Westward Ho

Westward Ho

Awakening nauseous from an ether induced sleep is not the most pleasant of experiences for a newly celebrated ten year old. The Eloise Hospital in Wayne Michigan, a former mental institution, and (unknown to me then) was also the place of my birth… just around the corner so to speak. I wouldn’t learn of Eloise being my birthplace for another thirty-five years. My reason for being in the hospital is complicated and not unlike early American pioneers that to late realized, there are hazards to moving west. The Indians and their paraphernalia (bows and arrows) were reported to be friendly and harmless.

Moving west from the land of concrete and asphalt to the wilds of West Dearborn, where gravel roads and septic tanks ruled the day. There were blocks upon blocks of look-a-like houses interrupted by occasional blocks of dense forest and maybe a barnyard or two complete with barns. The neighborhood was a not fully developed development. The soldiers of World War Two returning home needed places to live so tracks of cookie cutter homes were filling the landscapes that surrounded Metro Detroit. Industrial areas lay to the west along the Rouge River where Henry Ford called it home. That was Dearborn and we now lived in the wilds of West Dearborn.

There were real live cows to be seen not so far from our new front porch, my Grandma Hart’s former front porch, where she had lived with my Uncle Louis until her death in late 1950. My new roommate, my uncle Lu La, would take the place of my Aunt Inez with whom I had shared an attic bedroom on 32nd Street all these years.

Leaving my cowboy persona behind in Detroit and now presented with wooded areas within walking distance I somehow decided to take up the native Indian way. The bow and arrow became very appealing because directly across the street was an empty lot that contained a downed tree whose roots were upended presenting an earthen target about ten feet in diameter.


An Archery Quote

early Indian Training

Early Indian in Training

“The first gift I received from my father was a bow and arrows. He made them himself. He painted the bow red, which signified that he had been wounded in battle.

I was very young at the time, so the arrows were fashioned with knobs on the end, instead of the sharp points. The bow was not a strong one to pull.

That bow and arrows was the beginning of my Indian training. It was to be my weapon in war, and was to get my food for me. I always kept it near me.”

~ Standing Bear ~

It turns out I had a little Robin Hood in me as well… so the bow and arrow was doubly attractive. My Dad read me some of the Robin Hood adventures early on and I loved the illustrations by artist N.C. Wyeth. I also liked then to hear the sound effects of an arrow wooshing through the air and hitting a target with feathers and its shaft vibrating to stillness.


Some Archery history:

Bows and arrows have been used in the Americas since the Stone Age, so different tribes had plenty of time to perfect this weapon technology. Scientists have learned that the oldest Paleo-Indian arrowheads discovered in North America are more than 13,000 years old! Some arrowheads made by Native American ancestors were even found together with the bones of extinct prehistoric animals like woolly mammoths and giant bison.
One of the earliest areas to use it was Iowa, a region that had already been populated for around 11,500 years by the time the bow and arrow came into use.

It soon replaced the spear as the primary hunting tool and weapon of war as it provided the warrior with several advantages.
It had far more rapid fire capabilities, better accuracy, it allowed a warrior greater mobility and as spearheads were much larger, they also needed more raw materials to make compared to arrow heads.

Pleading and Sobbing…

Obtaining my own bow and arrows took some work. My mother, bless her heart, knew for a fact that I would come to some great harm if I had them. What I really wanted was a twenty-five pounder, meaning the pull weight to pull the bowstring back to catapult the arrow on its way. After much pleading and some sobbing on my part my parents finally agreed I could have a ten pounder to start (future parents beware yee of a pleading and sobbing child).

I was very proud of and took very good care of my new Bow and Arrows. I slept with them. The arrows were expensive to replace so I kept track of and retrieved them each and every one. When they broke or splintered I would glue them back together. My quiver was always on the ready and full of clean arrows with my own special markings, lest someone would claim one as theirs.

When shooting arrows I wore black leather gloves with very large cuffs that protected my wrist from the snap of the bowstring. I’d learned that Indians also wore leather strapped around their wrist for the same reason. One day when out shooting over in the lot near the tree stump, I decided to see how high I could get an arrow to fly. I set an arrow in the bow then pointing it upward pulled back and let go the string… “KaThunk” was the sound I remember. The arrow didn’t go anywhere near as high as I thought it should? In fact it wasn’t the entire arrow I was watching… it was just the front half or arrow tip I saw climbing skyward and not all that high either. When starting to walk after the arrow is when I noticed the rear half of the arrow had gone through my leather glove almost to the feathers and was sticking out of the other side of my left index finger. The remainder of the arrow had completely pierced the leather and finger. Holy Tonto! …that hurt.

I had been shooting one of my repaired arrows, one that was splintered and been glued back together by a novice, me. I hadn’t taken the full course of how to be an Indian… I was only a wannabe.

We didn’t have a car and my Mom had to call my Uncle at work to come and fetch me and haul my little Indian butt out to Eloise. It was a painful ride just looking at the portion of arrow sticking out of my black gloved finger.

As it turns out they had to lay open my finger from near its tip to back over my last knuckle, to retrieve all of the pieces of splintered arrow. I was in the hospital for a week and it required a second surgery a few weeks later, when another piece of arrow surfaced after the swelling went down. Wanna see my scar?

I’m sure glad I didn’t get that twenty-five pound bow(thanks Mom)… welcome to the Wild West of Dearborn kiddo. It was time to get busy with my less painful model airplanes.

I have not shot a bow and arrow for nearly sixty-five years and… I’m going for the record.


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