Two Little Savages
By Ernest Thompson Seton

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The Bows and Arrows

“I don’t think much of your artillery,” said Yan one day as they were shooting in the orchard with Sam’s “Western outfit.” “It’s about like the first one I made when I was young.”

“Well, grandpa, let’s see your up-to-date make?”

“It’d be about five times as strong, for one thing.”

“You couldn’t pull it.”

“Not the way you hold the arrow! But last winter I got a book about archery from the library and learned something worth while. You pinch the arrow that way and you can draw six or eight pounds, maybe, but you hook your fingers in the string–so–and you can draw five times as much, and that’s the right way to shoot.”

“Feels mighty clumsy,” said Sam, trying it.

“Of course it does at first, and you have to have a deep notch in the arrow or you can’t do it at all.”

“You don’t seem to manage any better than I do.”

“First time I ever had a chance to try since I read about it. But I want to make a first-class bow and a lot of arrows. It’s not much good going with one.”

[Illustration: The Archer’s Grip]

“Well, go ahead an’ make an outfit if you know how. What’s the best wood? Did the book tell you that?”

“The best wood is Spanish Yew.”

“Don’t know it.”

“An’ the next is Oregon Yew.”


“Then Lancewood and Osage Orange.”

’Try again.”

“Well, Red Cedar, Apple tree, Hickory and Elm seem to be the only ones that grow around here.”

“Hain’t seen any Red Cedar, but the rest is easy.”

“It has to be thoroughly seasoned winter-cut wood, and cut so as to have heart on one side and sap wood on the other.”

“How’s that?” and Sam pointed to a lot of half-round Hickory sticks on the rafters of the log house. “Those have been there a couple of years.”

A good one of five feet long was selected and split and hewn with the axe till the boys had the two bow staves, five and one-half feet long and two inches square, with the line of the heart and sap wood down the middle of each.

Guided by his memory of that precious book and some English long bows that he had seen in a shop in town, Yan superintended the manufacture. Sam was apt with tools, and in time they finished two bows, five feet long and drawing possibly twenty-five pounds each. In the middle they were one and one-half inches wide and an inch thick (see page 183). This size they kept for nine inches each way, making an eighteen-inch middle part that did not bend, but their two limbs were shaved down and scraped with glass till they bent evenly and were well within the boys’ strength.

The string was the next difficulty. All the ordinary string they could get around the house proved too weak, never lasting more than two or three shots, till Si Lee, seeing their trouble, sent them to the cobbler’s for a hank of unbleached linen thread and some shoemaker’s wax. Of this thread he reeled enough for a strong cord tight around two pegs seven feet apart, then cutting it loose at one end he divided it equally in three parts, and, after slight waxing, he loosely plaited them together. At Yan’s suggestion he then spliced a loop at one end, and with a fine waxed thread lashed six inches of the middle where the arrow fitted, as well as the splice of the loop. This last enabled them to unstring the bow when not in use (see page 183). “There,” said he, “you won’t break that.” The finishing touch was thinly coating the bows with some varnish found among the paint supplies.

“Makes my old bow look purty sick,” remarked Sam, as he held up the really fine new weapon in contrast with the wretched little hoop that had embodied his early ideas. “Now what do you know about arrers, mister?” as he tried his old arrow in the new bow.

“I know that that’s no good,” was the reply; “an’ I can tell you that it’s a deal harder to make an arrow than a bow–that is, a good one.”

“That’s encouraging, considering the trouble we’ve had already.”

“’Tisn’t meant to be, but we ought to have a dozen arrows each.”

“How do the Injuns make them?”

“Mostly they get straight sticks of the Arrow-wood; but I haven’t seen any Arrow-wood here, and they’re not so awfully straight. You see, an arrow must be straight or it’ll fly crooked. ’Straight as an arrow’ means the thing itself. We can do better than the Indians ’cause we have better tools. We can split them out of the solid wood.”

“What wood? Some bloomin’ foreign kind that no White-man never saw nor heard of before?”

“No sir-ree. There ain’t anything better ’n White Pine for target and Ash or Hickory for hunting arrows. Which are we making?”

“I’m a hunter. Give me huntin’ arrows every time. What’s needed next?”

“Seasoned Ash twenty-five inches long, split to three-eighths of an inch thick, hot glue, and turkey-wing feathers.”

“I’ll get the feathers and let you do the rest,” said Sam, producing a bundle of turkey-wings, laid away as stove-dusters, and then belied his own statement by getting a block of Ash and splitting it up, halving it each time till he had a pile of two dozen straight sticks about three-quarters of an inch thick.

