Monday, 21 May 2007

Getting Inspired


The Project Gutenberg eBook of Hunting with the Bow and Arrow, by Saxton Pope (1875 - 1927)

Inspired by Ishi the last of the Yana people and Robin Hood. The surgeon, bow hunter, and Edwardian wag Dr Saxton Pope offers this thesis on bow craft and hunting. Thanks to the non-profit Guttenberg project the book can be downloaded for free!

While the book is a thorough and enthusiastic introduction to making your own bow, arrows and hunting kit, it was also the first time I learned of ‘Ishi’ the last of the Yana people who lived to the east of Sacramento before the arrival of (or invasion by) Europeans.
In 1911 Ishi, the last living Yana, starved and disheveled, walked out of the Stone Age and into the 20th century. The game scared away and the rivers poisoned by ranchers and cattle he must literally have been at the end of his world. At first he was found by the local constabulary and as no one present could speak his language he was deemed to be ‘mad’ and incarcerated. His arrival, coming only thirty-eight years after the Mill Creek genocide of his people, was announced in the local paper. Professor T. T. Watterman, of the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, came to Oroville to investigate. By some stint of good fortune the professor had a few words of the Yana language and was able to offer some comfort to Ishi and to give him shelter at the University.
Everyone has their own symbolic ‘Ishi’ political, spiritual and to some of us the ultimate expression of the bush-crafter as craftsman and hunter. He lived at the university where he worked as a janitor and living exhibit demonstrating his skills as a knapper, bowyer and fletcher.
Here is where Dr Saxton Pope joins the story: a surgeon by trade and something of a wag and an athlete by disposition, Dr Pope became Ishi’s physician and latter his friend and pupil in all things toxophilic.
Dr Pope himself is from a time that has passed, while his language and views are those of a man of his social standing almost a hundred years ago. His wit and wisdom come across as clearly today as they would have beside the campfire.

“...one must have a good pair of legs. If automobiles, elevators, and general laziness have not ruined your powers of locomotion, you may follow the dogs; otherwise, you had best stay at home.”

At a time when ‘progress was all, biggest was best, and most powerful meant most right, Dr Pope must have been quite the contrarian; befriending an ‘Indian’ learning his language and hunting techniques. And taking to the wilderness with a ‘child’s plaything’ in pursuit of the largest predators North America had to offer.

“She undoubtedly would have been right on us in another second. The outcome of this hypothetical encounter I leave to those with vivid imaginations.”

Along with his physical courage what comes across in the book is his enthusiasm: whether it be for hunting Grizzly bears (Ursus Horribilis) on foot, armed only with “old horrible’, (a bow of his own construction), or his love and respect for his friends.

“I learned to love Ishi as a brother, and he looked upon me as one of his people. He called me Ku wi, or Medicine Man; more, perhaps, because I could perform little sleight of hand tricks, than because of my profession.”

After Ishi’s death from TB most of Dr Pope’s expeditions were with his great friend Arthur ‘Art’ Young.

“It seems as if Fate had chosen my hunting companion, Arthur Young, to add to the honor and the legends of the bow.”

My personal favorite, gives a clue to the twinkle in Popes eye when he says

“Young is so abstemious that even tea or coffee seem a bit intemperate to him, and are only to be used under great physical strain; and as for profanity, why, I had to do all the swearing for the two of us.”

Wag, Edwardian gent, contrarian, friend and philosopher Dr Pope lead the American bow-hunting renaissance. Championing ethical hunting and the defense and preservation of the wilderness long before such interests appeared in the pubic imagination.

“All that we have done is perfectly possible to any adventurous youth, no matter what his age.”

You can download the book for free from the Guttenberg project


I love this book and hope you enjoy it as much as I did, and between it’s pages find the inspiration to take to the field in pursuit of breakfast lunch and dinner.
Bushwacker.

1 comment:

Ken said...

The whole story of Ishi is absolutely amazing. What would it be like to wake up some morning and find you were the only person on the planet who spoke English? Sounds like a good story. Maybe I'll write it myself.

Ken Harris