him, and
taught him the mysteries of civilization. When asked his name, he said:
"I have none, because there were no people to name me," meaning that no
tribal ceremony had been performed. But the old people had called him
Ishi, which means "strong and straight one," for he was the youth of
their camp. He had learned to make fire with sticks; he knew the lost
art of chipping arrowheads from flint and obsidian; he was the
fisherman and the hunter. He knew nothing of our modern life. He had no
name for iron, nor cloth, nor horse, nor road. He was as primitive as
the aborigines of the pre-Columbian period. In fact, he was a man in
the Stone Age. He was absolutely untouched by civilization. In him
science had a rare find. He turned back the pages of history countless
centuries. And so they studied him, and he studied them.
From him they learned little of his personal history and less of that
of his family, because an Indian considers it unbecoming to speak much
of his own life, and it brings ill luck to speak of the dead. He could
not pronounce the name of his father without calling him from the land
of spirits, and this he could only do for some very important reason.
But he knew the full history of his tribe and their destruction.
His apparent age was about forty years, yet he undoubtedly was nearer
sixty. Because of his simple life he was in physical prime, mentally
alert, and strong in body.
He was about five feet eight inches tall, well proportioned, had
beautiful hands and unspoiled feet.
His features were less aquiline than those of the Plains Indian, yet
strongly marked outlines, high cheek bones, large intelligent eyes,
straight black hair, and fine teeth made him good to look upon.
As an artisan he was very skilful and ingenious. Accustomed to
primitive tools of stone and bone, he soon learned to use most expertly
the knife, file, saw, vise, hammer, ax, and other modern implements.
Although he marveled at many of our inventions and appreciated matches,
he took great pride in his ability to make fire with two sticks of
buckeye. This he could do in less than two minutes by twirling one on
About this time I became an instructor in surgery at the University
Medical School, which is situated next to the Museum. Ishi was employed
here in a small way as a janitor to teach him modern industry and the
value of money. He was perfectly happy and a great favorite with
From his earliest experience with our community life he manifested
little immunity to disease. He contracted all the epidemic infections
with which he was brought in contact. He lived a very hygienic
existence, having excellent food and sleeping outdoors, but still he
was often sick. Because of this I came in touch with him as his
physician in the hospital, and soon learned to admire him for the fine
qualities of his nature.
[Illustration: A DEATH MASK OF ISHI, THE LAST YANA INDIAN]
Though very reserved, he was kindly, honest, cleanly, and trustworthy.
More than this, he had a superior philosophy of life, and a high moral
By degrees I learned to speak his dialect, and spent many hours in his
company. He told us the folk lore of his tribe. More than forty myths
or animal stories of his have been recorded and preserved. They are as
interesting as the stories of Uncle Remus. The escapades of wildcat,
the lion, the grizzly bear, the bluejay, the lizard, and the coyote are
as full of excitement and comedy as any fairy story.
He knew the history and use of everything in the outdoor world. He
spoke the language of the animals. He taught me to make bows and
arrows, how to shoot them, and how to hunt, Indian fashion. He was a
wonderful companion in the woods, and many days and nights we journeyed
After he had been with us three years we took him back to his own
country. But he did not want to stay. He liked the ways of the white
man, and his own land was full of the spirits of the departed.
He showed us old forgotten camp sites where past chieftains made their
villages. He took us to deer licks and ambushes used by his people long
ago. One day in passing the base of a great rock he scratched with his
toe and dug up the bones of a bear's paw. Here, in years past, they had
killed and roasted a bear. This was the camp of _Ya mo lo ku_. His own
camp was called _Wowomopono Tetna_ or bear wallow.
We swam the streams together, hunted deer and small game, and at night
sat under the stars by the camp fire, where in a simple way we talked
of old heroes, the worlds above us, and his theories of the life to
come in the land of plenty, where the bounding deer and the mighty bear
met the hunter with his strong bow and swift arrows.
I learned to love Ishi as a brother, and he looked upon me as one of
his people. He called me _Ku wi_, or Medicine Man; more, perhaps,
because I could perform little sleight of hand tricks, than because of
But, in spite of the fact that he was happy and surrounded by the most
advanced material culture, he sickened and died. Unprotected by
hereditary or acquired immunity, he contracted tuberculosis and faded
away before our eyes. Because he had no natural resistance, he received
no benefit from such hygienic measures as serve to arrest the disease
in the Caucasian. We did everything possible for him, and nursed him to
the painful bitter end.
When his malady was discovered, plans were made to take him back to the
mountains whence he came and there have him cared for properly. We
hoped that by this return to his natural elements he would recover. But
from the inception of his disease he failed so rapidly that he was not
strong enough to travel.
Consumed with fever and unable to eat nourishing food, he seemed doomed
from the first. After months of misery he suddenly developed a
tremendous pulmonary hemorrhage. I was with him at the time, directed
his medication, and gently stroked his hand as a small sign of
fellowship and sympathy. He did not care for marked demonstrations of
He was a stoic, unafraid, and died in the faith of his people.
As an Indian should go, so we sent him on his long journey to the land
of shadows. By his side we placed his fire sticks, ten pieces of
dentalia or Indian money, a small bag of acorn meal, a bit of dried
venison, some tobacco, and his bow and arrows.
These were cremated with him and the ashes placed in an earthen jar. On
it is inscribed "Ishi, the last Yana Indian, 1916."
And so departed the last wild Indian of America. With him the neolithic
epoch terminates. He closes a chapter in history. He looked upon us as
sophisticated children--smart, but not wise. We knew many things and
much that is false. He knew nature, which is always true. His were the
qualities of character that last forever. He was essentially kind; he
had courage and self-restraint, and though all had been taken from him,
there was no bitterness in his heart. His soul was that of a child, his
mind that of a philosopher.
With him there was no word for good-by. He said: "You stay, I go."
He has gone and he hunts with his people. We stay, and he has left us
the heritage of the bow.
HOW ISHI MADE HIS BOW AND ARROW AND HIS METHODS OF SHOOTING
Although much has been written in history and fiction concerning the
archery of the North American Indian, strange to say, very little has
been recorded of the methods of manufacture of their weapons, and less
in accurate records of their shooting.
It is a great privilege to have lived with an unspoiled aborigine and
seen him step by step construct the most perfect type of bow and arrow.
The workmanship of Ishi was by far the best of any Indian in America;
compared with thousands of specimens in the museum, his arrows were the
most carefully and beautifully made; his bow was the best.
It would take too much time to go into the minute details of his work,
and this has all been recorded in anthropologic records, 
[Footnote 1: See _Yahi Archery_, Vol. 13, No. 3, _Am. Archaeology and
but the outlines of his methods are as follows:
The bow, Ishi called _man-nee_. It was a short, flat piece of mountain
juniper backed with sinew. The length was forty-two inches, or, as he
measured it, from the horizontally extended hand to the opposite hip.
It was broadest at the center of each limb, approximately two inches,
and half an inch thick. The cross-section of this part was elliptical.
At the center of the bow the handgrip was about an inch and a quarter
wide by three-quarters thick, a cross-section being ovoid. At the tips
it was curved gently backward and measured at the nocks three-quarters
by one-half an inch. The nock itself was square shouldered and
terminated in a pin half an inch in diameter and an inch long.
The wood was obtained by splitting a limb from a tree and utilizing the
outer layers, including the sap wood. By scraping and rubbing on
sandstone, he shaped and finished it. The recurved tips of the bow he
made by bending the wood backward over a heated stone. Held in shape by
cords and binding to another piece of wood, he let his bow season in a
dark, dry place. Here it remained from a few months to years, according
to his needs. After being seasoned he backed it with sinew. First he
made a glue by boiling salmon skin and applying it to the roughened
back of the bow. When it was dry he laid on long strips of deer sinew
obtained from the leg tendons. By chewing these tendons and separating
their fibers, they became soft and adhesive. Carefully overlapping the
ends of the numerous fibers he covered the entire back very thickly. At
the nocks he surrounded the wood completely and added a circular
binding about the bow.
During the process of drying he bound the sinew tightly to the bow with
long, thin strips of willow bark. After several days he removed this
bandage and smoothed off the edges of the dry sinew, sized the surface
with more glue and rubbed everything smooth with sandstone. Then he
bound the handgrip for a space of four inches with a narrow buckskin
In his native state he seems never to have greased his bow nor
protected it from moisture, except by his bow case, which was made of
the skin from a cougar's tail. But while with us he used shellac to
protect the glue and wood. Other savages use buck fat or bear grease.
