How to Make Traditional Cherokee Arrows


River cane, or Arundinaria, was a widely used resource among tribes that inhabited the American Southeast, including the Cherokee people. Among other things, they made most of their weapons from it, including their arrows. The natural properties of river cane -- a hollow, straight stalk that has widespread availability and sturdiness -- make it an ideal arrow shaft. With such a material at hand, the hardest part of making an arrow was knapping the point.

Things You'll Need

  • River cane shafts, 30 to 36 inches
  • Sinew thread
  • Feathers (turkey tail feathers are ideal)
  • Knife
  • Arrowheads
  • Cut a notch in the shape of a V at one end of the shaft, and a deeper, straight notch in the opposite end. The two notches should line up with one another.

  • Split the cane vertically starting 2 inches from the nock. The split should run no more than 4 to 5 inches along the shaft.

  • Clip a 3- to 4-inch piece from the middle of a feather by cutting the central quill, then pulling apart the barbs so that you're left with a double-sided fletch.

  • Use the knife to gently spread the split section of the cane and insert the feather into the split, point forward. The quill should fit neatly into the hollow inside of the cane.

  • Wrap a half-inch in front of and behind the feathers with sinew thread and tie it off tightly.

  • Insert the base of the arrowhead into the straight notch. Wrap the base and shaft tightly with sinew thread, looping around the notch and wrapping around the bare shaft several times for extra stability. Tie off the thread with a double knot and trim off the excess.

Tips & Warnings

  • While river cane was and remains the preferred shaft material, the Cherokee were and are a resourceful people who used whatever materials they could find. Dogwood, black locust and osage orange were other common shaft materials.
  • Keep an eye out for snakes if you harvest your own cane. Rattlesnakes in particular love to hide out in a cane break.
  • Cane is extremely sharp when split.
  • A highly toxic fungus called ergot makes its home on the seed heads of river cane. Although it's easily distinguished by purple spots on the cane, it's still not a good idea to put cane in your mouth unless you can absolutely confirm that there is no ergot present.

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