True West Historical Society

Official Site of True West Magazine, Since 1953


I'm proofreading a novel that takes place in Montana Territory in 1876.

The author has some plains Indians killing men with arrows and then retrieving the arrows by pulling them out of the bodies.

I was wondering if that was typically done. I know that the sinew that held an arrowhead to the arrow tended to dissolve in a body, so that when the arrow's shaft is removed, the head often would remain. Of course, by 1876 maybe Indians used materials other than sinew?

What I am wondering is whether an arrow would have been worth salvaging and whether Indians of that day would have been likely to do that.



Views: 246

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

By the early 1850s most tribes had abandoned flint arrowheads for arrowheads made of barrel-hoop iron.  They were nowhere near as difficult & time-consuming to make as flint arrowheads.  I can certainly see them retrieving the shaft & fletching of an arrow, then fitting it with a new barrel-hoop iron head, tho I've seen no direct reference indicating they ever did--probably because when they did it all the possible witnesses were dead.

 Throughout history if opportunity allowed soldiers would recover their own arrow shafts or that of their enemy so indians doing the same would be logical.

Making straight and thus true shafts is at least as time consuming as making a flint point. If we have improved the point problem with some available iron then the next most important thing is the shaft.

Retrieve arrows? For sure! And anything else that you can recover.

Well I can certainly tell you (after having used sinew for over 50 years). That it does NOT dissentigrate at any speed in or out of the body.  By the 1870s most arrows being used were of iron "trade" head type. Yes if they were not in close chance of being "discovered" or "interrupted" by other enemy. They would have taken the time & effort. BUT if the "victim" was dead they probaly would have either cut them out or pushed the through. That would be the prefered way even for a wound. Remembering they were made so as to be "barbed" like a fish hook & way easier to push them through & less traumatic if only wounded. That trying to pull them out against that "barbing". But it wasn't uncommon to go arround the rest of your life with an arrowhead somewhere in your body if you were a warrior. Besides the arrow HEAD formed the barb & the shaft might pull off if you tried to pull it out. It being basiclly a dowel (stick)

Thank you for all the useful perspectives. Waste not, want not, as they say. Even then recycling was being done.


Some good answers here.

Keep in mind that making an arrow shaft was a time-consuming job. Many bands had certain people that were highly skilled at making arrows. Some concentrated just on the shaft while others on the heads. Some made both. A warrior may have arrows made specifically for him, and decorated them to identify them as his property. Many, but certainly not all, tribes had distinct markings to identify the band and nation.


With all the work put into making a good arrow, it stands to reason that given the time, the warriors would certainly gather up their arrows after a battle or a hunt.


Once again, this is an issue that Hollywood gets wrong most of the time.




One of the things a lot of frontiersmen reported finding in the possession of dead Indians or in Indian camps where the hostiles had been routed was bags of 'arrow spikes'--iron arrowheads.  This would tend to indicate that warriors at least recovered their arrow-shafts, to be re-fitted with heads at a later date.

When you're out on the Plains & not near any kind of trading post. In general both Whites & Indians had to live by the old addage "waste not want not" They had to recycle way before it was popular to do so LOL It was a matter of necessity.

While I realize I'm several months late in joining the discussion, as one who makes and regularly hunts with traditional arrows, and as an active artifact hunter, I thought I'd weigh in on the issue. The comments above are all accurate relative to arrow construction and use. Indeed, sinew will become supple and ultimately loosen up when wet. However, and as pointed out above, it takes time, and wouldn't break down or degrade in just a few minutes. Also, the time and materials necessary for arrow construction would very much make them a valuable possession and not readily left behind. For visual effect. Hollywood typically depicts a massacre or fight scene as one littered with arrows. Unless the warriors were pressed to leave in great haste, this simply would not have been the case. I continue to be amazed at the workmanship of the older stone (flint) points that I recover in my area (Great Plains of Western Oklahoma). Each of these, even the less attractive points, are marvels of workmanship, especially when one considers the crude way in which they were constructed. Of course, by the 19th century, most of the points used were metal points--often referred to as "trade points" constructed and traded in large numbers by opportunists such as the French traders, Comencheros, or anyone else wanting to establish trade with the various Indian tribes. The bottom line: arrows were a highly valued part of the warrior's arsenal as it was used not only for fighting, but also in procuring food and materials for sustaining their existence.


© 2015   Created by True West.

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service