The bowstring he made of the finer tendons from the deer's shank. These
he chewed until soft, then twisted them tightly into a cord having a
permanent loop at one end and a buckskin strand at the other. While wet
the string was tied between two twigs and rubbed smooth with spittle.
Its diameter was one-eighth of an inch, its length about forty-eight
inches. When dry the loop was applied to the upper nock of his bow
while he bent the bow over his knee and wound the opposite end of the
string about the lower nock. The buckskin thong terminating this
portion of the string made it easier to tie in several half hitches.
When braced properly the bowstring was about five inches from the belly
of the bow. And when not in use and unstrung the upper loop was slipped
entirely off the nock, but held from falling away from the bow by a
second small loop of buckskin.
Drawn to the full length of an arrow, which was about twenty-six
inches, exclusive of the foreshaft, his bow bent in a perfect arc
slightly flattened at the handle. Its pull was about forty-five pounds,
and it could shoot an arrow about two hundred yards.
This is not the most powerful type of weapon known to Indians, and even
Ishi did make stronger bows when he pleased; but this seemed to be the
ideal weight for hunting, and it certainly was adequate in his hands.
According to English standards, it was very short; but for hunting in
the brush and shooting from crouched postures, it seems better fitted
for the work than a longer weapon.
According to Ishi, a bow left strung or standing in an upright
position, gets tired and sweats. When not in use it should be lying
down; no one should step over it; no child should handle it, and no
woman should touch it. This brings bad luck and makes it shoot crooked.
To expunge such an influence it is necessary to wash the bow in sand
In his judgment, a good bow made a musical note when strung and the
string is tapped with the arrow. This was man's first harp, the great
grandfather of the pianoforte.
By placing one end of his bow at the corner of his open mouth and
tapping the string with an arrow, the Yana could make sweet music. It
sounded like an Aeolian harp. To this accompaniment Ishi sang a
folk-song telling of a great warrior whose bow was so strong that,
dipping his arrow first in fire, then in the ocean, he shot at the sun.
As swift as the wind, his arrow flew straight in the round open door of
the sun and put out its light. Darkness fell upon the earth and men
shivered with cold. To prevent themselves from freezing they grew
feathers, and thus our brothers, the birds, were born.
Ishi called an arrow _sa wa_.
In making arrows the first thing is to get the shafts. Ishi used many
woods, but he preferred witch hazel. The long, straight stems of this
shrub he cut in lengths of thirty-two inches, having a diameter of
three-eighths of an inch at the base when peeled of bark.
He bound a number of these together and put them away in a shady place
to dry. After a week or more, preferably several months, he selected
the best shafts and straightened them. This he accomplished by holding
the concave surface near a small heap of hot embers and when warm he
either pressed his great toe on the opposite side, or he bent the wood
backward on the base of the thumb. Squinting down its axis he lined up
the uneven contours one after the other and laid the shaft aside until
a series of five was completed. He made up arrows in lots of five or
ten, according to the requirements, his fingers being the measure.
The sticks thus straightened he ran back and forth between two grooved
pieces of sandstone or revolved them on his thigh while holding the
stones in his hand, until they were smooth and reduced to a diameter of
about five-sixteenths of an inch. Next they were cut into lengths of
approximately twenty-six inches. The larger end was now bound with a
buckskin thong and drilled out for the depth of an inch and a half to
receive the end of the foreshaft. He drilled this hole by fixing a
long, sharp bone in the ground between his great toes and revolved the
upright shaft between his palms on this fixed point, the buckskin
binding keeping the wood from splitting.
The foreshaft was made of heavier wood, frequently mountain mahogany.
It was the same diameter as the arrow, only tapering a trifle toward
the front end, and usually was about six inches long. This was
carefully shaped into a spindle at the larger end and set in the
recently drilled hole of the shaft, using glue or resin for this
purpose. The joint was bound with chewed sinew, set in glue.
The length of an arrow, over all, was estimated by Ishi in this manner.
He placed one end on the top of his breast-bone and held the other end
out in his extended left hand. Where it touched the tip of his
forefinger it was cut as the proper length. This was about thirty-two
The rear end of his arrow was now notched to receive the bowstring. He
filed it with a bit of obsidian, or later on, with three hacksaw blades
bound together until he made a groove one-eighth of an inch wide by
three-eighths deep. The opposite end of the shaft was notched in a
similar way to receive the head. The direction of this latter cut was
such that when the arrow was on the bow the edge of the arrowhead was
perpendicular, for the fancied reason that in this position the arrow
when shot enters between the ribs of an animal more readily. He did not
seem to recognize that an arrow rotates.
At this stage he painted his shafts. The pigments used in the wilds
were red cinnabar, black pigment from the eye of trout, a green
vegetable dye from wild onions, and a blue obtained, he said, from the
root of a plant. These were mixed with the sap or resin of trees and
applied with a little stick or hairs from a fox's tail drawn through a
His usual design was a series of alternating rings of green and black
starting two inches from the rear end and running four inches up the
shaft. Or he made small circular dots and snaky lines running down the
shaft for a similar distance. When with us he used dry colors mixed
with shellac, which he preferred to oil paints because they dried
quicker. The painted area, intended for the feathers, is called the
shaftment and not only helps in finding lost arrows, but identifies the
owner. This entire portion he usually smeared with thin glue or sizing.
A number of shafts having been similarly prepared, the Indian was ready
to feather them. A feather he called _pu nee_. In fledging arrows Ishi
used eagle, buzzard, hawk or flicker feathers. Owl feathers Indians
seem to avoid, thinking they bring bad luck. By preference he took them
from the wings, but did not hesitate to use tail feathers if reduced to
it. With us he used turkey pinions.
Grasping one between the heel of his two palms he carefully separated
the bristles at the tip of the feather with his fingers and pulled them
apart, splitting the quill its entire length. This is called stripping
a feather. Taking the wider half he firmly held one end on a rock with
his great toe, and the other end between the thumb and forefinger of
his left hand. With a piece of obsidian, or later on a knife blade, he
scraped away the pith until the rib was thin and flat.
Having prepared a sufficient number in this way he gathered them in
groups of three, all from similar wings, tied them with a bit of string
and dropped them in a vessel of water. When thoroughly wet and limp
they were ready for use.
While he chewed up a strand of sinew eight or ten inches long, he
picked up a group of feathers, stripped off the water, removed one, and
after testing its strength, folded the last two inches of bristles down
on the rib, and the rest he ruffled backward, thus leaving a free space
for later binding. He prepared all three like this.
Picking up an arrow shaft he clamped it between his left arm and chest,
holding the rear end above the shaftment in his left hand. Twirling it
slowly in this position, he applied one end of the sinew near the nock,
fixing it by overlapping. The first movements were accomplished while
holding one extremity of the sinew in his teeth; later, having applied
the feathers to the stick, he shifted the sinew to the grasp of the
right thumb and forefinger.
One by one he laid the feathers in position, binding down the last two
inches of stem and the wet barbs together. The first feather he applied
on a line perpendicular to the plane of the nock; the two others were
equidistant from this. For the space of an inch he lapped the sinew
about the feathers and arrow-shaft, slowly rotating it all the while, at
last smoothing the binding with his thumb nail.
The rear ends having been lashed in position, the arrow was set aside
to dry while the rest were prepared.
Five or ten having reached this stage and the binding being dry and
secure, he took one again between his left arm and chest, and with his
right hand drew all the feathers straight and taut, down the shaft.
Here he held them with the fingers of his left hand. Having marked a
similar place on each arrow where the sinew was to go, he cut the
bristles off the rib. At this point he started binding with another
piece of wet sinew. After a few turns he drew the feathers taut again
and cut them, leaving about a half inch of rib. This he bound down
completely to the arrow-shaft and finished all by smoothing the wet
lapping with his thumb nail.
The space between the rib and the wood he sometimes smeared with more
glue to cause the feather to adhere to the shaft, but this was not the
usual custom with him. After all was dry and firm, Ishi took the arrow
and beat it gently across his palm so that the feathers spread out
As a rule the length of his feathers was four inches, though on
ceremonial arrows they often were as long as eight inches.
After drying, the feathers were cut with a sharp piece of obsidian,
using a straight stick as a guide and laying the arrow on a flat piece
of wood. When with us he trimmed them with scissors, making a straight
cut from the full width of the feather in back, to the height of a
quarter of an inch at the forward extremity. On his arrows he left the
natural curve of the feather at the nock, and while the rear binding
started an inch or more from the butt of the arrow, the feather drooped
over the nock. This gave a pretty effect and seemed to add to the
steering qualities of the missile.
