Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 51.djvu/661

This page has been validated.
645
ESKIMO BOWS AND ARROWS.

ESKIMO BOWS AND ARROWS.
By JOHN MURDOCH.

WHEN we landed at Point Barrow, in 1881, it seemed as if every Eskimo hunter had a pretty good rifle. There is a law against selling breech-loading arms and ammunition to "Indians," but it was no better enforced in Alaska than it was in old times on the plains, when the Sioux used to butcher our soldiers with rifles and cartridges made in the Eastern States.

When we grew better acquainted with the natives, however, we found that some of the poorer men were still obliged to depend on the weapon of their forefathers, the bow and arrows. Besides, every boy in the village had his little bow, which he used for shooting birds and small animals. Now, these bows were perhaps the most ingenious piece of bow-making in the world.

As every one knows, the Eskimos, with very few exceptions, inhabit a region which is perfectly treeless, or at any rate where nothing grows but pines and spruces, whose soft, inelastic wood is entirely useless for making bows. They have overcome this difficulty very effectively by fastening along the back of the bow twisted cords of reindeer sinew in such a way that each cord is stretched when the bow is bent and flies back when the bowstring is released. As far as we know, no other race of savages make use of this ingenious contrivance. Some tribes of Indians are in the habit of stiffening their bows by "backing" them with strips of sinew, glued on, but the Eskimo backing is made of cords and tied on. As old Martin Frobisher, the first Englishman who ever saw the Eskimos (in 1577), tells us, "Their bowes are of wood of a yard long, sinewed on the back with strong sinewes, not glued too, but fast girded and tyed on."

In some regions the Eskimos when first visited by white men were still using bows with a very simple backing, merely twenty or thirty strands of twine running from one end of the bow to the other, twisted together tightly from the middle, and tied down to the bow in two or three places. My friends at Point Barrow and along the adjacent coast, however, had gone on improving the bow until it was the best made by Eskimos anywhere.

The body of the bow was made of a piece of good sound spruce driftwood, from forty to fifty inches long, an inch and a quarter wide, and three fourths of an inch thick in the middle. It was very carefully and neatly made, trimmed down beautifully smooth with the crooked knife, the Eskimo's universal tool, with which he does such very clever whittling. Like all bows, they were flattened on the "back" and rounded on the "belly" and tapered off toward the ends, where they were worked into neat