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May 26th, 1839. Present site of Temple TX.

Ranger Captain John Bird and around thirty companions were ina fight with around 300 Indians, mostly Comanches.

The rangers had found cover in a steep-sided creek bed and a sort of standoff ensued, the Indians being kept at bay because of the rangers’ rifles (revolvers were not yet common). No women and children were involved here, no reason for undue heroics on either side.

At one point accounts have it that Captain Bird, age 44 and a veteran Indian fighter boldly climbed out of the ravine “to encourage his men”. I suspect rude gestures and comments about parentage between the opposing parties may have also been involved.

I dunno how many Comanches spoke English back then, and it seems improbable that Bird would speak Comanche. I also dunno if the Comanche language has enough bad words in it. So it is possible that Spanish was employed as it has been estimated that by that year about one-third of the Comanches had a Spanish-speaking parent at home in the lodge. Spanish does have a variety of suitable terms.

Standing out in the open, Bird was an obvious target but just as obviously he must have felt the distance between parties was such to afford a level of safety, he presumably weren’t intending to commit suicide.

Captain Bird was felled by a single arrow fired from extreme range, struck him in the heart and dropped him instantly.The other rangers said that arrow was launched from 200 yards out. If accurate, that was the longest recorded bow fatality in North American history.

Figure a flat iron or stone arrowhead, wooden shaft maybe fledged with turkey feathers, probable fairly short composite bow.

What kind of draw weight would be needed to launch an arrow 200 yards?


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Less poundage than you would guess.

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I could believe it could be 150 or 200 yards, though I suspect it was as surprising as Billy Dixon's shot with a rifle at Adobe Walls.

I would think arrow weight would be a bigger factor as would bow design. I've shot modern compounds with carbon arrow and think they're doing good to go 150 yards. A recurve with a heavy arrow is likely to go farther in my experience. The Comanches weren't shooting light, carbon arrows. I also suspect they were shooting pretty heavy draw weight bows. I think English longbowmen shot that type of range with heavy arrows and extremely heavy draw weights by modern standards and they were shooting to penetrate armor and chainmail. They also, like Comanches, trained with archery equipment from an early age.

I've also read the Comanches could shoot several arrows before the first arrow shot hit the ground. Think semi-auto rifle firepower. I believe I read that in "Empire of the Summer Moon."

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Originally Posted by DesertMuleDeer
I could believe it could be 150 or 200 yards, though I suspect it was as surprising as Billy Dixon's shot with a rifle at Adobe Walls.


One version has it that Billy Dixon and his peers had been plinking at rocks on that same bluff in the previous days so he had the range worked out. If true I dunno how they would know at that range where they would be hitting in the rocks. To his credit Mr Dixon alway claimed it was a “scratch” (ie. lucky) shot.

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I would think arrow weight would be a bigger factor as would bow design. I've shot modern compounds with carbon arrow and think they're doing good to go 150 yards. A recurve with a heavy arrow is likely to go farther in my experience. The Comanches weren't shooting light, carbon arrows. I also suspect they were shooting pretty heavy draw weight bows. I think English longbowmen shot that type of range with heavy arrows and extremely heavy draw weights by modern standards and they were shooting to penetrate armor and chainmail. They also, like Comanches, trained with archery equipment from an early age.

You probably know that longbows had such heavy draw weights that those who made their living at it had deformed asymmetric skeletons and vertebrae. Lethal hits scored in excess of 300 yards. It have read that the longbow drove the development of plate armor over the previous chain mail.

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I've also read the Comanches could shoot several arrows before the first arrow shot hit the ground. Think semi-auto rifle firepower. I believe I read that in "Empire of the Summer Moon."

A great primary source on Comanche archery is Ranger Captain John “RIP” Ford’s collected memoirs “RIP Ford’s Texas”, he would know as he fought mounted Comanches on several occasions.

He had it that a Comanche at full gallop could put an arrow into your running horse (and presumably yourself) at 100 yards. He also stated that if the range was more than 60 yards and you saw the arrow launched an agile man could dodge it, 60 yards or less you were hit.