Two kinds of points were used on Ishi's arrows. One was the simple
blunt end of the shaft bound with sinew used for killing small game and
practice shots. The other was his hunting head, made of flint or
obsidian. He preferred the latter.
Obsidian was used as money among the natives of California. A boulder
of this volcanic glass was packed from some mountainous districts and
pieces were cracked off and exchanged for dried fish, venison, or
weapons. It was a medium of barter. Although all men were more or less
expert in flaking arrowheads and knives, the better grades of bows,
arrows, and arrow points were made by the older, more expert
specialists of the tribe.
Ishi often referred to one old Indian, named _Chu no wa yahi_, who
lived at the base of a great cliff with his crazy wife. This man owned
an ax, and thus was famous for his possessions as well as his skill as
a maker of bows. From a distant mountain crest one day Ishi pointed out
to me the camp of this Indian who was long since dead. If ever Ishi
wished to refer to a hero of the bow, or having been beaten in a shot,
he always told us what _Chu no wa yahi_ could have done.
To make arrowheads properly one should smear his face with mud and sit
out in the hot sun in a quiet secluded spot. The mud is a precaution
against harm from the flying chips of glass, possibly also a good luck
ritual. If by chance a bit of glass should fly in the eye, Ishi's
method of surgical relief was to hold his lower lid wide open with one
finger while he slapped himself violently on the head with the other
hand. I am inclined to ascribe the process of removal more to the
hydraulic effect of the tears thus started than to the mechanical jar
of the treatment.
He began this work by taking one chunk of obsidian and throwing it
against another; several small pieces were thus shattered off. One of
these, approximately three inches long, two inches wide and half an
inch thick, was selected as suitable for an arrowhead, or _haka_.
Protecting the palm of his left hand by a piece of thick buckskin, Ishi
placed a piece of obsidian flat upon it, holding it firmly with his
fingers folded over it.
In his right hand he held a short stick on the end of which was lashed
a sharp piece of deer horn. Grasping the horn firmly while the longer
extremity lay beneath his forearm, he pressed the point of the horn
against the edge of the obsidian. Without jar or blow, a flake of glass
flew off, as large as a fish scale. Repeating this process at various
spots on the intended head, turning it from side to side, first
reducing one face, then the other, he soon had a symmetrical point. In
half an hour he could make the most graceful and perfectly proportioned
arrowhead imaginable. The little notches fashioned to hold the sinew
binding below the barbs he shaped with a smaller piece of bone, while
the arrowhead was held on the ball of his thumb.
Flint, plate glass, old bottle glass, onyx--all could be worked with
equal facility. Beautiful heads were fashioned from blue bottles and
The general size of these points was two inches for length,
seven-eighths for width, and one-eighth for thickness. Larger heads
were used for war and smaller ones for shooting bears.
Such a head, of course, was easily broken if the archer missed his
shot. This made him very careful about the whole affair of shooting.
When ready for use, these heads were set on the end of the shaft with
heated resin and bound in place with sinew which encircled the end of
the arrow and crossed diagonally through the barb notches with many
Such a point has better cutting qualities in animal tissue than has
steel. The latter is, of course, more durable. After entering
civilization, Ishi preferred to use iron or steel blades of the same
general shape, or having a short tang for insertion in the arrowhead.
Ishi carried anywhere from five to sixty arrows in a quiver made of
otter skin which hung suspended by a loop of buckskin over his left
His method of bracing or stringing the bow was as follows: Grasping it
with his right hand at its center, with the belly toward him, and the
lower end on his right thigh, he held the upper end with his left hand
while the loop of the string rested between his finger and thumb. By
pressing downward at the handle and pulling upward with the left hand
he so sprung the bow that the loop of the cord could be slipped over
the upper nock.
[Illustration: ISHI AND APPERSON, THE GUIDE, ONCE OLD ENEMIES, NOW
[Illustration: CALLING GAME IN AMBUSH]
[Illustration: THE INDIAN'S FAVORITE SHOOTING POSITION]
[Illustration: CHOPPING OUT A JUNIPER BOW]
In nocking his arrow, the bow was held diagonally across the body, its
upper end pointing to the left. It was held lightly in the palm of the
left hand so that it rested loosely in the notch of the thumb while the
fingers partially surrounded the handle. Taking an arrow from his
quiver, he laid it across the bow on its right side where it lay
between the extended fingers of his left hand. He gently slid the arrow
forward until the nock slipped over the string at its center. Here he
set it properly in place and put his right thumb under the string,
hooked upward ready to pull. At the same time he flexed his forefinger
against the side of the arrow, and the second finger was placed on the
thumb nail to strengthen the pull.
Thus he accomplished what is known as the Mongolian release.
Only a few nations ever used this type of arrow release, and the Yana
seem to have been the only American natives to do so. 
[Footnote 2: See Morse on _Arrow Release_.]
To draw his bow he extended his left arm. At the same time he pulled
his right hand toward him. The bow arm was almost in front of him,
while his right hand drew to the top of his breast bone. With both eyes
open he sighted along his shaft and estimated the elevation according
to the distance to be shot.
He released firmly and without change of position until the arrow hit.
He preferred to shoot kneeling or squatting, for this was most
favorable for getting game.
His shooting distances were from ten yards up to fifty. Past this range
he did not think one should shoot, but sought rather to approach his
game more closely.
In his native state he practiced shooting at little oak balls, or
bundles of grass bound to represent rabbits, or little hoops of willow
rolled along the ground. Like all other archers, if Ishi missed a shot
he always had a good excuse. There was too much wind, or the arrow was
crooked, or the bow had lost its cast, or, as a last resource, the
coyote doctor bewitched him, which is the same thing we mean when we
say it is just bad luck. While with us he shot at the regulation straw
target, and he is the first and only Indian of whose shooting any
accurate records have been made.
Many exaggerated reports exist concerning the accuracy of the shooting
of American Indians; but here we have one who shot ever since
childhood, who lived by hunting, and must have been as good, if not
better, than the average.
He taught us to shoot Indian style at first, but later we learned the
old English methods and found them superior to the Indian. At the end
of three months' practice, Dr. J. V. Cooke and I could shoot as well as
Ishi at targets, but he could surpass us at game shooting.
Ishi never thought very much of our long bows. He always said, "Too
much _man-nee_." And he always insisted that arrows should be painted
red and green.
But when we began beating him at targets, he took all his shafts home
and scraped the paint off them, putting back rings of blue and yellow,
doubtless to change his luck. In spite of our apparent superiority at
some forms of shooting, he never changed his methods to meet
competition. We, of course, did not want him to.
Small objects the size of a quail the Indian could hit with regularity
up to twenty yards. And I have seen him kill ground squirrels at forty
yards; yet at the same distances he might miss a four-foot target. He
explained this by saying that the target was too large and the bright
colored rings diverted the attention. He was right.
There is a regular system of shooting in archery competition. In
America there is what is known as the American Round, which consists of
shooting thirty arrows at each of the following distances: sixty,
fifty, and forty yards. The bull's-eye on the target is a trifle over
nine inches and is surrounded by four rings of half this diameter.
Their value is 9, 7, 5, 3, 1, successively counting from the center
outward. The target itself is constructed of straw, bound in the form
of a mat four feet in diameter, covered with a canvas facing.
Counting the hits and scores on the various distances, a good archer
will make the following record. Here is Arthur Young's best score:
March 25, 1917.
At 60 yards 30 hits 190 score 11 golds
50 yards 30 hits 198 score 9 golds
40 yards 30 hits 238 score 17 golds
Total 90 hits 626 score 37 golds
This is one of the best scores made by American archers.
Ishi's best record is as follows:
October 23, 1914.
At 60 yards 10 hits 32 score
50 yards 20 hits 92 score 2 golds
40 yards 19 hits 99 score 2 golds
Total 49 hits 223 score 4 golds
His next best score was this:
At 60 yards 13 hits 51 score
50 yards 17 hits 59 score
40 yards 22 hits 95 score
Total 52 hits 205 score
My own best practice American round is as follows:
May 22, 1917.
At 60 yards 29 hits 157 score
50 yards 29 hits 185 score
40 yards 30 hits 196 score
Total 88 hits 538 score
Anything over 500 is considered good shooting.
It will be seen from this that the Indian was not a good target shot,
but in field shooting and getting game, probably he could excel the
ISHI'S METHODS OF HUNTING
Hunting with Ishi was pure joy. Bow in hand, he seemed to be
transformed into a being light as air and as silent as falling snow.
