Bow - The
chief weapon of the early American Indian. Bows were made from many
types of springy woods, as well as from bone and horn, and were of different
lengths and shapes. The Indian prized his bow and took good care
of it, keeping it unstrung and in a bow case when not in use. Even
after he had acquired firearms, he usually carried his bow whether in war
or on the hunt.
There were four general types of bows in
use by the Indians. One was the self-bow,
made of one long length of wood, popular with the eastern Indians.
Then there was the compound bow, made of several layers of wood, bone,
or horn, glued and lashed together, used by some Plains tribes. The
third was the sinew wrapped bow, made of a brittle wood which was wrapped
from wing to wing with sinew. This bow was used among the Alaskan
tribes. The last type was the sinew backed self-bow strengthened
by a strip of sinew or rawhide, glued and lashed to the back of the bow,
much used by the California tribes.
The Eskimo made a bow out of whales' ribs,
set on a wooden grip. The North Pacific tribes used a short bow with
flat wide wings and a round grip. The Florida Indians' bow was as
long as the height of the man who used it. Bows of the Plains Indians
were shorter than most, as they usually were shot from horseback.
Some Plains tribes, as well as the Apache, bent back the tips of the wings
in the shape of a cupid's bow. Pueblo Indians made small painted
bows to be used in religious ceremonies and to be buried with the dead.
Bows were made of the wood of the osage
orange (bois d'arc), found west of the Mississippi, ironwood, second
growth hickory, cedar, dogwood, white ash and mulberry.
Indians learned the use of the bow from
childhood. Many stories have been told of how Indians could shoot
for or five arrows, one after the other, before a man could reload his
gun. When the Spanish conquistadores found that an arrow would
go through a coat of mail they adopted as armor the quilted cloth of the
The University of California tested the
distances arrows could be shot. These tests showed: Osage bow,
92 yards; Apache bow, 120 yards; Blackfoot bow, 145 yards; Cheyenne bow,
165 yards; Yaqui Indian bow (from Mexico), 210 yards; English long bow,
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