Thursday, February 3, 2011

Bows and Arrows of the Coahuiltecan Geographical Region

Over the past decade I’ve focused on replicating the bows and arrows that might have been used by the Indians of the Coahuiltecan geographical region—the land from the Nueces River in South Texas to the Soto la Marina in northeastern Mexico. Though dozens of bows and arrows from other areas in the United States as well as from the southern parts of Mexico exist, no bow or arrow artifacts remain from the family groups and nomadic hunter/gatherers who roamed Coahuiltecan territory. Despite being genetically and linguistically related the “Coahuiltecans” never formed, to our knowledge, any sort of cohesive political group that might have constituted a tribe. They did however share both cultural and religious values and these commonalities assured a semblance of peace and harmony amongst the various groups.
Descriptions of bows and arrows from the region are scant and, as I have learned, subject to questioning. Most descriptions come from Spanish explorers. Bow details usually go no further than approximate lengths and the wood of choice is sometimes mentioned as “mesquite.”  We must remember, however, that the explorers were not botanists or do they seem to have possessed any more than a passing interest in bow technology. Arrows are described as made of “carrizo” or cane with “hardwood” foreshafts.
From the start I realized that mesquite must not have been a favorite bow wood, especially when attempting to build bows using only stone tools. In pre-Columbian times the region was thickly wooded with dense riparian zones lining rivers, lakes and ponds. These areas held the greatest plant and animal populations and it was within these ecological complexes that the Indians lived and thus gathered their bow staves.  Over the weeks to come I’ll post more pictures of bows that might have been used by the people of the Coahuiltecan Region. Below are a few.

Coahuiltecan bows probably ranged between 50 and 60 inches in length and had short draw lengths in order to accommodate the “pinch” arrow hold. One of the better bow woods of the region is anacua (Ehretia anacua) easily worked with stone tools and excellent in both compression and tension.  This anacua bow measures 55 inches long and draws 50 pounds at 24 inches.
Like most of the legumes, Guajillo, pronounced gwah-hee-yo, (Acacia berlandieri) is poor in tension.  This bow draws 44 pounds at 23 inches and measures 52 inches in length.
Chapote (Diospyros texana) makes an excellent bow. This chapote (Texas Persimmon) bow measures 49.5 inches in length and draws 45 pounds at 23 inches.
Brasil might have been a choice bow wood of the Coahuiltecan region if a long enough stave could be located. This brasil (Condalia hookeri) bow measures 53 inches in length and draws 47 pounds at 24 inches.
This bow is made of cedar elm (Ulmus crassifolia) and the stave was collected after Hurricane Dolly ravaged The Rio Grande Valley. My staves are never taken from standing trees but instead coppiced branches or from saplings salvaged from work crew projects. Undoubtedly a top bow wood of the Coahuiltecan region, this cedar elm bow measures 52 ¼ inches and draws 48 pounds at 24 inches.



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  2. I'm fairly certain this is the first recorded evidence I've seen of anyone else attempting to use Anacua as a bow wood. I used it a while back, and I remember wondering how nobody else knew about it. Not until very recently did I realize that Anacua only grows in Mexico and South Texas, which might account for its lack of fame. Anyhow, you've got a heck of a site here, Mr. Longoria. Thanks for spreading your knowledge!


    1. After all these years of building bows using hardwoods accessible to me here in South Texas and measuring things like specific gravity etc., I think I've got a good list of what the Indians of the region most likely used. It's time I think to put it all together into a complete package. Thanks for taking the time to write me.

  3. Thank you for sharing your knowledge! This kind of specific local information is as good as gold. Usually its the only stuff you CANT find on the internet.

    Any thoughts on arrow shaft woods in the region? I'm interested in what plants might have been most compatible with primitive tools.

    Most people seem to recommend sawing square shafts out of large blocks of wood, that seems like kind of a modern conceit to me.

    My uneducated guess would be to use whatever saplings grow the straightest?

    1. The people were looking for straight, knot free saplings from wood that was easy to work and yet good in tension and compression. Over centuries of trial and error they arrived at a number of good woods in every locale. In South Texas the equation remained the same. Have you made any bows with these woods?