Yan took one and began with his knife to whittle it down to proper size and shape, but Sam said, “I can do better than that,” then took the lot to the workbench and set to work with a smoothing plane. Yan looked worried and finally said:

“Injuns didn’t have planes.”

“Nor jack-knives neither,” was the retort.

That was true, and yet somehow Yan’s ideal that he hankered after was the pre-Columbian Indian, the one who had no White-man’s help or tools.

“It seems to me it’d be more Injun to make these with just what we get in the woods. The Injuns didn’t have jack-knives, but they had sharp flints in the old days.”

“Yan, you go ahead with a sharp stone. You’ll find lots on the road if you take off your shoes and walk barefoot–awful sharp; an’ I’ll go ahead with the smoothing plane an’ see who wins.”

Yan was not satisfied, but he contented himself with promising that he would some day make some arrows of Arrow-wood shoots and now he would finish at least one with his knife. He did so, but Sam, in the meantime, made six much better ones with the smoothing plane.

“What about heads?” said he.

“I’ve been thinking,” was the reply. “Of course the Indians used stone heads fastened on with sinew, but we haven’t got the stuff to do that. Bought heads of iron with a ferrule for the end of the arrow are best, but we can’t get them. Bone heads and horn heads will do. I made some fine ones once filing bones into the shape, but they were awfully brittle; and I made some more of big nails cut off and set in with a lashing of fine wire around the end to stop the wood splitting. Some Indian arrows have no point but the stick sharpened after it’s scorched to harden it.”


“That sounds easy enough for me,” said Sam; “let’s make some of them that way.”

So the arrows were made, six each with nail points filed sharp and lashed with broom wire. These were called “War arrows,” and six each with fire-hardened wood points for hunting arrows.

“Now for the feathering,” and Yan showed Sam how to split the midrib of a turkey feather and separate the vane.

“Le’s see, you want twice twenty-four–that’s forty-eight feathers.”

“No,” said Yan, “that’s a poor feathering, two on each. We want three on each arrow–seventy-two strips in all, and mind you, we want all three that are on one arrow from the same side of the bird.”

“I know. I’ll bet it’s bad luck to mix sides; arrows doesn’t know which way to turn.”

At this moment Si Lee came in. “How are ye gettin’ on with the bows?”

“Waitin’ for arrows now.”

“How do ye put on the feathers?”

Description of Six Sample Arrows Showing Different Feathers

    A is a far-flying steel-pointed bobtail, very good in wind.
    B is another very good arrow, with a horn point. This went
    even better than A if there were no wind. C is an
    Omaha war and deer arrow. Both heads and feathers are lashed on
    with sinew. The long tufts of down left on the feathers are to
    help in finding it again, as they are snow-white and wave in the
    breeze. The grooves on the shaft are to make the victim bleed more
    freely and be more easily tracked. D is another Omaha
    arrow with a peculiar owner’s mark of lines carved in the middle,
    E is a bone-headed bird shaft made by the Indians of the
    Mackenzie River. F is a war arrow made by Geronimo, the
    famous Apache chief. Its shaft is three joints of a straight cane.
    The tip is of hard wood, and on that is a fine quartz point; all
    being lashed together with sinew.

“White-men glue them on, and Injuns lash them on,” replied Yan, quoting from memory from “that book.”

“Which is best?”

“Glued on flies better, but lashed on stands the weather better.”

“Why not both?”

“Have no sinew.”

“Let me show ye a trick. Where’s yer glue an’ linen thread?”

These were brought, whereupon Si added: “’Pears to me ye oughter put the feathers on last. Better cut the notch first.”

“That’s so; we nearly forgot.”

“_You nearly forgot, you mean. Don’t drag me in the mud," said Sam, with owlish dignity. A small saw cut, cleaned up and widened with a penknife, proved the best; a notch one-fourth inch deep was quickly made in each arrow, and Si set about both glueing and lashing on the feathers, but using wax-end instead of sinew.

Yan had marked the place for each feather so that none would strike the bow in passing (see Cut page 183). He first glued them on, then made a lashing for half an inch on the projecting ends of the feather-rib, and another behind, carrying this second lashing back to the beginning of the notch to guard against the wood splitting. When he had trimmed all loose ends and rolled the waxed thread well on the bench with a flat stick, the threads seemed to disappear and leave simply a smooth black ring.

