Sacred Texts  Native American  California  Index  Previous  Next 

The Culture of the Luiseño Indians, by Philip Stedman Sparkman, [1908], at


Bows are usually about five feet long, somewhat thicker in the middle, and gradually tapering towards the ends, the intent being to give more spring to the bow and carry the arrow with greater force. They are commonly made of willow, also of elder and ash, which are considered superior to willow. Excellent wood for making bows is said to be furnished by a species of mountain ash, and still better by a shrub that grows in a few places on Palomar mountain.

The arrow generally used has a mainshaft of cane, Elymus condensatus, and a foreshaft of a greasewood, Adenostoma fasciculatum, which is generally hardened in the fire. The mainshaft will perhaps average about two feet three inches in length, and the foreshaft about nine inches. The latter is inserted in the hollow end of the cane used for the mainshaft, glued in place with pitch or asphaltum, and bound firmly with sinew.

Three trimmed feathers are attached to the shaft by wrapping with sinew, a little asphaltum being used to keep the sinew threads from slipping out of place. The feathers are not tied straight on the shaft, but twisted slightly to one side, the object being to give a rotary motion to the arrow, and so, it is thought, hold it straighter to its course, on the same principle as the spiral grooving of a rifle barrel. The feathers used are mostly from different species of hawks.

Some arrows were formerly tipped with stone points, teket, the base of the point being inserted in a notch in the end of the foreshaft, to which it was securely tied with sinew, gum or asphaltum being also used to assist in keeping it in place. The gum most esteemed for this purpose was that obtained from the greasewood, Adenostoma fasciculatum, the same shrub from which the foreshafts are made.

p. 206

Small arrows are also made from the stems of two tall weeds, Artemisia heterophylla and Heterotheca grandifolia. These arrows have a foreshaft, and are feathered like those of cane.

All the above arrows are straightened by means of a grooved stone, yaulash. This is heated in the fire, and the arrow passed back and forth along the groove until it is thoroughly heated, when it is straightened and allowed to cool, after which it will retain its shape.

Arrows are also made from the arrow-weed, Pluchea borealis3

The stone points or arrowheads always have a concave base. Farther north tanged arrowheads were sometimes used, but the Luiseños did not employ them.

Arrowpoints are chipped or flaked into shape with a tool, pilaxpish, made from a piece of deer antler. Some arrowpoints are quite large, the two ends of the concave base projecting considerably on either side of the foreshaft, while others are very small indeed.

An ordinary Luiseño bow will carry an arrow about one hundred yards, but is not effective for more than half that distance. When not in use it is always unstrung to keep the string from weakening. Bowstrings are oftenest made of the fiber of dogbane, Apocynum cannabinum, but are also made from that of milkweed or the stinging nettle. Most of the strings are two-ply, but some are three-ply and four-ply. They are also made of sinew thread, and then are always three-ply. 3a

The quiver is made of the skin of a fox, wildcat, or other animal, and is slung over the shoulder by a cord attached to it. A small quantity of long tree-moss may be placed in the bottom to keep the arrowpoints from being damaged.

In using the bow, arrows of arrow-weed are grasped between the thumb and forefinger, but other kinds are held loosely between the fingers, usually between the first and second; this leaves all the four fingers free to draw the bowstring.


206:3 This sentence was left uncompleted by the author. Perhaps he intended to add that this type of arrow lacked foreshaft and stone point.

206:3a Two Cahuilla bows in the Museum of the Department of Anthropology show three-ply sinew string. The sinew strings on two of three Mohave bows are also three-ply.

Next: Stone Implements