American Indian Weapons

This Information has been collected from various books. I will in the future try to find where all the information came from and list it so that anyone interested can look up these books for further information.

The Yurok Bow (Northern California)
Construction: The bow was made from Yew. It was short, wide and thin, it was sinew backed and had a sinew string. The bow was only made from the side of the tree that faced away from the river. After completion the, bow was painted on the sinew backing with red and blue triangles. The bows length was usually 3 to 3 1/2 feet. Typical Bows:

Width of Limb 1 7/8″ 1 1/2″ 1 11/16″ 1 15/16″ 1 3/8″ 2 1/2″
Width of Grip 1 1/4″ 1 1/8″ 1 3/16″ 1 10/16″ 1 1/8″ 1 3/8″
Greatest thickness 3/8″ 1/2″ 1/2″ 5/16″ 9/16″ 7/16″
Length 32 1/2″ 35 1/2″ 36 1/2″ 39″ 40″ 52″

The thickness of the bow included the sinew backing. This type of bow was built in other tribes from north to central California. Arrow length was said to be 28″ – 32″ but, was also said that it could not be drawn to the head implying that the arrow was short similar to the Plains arrows. A Bow tested by Saxton Pope was a reflexed sinew-backed Yew bow. It was 54″ long, 1 7/8″ x 1/2″ at the grip, 2″ x 3/8″ at mid-limb, and 1″ x 1/2″ below the nocks. It drew 30# at28″ and had a cast of 140 yards. He said it bends at the grip, had a flabby cast and produced hand shock.

A bow tested by Saxton Pope was made of birch with a bridge. It was 68″ long, 1 1/2″ x 1″ at the grip, 1 3/8″ x 3/4″ at mid-limb, and 1″ x 1/2″ below the nocks. It drew 60# at 25″ and had a cast of125 yards. He said that it twisted in the hand and was a poor shooter.

A bow tested by Saxton Pope was made of Osage orange. It was 59 1/2″ long, 1 1/2″ x 7/8″ at the grip, 1 1/4″ x 5/8″ at mid-limb, and 1″ x 3/8″ below the nocks. It drew 70# at 28″ and had a cast of 210 yards. He said it was it was the best bow tested.

A bow tested by Saxton Pope was slightly recurved, rawhide-backed and made of Red yew. It was 55″ long, 1 5/8″ x 5/8″ at the grip, 1 3/4″ x 1/2″ at mid-limb, and 3/4″ x 3/8″ below the nocks. It drew 48# at 28″ and had a cast of 205 yards. He said it had excellent workmanship and was an Ishi bow.

A bow tested by Saxton Pope was made of Ironwood possibly. It was 71″ long, 1 1/4″ x 1″ at the grip, 1 1/2 x 7/8″ at mid-limb, and 9/16″ x 3/8″ below the nocks. It drew 60# at 25″ and had a cast of 170 yards. He said it was poor workmanship but excellent wood. He retillered the bow and cut it down to 67″ and it drew 85# at 28″ and had a cast of 265 yards.

The Modoc Bow
This bow was very similar to the Yurok Bow and was said to have recurved tips. The Modoc used arrows that had rings behind the wooden tips that caused the arrow to skip across the water instead of plunging into the water making it easier to shoot a waterfowl on the water.

The Maidu Bow (Northwest Central California)
Practically identical to the Yurok bow, except it was not quite as thin or wide. It was painted in bands of triangles in green mineral pigments imported from the north. Arrow shafts were made from syringa (Philadelphus Lewisii) or rose bush (Rosa pisocarpa). A fore shaft was usually used but sometimes the shaft was reinforced with extra sinew wrapping at the tip. Sometimes the arrows were poisoned with rattlesnake venom. The quiver was made the same as most tribes in California with the hair side in. The release used was the primary one using the thumb and index finger. The left hand held the bow in the horizontal position and the index finger bent over the arrow to hold it’s position.

The Yokuts Bow (Central Southern California)
The common bow used for small game hunting was little more that a shaped stick. Good bows were made from mountain cedar and were sinew backed. The Common type, primarily for hunting was nearly as long as a man, about 2 fingers wide and 1 finger thick. The ends were recurve, possibly due to the curling back of the sinew. Bows for fighting were shorter, broader, and flatter, and pinched in the middle. Except for being unpainted and probably not quite so extreme in form, this type appears to have been the same as the northern California bows. The arrow for war had no fore shaft but, a long wooden point, notched. The ordinary hunting arrow had a long sharpened fore shaft, but no real head. Deer arrows had a fore shaft and a flint head but, the fore shaft was socketed without glue or tie, so that the main shaft would disengage after impact.