He states that Comanches fired from a bow held horizontally, not sighting down the arrow but aiming by what we would call instinct. Extra arrows were held between the fingers and fired in rapid succession. 1840 a Comanche in San Antonio put five arrows into the air before the first one hit the ground and they landed in a cluster 100 yards out.

Ford goes on to state that if you went up against a Comanche with a revolver it was even odds who won, why might explain why most of his fighting with Comanches was done with rifles.


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One thing for sure the guys hiding in the rocks might have thought "what a dummass".

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Originally Posted by Birdwatcher
Figure a flat iron or stone arrowhead, wooden shaft maybe fledged with turkey feathers, probable fairly short composite bow.

Indians were using composite bows back then? Interesting.

What kind of materials, and how were they made?



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Originally Posted by smokepole
Originally Posted by Birdwatcher
Figure a flat iron or stone arrowhead, wooden shaft maybe fledged with turkey feathers, probable fairly short composite bow.

Indians were using composite bows back then? Interesting.

What kind of materials, and how were they made?

Sinew backed Osage mostly held together with fish glue. Eastern Indians mostly used flat bows designs that were much longer and unbacked.

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I shoot traditional bows. I’ve come to think that there is some serious exaggeration about the effectiveness of bows.

First, let’s go to medieval long bows. For the most part, they could not penetrate plate armor at any distance. If you go on YouTube Todd’s workshop has done some of the best testing ever on that and pretty much proved that plate was invulnerable except in certain spots at very close range.

I personally have come to believe that the volleys of arrows one imagines and sees on film, didn’t happen. If you look at sources and paintings, most archers are shown shooting at close range. I personally think that English archers were placed on the wings like they were at Agincourt and used to funnel the enemy towards the center and the English men at arms who fought on foot. Then at very close range, the archers were able to pour in arrows on the enemy who were engaged with the English men at arms. As such, the English archers could hit gaps and weak spots in the armor to great effect. At a hundred yards or more 99 arrows out of a hundred will do no damage whatsoever to a man in plate and are wasted. At ten or fifteen yards, an archer can snap shoot and hit that same man of arms under the armpit while he has a pole arm raised to engage the English knights.

I think there was a bit more standardization than we realize today with arrows being mass produced to spine for bows of the 130 to 160 pound class.

As for Indians, I have no doubt they were capable of incredible feats with their bows. That said, in nearly every instance when Indians could obtain firearms, they abandoned the bow even for hunting. And we’re not talking about repeating Winchesters. We’re talking about smoothbore trade muskets.

I’ll also add that the earliest settlers in Jamestown started fighting the Indians they asked for armor and the like. The armories in the Tower sent them all kinds of breastplates, mail, and helmets dating back to the Wars of the Roses and beyond that was no longer useful in Europe but useful against Indians. They also sent several hundred longbows. Those were not accepted by the colonists but stored in Bermuda or Jamaica for fear that the Indians would see the English longbows and thus, improve their own bow technology.

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As for the Comanches, they used a pinch draw of very short length. The arrows were very lightweight. It’s hard to see the bows being very stout with a pinch draw of such a short length. I can’t see them being more than 40 or 50 pounds. Dr. Pope said Ishi’s bows drew about 40 pounds. Ishi also used a pinch draw of very short length.

There is an old Indian on YouTube who makes traditional Comanche bows and arrows at Fort Sill. He makes the arrows out of dogwood limbs and they are very slender.

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Originally Posted by JoeBob
As for the Comanches, they used a pinch draw of very short length. The arrows were very lightweight. It’s hard to see the bows being very stout with a pinch draw of such a short length. I can’t see them being more than 40 or 50 pounds. Dr. Pope said Ishi’s bows drew about 40 pounds. Ishi also used a pinch draw of very short length.

There is an old Indian on YouTube who makes traditional Comanche bows and arrows at Fort Sill. He makes the arrows out of dogwood limbs and they are very slender.


Asian horn bow style would employ a sort of pinch draw by using a thumb ring made from horn. The thumb would be locked under the index finger with the string against the wide flat part of the thumb ring.