From the very first we went on little expeditions into the country
where, without appearing to instruct, he was my teacher in the old, old
art of the chase. I followed him into a new system of getting game. We
shot rabbits, quail, and squirrels with the bow. His methods here were
not so well defined as in the approach to larger game, but I was struck
from the first by his noiseless step, his slow movements, his use of
cover. These little animals are flushed by sound and sight, not scent.
Another prominent feature of Ishi's work in the field was his
indefatigable persistence. He never gave up when he knew a rabbit was
in a clump of brush. Time meant nothing to him; he simply stayed until
he got his game. He would watch a squirrel hole for an hour if
necessary, but he always got the squirrel.
He made great use of the game call. We all know of duck and turkey
calls, but when he told me that he lured rabbits, tree squirrels,
wildcats, coyote, and bear to him, I thought he was romancing. Going
along the trail, he would stop and say, "_Ineja teway--bjum--metchi bi
wi_," or "This is good rabbit ground." Then crouching behind a suitable
bush as a blind, he would place the fingers of his right hand against
his lips and, going through the act of kissing, he produced a plaintive
squeak similar to that given by a rabbit caught by a hawk or in mortal
distress. This he repeated with heartrending appeals until suddenly one
or two or sometimes three rabbits appeared in the opening. They came
from distances of a hundred yards or more, hopped forward, stopped and
listened, hopped again, listened, and ultimately came within ten or
fifteen yards while Ishi dragged out his squeak in a most pathetic
manner. Then he would shoot.
To test his ability one afternoon while hunting deer, I asked the Yana
to try his call in twelve separate locations. From these twelve calls
we had five jackrabbits and one wildcat approach us. The cat came out
of the forest, cautiously stepped nearer and sat upon a log in a bright
open space not more than fifty yards away while I shot three arrows at
him, one after the other; the last clipped him between the ears.
This call being a cry of distress, rabbits and squirrels come with the
idea of protecting their young. They run around in a circle, stamp
their feet, and make great demonstrations of anger, probably as much to
attract the attention of the supposed predatory beast and decoy him
away, as anything else.
The cat, the coyote, and the bear come for no such humane motive; they
are thinking of food, of joining the feast.
I learned the call myself, not perfectly, but well enough to bring
squirrels down from the topmost branches of tall pines, to have foxes
and lynx approach me, and to get rabbits.
Not only could Ishi call the animals, but he understood their language.
Often when we have been hunting he has stopped and said, "The squirrel
is scolding a fox." At first I said to him, "I don't believe you." Then
he would say, "Wait! Look!" Hiding behind a tree or rock or bush, in a
few minutes we would see a fox trot across the open forest.
It seemed that for a hawk or cat or man, the squirrel has a different
call, such that Ishi could say without seeing, what molested his little
Often have we stopped and rested because, so he said, a bluejay called
far and wide, "Here comes a man!" There was no use going farther, the
animals all knew of our presence. Only a white hunter would advance
under these circumstances.
Ishi could smell deer, cougar, and foxes like an animal, and often
discovered them first this way. He could imitate the call of quail to
such an extent that he spoke a half-dozen sentences to them. He knew
the crow of the cock on sentinel duty when he signals to others; he
knew the cry of warning, and the run-to-shelter cry of the hen; her
command to her little ones to fly; and the "lie low" cluck; then at
last the "all's well" chirp.
Deer he could call in the fawn season by placing a folded leaf between
his lips and sucking vigorously. This made a bleat such as a lamb
gives, or a boy makes blowing on a blade of grass between his thumbs.
He also enticed deer by means of a stuffed buck's head which he wore as
a cap, and bobbing up and down behind bushes excited their curiosity
until they approached within bow-shot. Ordinarily in hunting deer, the
Indian used what is termed the still hunt, but with him it was more
than that. First of all he studied the country for its formation of
hills, ridges, valleys, canyons, brush and timber. He observed the
direction of the prevailing winds, the position of the sun at daybreak
and evening. He noted the water holes, game trails, "buck look-outs,"
deer beds, the nature of the feeding grounds, the stage of the moon,
the presence of salt licks, and many other features of importance. If
possible, he located the hiding-place of the old bucks in daytime, all
of which every careful hunter does. Next, he observed the habits of
game, and the presence or absence of predatory beasts that kill deer.
Having decided these and other questions, he prepared for the hunt. He
would eat no fish the day before the hunt, and smoke no tobacco, for
these odors are detected a great way off. He rose early, bathed in the
creek, rubbed himself with the aromatic leaves of yerba buena, washed
out his mouth, drank water, but ate no food. Dressed in a loin cloth,
but without shirt, leggings or moccasins, he set out, bow and quiver at
his side. He said that clothing made too much noise in the brush, and
naturally one is more cautious in his movements when reminded by his
sensitive hide that he is touching a sharp twig.
From the very edge of camp, until he returned, he was on the alert for
game, and the one obvious element of his mental attitude was that he
suspected game everywhere. He saw a hundred objects that looked like
deer, to every live animal in reality. He took it for granted that ten
deer see you where you see one--so see it first! On the trail, it was a
crime to speak. His warning note was a soft, low whistle or a hiss. As
he walked, he placed every footfall with precise care; the most
stealthy step I ever saw; he was used to it; lived by it. For every
step he looked twice. When going over a rise of ground he either
stooped, crawled or let just his eyes go over the top, then stopped and
gazed a long time for the slightest moving twig or spot of color. Of
course, he always hunted up wind, unless he were cutting across country
or intended to flush game.
At sunrise and sunset he tried always to get between the sun and his
game. He drifted between the trees like a shadow, expectant and nerved
for immediate action.
Some Indians, covering their heads with tall grass, can creep up on
deer in the open, and rising suddenly to a kneeling posture shoot at a
distance of ten or fifteen yards. But Ishi never tried this before me.
Having located his quarry, he either shot, at suitable ranges, or made
a detour to wait the passing of the game or to approach it from a more
favorable direction. He never used dogs in hunting.
When a number of people hunted together, Ishi would hide behind a blind
at the side of a deer trail and let the others run the deer past. In
his country we saw old piles of rock covered with lichen and moss that
were less than twenty yards from well-marked deer trails. For
numberless years Indians had used these as blinds to secure camp meat.
In the same necessity, the Indian would lie in wait near licks or
springs to get his food; but he never killed wantonly.
Although Ishi took me on many deer hunts and we had several shots at
deer, owing to the distance or the fall of the ground or obstructing
trees, we registered nothing better than encouraging misses. He was
undoubtedly hampered by the presence of a novice, and unduly hastened
by the white man's lack of time. His early death prevented our ultimate
achievement in this matter, so it was only after he had gone to the
Happy Hunting Grounds that I, profiting by his teachings, killed my
first deer with the bow.
That he had shot many deer, even since boyhood, there was no doubt. To
prove that he could shoot through one with his arrows, I had him
discharge several at a buck killed by our packer. Shooting at forty
yards, one arrow went through the chest wall, half its length; another
struck the spine and fractured it, both being mortal wounds.
It was the custom of his tribe to hunt until noon, when by that time
they usually had several deer, obtained, as a rule, by the ambush
method. Having pre-arranged the matter, the women appeared on the
scene, cut up the meat, cooked part of it, principally the liver and
heart, and they had a feast on the spot. The rest was taken to camp and
made into jerky.
In skinning animals, the Indian used an obsidian knife held in his hand
by a piece of buckskin. I found this cut better than the average
hunting knife sold to sportsmen. Often in skinning rabbits he would
make a small hole in the skin over the abdomen and blow into this,
stripping the integument free from the body and inflating it like a
football, except at the legs.
In skinning the tail of an animal, he used a split stick to strip it
down, and did it so dextrously that it was a revelation of how easy
this otherwise difficult process may be when one knows how. He tanned
his skins in the way customary with most savages: clean skinning, brain
emulsion, and plenty of elbow grease.
[Illustration: OUR CARAVAN LEAVING DEER CREEK CANYON]
[Illustration: ISHI FLAKING AN OBSIDIAN ARROW HEAD]
[Illustration: THE INDIAN AND A DEER]
His people killed bear with the bow and arrow. Ishi made a distinction
between grizzly bear, which he called _tet na_, and black bear, which
he called _bo he_. The former had long claws, could not climb trees,
and feared nothing. He was to be let alone. The other was "all same
pig." The black bear, when found, was surrounded by a dozen or more
Indians who built fires, and discharging their arrows at his open
mouth, attempted to kill him. If he charged, a burning brand was
snatched from the fire and thrust in his face while the others shot him
from the side. Thus they wore him down and at last vanquished him.