The Washo Bow (Western Central California)
The bow was sinew backed and had recurved ends, it looks to be similar to Northern California bows. The arrows had fore shafts, The quiver was made of deer skin with the hair side in.

The Koso Bow (Northern Shoshone) (Northwest California and Nevada)
The bow was made of juniper, it was short and sinew backed. the string was sinew, or Apocynum, wild hemp, the usual cordage. The arrow was of willow, or Phragmites cane; the latter has a long point of grease wood.

The Chemehuevi Bow (Northern Shoshone)
The bow is distinctly shorter than the Mojave self-bow, with recurve ends. The back was sinewed and painted. the size and style is not known as no bows seem to have survived. The arrow was of cane, fore shafted, and flint tipped.

The Cahuilla Bow (Southern California)
The Bow was long, narrow, thick and unbacked and made of mesquite. The bow ranged from 52″ to 56″ in length, 1 1/16″ to 1 1/4″ wide, and 5/8″ to 15/16″ thick. They used two types of arrows. the first type is of cane with a wooden fore shaft, and the second of a single sharpened stem of Artemisia, without a head, similar to the Mohave type.

The Mohave Bow
The Mohave bow was made of unbacked willow a little less that a mans height. The bow ranged from 53″ to 70″ in length, 1 1/8″ to 1 3/8″ wide, and 3/4″ to 1 1/16″ thick. The arrow was made of Pluchea sericea, arrow weed, it was feathered but untipped. A bow tested by Saxton Pope was made of willow. It was 67″ long, 1 3/8″ x 1″ at the grip, 1 1/8″ x 3/4″ at mid-limb, and 3/4″ x 1/2″. It drew 40# at 28″ and had a cast of 110 yards. he said that it was whip-ended and had a flabby cast.

The Yahi Bow
The bow was made from the limbs of the Rocky Mountain Juniper. The end of  the bow that was next to the tree trunk was the top of the bow. The bow was sinew backed and ranged in size from 44″ to 54″ in length, 1 3/4′ to 1 7/8′ in width, 5/8″ to 3/4′ Thick.

A bow tested by Saxton Pope made of Yew had a strong reflex and was sinew-backed. It was 47″ long, 1 1/2″ x 1/2″ at the grip, 2 1/4″ x 3/8″ at mid-limb, 7/8″ x 7/16″ Below the nocks. It drew 40# at 22″ and had a cast of 148 yards. He said that it bends in the center and it had hand shock.

A bow tested by Saxton Pope was made of willow. It was 55 1/2″ long, 1 1/2″ x 3/4″ at the grip, 1 1/2″ x 5/8″ at mid-limb, and 1″ x 1/2″ below the nocks. It drew 48# at 26″ and had a cast of 125 yards. He said it had a jarring recoil and was a poor weapon.

Other California Bows

Sinew-backed: Length Width Thickness
Tolowa 39″ 1 1/2″ to 1 7/8″ 9/16 to 5/8″
Northern Wintun 44″ to 45″ 1 3/8″ to 1 1/2″ 11/16″ to 3/4″
Miwok 44″ 1 3/8″ 7/8″
Self: Length Width Thickness
Klamath 40″ to 43″ 1 9/16″ to 2 3/16″ 9/16″ to 7/8″
Pomo 56″ 1 1/4″ 13/16″
Luiseno 64″ 1 5/16″ 1″

They used a bow that was made from cedar and was as long as the archer is tall. The bow string was made of twisted sinew. The arrows were made from cane with wooden fore shafts with three feather fletching. When shooting they drew the arrow to their cheek and wore guard on their left wrist.

They used a short double curve bow similar to the plains style bows. The arrows they used had three feather fletching and lightning groves on the shafts. A bow tested by Saxton Pope was made of Mesquite and was sinew-backed. It was 44″ long, 1″ x 3/4″ at the grip, 7/8″ x 5/8″ at mid-limb, and 1/2″ x 1/2″ below the nocks. This bow drew 45# at 26″ and had a cast of 150 yards. He said that it was well made and tillered.

[1] Plate LXXIX  This figure is of a quiver and bow case and of a bow.

1. The quiver is 28″ long and is made of lion skin with the hair side out and has a wooden rod used as a stiffener. The lions tail hangs from the mouth of the quiver. The bow case is made of lion skin also and is made with the hair side in and is 44″ long. The case is decorated with fringes of lion skin ate the top and the bottom and is attached to the wooden rod on the quiver.

