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Archery – Bows and Arrows

Archery – Bows and Arrows

Since I was a young child, I have loved archery.  I remember watching my parents shoot bow (my mom even bow-hunted and shot a doe one year), and I would pretend while watching them.  I often would make my own bows from box-elder branches and string from feed bags.   As I got older (about 5), I took some hard earned money and bought my first bow.   I have been shooting bow for most of my life; and when I was 18, I made my first wooden bow. I have been playing with historic bows and arrows ever since.  Like most of the historic crafts I have taught myself, I am far from being an expert but I can make stuff that works.  My bows are not pretty, but they shoot well.

Although the French in Wisconsin did not really shoot bows, the various Indian nations here certainly did.  Even after the coming of the fur trade, many Indian people continued to use bows.  Too often, historians (or folks that like history) repeat the fallacy that when the gun came, the Indians forgot how to make and use bows.  Like a lot of the “Dependency Theory,”  this is false.  Michael Galban recently did a talk on bows in the east at the Woodland Indian History Conference in Pittsburgh, PA.  I was not able to attend, but knowing Mike, it was probably pretty awesome. Some day I will need to chat with him about this stuff.

Most of the bows I have made (that are adult sized) are sold off, and of them all… I only still own my first “real” bow, which cracked after 15 years and 1,000s of shots.  I still think I can save it by backing it, but I am not sure it is really worth the effort.  I am currently shooting an Osage Orange bow that is a repro of a Meskwaki bow from the 19th century.  I picked it up on a trade a few years ago and have been shooting it frequently since.  I have rebuilt the quiver that came with it to resemble a Dakota (??) quiver that was collected near St. Paul, MN and is in the Brooklyn Museum (Jarvis Collection).  I am really hoping to make myself a new bow this summer as I want to be shooting one of my own again.  I also would like one that is not as hard pulling.  This Osage Orange bow is about 60 pounds.

Meanwhile, I have been teaching my girls to shoot.  Last year I built them a small, Black Locust bow and some arrows.  They are getting pretty good.  I also built a slightly larger bow out of ash that Noelle will start using this year or next.  We are all having a lot of fun with this.  Here a Lily shooting her bow the other night.


6 Responses to “Archery – Bows and Arrows”

  1. Chris depot says:

    I ve been shooting a bow since I was about 6, I have my oldest son who is 4 shooting in the yard, always a funtime..
    I was wondering what’s the latest bow and arrow ref from the East? Post Rev? By east I mean east of the Appalachians.

  2. Isaac says:

    Chris, if you are referring to bow use by Natives, there are certainly post Rev War references. We could easily argue that there was never an end to bow building and use.

  3. Chris depot says:

    Yes , Native use. I agree that building and use prob never stopped. I meant a ref to mainsteam or widespread use ny Native instead of firearms in the closing days on the 18th century in the East.

  4. John Santos says:

    Ever seen these references to bow/arrow use amoungst the Illini….Written by Father Rasles, early 1690s…..I was looking up Abenaki info and found them,,,,,

    “Arrows are the principal weapons that they use in war and in hunting, These arrows are barbed at the tip with a stone, sharpened and cut in the shape of a serpent’s tongue; if knives are lacking, they use arrows also fur flaying the animals which they kill. They are so adroit in bending the bow that they scarcely ever miss their aim; and they do this with such quickness that they will have discharged a hundred arrows sooner than another person can reload his gun.”….

    Heres one on fishing with a bow (while standing up in a canoe!!)….”They take little trouble to make nets suitable for catching fish in the rivers, bemuse the abundance [Page 169] of all kinds of animals which they find for their subsistence renders them somewhat indifferent to fish. However, when they take a fancy to have some, they enter a canoe with their bows and arrows; they stand up that they may better discover the fish, and as soon as they see one they pierce it with an arrow,”……

  5. mike davis says:

    Thanks for the article. I enjoyed it. I live in Wisconsin, and I am interested in the same thing. My best bow was made of black locust, which I gave away. Now I’m playing around with mulberry saplings. You said your bow was a Meskwaki replica. Can you direct me to some pictures of Meskwaki bows? Also, have you seen what Hochunk (Winnebago) bows look like? I’d like to make a Meskwaki or Winnebago bow. I was down at the Meskwaki settlement and saw one that the tribal historian said was made from ash. I forgot to take pics of it! Thanks for any suggestions.

  6. Isaac says:

    Mike. I know of few 18th century bows that are in collections, most are 19th century. Jim Hamm and Steve Alley wrote a 2 vol. encyclopedia “Encyclopedia of Native American Bows, Arrows & Quivers” that has a lot of sketches of bows in collections. There are Meskwaki and Hochunk bows in there. Most of the bows in these vol. are from the AMNH and can be seen here… with a simple search for bow.

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