In his youth, Ishi killed a cinnamon bear single handed. Finding it
asleep on a ledge of rock, he sneaked close to it and gave a loud
whistle. The bear rose up on its hind legs and Ishi shot him through
the chest. With a roar the bear fell off the ledge and the Indian
jumped after him. With a short-handled obsidian spear he thrust him
through the heart. The skin of this bear now hangs in the Museum of
Anthropology in mute testimony of the courage and daring of Ishi. Had
this young man been given a name, perhaps they would have called him
While he shot many birds, I never saw Ishi try wing shooting except at
eagles or hawks. For these he would use an arrow on which he had
smeared mud to make it dark in color. A light shaft is readily
discerned by these birds, and I have often seen them dodge an arrow.
But the darker one is almost invisible head on. The feathers of the
arrows were close cropped to make them swift and noiseless.
The sound of a bowstring is that of a sharp twang accompanied by a
muffled crack. To avoid this and make a silent shot, the Indian bound
his bow at the nocks with weasel fur; this effectually damped the
vibration of the string, while the passage of the arrow across the bow,
which gives the slight crack, is abolished by a heavy padding of
buckskin at this point.
Ishi never wore an arm guard or glove or finger stalls to protect
himself as other archers do. He seemed not to need them. When he
released the arrow, the bow rotated in his hand so that the string
faced in the opposite direction from which it started. His thumb alone
drew the string, and this was so toughened that it needed no leather
In a little bag he carried extra arrowheads and sinews, so that in a
pinch he could mend his arrows.
When not actually in use, he promptly unstrung his bow, and gently
straightened it by hand. In cold weather he heated it over a fire
before bracing it. The slightest moisture would deter him from
shooting, unless absolutely necessary--he was so jealous of his tackle.
If his bowstring stretched in the heat or dampness, as sinew is liable
to do, he shortened it by twisting one end prior to bracing it.
Before shooting he invariably looked over each arrow, straightened it
in his hands or by his teeth, re-arranged its feathers, and saw that
the point was properly adjusted. In fact, he gave infinite attention to
detail. With him, every shot must count. Besides arrows in his quiver,
he carried several ready for use under his right arm, which he kept
close to his side while drawing the bow.
In all things pertaining to the handicraft of archery and the technique
of shooting, he was most exacting. Neatness about his tackle, care of
his equipment, deliberation and form in his shooting were typical of
him; in fact, he loved his bow as he did no other of his possessions.
It was his constant companion in life and he took it with him on his
last long journey.
ARCHERY IN GENERAL
Our experience with Ishi waked the love of archery in us, that impulse
which lies dormant in the heart of every Anglo-Saxon. For it is a
strange thing that all the men who have centered about this renaissance
in shooting the bow, in our immediate locality, are of English
ancestry. Their names betray them. Many have come and watched and shot
a little, and gone away; but these have stayed to hunt.
From shooting the bow Indian fashion, I turned to the study of its
history, and soon found that the English were its greatest masters. In
them archery reached its high tide; after them its glory passed.
But the earliest evidence of the use of the bow is found in the
existence of arrowheads assigned to the third interglacial period,
nearly 50,000 years ago.
That man had material culture prior to this epoch, there is no doubt,
and the use of the bow with arrows of less complicated structure must
have preceded this period.
All races and nations at one time or another have used the bow. Even
the Australian aborigine, who is supposed to have been too low in
mental development to have understood the principles of archery, used a
miniature bow and poisoned arrow in shooting game. In the magnificent
collection of Joseph Jessop of San Diego, California, I saw one of
these little bows scarcely more than a foot long. The arrows, he
stated, the natives carried in the hair of their heads.
Those who are interested in the archaeology of the bow should read the
volume on archery of the Badminton Library by Longmans.
Various peoples have excelled in shooting, notably the Japanese, the
Turks, the Scythians, and the English. Others have not been suited by
temperament to use the bow. The Latins, the Peruvians, and the Irish
seem never to have been toxophilites. The famous long bow of Merrie Old
England was brought there by the Normans, who inherited it from the
Norsemen settled along the Rhine. Here grew the best yew trees in days
gone by, and this, doubtless, was a strong determining factor in the
superior development of their archery.
Before the battle of Hastings, the Saxons used the short, weak weapon
common to all primitive people. The conquered Saxon, deprived of all
arms such as the boar-spear, the sword, the ax, and the dagger,
naturally turned to the bow because he could make this himself, and he
copied the Norman long bow.
Although the first game preserves in England were established by
William the Conqueror at this time, the Saxon was permitted to shoot
birds and small beasts in his fields and therefore was allowed to use a
blunt arrow, headed with a lead tip or pilum, hence our term pile, or
target point. If found with a sharp arrowhead, the so-called broad-head
used for killing the king's deer, he was promptly hanged. The evidence
against such a poacher was summed up thus in the old legend:
Dog draw, stable stand
Back berond, bloody hand.
One found following a questing hound, posed in the stand of an archer,
carrying game on his back, or with the evidence of recent butchery on
his hands, was hanged to the nearest tree by his own bowstring.
It was under these circumstances that outlawry took the form of deer
killing and robust archery became the national sport. In these days the
legendary hero, the demi-myth, Robin Hood, was born. What boy has not
thrilled at the tales of Greenwood men, the well-sped shaft, the
arrow's low whispering flight, and the willow wand split at a hundred
Every boy goes through a period of barbarism, just as the nations have
passed, and during that age he is stirred by the call of the bow. I,
too, shot the toy bows of boyhood; shot with Indian youths in the Army
posts of Texas and Arizona. We played the impromptu pageants of Robin
Hood, manufactured our own tackle, and carried it about with unfailing
fidelity; hunted small birds and rabbits, and were the usual savages of
But when it comes to the legends of the bow, the records of these past
glories are so vague that we must accept them as a tale oft told; it
grows with the telling.
It seems that distances were measured in feet, paces, yards, or rods
with blithe indifference, and the narrator added to them at will. Robin
is supposed to have shot a mile, and his bow was so long and so strong
no man could draw it. In sooth, he was a mighty hero, and yet the
ballads refer to him as a "slight fellow," even "a bag of bones." As a
youth he slew the king's deer at three hundred yards, a right goodly
shot! And no doubt it was.
Of all the bows of the days when archery was in flower, only two
remain. These are unfinished staves found in the ship _Mary Rose_, sunk
off the coast of Albion in 1545. This vessel having been raised from
the bottom of the ocean in 1841, the staves were recovered and are now
in the Tower of London. They are six feet, four and three-quarters
inches long, one and one-half inches across the handle, one and one-
quarter inches thick, and proportionately large throughout. The
dimensions are recorded in Badminton. Of course, they never have been
tested for strength, but it has been estimated at 100 pounds.
Determined to duplicate these old bows, I selected a very fine grained
stave of seasoned yew and made an exact duplicate, according to the
This bow, when drawn the standard arrow length of twenty-eight inches,
weighed sixty-five pounds and shot a light flight arrow two hundred and
twenty-five yards. When drawn thirty-six inches, it weighed seventy-six
pounds and shot a flight arrow two hundred and fifty-six yards. From
this it would seem that even though these ancient staves appear to be
almost too powerful for a modern man to draw, they not only are well
within our command, but do not shoot a mile.
The greatest distance shot by a modern archer was made by Ingo Simon,
using a Turkish composite bow, in France in 1913. The measured distance
was four hundred and fifty-nine yards and eight inches. That is very
near the limit of this type of bow and far beyond the possibilities of
the yew long bow. But the long bow is capable of shooting heavier
shafts and shooting them harder.
Since archery is fast disappearing from the land, and the material for
study will soon become extinct, I have undertaken to record the
strength and shooting qualities of a representative number of the
available bows in preservation, together with the power of penetration
To do this, through the mediation of the Department of Anthropology of
the University of California, I have had access to the best collection
of bows in America. Thousands of weapons were at my disposal in various
museums, and from these I selected the best preserved and strongest to
The formal report of these experiments is in the publications of the
University, and here 'tis only necessary to mention a few of the
In testing the function of these bows and their ability to shoot, a
bamboo flight arrow made by Ishi was used as the standard. It was
thirty inches long, weighed three hundred and ten grains, and had very
low cropped feathers. It carried universally better than all other
arrows tested, and flew twenty per cent farther than the best English
To make sure that no element of personal weakness entered into the
test, I had these bows shot by Mr. Compton, a very powerful man and one
used to the bow for thirty years. I myself could draw them all, and
checked up the results.
It is axiomatic that the weight and the cast of a bow are criteria of
its value as a weapon in war or in the chase. Weight, as used by an
archer, means the pull of a bow when full drawn, recorded in pounds.
