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Miwok Material Culture: Indian Life of the Yosemite Region (1933) by S. A. Barrett and E. W. Gifford


The arrow (ha'ūlo, P; ya'tci, N, C; mu'tckūlū, C, S) used for ordinary hunting purposes, consisted of a simple wooden shaft (pa'ipū, C), with the arrowhead (kī'tce, C) attached directly to it with sinew lashings. The war arrow, also used for big game, was made with a foreshaft (toke', C). The shaft was of the young shoot of a tree, called gilme (P, N), which closely resembles the willow; or young shoots of the Western Sweet-scented Shrub, Calycanthus occidentalis (so'ksokotu, C); or, apparently of elder. After removing the bark the arrow maker carefully scraped and trimmed the shaft to an even size. Then it was straightened by heating such places as required bending. The shaft was smoothed and polished with a piece of sandpaper-like scouring rush (Equisetum arvense). The foreshaft was made of white oak or of greasewood (lī'mme, C). Like the main shaft it was straightened by means of heat. It was attached to the main shaft with an adhesive which the heat of the animal’s body would quickly loosen, so that it would remain in the body, if the main shaft were pulled out or broken off.

The arrowhead, usually of obsidian (pasakka, C) sometimes of flint, was attached directly to the end of the shaft or to the short foreshaft. In either case it was fitted into a slot and secured with a sinew wrapping and pitch, the wrapping passing through two side notches in the arrowhead. Informants stated that the arrowhead was sometimes poisoned with a mixture of native salt and deer blood. The efficacy of this “poison” (losa, C) seems doubtful, and it seems not unlikely that some virulent poison, like that of the rattlesnake, may have been employed. The obsidian or flint was flaked from a core by striking it with a hammerstone. The flake was then roughly chipped with a large antler chipping implement (sītca'ia, C; sītca'a, S). The finer chipping, as of notches, was done with a small antler implement (tuka'wa, S). These antler implements were not mounted in handles. They were simply heated and bound to sticks in order to straighten them, after which they were taken off and used directly in the hand. The material for the arrowhead was grasped in the palm of the left hand, which was protected by a buckskin pad (hesū'pa, C; he'sūmma, S), held in place by the pressure of the fingers on the arrowhead. The Central Miwok said their obsidian came from a high mountain called Kilili, whence it was brought in burden baskets.

The base of the arrow was notched, painted red, and fitted with feathers (sa'li, P, N; ca'la, C), usually of the Western Red-tail Hawk (sūī'yo, P, N; suyu, C). Informants stated that each feather was split down the middle and four half feathers applied to each arrow. (All specimens seen in museums have but three half feathers.) Sinew was chewed to serve as wrapping and binding material. The ends of the half feathers toward the middle of the arrow were lashed on first. The chewed sinew was held in the mouth throughout the operation. The end of the sinew fibers was applied to the arrow with the fingers. Then the shaft was revolved in front of the mouth and the sinew fed out of the mouth as fast as it was wound around the shaft and feathers. Usually about ten arrows were made at a time. On each of these the feathers were fastened at the ends nearest the middle of the shaft, and then the arrow was carefully stood aside. All ten were thus treated before the attachment of the ends of the feathers toward the base. Then the arrowmaker began with the first and fastened the basal ends of the feathers of each with sinew. The feathers were thus lashed on after the arrows had been equipped with stone points. The feathers of the roadrunner, Geococcyx californicus (uiuyu, C), were regarded as fine for arrows. Arrows so equipped were believed to always kill deer. Evidently there was a magical connection between the swiftness of the bird on foot and the killing qualities of arrows equipped with its feathers.

Arrows were made by a specialist. Others bought their arrows from him, paying in beads. No property marks or other decorations were used on arrows.

The three arrows shown in plate LIX, figs. 2-4, are of wood with a pithy center, probably elder, and have no foreshaft. The base of the shaft of each has small encircling grooves for the entire distance covered by the hawk feathers. The grooves are most prominent in figure 2. The bases are painted in encircling bands of red, white, and black. Three half feathers are lashed to the base of each arrow with sinew, being bound perfectly flat without folding at either end. Each feather was split up the middle of its quill, and the half feather trimmed to about eight millimeters in width. Figure 2 still has an obsidian point lashed in place with sinew which passes through the two side notches in the obsidian point. On the shaft the holding power of the sinew is increased by encircling grooves in the wood over which it is wound. The other two arrows (figures 3 and 4) lack this grooving. They are now minus points, but have their distal portions painted red. At the proximal end of the red portion there is sinew winding, as though a foreshaft were inserted at that point.

1. Sinew-backed bow. 2-4. Arrow. 5. Digging stick. 6. Mink skin headband.
[click to enlarge]


Figure 1. Sinew-backed bow, Calaveras County. Spec. No. 1-4488.

Figure 2. Arrow, with obsidian point, Calaveras County. Spec. No. 1-4490.

Figure 3. Arrow, formerly with flint point, Calaveras County. Spec. No. 1-4489.

Figure 4. Arrow, Calaveras County. Spec. No. 1-4491.

Figure 5. Digging stick for bulbs and roots. Spec. No. 1-10019 (N). Length, 850 mm.

Figure 6. Mink skin headband used in dances. Spec. No. 1-10042 (N). Length, exclusive of strings, 640 mm.

Neg. No. 8276.

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Online Library: Title Author California Geology History Indians Muir Mountaineering Nature Management