Gene Lehmann, special to The Ada News
Wayne Walker hunts both.
His ability to locate one is inextricable with harvesting the other.
This autumn, he will test himself physically and mentally to harvest a deer with a bow he fashions from bois d’arc. Flint arrowheads, intertwined with artificial sinew, will be affixed to seasoned river cane to form the projectile.
His craft reflects a time almost 500 years before European traders swapped flintlock muskets for fur, hides and other goods possessed by the Chickasaw Nation.
The drama has been staged for centuries by Chickasaws. Mr. Walker’s quest is the same as his ancestors – making bows and arrows to feed a family in the winter, making them with pride and patience to equip the hunter with the necessary tools for survival.
“When we (Chickasaws) began trading for guns, the bow and arrow became obsolete and the art of using them skillfully was almost lost,” the 53-year-old 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.”
Since 1995, he’s been manufacturing traditional Chickasaw bows and arrows in addition to flint knives, stickball mallets, and blunted arrows for harvesting squirrel and rabbit. He even fashions arrowheads from metal to illustrate how contact with traders influenced the ancient Chickasaws.
Deer season in Oklahoma begins October 1. Mr. Walker will attempt to gain access to the Chickasaw Kullihoma Reserve for one hunt.
But he is planning another trip - a special hunt with an old friend.
That friend is in possession of a Walker-made bow and will try his hand at felling a deer with it this season. Mr. Walker made the bow for him a few years ago 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 two friends will hunt the woods near Wapanucka, Okla., in their quest for venison using ancient hunting skills with bows and arrows manufactured in the ancient tradition. They will camp in a hunting lodge and pursue their quarry from dawn to dusk.
It will mark 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 also will have an eye peeled for a straight, limbless trunk of a bois d’arc tree. It must be about five to six feet long. It must be straight and not twisted by the never-ending Oklahoma wind.
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.”
A perfect trunk is approximately 10 inches in circumference. A single tree trunk, Mr. Walker said, can provide enough wood to make three to four bows.
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 to the shape he desires. Mr. Walker has so fine a touch most of the bows he makes – about 75 at last count – will pull between 45 to 50 pounds of pressure. Lighter bows are just as lethal as heavier bows. With the lighter bow, a hunter does not tire as quickly. The shot he unleashes, Mr. Walker said, is more likely to find its target if he isn’t fatigued.
Although his grandfather, renowned Chickasaw bow-maker Amon Walker, died before he was born, Mr. Walker remembers his father, Ralph, making bows on cherished allotted acreage near Happyland, 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 left the Ada area for 10 years in the 1980s, but returned in the mid-90s. He sought out the 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.
As Activities Coordinator at the Chickasaw Cultural Center in Sulphur, he shares the tribe’s heritage and culture. He demonstrates bows, drums, deer-hide tanning and stomp dances 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.
He also shares his knowledge, talent and tribal heritage in a more somber way.
Mr. Walker only has about 20 of the 75 bows he has made. Yes, he has donated a few to museums and given some to friends. He also 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 will be crafting 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, Amon.
“He is a much better shot than I am,” he said. “He has won many trophies for his skill as an archer.”
He will be encouraging his grandson to begin making bows, he said, so the “the craft will live on through the next generation.”