Heart of Louisiana: Bows and arrows

Published: Jan. 30, 2013 at 1:33 AM CST|Updated: Jan. 30, 2013 at 3:00 AM CST
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Craftsman Jeff Harrison says, "I use the fire to straighten my arrow shafts on my cane arrows or my wood arrows. And I also make the pine pitch glue, which fastens your arrowhead to the shaft."

Harrison is practicing the ancient art of making an arrow. "I do a lot of research, a lot of reading books, and a lot of research online on the computer," he says.

What makes this craftwork so authentic is that Harrison uses the same natural materials, even the same primitive tools, to recreate his Native American weapons.  He uses deer sinew from the animal's tendons to seal the point to the arrow's shaft

Harrison says, "It's about like wrapping steel around it, it will not break. It actually has a tensile strength stronger than steel.  This also adds a lot of strength to the cane that you're using so it doesn't shatter as bad on impact."

Turkey feathers, also attached with strands of sinew, guide the arrow to its target.

A few hundred years ago, the woods around Franklinton were home to the Choctaw.  And many of Harrison's designs come from that tribe of Native Americans. "It's kind of a dying art," he tells us.

When he was a child, Harrison lived in Mississippi near a Choctaw reservation.  "A couple of the elders there… they were nice enough to show me how to do this," he says.

For years, Harrison worked as a commercial electrician.  When the economy turned bad, he was laid off.  In between job hunting, he took up a hobby, making Indian crafts.

"So I was like enjoying them and I would just give them away as gifts," he says.  "And then I started getting people who were offering me money. Well, things took a turn then and I started seeing the dollar signs."

Now, Harrison spends his evenings making bows and arrows, and in the morning he lists them on eBay.  It's become his full time job, and full time passion.

He says, "I'm almost 42 years old and I can tell you I have just now discovered what I want to do with my life."

His bows start with a tree branch – and within a couple of days, they're ready for sale.  But if a customer requests that he use authentic tools, the process of making a single bow can take several weeks.

Harrison says, "I've often wondered if somewhere down the line I've got some Native American in my blood."

With his attention to authenticity, Harrison is rekindling interest in this area's oldest culture.

Depending on the design, Harrison sells his bows for about $300. But one that is created using authentic stone tools will cost significantly more.