Heartwood Bows
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Information on Historic and Prehistoric Archery Equipment of North America
Lets start from the beginning. Archaeological evidence puts the bow and arrow in the Americas starting from AD 200 to AD 700, depending on location. The American southwest has some of the earliest evidence of this technology at AD 200-300.
 Anasazi is a generic term. it in a Navajo word meaning "ancient enemy"  It consisted of
Archaic-6500-1200 B.C.
Basketmaker II- 1200 B.C. -500 A.D.
Basketmaker III - A.D. 500-700.
Pueblo I - IV- A.D. 750-1600.
 It was in the Basketmaker III period that the bow and arrow replaced the atlatl.
 Most of the bows I have seen were made of gamble oak and mountain mahogany, 19-51" long. Small or no nock(just tapering tips). Many are painted with striped designs. One bow in the Fenn  collection in Santa Fe has a Eskimo like cable backing of sinew cord. This bow is dated at 1150 A.D.
 There arrows were made of phragmite reed main shafts with foreshafts of iron wood, mountain mahogany and greasewood. The Anasazi inserted hardwood nocks into the cane for the bow string.
A good book about the Anasazi is "in search of the old ones" by David Roberts.
 For more detailed info on Anasazi bows, see "the encyclopedia of Native American Bows, Arrows and Quivers Volume 2" by Steve Alley and  Jim Hamm.
MOUNTAIN MAHOGANY FORESHAFT FROM A Basbetmaker site in Southern Utah
Prehistoric bows and arrows of the Great Basin.   

