Ishi (1861-1916) was the last known member of the Native American Yahi tribe from California in the United States. He lived most of his life isolated from Euro-American culture. In 1911, aged 50, he emerged near the foothills of Lassen Peak in Northern California. Ishi was taken in by anthropologists at the University of California, Berkeley, who both studied him and hired him as a research assistant.
The work of the Anthropologists and Ishi has given given us enough information to build our own authentic Native American bows. Ishi befriended Saxton Pope who was teaching at the nearby medical school. Ishi taught Pope how to make bows and arrows as the Yahi did, and how to hunt with them. Pope became an avid bow hunter and in 1920, with special permission, he went hunting grizzly bears in Yellowstone Park with handmade bows and steel tipped arrows. The stuffed and mounted bears are still on display at the California Academy of Sciences. Pope is most famous as the father of modern bow hunting.
Whilst Pope was learning bow making he also documented the processes Ishi used. This record is now considered an important anthropological work and we have it available as a PDF download.
The PDF is Yahi Archery by Saxton Pope. It is not a scanned OCR of the original work. There are books available that are scanned works of the original and the text is deteriorated and a challenge to read. Also the pictures are barely visible or so blurred as to be of little use. We have a reprint version with clear text and images.
The work will give you an insight into how Native American bows were traditionally made and is a recommended read. It is also a snapshot of the time. Native Americans are frequently referred to as 'savages' and certainly seen as subhuman. Also it is interesting to compare Ishi's method of bow making compared to that of modern bowyers methods. Ishi no doubt made good bows but it is well documented that he also broke many. Modern bowyers take into consideration personal use and their reputation if they are selling to customers. So they make bows with as little flaws as possible and it has become quite a science. There is a whole other tome of work if you are looking to build one to modern standards.
Yahi Archery by Saxton Pope is a fun and interesting read that we recommend to anyone interested in making Native American Bows.