THE ARCHERY OUTFIT (Not all on scale)

I. The five-foot bow as finished, with sections at the points shown.

II. The bow “braced” or strung.

III. The bow unstrung, showing the loop slipped down.

IV. The loop that is used on the upper end of the bow.

V. The timber hitch always used on the lower end or notch of the bow.

VI. A turkey feather with split midrib, all ready to lash on.

  VII. End view of arrow, showing notch and arrangement of three

VIII. Part of arrow, showing feathering and lashing.

IX. Sanger hunting arrow with wooden point; 25 inches long.

  X. Sanger war arrow with nail point and extra long feathers; it also
  is 25 inches long.

XI. Quiver with Indian design; 20 inches long.

  XII. The “bracer” or arm guard of heavy leather for left arm, with two
  laces to tie it on. It is six inches long.


Thus the arrows were made and set away for the glue to dry.

Next day Yan painted Sam’s red and blue, his own red and white, to distinguish them as well as guard them from the damp. There was now one more thing, and that was a quiver.

“Do the Injuns have them?” asked Sam, with a keen eye to orthodoxy when it promised to cut short the hard work.

“Well, I should say so; couldn’t live without them.”

“All right; hurry up. I’m spoiling for a hunt. What are they made of?”

“Oh, ’most anything.”

“Haven’t got it.”

“You’re too fast. But some use Birch bark, some use the skin of an animal, and some use canvas now when other stuff is scarce.”

“That’s us. You mind the stuff left off the teepee?”

“Do till we get better.” So each made a sort of canvas bag shorter than the arrows. Yan painted an Indian device on each, and they were ready.

“Now bring on your Bears,” said the older boy, and feeling a sense of complete armament, they went out.

“See who can hit that tree.” Both fired together and missed, but Sam’s arrow struck another tree and split open.

“Guess we’d better get a soft target,” he remarked. Then after discussion they got a large old corn sack full of hay, painted on it some rings around a bull’s eye (a Buffalo’s eye, Sam called it) and set it up at twenty yards.

They were woefully disappointed at first in their shooting. It did seem a very easy mark, and it was disappointing to have the arrows fly some feet away to the left.

“Le’s get in the barn and shoot at that,” suggested Sam.

“We might hit it if we shut the door tight,” was the optimistic reply. As well as needing practice, the boys had to learn several little rules about Archery. But Yan had some pencil notes from “that book" and some more in his brain that with much practice gradually taught him: To stand with his heel centres in line with the target; his right elbow in line with the arrow; his left hand fixed till the arrow struck; his right thumb always on the same place on his cheek when he fired, and the bow plumb.

They soon found that they needed guards for the left arm where the bow strings struck, and these they made out of the leg of an old boot (see Cut page 183), and an old glove to protect the fingers of the right hand when they practised very much. After they learned to obey the rules without thinking about them, the boys improved quickly and soon they were able to put all the arrows into the hay sack at twenty yards, increasing the distance later till they could make fair shooting at forty yards.

They were not a little surprised to find how much individuality the arrows had, although meant to be exactly alike.

Sam had one that continued to warp until it was much bent, and the result was some of the most surprising curves in its flight. This he called the “Boomerang.” Another, with a very small feather, travelled farther than any of the rest. This was the “Far-killer.” His best arrow, one that he called “Sure-death,” was a long-feathered Turkey shaft with a light head. It was very reliable on a calm day, but apt to swerve in the wind. Yet another, with a small feather, was correspondingly reliable on a windy day. This was “Wind-splitter.”

The one Yan whittled with the knife was called the “Whittler,” and sometimes the “Joker.” It was a perpetual mystery, they never knew just what it would do next. His particular pet was one with a hollow around the point, which made a whistling sound when it flew, and was sometimes called the “Whistler” and sometimes the “Jabberwock," “which whiffled through the tulgy wood and burbled as it came.”

[Illustration: CORRECT FORM IN SHOOTING The diagram at bottom is to show the centres of heels in line with target.]


Part I  •  II  •  III  •  IV  •  V  •  VI  •  VII  •  VIII  •  IX  •  X  •  XI  •  XII  •  XIII  •  XIV  •  Part II  •  II  •  III  •  IV  •  V  •  VI  •  VII  •  VIII  •  IX  •  X  •  XI  •  XII  •  XIII  •  XIV  •  XV  •  Part III  •  II  •  III  •  IV  •  V  •  VI  •  VII  •  VIII  •  IX  •  X  •  XI  •  XII  •  XIII  •  XIV  •  XV  •  XVI  •  XVII  •  XVIII  •  XIX  •  XX  •  XXI  •  XXII  •  XXIII  •  XXIV  •  XXV  •  XXVI  •  XXVII  •  XXVIII  •  XXIX  •  XXX  •  XXXI  •  XXXII

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Two Little Savages
By Ernest Thompson Seton
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