2. The bow is made from Mesquite wood and is round on the back and flat on the belly and is 3′ 11″ long. The back is lined with sinew and is bound with sinew twice on each limb and at the tips. The handle is wrapped with buckskin string. There are no nocks or modification to receive the string and the string is made of 2 ply sinew cord.

Some bows where made from Mulberry, Locust, Oak or Maple, but Mulberry was said to be the favorite. Sinew strings where made from leg sinew from deer. Arrow shafts made form mountain mahogany, Apache plume, and mulberry and where fletch with three feathers. No record of flint to stone points for hunting, but a record of sharpened and fire hardened wood tips is available. Poison was said to be used from the gallbladder of a deer or with Venom of snakes or spiders. [3]

[1] This bow was made from Hickory, is rectangular in cross-section and has a small double curve. The bow taper toward the ends, has a 3 ply sinew string and is 4′ in length

The best bows were considered to have been made from mulberry, although locust, oak and maple were sometimes used. They knew of double curved bows and made some but were thought to be inefficient to the single curve self bows they preferred. The preferred length was three to four feet. Bows were made from branches stripped of their bark and shaped to size and allowed to dry for a week. Then it was greased and bound to shape and placed in hot ashes to keep it shape and cured for a week and a half more. Bows were not fully drawn right away but gradually broken in. The bow string was preferred was a sinew string but mescal fibers could be substituted. The Apache made two different types of arrows. The first where about two feet in length and made of hardwood, preferably mountain mahogany, Apache plum, mulberry, and desert broom. The second was made from cane and had wooden fore shafts. Hardwood arrows were made from branches, had their bark pealed off and dried for several days. Then straightened against heated rocks. The cane arrows were made from Carrizo and dried for two weeks or more. Then straightened and fitted with six inch fore shafts. Half of the shaft went in to the cane and was bound with sinew and hide glue. The fletching was of three buzzard, eagle or hawk wing or tail feathers bound with sinew and hide glue.

1. One Apache double curved bow found was made from white hickory from a wagon hoop. This bow was 46″ long, 1 5/8″ wide & deep at the grip, 7/8″ x 1/2″ at mid-limb, and 5/8″ x 3/8″ below the nocks. T his bow was sinew backed and drew 28# at 22″ and had a cast of 120 yards. It should be noted that the native arrow for this bow was 24″ so this bow was under drawn by 2″ when tested.

2. Another bow from “Native American Bows” was 44 1/2″ long 43 1/2″ between nocks. It was rectangular in cross section and was made from white oak. The center of the grip is 22″ from the top of the bow and measured 1-5/32″ x 3/4″.Eleven inches from both tips measured 1-1/32″ x 5/8″. one inch below the upper nock measured 11/16″ x 1/2″ and one inch above the lower nock measured 11/16″ x 17/32″.

[1]  Plate LXXVII  and LXXVIII  Two quivers and one arrow. The quivers are made from tanned deerskin tapering through their length. They are stiffened at the back by a wooden rod sewed in. The quiver are painted and decorated with flannel. The quivers are 34″ and 36″ long. The arrow is made from cane and is fitted with a hardwood fore shaft and an iron point.

A hunting bow would be made from Hickory and would have a string made from twisted groundhog (woodchuck) hide. Arrow where made from maple and tipped with flint or chert broadheads.

Blowguns where used to hunt small game

War clubs where made from Ironwood or another tough hard wood. Some war clubs where made with a large wooden ball on the end and some others had a flint blade or deer antler tip protruding to chop in like a tomahawk.

The Sioux used a double curved bow. these bows were made to length for each archer. The bow measurement was taken by measuring from the archers outstretched left arm that is parallel with the ground. The bow length is from the left middle finger to the right outside hip at the joint. It has been said that they liked their bows sinew backed and that they did not. I think that a little bow like this would be safer and last longer when backed. It has been said that they used Green Ash for their bows. The wood was cut green and worked close to size then greased and hung in the lodge to season before finishing. The arrows they used were of wood with three feather fletching running even with the nocks and lightning groves. The arrows were measured from the tip of the middle finger to elbow of the right arm and wrist to were the hand joins the middle finger combined to give the over all arrow length. they used stone, bone, and sinew arrowheads but used steel as soon as they could trade for it. Click here to see an  Oglala bow.

[1] One Sioux sinew backed horn  bow from Montana was 3 feet in length, rectangular in cross section and made from cow horn spliced at the middle with rivets. The bow is double curved and is bound at the handle and at the curves in the limbs with red flannel. The bow string is a traditional 3 ply sinew string.