The following is a partial list of those weighed and shot. They are, of
course, all genuine bows and represent the strongest. Each was shot at
least six times over a carefully measured course and the greatest
flight recorded. All flights were made at an elevation of forty-five
degrees and the greatest possible draw was given each shot. In fact we
spared no bows because of their age, and consequently broke two in the
Weight Distance Shot
Alaskan....................... 80 pounds 180 yards
Apache........................ 28 " 120 "
Blackfoot..................... 45 " 145 "
Cheyenne...................... 65 " 156 "
Cree.......................... 38 " 150 "
Esquimaux..................... 80 " 200 "
Hupa.......................... 40 " 148 "
Luiseno....................... 48 " 125 "
Navajo........................ 45 " 150 "
Mojave........................ 40 " 110 "
Osage......................... 40 " 92 "
Sioux......................... 45 " 165 "
Tomawata...................... 40 " 148 "
Yurok......................... 30 " 140 "
Yukon......................... 60 " 125 "
Yaki.......................... 70 " 210 "
Yana.......................... 48 " 205 "
The list of foreign bows is as follows:
Weight Distance Shot
Paraguay...................... 60 pounds 170 yards
Polynesian.................... 49 " 172 "
Nigrito....................... 56 " 176 "
Andaman Islands................45 " 142 "
Japanese.......................48 " 175 "
Africa.........................54 " 107 "
Tartar.........................98 " 175 "
South American.................50 " 98 "
Igorrote.......................26 " 100 "
Solomon Islands................56 " 148 "
English target bow (imported)..48 " 220 "
English yew flight bow.........65 " 300 "
Old English hunting bow........75 " 250 "
It will be seen from these tests that no existing aboriginal bow is
very powerful when compared with those in use in the days of robust
archery in old England.
The greatest disappointment was in the Tartar bow which was brought
expressly from Shansi, China, by my brother, Col. B. H. Pope. With this
powerful weapon I expected to shoot a quarter of a mile; but with all
its dreadful strength, its cast was slow and cumbersome. The arrow that
came with it, a miniature javelin thirty-eight inches long, could only
be projected one hundred and ten yards. In making these shots both
hands and feet were used to draw the bow. A special flight arrow
thirty-six inches long was used in the test, but with hardly any
increase of distance gained.
After much experimenting and research into the literature, 
[Footnote 1: Balfour, _Composite Bows_.]
I constructed two horn composite bows, such as were used by the Turks
and Egyptians. They were perfect in action, the larger one weighing
eighty-five pounds. With this I hoped to establish a record, but after
many attempts my best flight was two hundred and ninety-one yards. This
weapon, being only four feet long, would make an excellent buffalo bow
to be used on horseback.
In shooting for distance, of course, a very light missile is used, and
nothing but empirical tests can determine the shape, size, and weight
that suits each bow. Consequently, we use hundreds of arrows to find
the best. For more than seven years these experiments have continued,
and at this stage of our progress the best flight arrow is made of
Japanese bamboo five-sixteenths of an inch in diameter, having a
foreshaft of birch the same diameter and four inches long. The nock is
a boxwood plug inserted in the rear end, both joints being bound with
silk floss and shellacked. The point is the copper nickel jacket of the
present U. S. Army rifle bullet, of conical shape. The feathers are
parabolic, three-quarters of an inch long by one-quarter high, three in
number, set one inch from the end, and come from the wing of an owl.
The whole arrow is thirty inches long, weighs three hundred and twenty
grains, and is very rigid.
With this I have shot three hundred and one yards with a moderate wind
at my back, using a Paraguay ironwood bow five feet two inches long,
backed with hickory and weighing sixty pounds. This is my best flight
It is not advisable here to go further into this subject; let it stand
that the English yew long bow is the highest type of artillery in the
Although the composite Turkish bows can shoot the farthest, it is only
with very light arrows; they are incapable of projecting heavier shafts
to the extent of the yew long bow, that is, they can transmit velocity
but not momentum; they have resiliency, but not power.
Besides these experiments with bows, many tests were made of the flight
and penetration of arrows. A few of the pertinent observations are here
A light arrow from a heavy bow, say a sixty-five pound yew bow, travels
at an initial velocity of one hundred and fifty feet per second, as
determined by a stopwatch.
Shooting at one hundred yards, such an arrow is discharged at an angle
of eight degrees, and describes a parabola twelve to fifteen feet high
at its crest. Its time in transit is of approximately two and one-fifth
Shooting straight up, such an arrow goes about three hundred and fifty
feet high, and requires eight seconds for the round trip. This test was
made by shooting arrows over very tall sequoia trees, of known height.
The striking force of a one-ounce arrow shot from a seventy-five pound
bow at ten yards, is twenty-five foot pounds. This test is made by
shooting at a cake of paraffin and comparing the penetration with that
made by falling weights. Such a striking force is, of course,
insignificant when compared with that of a modern bullet, viz., three
thousand foot pounds. Yet the damage done by an arrow armed with a
sharp steel broad-head is often greater than that done by a bullet, as
we shall see later on.
A standard English target arrow rotates during flight six complete
revolutions every twenty yards, or approximately fifteen times a
second. Heavy hunting shafts turn more slowly. This was ascertained by
shooting two arrows at once from the same bow, their shafts being
connected by a silk thread, so that one paid off as the other wound up
the thread. The number of complete loops, of course, indicated the
number of revolutions. A sand-bank makes a good butt to catch them. In
rotating, much depends on the size and shape of the feather.
Shooting a blunt arrow from a seventy-five pound bow at a white pine
board an inch thick, the shaft will often go completely through it. A
broad hunting head will penetrate two or three inches, then bind. But
the broad-head will go through animal tissue better, even cutting bones
in two; in fact, such an arrow will go completely through any animal
but a pachyderm.
To test a steel bodkin pointed arrow such as was used at the battle of
Cressy, I borrowed a shirt of chain armor from the Museum, a beautiful
specimen made in Damascus in the 15th Century. It weighed twenty-five
pounds and was in perfect condition. One of the attendants in the
Museum offered to put it on and allow me to shoot at him. Fortunately,
I declined his proffered services and put it on a wooden box, padded
with burlap to represent clothing.
Indoors at a distance of seven yards, I discharged an arrow at it with
such force that sparks flew from the links of steel as from a forge.
The bodkin point and shaft went through the thickest portion of the
back, penetrated an inch of wood and bulged out the opposite side of
the armor shirt. The attendant turned a pale green. An arrow of this
type can be shot about two hundred yards, and would be deadly up to the
full limit of its flight.
The question of the cutting qualities of the obsidian head as compared
to those of the sharpened steel head, was answered in the following
A box was so constructed that two opposite sides were formed by fresh
deer skin tacked in place. The interior of the box was filled with
bovine liver. This represented animal tissue minus the bones.
At a distance of ten yards I discharged an obsidian-pointed arrow and a
steel-pointed arrow from a weak bow. The two missiles were alike in
size, weight, and feathering, in fact, were made by Ishi, only one had
the native head and the other his modern substitute. Upon repeated
trials, the steel-headed arrow uniformly penetrated a distance of
twenty-two inches from the front surface of the box, while the obsidian
uniformly penetrated thirty inches, or eight inches farther,
approximately 25 per cent better penetration. This advantage is
undoubtedly due to the concoidal edge of the flaked glass operating
upon the same principle that fluted-edged bread and bandage knives cut
better than ordinary knives.
In the same way we discovered that steel broad-heads sharpened by
filing have a better meat-cutting edge than when ground on a stone.
In our experience with game shooting, we never could see the advantage
of longitudinal grooves running down the shaft of the arrow, such as
some aborigines use, supposed to promote bleeding. In the first place
these marks are inadequate in depth, and secondly it is not the
exterior bleeding that kills the wounded animal so much as the internal
A sufficiently wide head on the arrow cuts a hole large enough to
permit the escape of excess blood, and, as a matter of fact, nearly all
of our shots are perforating, going completely through the body.
Conical, blunt, and bodkin points lack the power of penetration in
animal tissue inherent in broad-heads; correspondingly they do less
[Illustration (up-left): THREE TYPES OF HUNTING ARROWS]
[Illustration (up-right): A BLUNT ARROW SHOT THROUGH AN INCH BOARD]
[Illustration (down-left): "BRER" FOX UP A TREE]
[Illustration (down-right): ART YOUNG SHOOTS FISH]
Catlin, in his book on the North American Indian, relates that the
Mandans, among other tribes, practiced shooting a number of arrows in
succession with such dexterity that their best archer could keep eight
arrows up in the air at one time.