According to the Traditional Bowyers Bibles a light bow would be used for hunting big game and a heavy bow for war. What we found in fields and called bird points were actually big game points which needed to be small to penetrate well from light weight bows. Larger points were made heavy to do damage when rained down on an enemy at long range. I've read accounts of natives claiming many large game animals were shot so close that the arrow didn't leave the bow before striking the animal. I don't think it a total fabrication since I know some initiations of young warriors included being able to get close enough to a big game animal to touch it.

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As far as I know, there is no record of the thumb ring being used in America. It would have helped with heavy bows.

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Originally Posted by smokepole
Originally Posted by Birdwatcher
Figure a flat iron or stone arrowhead, wooden shaft maybe fledged with turkey feathers, probable fairly short composite bow.

Indians were using composite bows back then? Interesting.

What kind of materials, and how were they made?

I was quoting from distant memory. But here’s a link….

https://www.quora.com/Did-Native-Americans-have-composite-bows

Note that the Berlandier cited is regarded as a valuable and credible source re: Texas, particularly his detailed paintings (an early form of “pics or it never happened”). Note his description of the length and power of Karankawa bows.

A bit off topic….

The nature of the bow involved in that 200 yard shot, if such occurred is unknown of course. But in the realm of improbability Ranger Captain RIP Ford relates of a series of encounters with Comanches in the 1850’s wherein one Comanche was armed with a “Swiss rifle”, picking his mounted men off at long range. He doesn’t mention that they ever caught the guy so who he was remained undetermined.

Could have been an Eastern tribesman, they were all over the Plains in the 1800’s. The longest recorded hits with round ball flintlock rifles occurred in Florida, 1835, Second Seminole War, Battle of Withlacootchie. General Edmund P. Gaines, who surveyed much of the Southeast, reported that the Seminole Indians were hitting his men at “almost 500 yards”.


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Originally Posted by JoeBob
As for Indians, I have no doubt they were capable of incredible feats with their bows. That said, in nearly every instance when Indians could obtain firearms, they abandoned the bow even for hunting. And we’re not talking about repeating Winchesters. We’re talking about smoothbore trade muskets.

In the topic of the accuracy possible to be wrung out of a smoothbore out to 70-80 yards or so the English trader Adair among the Chickasaws in the mid 1700’s reported his customers would fire a new trade gun 100 times or more working out a load, dismounting and bending the barrel true as necessary, a thing done today by the most hard core reenactor types.

Along those lines the folks at americanlongrifles.com subscribe to the theory that the longrifle was actually developed in response to the demands of the Indian trade.

But on the topic of Indians and bows….

Johann Von Ewald, a Hessian Officer, was was of our best chroniclers of our Rev War, particularly his illustrations. This is the one that gives reenactors fits grin

In the aftermath of the Battle of the Bronx, October 10th 1776. A body of Stockbridge Massachusetts acculturated Algonquins sadly misused as line infantry on the Patriot side fascinated Ewald so he drew one.

Note…..

Linen or cotton pajamas
Straw hat
Rifle with a sling
Short recurve bow w/arrows

Ewald noted these guys threw their axes with remarkable accuracy, taking out this way at least one member of the British Dragoons that rode them down.

[Linked Image from i.postimg.cc]


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European sources from thr late 16th century when the switch over from bows to matchlock muskets was being made, note the extreme short range of bows as compared to the muskets. One French source stated that he had long heard about the bravery of the English and that after seeing them in action with their bows realized that they had to be very brave indeed because they had to get so close for their bows to do any good.

Bows don’t really get that much more powerful in terms of velocity. A traditional bow is going to throw an arrow out there at somewhere around 150 fps to 200 fps or a little more. A light his will throw a light arrow that fast. A heavy bow will throw a heavy arrow that fast. The heavier arrow is slightly more damaging, of course, but the difference is not as dramatic as one would think. A light arrow with a sharp head will still go right through you. A heavy arrow will too. Neither will penetrate amor.

Last edited by JoeBob; 01/25/23.

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