[1]   Plate LXXXIII  A Dakota bow made from Hickory and is double curved, tapering toward the tips. Two notches at one end and one at the other for nocks. The string is made from 2 ply sinew cord and the bow is 3′ 7″ long.

[1]  Plate XLVI  Dakota Sioux Arrows   These arrows are 24 to 27 inches in length and are banded with reds and blues. The nocks flare and are swallow tailed to help with pinch grip shooting. All 5 shafts where made from Osier and the fletching looks to be about 8″ to 10″ on average and is bound with sinew and some are glued down and one arrows fletching stands off the shaft and is bound at the ends. All arrows have the grooves of plains arrows and vary from wavy to zigzag.

1. This bow was had a slight reflex and was a self bow made possibly from ash. It was 47 1/2″ long, 1 3/8″ x 1 3/4″ at the grip, 1 1/4″ x 9/16″ at mid-limb, and 3/4″ x 3/8″ below the nocks. This bow drew 45# at 25″ and had a cast of145 yards and was said to have hand shock.

2. This bow was reflexed and was sinew-backed and was made of red hickory. It was 40″ long. 1 3/8″ x 5 8″ at the grip, 1 1/4″ x 1/2″ at mid-limb, 3/4″ x 1/2″ below the nocks. It drew 40# at 20″ and had a cast of 153 yards and was said to be a sweet shooter used for Buffalo hunting.

A bow tested by Saxton Pope was made of Ash and had a sinew-backing. It was 45″ long, 1 1/4″ x 7/8″ at the grip, 1 1/8″ x 3/4″ at mid-limb, and 7/8″ x 5/8″ below the nocks. This bow was tested at two different draw lengths. (1) 65# at 20″ and had a cast of 156 yards. (2) 80# at 24″ and no cast was recorded.

[1] Plate LXXX  A quiver/bow case and a bow
1. The bow case 40″ and the quiver 25″ are connected together are is made from lion skin with the hair side out. The quiver and bow case are decorated with strips lion shin trimmed with red flannel and beads. The bandolier is of lion skin faced with duck cotton on the shin side.
2. The bow is made of Ash and is said to be of the common Plains style. It is made with a slight double curve and no mention is made to if it is self or backed.

[2]  The wooden bows where made from Juniper (Juniperus scopulorum, Sarg.) as that was their favored wood. Osage Orange was used in the southern areas of their range where Juniper was not always available. The heartwood on the Juniper was not used and bows where made from small trees or staves split off a straight grained tree. In later times as Hickory became accessible it became highly favored as a bow wood.

Horn bows where made several different ways. The first way to glue several small pieces together and wrap them with sinew. The second was to cut a long piece from an antler even through it was crocked and boil it and heat it until soft and lash it to a wooden stick or form to take the desire straight form. The third was to cut straight with the grain out of a rams horn and boil to straighten and join the two pieces at the handle. The fourth was to cut a rams horn in a spiral across the grain and boil it so it could be straightened into a one long straight bow core. The elk horn and Buffalo horn bows where said to not to have lasted as long as the rams horn bows. The rams horn bow was said to be very durable and lasted a long time.

All of the backed bow where now sinew backed and after the last layer was applied a layer of glue was laid and then sprinkled with burnt gypsum to whiten the back of the bow and the belly was painted with any color the archer desired. The grip was applied of deer skin about 3/4″ wide and wound on and glued down.

Arrow shafts where made from The cherry bush, currant, red-willow and rose. The shafts were cut according to the rules of the arrow maker and where measured from the tip of the middle finger to the middle of the humerus (half way between the shoulder and the elbow). The arrow maker was always careful to check arrows for toughness as is was unlucky to break an arrow while straightening. The shafts where bundled and hung in the lodge until dry and seasoned. Then they would be straightened with an arrow wrench and grease as needed. The shaft would be run through a hole in a rib bone to check for even diameter of the arrow shaft. The arrow where grooved with one straight grove on one side and one zigzag or wavy grove on the other. The groves where said to be useful in helping the arrow retain it’s straightness.

Arrows where then fletched with Turkey or buzzard feather as they where said to not be harmed by the blood. The feathers of hawks and eagles where damaged by the blood and where used for ceremonial arrows. The fletching was glue on each end and wrapped with sinew at each end to secure it. Then points where set with glue and sinew wrapping. The arrow heads were made from deer antler, chipped stone, Buffalo hoof and shoulder blade bones, and steel as it became available. The best wounds where said to be made from knapped stone heads.

