From the time I understood how Indians came to be in Oklahoma from all over the country, I’ve made it a point, when I stay elsewhere for any length of time, to learn a little something about the people on whose bones I am walking.
My adopted home in central Texas is on the very edge of the southern reaches of the Great Plains that used to represent unbroken sod all the way from what is now Canada to what is now Mexico. Being able to navigate amid waving prairie grasses as far as the eye can see was no small feat but a number of tribes, when the Spanish proved unable to keep track of their livestock, became “horse Indians,” living off the bison and therefore going where the bison went.
They accomplished this with the bow and arrow, which we now think of as a simpler weapon for simpler times. That’s not exactly the case.
Bowmanship in my Cherokee Nation is setting out to compete in the cornstalk shoot, which requires some skill by today’s standards.
But the people from my adopted country, known in history books as the “lords of the plains,” the Comanche, had mobile archery on a whole other level, shooting over and under and around a horse at full gallop.
This is part of the reason why, in alliance with the Kiowa Nation, the Comanche dominated the southern plains until dislodged by weapons that required much less skill but were deadly from much greater distances.
The bow was not invented in the Americas, of course, but the use of it was already pretty much forgotten by the Europeans who came here. After Indians got used to the racket of gunpowder, though, bow fighters could give a pretty good account of themselves against muzzle loading guns.
Now a European, Lars Anderson, has done the hard work to bring the skill of archery to what it was when the bow was the primary weapon of both the hunt and of war.
Some people will find Anderson’s feats hard to believe. Comanches will not. Anderson has been rightly criticized for grossly exaggerating the degree to which bow shooting is a lost art. He’s guilty of being a showman, a trick shot artist, and of indulging in the exaggeration that goes with the role.
Archery is far from dead in the Americas.
Still, you have to give Lars Anderson credit for putting in the long hours of practice to bring the skill to a very high level. Now, if he could do the same archery on horseback, maybe he could audition to play a Comanche.