The Bow

It must have been a great day for pueblo people when they learned about this weapon, somewhere about six or seven hundred A.D. Before that, they had only the throwing stick which has to be used in open country where the hunter stands up and raises his arm in full sight of the deer or the enemy. We guess that it was new arrivals in the country who brought the bow and there must have been many a campfire discussion as to whether this modern, complicated instrument with a string that was always breaking was really better than the good old otlatl. By the time the white people arrived everybody had taken to the new fashion and the atlatl was forgotten.

Self Bow

The first bows were very simple. Parts of them found in the ruins show that they were simple bent strips of hard wood, like that in photograph V-3. The Hopi used such bows until the white people came, and so did many people in the other pueblos. So did most of the Indians in the Southwest and California. It was only the new arrivals, the Navaho and Apache, who had the more complicated bow we shall describe later.

Cochiti drum maker

Plate V-2. Cochiti drum maker. Note bows and arrows, also.

Hopi bow

Plate V-3. Hopi bow, arrows and wristguards.

A man making a self bow cut a strong sapling of oak, yew, mountain mahogany, or juniper and if possible, tried to get one that had grown in a curved position. He cut a length about three and a half to four and a half feet long, depending on whether he himself was tall or short. He scraped it with a stone knife so that it was thickest at the middle, where his hand would grasp it, and tapered a little tov/ard the ends. At each end he cut a notch to hold the bowstring.

If the wood had no curve, he might lay it over hot ashes, steam it soft, and then tie it in the bent shape he wanted. Some men, however, preferred to leave the rod straight and pull it into a curve with the bowstring. That gave it more snap, they said. The last touch was to rub the wood for a long time with sandstone to make it smooth, and perhaps to rub a special hollow where the grasping fingers would come.

Sinew-Backed Bow

Some of the pueblos, especially the Keres, made a more complicated bow. This was the type called "sinew backed," used by Navaho and Apache. Many Tiwa and Tewa had it, and even the Zuni preferred it when they had to kill enemies instead of deer. "But there was much discussion among the old people," the pueblos report, "as to whether it was really any better." This sinew-backed bow was shorter than the self bow, for it was developed by people who had very little wood and had to make up with extra materials for the lack of tall, springy saplings. It was used, too, by people who rode horseback and could not bother with a long bow. This bow is the weapon of the Eskimo, of some Plains Indians, and the wandering horseback riding tribes of Asia.

A sinew-backed bow was cut and whittled like a simple one, except that the maker sometimes bent it into the double curve which whites call Cupid's bow. Then he cut long strips of sinew and glued them to the back with pinyon gum or, later, a paste made of boiled wheat grains. This kept the wood from breaking and adding to its spring. He made this backing extra strong by winding sinew around the bow crosswise. Often he wrapped a piece of buckskin around the middle of the bow, where his hand would grip it.

The bowstring was made of sinew, generally the long strips from the leg of a deer. A man split off two strands with his teeth, wet them, and rolled them together on his leg just as he spun cotton. He wound the string tightly to the bow at one end and fastened the other with a half hitch which could be loosened when the bow was not in use. If the sinew were kept taut all the time it would stretch and lose its spring. In fact, a bowstring needed constant attention, for it loosened when the weather was wet, tightened and perhaps snapped when it was dry. Most men kept their bows in some sort of case and kept extra strings handy. They needed these when the war chief made a yearly inspection of weapons, as he did in so many pueblos. He tried every bow and if a string broke people thought pretty badly of the owner.


Arrows were of various kinds also. The simplest were made by anybody who could get straight pieces of hard wood,-sumac (Rhus tril-obata), oak (Quereus gambelli), or wild currant (Ribes inebrians), about eighteen to twenty-six inches long. Some of the Tiwa say they looked for stems which were not curved but had a jog in them for then the arrow flew straight but was hard to pull out. The maker scraped off the bark, then smoothed and evened the shafts by rubbing with sandstone. If the sticks needed straightening he steamed them over the fire till they were pliable, then passed them through a hole in a piece of horn with which he could pull them into shape. Then he rubbed them smooth on sandstone. He generally made a groove lengthwise of the arrow and he painted it with some distinctive mark, so that he would recognize it sticking in a deer or enemy.

If the arrow was to be used for small animals, he might not put a stone tip on it, for tips were expensive-that is, they took a long time to make. Besides they made too big a hole in the skin and flesh. In that case, he merely smoothed the wood to a point with a sharp stone. He made his stone tips out of hard, flaky stone, like chalcedony, obsidian, jasper, chert, slate. They were usually of the shape which had a projection at the bottom. He split the hard wood of the arrow a little way, pushed this projection into it and squeezed in a little melted pinyon gum. Then he wrapped the place tightly around the outside with wet sinew. The sinew would shrink when it was dry and hold very tight. For the feathers he split hawk plumes down the middle of the quill. He cut off the pointed end of the feather with his stone knife and then evened the remainder so that it was the same width all the way. He laid three of these lengthwise along the rear end of the arrow and attached them with sinew. At the very end of the arrow shaft he cut a notch where it would fit into the bowstring.

Pueblo people who lived where they could get reeds (Phragmites communis) used these for their arrows and considered them much better because so much lighter. However, the reed is too fragile to hold a stone tip or a notch in the end, so they had to add pieces of hard wood. They cut the reed shaft longer than wood, since it was lighter. The cut at the end near the tip was planned to come just beyond one of the joints of the reed so that this end had a hard ring where the joint was and then something like a shallow cup which was the beginning of the next section of reed. Into this cup the arrow maker thrust a six-inch stick of hard wood, whittled so that its end would just fit. He gummed it with pinyon gum and also made a wrapping of sinew around the outside of the reed to hold it. This hardwood stick, or fore-shaft, could be sharpened, or it could hold a stone tip, just like a hardwood arrow.

At the lower end of the reed, where the notch should come, the arrow maker made a similar cut near a joint and thrust in a small plug of hardwood like a cork. Then he cut the notch in this.

It can be seen that arrows meant hard work and that they were valuable property. Each man marked his own so that he would recognize them and he tried to get back all that he had shot, whether they were on the ground or in a wounded animal. Arrows were favorite stakes in betting and, on slack days, the young men would shoot at a mark and bet arrows on their success.

Besides his bow and arrow a man made several other weapons, some of which served as tools also. There was, of course, the curved throwing stick, used in the rabbit hunt. This was a thin, flat piece of wood, hacked from a branch which was already curved, then rubbed fine and smooth with sandstone. The curve was said to imitate that of the hawk's wing, for it was the hawk who first taught men to use this stick, which he carried concealed under his wing. Sometimes the owner painted his stick with marks meant to symbolize a face, as in photograph V-4. This is a Hopi stick and the small parallel marks at either end are "his eyes." A man might also cut himself a wooden club from a short strong branch of oak or other hard wood, with a knot in the end. He polished this also on sandstone.