Arapahoe:  Made bows from juniper, hickory and ash. About 4 feet average. With a rectangle cross section. The juniper bows were said to be backed with 5 layers of sinew.  They also used 3 ply sinew strings. Typical plains arrows. 23 - 26". Shoot shafts with long feathers and shaft grooves.  
Arapaho quiver of mountain goat or dog skin
Apache:  The Apache were of the Athabaskan speakers from the north. About 400 to 500 years ago they came down with the present Navaho tribe to what is now the American Southwest. 
 The Apache made self and sinew backed bows. Both strait and double curved, 40 to 50" long.
 For wood they used oak, osage, juniper, mesquite and other whitewoods and hardwood shrubs. Most had rectangular cross sections. Some were highly reflexed. Some bows had single or double nocks and some had no nocks, just a sinew wrap. Strings were 2 ply. 
 They made arrows from phragmites cane with hardwood fore-shafts tipped with stone or iron trade points. Some simply had sharpened wood fore-shafts.  These arrows were from 29 to 35". They also used shorter solid shoot shafts. These were shorter, average 25". 
 There quivers were made of rawhide or buck skin and did not always have a bow case attached like most plains horseback tribes. 
Blackfoot.  The Blackfoot were another branch of the Algonquin language group. Before coming to the plains and there historical location in Montana and Alberta Canada they resided in the northeast US Maine area. On the northern plains they became powerful  mounted warriors,
 The Blackfoot had access to yew wood that grew as far east as western Montana. They also somehow obtained osage from far to the south. Besides these woods they used chokecherry, ash and other whitewood, as well as horn bows of mountain sheep and elk antler. Most bows I have seen are double curved. Both sinew backed and self. Average width 1 1/8" and from 40" to 50" long. Arrows from 23" to 28". They were made of dogwood and other shoots growing in there area.  Points in historical times were metal trade points or made of iron barrel hoops or other medal brought by the whites. They also used bone points that looked the same as medal. 
Cheyenne: The Cheyenne are a Algonquian language tribe. At one time they lived in the great lakes region. They moved onto the plains and became one of the great horse tribes.
 George Bird Grinnell lived with the tribe in the late 1800's and wrote a detailed 2 volume book about them with good information of there bows and arrows.
  The bows were from 3.5 to 4.5 feet long. There favored wood was rocky mountain juniper from a small tree or split from a large limb and backed with sinew.  Both D bows and double curved bows were used. They used  the sapwood of juniper. When the migrated to the southern plains they began using Osage orange as well a hickory salvaged from wagons. At one time they also had many bows of elk antler and specially bighorn sheep. These bows were very durable and useful. If kept out of the elements bows of bighorn sheep and sinew can still be shot after hundreds of years.
 The indian sign language for the Cheyenne was the index finger being drawn across the other a few times for the "striped arrow people". For the wild turkey feathers used on there arrows. The main arrow shafts were of dogwood but serviceberry chokecherry and rose were also used
The Comanche were up until historic times part of the Shoshone of the Wyoming area. In the 1700s they broke off and migrated south for the sole purpose of Spanish horses. Being that they decided to base there whole life around the horse they became legendary horse warriors. They came to settle in mostly Oklahoma and Texas and part of New Mexico Colorado and Nebraska. They lived in osage orange territory and of corse most of there bows were of osage ranging in length of 42 to 56". Most are a quite fast and efficient design by todays standards. Generally narrow(1"-1 1/4" at the handle tapering to 1/2" at the tip. Many are double curved. The fact that I have never seen a sinew backed Comanche bow says a lot for Osage wood. All the best bows of the Shoshone were sinew backed. Mostly juniper with bighorn sheep and mountain mahogany less common. Every arrow I have seen was dogwood. Typical plains style arrows with bulbous nocks and long low fletch. In general, like most sothern plains tribes the metal points were smaller. The Comanche used lots of colors in there cresting and often used laundry blue obtained by trade. There are many beautiful mountain lion quivers in museums from the Comanche
The Chumash lived in the area of what is now Santa Barbra county California. In 1974 Travis Hudson wrote a 13 page study called Chumash archery equipment. This book is hard to find. In the book it describes and pictures the single documented Chumash bow in existence. It was collected in 1793 and now resides in Vancouver. It has a lenticular cross section and is 41.5 inches long, 3.5 cm wide and 1.8 cm thick. It has a 3 ply sinew string. Pin nocks. The wood is a yellow tan color. The wood looks to me to be juniper or incense cedar. The grip is wrapped with narrow buckskin. The bow has a heavy sinew backing that has drawn the bow into a C shape. The bow may have been recurved or is now from sinew shrinkage. The bow looks exactly like the Miwok bows from north west of them except for the shouldered pin nocks instead of the Miwok sinew hook nocks. A catch of two self bows and 25 arrows was found by a hunter in the 1950s. These bows were given to his kids and only 10 of these arrows survived. The bows were of the same cross-section and 42 and 48" long. No sinew backing and the wood was described as a dull redish brown.   All early accounts I have seen were written  by oral accounts and seems some misinterpretations were made. It  is mentioned that they made self bows, but most of the sinew backed bows they had came from trade with the Yokuts It goes on to describe these bows as being made of elder and pinon pine. Pinon  would almost certainly have been mistaken for juniper that grew in the ares along side piñon. Juniper was used by many tribes in California and the great basin and makes a great bow when backed with sinew. Pinon does not make a good bow and is not mentioned anywhere else. It also mentions that the sinew was glued to the back of the bow with pine pitch. Again this was not used anywhere else and does not make a good glue for sinew and wood. The unbacked bows were between 3.5 and 4.5 feet long. Sinew backed bows about 3 feet. Made of juniper limbs, creek dogwood and live oak. I have heard that the hollow branch of elderberry was a favorite. I have seen some elderberry bows made today with good results.The strings were said to be two ply(although the surviving bow string was 3 ply) and made of sinew and indian hemp. All but two arrows I have seen were phragmities cane with foreshafts of hardwood and said to be California sagebrush. One of these arrows is 29.5" long with a point of Monterrey chert and fletched with hawk feathers. There are two surviving self arrows made of hardwood shoots. Of 10 arrows found together in a cave. All are phragmities with 2 hawk tail feathers and a eagle cock feather. Red painted nocks. Purple green and black cresting. Hardwood foreshafts and desert side notched points. Longest 82 cm , shortest 74cm

