Andrew Knight of Markle is one-eighth Potawatomi Indian on his mother’s side, and he doesn’t claim to be an expert on Native American weaponry.
But the 45-year-old sure knows his way around a bow and arrow, and he even spent three winters just out of high school living in a cabin he built in the woods on his grandfather’s farm near the Wabash River – just to see if he could do it.
Growing up, he recalls, he used to talk to elder descendants of the region’s tribes who lived nearby. And, as sure as the tug of a hunter on a bowstring, he felt drawn to learn how generations of people survived in northeast Indiana, as he puts it, with fire, stone tools, bow and arrow and the resources of the land.
On Saturday afternoon, Knight shared some of his knowledge – and his assortment of bows, arrows and stone relics – with a small audience of visitors at the Chief Richardville House on Bluffton Road.
His appearance was part of this month’s Miami Indian Heritage Days celebration, which features special events on the first Saturday of every month through November.
Knight brought two hickory branches 6 feet long by 3 inches wide to demonstrate the raw material that would have been shorn of bark and carved into bows.
He also brought two turkey wings that would have provided the feathers for arrows, and a simple rawhide pouch quiver.
He even had a bowstring with pieces of mink fur tied to it that would have muffled the sound of a shot.
If I’m shooting at a deer over by that picnic table and the arrow would twang, the deer could jump out of there before the arrow got there, he explained.
Knight also showed how they would have positioned the arrowhead on the shaft in two different ways – vertically to penetrate the ribs of a grazing deer or horizontally to penetrate the ribs of a standing person.
Knight said the region’s tribes generally didn’t recognize division of labor.
If they were trying to provide food, they would shoot animals, trap animals or snare animals or lure and catch fish – all at the same time, he said.
And, he added, You weren’t a hunter or a warrior. If you were out hunting, and you were attacked, you were a warrior.
Tools also were multipurpose, he said. Some items, such as arrows, were specialized, but many tools likely had multiple uses.
A large sharpened piece in his small collection, gleaned over the years from fields on his grandparents’ farm near Mentone, could have been used as knife, a scraper for hides and a hoe for planting and weeding.
Although the farm stood in an area where the Potawatomi were resettled, he believes the arrowheads are older than that.
They might even pre-date the Miami, he said, adding that suitable stone to make tools was a valuable item of trade.
Knight said he started shooting a bow and arrow when he was 4 years old. He began trying to make his own bows as a teen, learning a lot through reading but also through a lot of trial and error, he said.
He used the implements to shoot frogs and rabbits and we ate a lot of ’em, he said.
In the past, Knight said, he has participated in re-enactments throughout the region. This was his first time as a presenter at Miami Heritage Days, and he sees a need to pass on the knowledge and skills of the past.
Making a practical functional object (like a bow) – that links you back to your ancestors, he said.
You’ve accomplished a skill that goes back hundreds and thousands of years. It’s a link. There’s nothing like it.