Bows and Arrows

Native Indian Tribe

Bows and Arrows

Description and Definition of Bows and Arrows. Bows and arrows are weapons made of a strip of wood, or other flexible material such as bone or horn, with a cord connecting the two ends, by means of which an arrow is propelled. The bow is basically a form of spring powered by a string or cord. Arrows were the missiles shot from bows which were made from a straight thin shaft and usually feathered and barbed. An Arrowhead was the blade or point that was made of bone or stone, and later metal, and hafted to an arrow. Arrowhead points were smaller than Spear points and penetrated the skin more deeply than when fired by a bow.

Bows and Arrows - Identifying arrows
Native Indians learned how to make bows and arrows, which, like making all types of weapons, was a time consuming task. One bow could take over one month to make. Many Native Americans would adopt their own identifiable style and length of arrow as an aid in recognizing them. Many carried a measure with them indicating the exact length of their arrows. Others used the arrowheads as a form of identification or a specific feather design. This enabled them to determine who had killed a given animal and claim the quarry.

The Use of Bows and Arrows
Bows and Arrows are the most famous weapons of Native American Indians and were used for hunting and fighting. Bows and Arrows provided long range, accurate weapons and the opportunity to shoot rapid shots on foot or on horseback. Different types and sizes of bows and arrows were designed for hunting and for fighting. Bows were commonly fired from horseback for war and hunting purposes. Bows for horseback riders were smaller than those used on foot to allow for maximum manoeuvrability. The training required by Native Indians to use bows and arrows was extremely time consuming - it was necessary for them to become expert marksmen and they developed their skills in the use of bows and arrows as children.

Bows and Arrows - Quivers
The arrows were carried in Quivers made of leather, bark, wood, furs and other natural materials which was slung across their back. Animals such as foxes, coyotes and beavers were also used in making quivers. Quick release of arrows was essential. Native Americans were able to make one shot every 3-4 seconds at a range of about 200 yards.

Bows and Arrows - Poisoned Arrows?
Did Native American Indians use poisoned arrows? Yes! Please refer to Poisoned Arrow for facts and information about how these deadly weapons were made and the venom and poison that was used by Native Americans.

Making Bows and Arrows - Raw Materials Used by Native Americans
Bows and Arrows were made using the natural resources and raw materials available to the Native Americans. A tough, hard wood was required to make the bows that included ash, hickory, juniper, oak, Osage orange, cedar, walnut and birch. Other Indians chose to use horns or antlers to make bows or the bones of large animals, especially the bow-shaped bones from the rib cage. Bowstrings were made of animal gut, sinew or rawhide. Plant fibers were also used for drawstrings including nettles, dogbane, milkweed, and dogbane or the inner bark of basswood or yukka. Arrows were made from raw materials from reeds or shoots, such as dogwood, ash, birch and chokecherry. The chief skill of Native American men lay in making weapons. They whittled bows from tough wood or bone and shaped them into a curve. They made arrows with a sharp stone head and lashed feathers to the arrow to make it fly straight. The art of making efficient weapons with bows and arrows required element to be balanced in proportion to the others.

Making Bows and Arrows - Materials required and Method
The materials required to make Bows and Arrows include the following:

  • Making bows from wood
    • Dry, hard, flexible wood was selected for bows, about one yard in length
    • The best bows were thicker in the center which gave the bow strength and served as a good 'handle'
    • Notches were cut at either end of the bow to hold the bow string
  • Making bows from bone
    • Some bone had a natural shape that lent itself to making a bow
    • Whale bones were particularly desired for this purpose
  • Making arrows - the shafts
    • Dry, hard, sticks of wood were selected, about half the size in length of the bow
    • The arrows were then whittled to the required shape and sometimes straightened using heat from a fire - tools called arrow straighteners were also used
    • Notches were carved at either end of the arrows to accommodate the arrowhead and the arrow flight (feathers)
  • Making Arrowheads
    • Arrowheads were the projectile points added to bows which were made in a number of different shapes.
    • The arrowheads were made of stone, or sometimes bone or antler, and fixed to an arrow, called 'hafting'
  • Making Flights (fletching)
    • Bird feathers were used to give arrows their 'spin' during flight
    • Fletching balanced the weight of the arrowhead to prevent the arrow from tumbling in flight
    • Feathers were attached using sinew or a hide glue. Glue was also made from Black Cottonwood, Pinon Pine and other pines and prickly pear juice
  • Making the Bowstring
    • The bow string was made from sinew or plant fibers
    • The bow string was attached via a notch at either end of the bow
  • Making the 'Handle' or Grip for the Bows
    • Leather thongs were wound around the centre of the bows to make a good grip when pulling the bow and shooting the arrows
Native Indian Weapons and Tools
How to make a Bow
Quivers
Native Indian Tribes Index

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