Will Thompson, the dean of American archery, writing in _Forest and
Stream_ of March, 1915, says very definitely that the feat of the
legendary hero, Hiawatha, who is supposed to have shot so strong and
far that he could shoot the tenth arrow before the first descended, is
manifestly absurd. Thompson contends that no man ever has, or ever will
keep more than three arrows up in the air at once.
Having read this and determined to try the experiment of dextrous
shooting, I constructed a dozen light arrows having wide nocks and
flattened rear ends so they might be fingered quickly. Then I devised a
way of grasping a supply of ready shafts in the bow hand, and invented
an arrow release in which all the fingers and thumb held the arrow on
the string, yet remained entirely on the right side of it.
After quite a bit of practice in accurate, later in rapid, nocking, I
succeeded in shooting seven successive arrows in the air before the
first touched the ground. I used a perpendicular flight. Upon several
occasions I almost accomplished eight at once. I feel that with
considerable practice eight, and even more, are possible, proving again
that there is an element of truth in all legends.
It has long been a bone of contention among archers which element of
the yew, the sap wood or the heart, gives the greater cast. To obtain
experimental evidence, I constructed two miniature bows, each
twenty-two inches long, one of pure white sap wood, the other of the
heart from the same stave. I made them the same size, and weighing
about eight pounds when drawn eight inches.
Shooting a little arrow on these bows, the sap wood shot forty-three
yards; the red wood sixty-six yards, showing the greater cast to be in
the red yew.
Corroborating this, Mr. Compton relates that while working in Barnes's
shop in Forest Grove, Oregon, during the last illness of that noted
bowyer, he came across a laminated bow made entirely of sap wood.
Barnes stated that he had constructed it at the instigation of Will
Thompson. The cast of this bow was slow, flabby, and weak. As a
shooting implement it was a failure.
Taking two pieces of wood, one white and one red, each twelve inches
long, I placed them in a bench vise and fastened a spring scale to the
top of each. Drawing the sap wood four inches from the perpendicular,
it pulled eight pounds. Drawing the heart wood the same distance it
pulled fourteen pounds, showing the greater strength of the latter.
When drawn five inches from a straight line, the red piece broke. The
sap wood could be bent at a right angle without fracture.
It is obvious from this that the sap wood excels in tensile strength
the red wood in compression strength and resiliency. In fact, they are
reciprocal in action. The red yew on the belly of the bow gives the
energy, the sap wood preserves it from fracture. It is, in fact,
equivalent to sinew backing, and though less durable, probably adds
more to the cast of the bows.
In our experiments with a catgut and rawhide backing, we have not found
that they add materially to the cast of a bow, only insure it against
fracture. On the other hand, sap wood and hickory backing materially
add to the power of the implement.
The little red yew bow used in the previous experiment was backed
heavily with rawhide and catgut. It then weighed ten pounds, but only
shot sixty-three yards, showing a decrease in cast. But the backing
permitted its being drawn to ten inches, when it shot a distance of
eighty-five yards. A draw of twelve inches fractured it across the
In a similar experiment it was shown that two pieces of wood of the
same size, but one being of a coarse-grained yew running sixteen lines
to the inch, the other a fine-grained piece running thirty-five lines
to the inch, the finer grain had the greater strength and resiliency up
to the breaking point, but the yellow coarse-grained piece was more
flexible and less readily broken.
The question often arises, "How would an arrow fly if the bow is held
in a mechanical rest and the string released by a mechanical release?"
Such an apparatus would permit of several experiments. It would answer
some of the queries that naturally pass through the mind of every
_Question 1._ How accurate is the bow and arrow as a weapon of
precision, or as they say in ballistics, "What is the error of
_Question 2._ What is the angle of declination to the left of the point
of aim in the flight of such an arrow?
_Question 3._ What is the effect of placing the cock feather next the
_Question 4._ What is the effect of shooting different arrows? How do
they group? Would not such a machine give accurate data regarding the
flight of new arrows and help in the selection of shafts for target
_Question 5._ What effect does the time of holding a bow full drawn
have on the flight of an arrow?
_Question 6._ What is the result of changing the weight of bows when
the arrows remain the same?
Therefore, we devised a rest, consisting of a post set firmly in the
ground, with a rigid cross arm and a vise-like hand grip. This latter
was padded thickly with rubber, so that some resiliency was permitted.
The bow was fastened in this mechanical hand by sturdy set screws.
At the other end of the cross arm a hinged block was attached, from
which projected two short wooden fingers, serving the exact function of
the drawing hand. These were spaced so that the arrow nock fitted
between them, and when the string was pulled into position and caught
upon these fingers, the bow was drawn 28 inches.
We adopted a system of loading, drawing and releasing on count, so that
every shot was delivered with equal time factors.
_Answer 1._ Using the same arrow each time, with the target set at 60
yards, we found, of course, that the arrow always flies to the left
when drawn on the left side of the bow, and that the angle of
divergence for a 50 pound bow and a 5 shilling English target arrow was
between six and seven degrees. Using a stronger bow this angle was
increased,--also that with a weaker arrow the angle was greater,--but
six degrees might be designated as the normal declination.
_Answer 2._ Every rifle expert knows what his gun is capable of, in
accuracy, and an archer should know just what to expect of an arrow
under the most favorable conditions. We therefore tried shooting the
same arrow over the same course with the same release, under these
fairly stable conditions: The day was calm. We shot an arrow ten times
in succession and all the shots centered in a six inch bull's-eye; that
is, none went out of a circle of this diameter. In other words, at
sixty yards a bow can shoot arrows with an error of dispersion of no
more than six inches. This is surprisingly accurate for a weapon of
this sort, when it is considered that the best rifles of today will
average between one and a half to three inches dispersion at 100 yards.
_Answer 3._ Placing the cock feather next the bow diverts the arrow to
the left and causes it to drop lower on the target. The group formed by
six flights was fairly close and consistent.
_Answer 4._ Out of nine arrows tested, five consistently made a good
close group and four as consistently went out. The "outs," however,
were uniform in the direction and distance they took. It would be
possible by this machine to select arrows that would make co-incidental
patterns. It is obvious, however, that differences in individual arrows
are greatly exaggerated by the apparatus, because it was quite apparent
by this test that any good archer could group these hits much closer
than the machine delivered them.
_Answer 5._ In our shooting, we universally allotted five seconds for
drawing, setting and discharging. However, when this time was increased
to fifteen seconds, we found that our groups averaged seven and
one-half inches lower. This shows the decided loss of cast incidental
to long holding of the bow.
_Answer 6._ Placing a 65 pound bow in the frame immediately showed
increased reactions throughout. The lateral divergence in arrow flight
was increased to fifteen degrees and all individual reactions were
correspondingly increased. The flight of the individual arrow was less
consistent, showing plainly the necessity of a proper relation in
weight between the arrow and bow,--a very essential factor in accurate
In conclusion, it seems to me that the machine naturally exaggerated
the errors, for this reason. If the pressure of the arrow against the
bow, in passing, amounts to two ounces, the arrow will fly a two ounce
equivalent to the left, when the bow is held rigidly. An arrow that
exerts four ounces pressure will fly correspondingly a greater distance
to the left. But when the bow is held in the hand, there is
considerable give to the muscles and the two ounce pressure is
compensated for; thus, the arrow tends to fly straight. The four ounce
arrow would with the same adjustment hold a correspondingly straighter
The vertical error, however, depends more on the weight of the arrow,
on the feathering, the holding time, the maintainance of tension, and
on the release of the bowstring.
There are many problems in the ballistics of archery that are unsolved,
waiting the experiments of modern science. Empirical methods have
dictated the art so far. In target equipment and shooting there is a
wide field for investigation. Our interests, however, are more those of
the hunter, and less those of the physicist.
HOW TO MAKE A BOW
Every field archer should make his own tackle. If he cannot make and
repair it, he will never shoot very long, because it is in constant
need of repair.
Target bows and arrows may be bought in sporting stores, here or in
England, but hunting equipment must be made. Moreover, when a man
manufactures his bow and arrows, he appreciates them more. But it will
take many attempts before even the most mechanically gifted can expect
to produce good artillery. After having made more than a hundred yew
bows, I still feel that I am a novice. The beginner may expect his
first two or three will be failures, but after that he can at least
Since there are so many different kinds of bows and all so inferior to
the English long-bow, we shall describe this alone.
Yew wood is the greatest bow timber in the world. That was proved
thousands of years ago by experience. It is indeed a magic wood!
But yew wood is hard to get and hard to make into a bow once having got
it. Nevertheless, I am going to tell you where you can get it and how
to work it, and how to make hunting bows just as we use them today, and
presumably just as our forefathers used them before us. Later on I
shall tell you what substitutes may be used for yew.
