Native Village 
Youth and Education News

November 1, 2013

Chickasaw craftsman upholds ancient hunting tradition
Condensed by Native Village

Wayne Walker: Chickasaw Craftsman

Oklahoma: This fall, Wayne Walker, 53, hopes to harvest a deer with a bow he made from bois d’arc wood. His arrows are seasoned river cane and flint arrowheads held together by artificial sinew.

Mr. Walker’s quest is that of his ancestors: making bows and arrows to feed a family in the winter. It means making them with pride and patience to equip the hunter with the necessary tools for survival.

Wayne's craft reflects a time 500 years before Europeans traded flintlock muskets for fur, hides and other goods with the Chickasaw Nation.

“When we (Chickasaws) began trading for guns, the bow and arrow became obsolete and the art of using them skillfully was almost lost,” Mr. Walker said.

“Chickasaws were feared for their archery skills. Their bows were prized by tribes throughout the ancestral lands. Back then, capturing a Chickasaw bow would be like winning the lottery today.”

Walker's been making traditional Chickawaw bows and arrows since 1995.  He also produces flint knives, stickball mallets, and blunted arrows for harvesting squirrel and rabbit. He even makes metal arrowheads to illustrate how trading influenced the ancient Chickasaws.

Wayne is planning a a special hunt with an old friend who owns one of his bows.  He made the bow as a gesture of friendship. He does not make bows to sell.

“If you’re making a bow for a friend, relative or grandchild, your heart is in it,” he said. “You take your time and worry about the smallest detail. You want it to be perfect.”

The men will hunt using ancient hunting skills with bows and arrows made in the ancient tradition. They'll pursue their quarry from dawn to dusk.

It's the first time in four years Mr. Walker has hunted.

“It is difficult to find places to hunt these days,” he said. “Landowners have discovered hunting leases are a profitable business. It isn’t like the days of my youth when most everyone would welcome you on to their property provided you tended to the resource as if it belonged to you.

“My friend has practiced with the bow I made for him. He feels he is ready now. I, too, believe I am ready to hunt again as my ancestors hunted hundreds of years ago.”

He will also keep his eyes out for the limbless trunk of a bois d’arc tree. It must be 5-6 feet long and straight -- not twisted by the never-ending Oklahoma wind. A perfect trunk is about 10 inches in circumference. One tree trunk can provide enough wood to make three to four bows.

Finding one is more difficult than it sounds.

“I’ve walked all day long searching for the perfect tree,” he said. “I’ll be searching creek banks where a group of bois d’arc trees are growing. Usually, when they grow in bunches, you’ll be able to find two or three trees where the trunk is reaching for the sun. The trunks won’t have time to sprout limbs because they are growing straight up. There’s your bow right there.”

Each bow requires 30 to 40 hours of craftsmanship. He coats the wood with animal fat, heats it over an open flame and bends it in shape. Most bows he makes --about 75 at last count-- can pull 45 - 50 pounds of pressure.

Lighter bows are just as deadly as heavier bows. With the lighter bow, a hunter does not tire as quickly. His shot is more likely to find its target if he isn’t fatigued.

Walker's grandfather was renowned Chickasaw bow-maker, Adam Walker, who died before Wayne was born. Wayne does remember his father, Ralph, making bows on allotted acreage in Okla. The allotment previously belonged to his grandfather.

“People would gather out there,” he said. “They would shoot bows and play stickball and have stomp dances. That’s what I remember as a child.”

Mr. Walker asked elders to advise him how to locate bois d’arc wood and how to make bows. His memories were steeped in the craft from watching his father as a child.

Wayne is currently Activities Coordinator at the Chickasaw Cultural Center in Sulphur.  He shares his tribal heritage and culture. demonstrates bows, drums, and tanning. He'll also stomp dance for “people who come from all over the world.”

“Whatever our guests decide they would like to see demonstrated, that is what we do,” he said.

Wayne also shares his knowledge and tribal heritage in a more somber way.  He places a bow and two arrows in coffins of tribal and family members "who died too young," he said simply.  “It helps the families and gives them a sense of heritage and peace.”

A personal goal this hunting season is to craft a bow from two pieces of wood.

“I watched my father do it,” Mr. Walker said. “I have tried it but was not successful. This year, I will try again.”

The bow likely will end up in the hands of his grandson, Adam..

“He is a much better shot than I am,” he said. “He has won many trophies for his skill as an archer.”

Walker will encourage his grandson to begin making bows so the “the craft will live on through the next generation.”

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