About 20 or so years ago  I went to an exhibit on "Bows of the World' at the Denver Art Museum. some of the bows did not make much sense to me at the time. The Asian composites, that were so reflexed the tips crossed. Another strange design was the number of Miwok bows on display. They were short, and some were  highly reflexed. Without a horn belly to take up the compression I wondered how they were usable. One of the main things I remembered was the strange hooks at the tips. I still have a picture I took with a disposable camera of these tips.
 A decade ago I moved out to the bay area to work on a fishing boat. I had lived all around Colorado before that and had researched and replicated the bows and arrows of the Cheyenne, Arapahoe, and Ute. I used the same woods they used, cut from the same places they took there's from. Living in the Bay area I wanted to do the same thing. I found out the bows of the Costanoan, Coast Miwok, and Sierra Miwok were all the same. As well as some of the bows in the posession of the Yokut tribe. They were the sinew backed, recurved, reflexed, Hook nock bows.
 It seems that the origin of many of these was from the Sierra Miwok. All these tribes also had bows of there own making. Mostly self bows of local wood. But the sinew bows of the Sierra Miwok were a highly prized possession, and one of the main trade items offered by the Sierra Miwok.
 I found a couple beautiful and very well made Miwok bows at the Lowie Museum in Berkeley. Soon after that I set out to replicate them. I was able to find a lot of information. Craig Bates wrote a 25 page study 'the Reflexed Sinew Backed Bow of the Sierra Miwok. Barrett and Gifford included information on the bows arrows and quivers in 'Miwok Material Culture: Indian life of the Yosemite Region (1933). There is enough information to replicate these bows today.
 The bows in collections today are mostly of incense cedar, with California nutmeg being second. Barrett and Gifford write that spruce was also used and in one place ash. In 1928 Herbert Wilson said cedar and oak were used. 
 Incense cedar is the only species of Libocedrus that is native to the US. It is native from central western Oregon, through most of California, extreme western Nevada and into northern Baja. The tree is slow growing and can live up to 1000 years in the wild. 
 Incense cedar is the wood I focus on to make these bows. I have used juniper with good results but cedar is what I concentrate on. 
 The first few bows I made were from the strait trunk of the tree. They worked well but when I started using the limbs I will never go back. The limbs grow upright. This is good because to avoid compression in wood you want to use the top of the limb and in this case you have a natural reflex to start. 
  The Miwok shaped there bows green, or when the wood was still wet. They new that if this kind of wood got too dry it would become brittle. After the sinew was dry they coated the wood daily with deer marrow to keep it from becoming too dry.
  Most bowyers you talk to will tell you cedar is useless. One thing Incense cedar does have going for it is that it handles compression very well. So with sinew to take up the tension on the back, the wood needs only deal with the compression. And it does. I still have a working bow from 3 years ago that I repeatedly drew and shot at a 25" draw. The bow was 39". I also got a cast of 210 yards with this bow in this way. Sinew is very important with these bows. A lot should be used. I have found 5 layers works the best. It will draw the bow up to a healthy reflex for more early draw weight. More than 5 layers and the weight of the sinew starts to slow the cast. 
 The following are some reproduction bow  measurements and performance stats.
 The arrows used were reproductions and are as follows.
 #1- 23.5" cane with 4" live oak foreshaft. Blue grouse tail feathers 3.75" long and 1/4 high. 21.2 grams.
 #2- 23" cane with 5.5" oak foreshaft. Crow feathers 3.75" long and 5/16" high. 20.9 grams.
  #3- 23" mock orange with 6.5" oak foreshaft. Turkey and crow feathers 3" x 5/16.

  Bow#5- Incense cedar with 4.5 layers of sinew. 39" . Grip- 1.5" x 3/4. Mid limb- 1.5" x 5/8. below nock- 3/4" 46# at 24" draw. 
23.5" draw #1 210 yards. #2 170 yards. #3 169.5 yards. 

 Bow #6- incense cedar 4.5 layers of sinew. 41.5" 52# at 23" draw. Grip- 1.5" x 3/4". Mid limb- 1.5" x 5/8". 5" below nock- 1.25 x 1/2. Below nock- 3/4.
 23" draw- #1- 177 yards, #2- 158 yards, #3 -156 yards. 

 Bow #7- incense cedar with 6 layers of sinew( highly reflexed). 44" long 48# at 23.5" draw. Grip- 1.5" x 5/8, mid limb- 1 5/8" x 1/2", 5" below nock- 1.25 x 1/2", below nock- 3/4".
 23" draw- #1- 164 yards, #2- 152 yards, #3 152 yards. 

Bow #8- incense cedar with 4 layers of sinew. 37" long, 56# at 18" draw. Grip- 1.5" x 3/4", mid limb- 1.25" x 5/8, 5" below nock- 1 1/8 x 1/2", nock 5/8. 
 18" draw- #1- 178.5 yards, #2- 157 yards, #3- 151 yards. 

 Obviously more tests are necessary on bows # 6 and 7 as they were not stressed to there full potential. Bow # 5 had been pulled and shot at 25" a few times and shows no signs of failing on the belly. However in previous bows pulled to such extremes I have experienced fretting on the belly.
Bow # 8 is heavier in draw and when the it reaches 18" it spikes and it is obvious that this is full draw and to draw it further will probably result in wood failure, but a 178 yard cast for a 3 foot long bow drawn to 18" and shooting a 27.5" arrow is excellent! 
 When incense cedar with a heavy sinew backing is made at draw weights in the 40-50# range the draw weight goes up very little as the inches increase at the full draw range. This is the best compression wood I have ever come across. I have only done 1 test to see what a bow could take before breaking. The bow was 38". I estimate the draw was about  26" before the wood started to fail. It did not snap, but the belly was compromised and would never perform as it did before.
 I will keep updating this study as I learn more.

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