The best yew wood in America grows in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon,
in the Sierra Nevada and Coast Ranges of northern California. By
addressing the Department of Forestry, doubtless one can get in
communication with some one who will cut him a stave. Living in
California, I cut my own.
A description of yew trees and their location may be had from
Sudworth's "_Forest Trees of the Pacific Slope_," to be obtained from
the Government Printing Office at Washington.
My own staves I cut near Branscomb, Mendocino County, and at Grizzly
Creek on the Van Duzen River, Humboldt County, California. Splendid
staves have been shipped to me from this latter county, coming from the
neighborhood of Korbel.
Yew is an evergreen tree with a leaf looking a great deal like that of
redwood, hemlock, or fir at a distance. It is found growing in the
mountains, down narrow canyons, and along streams. It likes shade,
water, and altitude. Its bark is reddish beneath and scaly or fuzzy on
the surface. Its limbs stand straight out from the trunk at an acute
angle, not drooping as those of the redwood and fir.
The sexes are separate in yew. The female tree has a bright red
gelatinous berry in autumn, and the male a minute cone. It is
interesting that in bear countries the female trees often have long
wounds in the bark, or deep scratches made by the claws of these
animals as they climb to get the yew berries. It is also stated by some
authorities that the female yew has light yellow wood, is coarser
grained, and does not make so good a bow. I have tried to verify this,
but so far I have found some of my bear marked female yew to be the
The best wood is, of course, dark and close grained. This generally
exists in trees that have one side decayed. It seems that the rot
stains the rest of the wood and nature makes the grain more compact to
compensate for the loss of structural strength. It is also apparent
that yew grown at high altitudes, over three thousand feet, is superior
to lowland yew.
In selecting a tree for a hunting bow, the stave must be at least six
feet long, free from limbs, knots, twists, pitch pockets, rot, small
sprouting twigs and corrugations. One will look over a hundred trees to
find one good bow stave; then he may find a half dozen excellent staves
in one tree.
There is no such thing as a perfect piece of yew, nor is there a
perfect bow; at least, I have never seen it. But there is a bow in
every yew tree if we but know how to get it out. That is the mystery of
bowmaking. It takes an artist, not an artisan.
Before one ever fells a tree, he should weigh the moral right to do so.
But yew trees are a gift from the gods, and grown only for bows. If you
are sure you see one good bow in a tree, cut it. Having felled it and
marked with your eye the best stave, cut it again so that your stave is
seven feet long. Then split the trunk into halves or quarters with
steel or wooden wedges so that your stave is from three to six inches
wide. Cut out the heart wood so that the billet is about three inches
thick. Be careful not to bruise the bark in any of these operations.
Now put your stave in the shade. If you are compelled to ship it by
express, wrap it in burlap or canvas, and preferably saw the ends
square and paint them to prevent checking. When you get it home put it
in the cellar.
If you must make a bow right away, place the stave in running water for
a month, then dry in a shady place for a month, and it is ready for
use. It will not be so good as if seasoned three to seven years, but it
will shoot; in fact, it will shoot the same day you cut it from the
tree, only it will follow the string and not stand straight as it
should. Of course, it will not have the cast of air-seasoned wood.
The old authorities say, cut your yew in the winter when the sap is
down, or as Barnes, the famous bow-maker of Forest Grove, Oregon, used
to say: "Yew cut in the summer contains the seeds of death." But this
does not seem to have proved the case in my experience. I am fully
convinced that the sap can be washed out and the process of seasoning
hastened very materially by proper treatment.
Kiln dried wood is never good as a bow. It is too brash; but after the
first month of shade, the staves may be put in a hot attic to their
In selecting the portion of the tree best suited for a bow, choose that
part that when cut will cause the stave to bend backward toward the
bark. Since your bow ultimately will bend in the opposite direction,
this natural curve tends to form a straighter bow, or as an archer
would say "set back a bit in the handle."
If it is impossible to get a stave six feet in length, then a wide
stave three and a half feet long may be used. It is necessary in this
case to split it and join the two pieces with a fishtail splice in the
handle. Target bows are made this way, to advantage, but such a
makeshift is to be deprecated in a hunting bow. The variations of
temperature and moisture combined with hard usage in hunting demand a
solid, single stave. It must not break. Your life may depend upon it.
Before engaging in any art, it is necessary to study the anatomy of
your subject. The anatomical points of a bow have a time-honored
nomenclature and are as follows: Bows may be single staves, or
one-piece bows, those of one continuity and homogeneity; spliced bows
consist of two pieces of wood united in the handle; backed bows have an
added strip of wood glued on the back; and composite bows are made up
of several different substances, such as wood, horn, sinew, and glue.
That surface of the bow which faces the string when drawn into action,
that is, the concave arc, is called the belly of the bow. The opposite
surface is the back. A bow should never be bent backwards, away from
the belly; it will break.
The center of the bow is the handle or hand grip; the extremities are
the tips, usually finished with notches cut in the wood or surmounted
by horn, bone, sinew, wooden or metal caps called nocks. These are
grooved to accommodate the string. The spaces between the nocks and the
handle are called the limbs.
A bow that when unstrung bends back past the straight line is termed
reflexed. One that continues to bend toward the belly is said to follow
the string. A lateral deviation is called a cast in the bow.
The proper length of a yew bow should be the height of the man that
shoots it, or a trifle less. Our hunting bows are from five feet six
inches to five feet eight inches in length. The weight of a hunting bow
should be from fifty to eighty pounds. One should start shooting with a
bow not over fifty pounds, and preferably under that. At the end of a
season's shooting he can command a bow of sixty pounds if he is a
strong man. Our average bows pull seventy-five pounds. Though it is
possible for some of us to shoot an eighty-five pound bow, such a
weapon is not under proper control for constant use.
Some pieces of yew will make a stronger bow at given dimensions than
others. The finer the grain and the greater the specific gravity, the
more resilient and active the wood, and stronger the bow.
Taking a yew stave having a dark red color and a layer of white sap
wood about a quarter of an inch thick, covered with a thin
maroon-colored bark, let us make a bow. Counting the rings in the wood
at the upper end of the stave, you will find that they run over forty
to the inch.
Ishi insisted that this end of the stave should always be the upper end
of the weapon. It seems to me that this extremity having the most
compact grain, and the strongest, should constitute the lower limb,
because, as we shall see later on, this limb is shorter, bears the
greater strain, and is the one that gives down the sooner.
We shall plan to make the bow as strong as is compatible with good
shooting, and reduce its strength later to meet our requirements.
Look over the stave and estimate whether it is capable of yielding two
bows instead of one. If it be over three inches wide, and straight
throughout, then rip it down the center with a saw. Place one stave in
a bench vise and carefully clean off the bark with a draw knife. Do not
cut the sap wood in this process.
Cut your stave to six feet in length. Sight down it and see how the
plane of the back twists. If it is fairly consistent, draw a straight
line down the center of the sap wood. This is the back of your bow. Now
draw on the back an outline which has a width of an inch and a quarter
extending for a distance of a foot above and a foot below the center.
Let this outline taper in a gentle curve to the extremities of the bow,
where it has a width of three-quarters of an inch. This will serve as a
rough working plan and is sufficiently large to insure that you will
get a strong weapon.
With the draw knife, and later a jack plane, cut the lateral surfaces
down to this outline. The back must stand a tremendous tensile strain
and the grain of the wood should not be injured in any way. But you may
smooth it off very judiciously with a spoke shave, and later with a
file. The transverse contour of this part of the bow remains as it was
in the tree, a long flat arc.
Shift the stave in the vise so that the sap wood is downward, and set
it so that the average plane of the sap is level. With the raw knife
shave the wood very carefully, avoiding cutting too deeply or splitting
off fragments, until the bow assumes the thickness of one and
one-quarter inches in the center and this decreases as it approaches
the tips, where it is half an inch thick.
The shape of a cross-section of the belly of the bow should be a full
Roman arch. Many debates have centered on the shape of this part of the
weapon. Some contend for a high-crested contour, or Gothic arch, what
is termed "stacking a bow"; some have chosen a very flat curve as the
best. The former makes for a quick, lively cast and may be desirable in
a target implement, but it is liable to fracture; the latter makes a
soft, pleasant, durable bow, but one that follows the string. Choose
the happy medium.
The process of shaping the belly is the most delicate and requires more
skill than all the rest. In the first place you must follow the grain
of the wood. If the back twists and undulates, your cut must do the
same. The feather of the grain must never be reversed, but descend by