- A long slender shaft, pointed on one end and feathered on the other,
to be shot from a bow. Arrows of various types were common to practically
all American Indians, who used the bow and arrow in hunting and in war.
The main part of the arrow is the shaft
which is made of some pithy reed or cane, or stem of wood. Indians
selected these shafts with great care. They tied them tightly in
bundles and hung them in their wigwams or tepees high above the fire to
straighten and season them. When ready for use, they were straightened
further and smoothed with stone implements.
Most Plains Indians cut shallow grooves
along the length of the shaft. These were known as "lightening marks"
or "blood grooves," since they allowed the blood to flow from the wound
of an animal. This would not only weaken the anima but would also
leave a trail of blood the Indian hunter could follow. These grooves
also kept the arrow shaft from warping, and Indians believed they helped
to keep the arrow straight in flight.
Feathers for arrows came from the wings
of various birds, chiefly from the eagle and the wild turkey. Feathers
from the same wing were used on one arrow. When split and fastened
to the arrow these feathers gave it a twisting or spiral motion like that
of a bullet fired from a rifle. Tail feathers were not good for arrows.
Some arrows had no feathers and others had two, but the majority were fletched
with three, set at equal distances around the circumference of the shaft.
The Eskimo used the entire feather, but most Indians split the feathers
before placing them on the shafts. Feathers were fastened with glue
and lashed with sinew. In many cases the middle part of the feather
was free, only the ends being tied down.
There were many types of arrowheads.
The early Indians used flint or other hard rocks, flaked and shaped; also
bone, antler tips, and even cooper. When the white man came they
learned from him to use iron, and preferred hoop iron which could more
easily be cut to shape and sharpen. Some Plains Indians used stiff
buffalo sinew on their buffalo arrows. This sinew point wolf bend
around a bone instead of striking it and breaking. For birds and
very small animals some arrows were blunt, others were split into prongs,
and others had a stick set crosswise on the end.
The heads of hunting arrows often were
not barbed but were more oval shaped, so they could be withdrawn easily.
They also were lashed tightly to the shaft. But war arrowheads were
barbed so they could not be withdrawn easily, and in many cases were set
loosely on the end of the shaft so that when the shaft was withdrawn the
arrowhead would remain in the wound. Some Indians poisoned the arrow
The method of setting the arrowhead in
the shaft in relation to the notch, or nock, that groove into which the
string fitted, was also different in hunting and in war arrows. In
the hunting arrow the blade on the arrowhead was vertical with the bow,
or on the same line with the nock. As the animal's ribs were vertical,
the Indian reasoned that the arrowhead could thus more easily pass between
them. In the case of the war arrow the blade was at right angles
to the nock so the arrowhead could more easily pass between the ribs of
a man. However, as the arrow spun in flight, it is doubtful if these
methods of placing the arrowhead were effective.
The arrows of various tribes differed.
The Southwest Indians used a long arrow with a short feather. The
Plains Indians used a short arrow with a long feather. Experts could
tell by an arrow to what tribe it belonged. An Indian always marked
his own arrows so he could identify them, since several Indians might shoot
at the same animal or person.
within this Site
Release ][ Bow ][ Buffalo
][ Eagle ][ Flint ][
and Bone Craft ][ Hunting ][ Metalwork
][ Quiver ][ Sinew ]