Nocks where made by cutting away the wood to make a flared end for the pinch grip shooting style. The part of the nock that raised would have scratches carved into it to aid in gripping the arrow.

This bow tested by Saxton Pope was made of Ash and was probably a self-bow. It was 44″ long, 1 5/8″ x 1/2″ at the grip, 1 3/8″ x 3/4″ at mid-limb, and  1″ x 3/8″ below the nocks. It drew 38# at 20″ and had a cast of 150 yards.  He also recorded that the bow broke one time when drawn at 20″.

[1]  Plate LXXXI   A Bow made nearly rectangular in cross section, Tapering towards the end; slightly double curve. One notch at each end and both on the same side for receiving the string. Length 3′ 9″

[1]  Plate LXXXII   The bow is mage from Osage Orange. It is rounded on the back and inside (belly) , and square on the sides. Largest at the grip and tapering to the tips. The notches are cut near the ends on alternate sides. The bow is double curved and 4′ 4″ long

A bow tested by Saxton Pope was made from Osage orange. It was 47 1/2″ long, 7/8″ x 7/8″ at the grip, 1 1/2″ x 1/2″ at mid-limb, and 5/8″ x 3/8″ below  the nocks. It drew 40# at 20″ and had a cast of 92 yards. He said that it was a poor bow for the wood that was used.

[4]     The bows where made from mulberry, witch hazel or ash and where strung with bear gut. The arrows where made from reeds (River Cane). The quivers where also woven from the same reeds. Arrow heads where made from knapped stone, most likely quartz, deer antler and deer bones. They where glued in place with a natural hide type glue, the author said glue made from deer antler, but I am not sure how strong that would be. Not much reference to war clubs other than hardwood was used to make them.

[5]     They made some arrows out of reeds if they where near the coast and some from hardwoods of the inland groups. The reed arrows where about 45″ long and had a fore shaft of hardwood that was about a 1/4 of the arrows length and was tapered to fit into the main shafts. The fore shaft on these reed arrows is thought to run about 3″ to 9″ long and slid into the main shaft with sinew or fiber wrapping to reinforce the shaft.

Some arrowheads where made of white crystal like stone (Most likely quartzite) Onondaga chert and jasper were used with quartz being most commonly used made in the shape of a heart and about an inch wide by an inch and a half long or more. Arrowheads of Brass have also been found in grave sites. Notice on this picture that the far bottom left nock is sinew wrapped. from the stems of these pieces they can tell the shafts have a pitch core and were unable to see any reference to two or three fletch on the arrows. One arrow shaft had lightning groves and the grove was filled with a red pigment.

Indians in the Mid-Atlantic area where also know to make arrow heads from a black flint type stone (could be Argillite or Rhyolite?) and bone and fish teeth.

They were know to be a large people and their bows where made in the eastern woodlands design. Most likely very similar to the Sudbury bow. The bows where about the same length as they were tall. Unfortunately no bows or bow parts are known to have survived.

The Susquehannock Indians were made up of several tribes. The name of these tribes have been lost. The names that are thought to be associated with them are: Akhrakuaeronon (Atrakwaeronnon), Akwinoshioni, Atquanachuke, Attaock, Carantouan, Cepowig, Junita (Ihonado), Kaiquariegehaga, Ohongeoguena (Ohongeeoquena), Oscalui, Quadroque, Sasquesahanough, Sconondihago (Seconondihago or Skonedidehaga), Serosquacke, Takoulguehronnon, Tehaque, Tesinigh, Unquehiett, Usququhaga, Utchowig, Wyoming, and Wysox.

The Sudbury Bow
This bow was constructed of red hickory and was 67 1/4″ long (65″ between nocks). It was 15/16 wide x 1 3/16 deep at the handle, 1 3/4″ wide x 9/16″ deep at mid mid-limb, 3/4″ wide x 3/8″ deep below the nocks. A replica of  this bow drew 46 pounds at 28″ and had a cast of 173 yards.


[1] Otis Tufton Mason North American Bows, Arrows & Quivers From the Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution, 1893       Three Hawks Native American Programs

[2]  “The Cheyenne Indians Volume I” by George Bird Grinnell    Bison Books

[3] “The Navajo” by Raymond Bial  Benchmark books

[4] “The Iroquois” by Raymond Bial  Benchmark books

[5] “Susquehanna’s Indians” by Barry C. Kent   The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission 1984  #6 of series

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