Cherokee Heritage Center hosts blowgun-making class
Instructor Steven Daugherty, left, heats and straightens river cane at the Cherokee Heritage Center’s blowgun making class held Sept. 16 in Park Hill, Oklahoma. ROGER GRAHAM/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Cherokee Heritage Center Diligwa villager Danny McCarter shows a blowgun dart he made using part of a thistle plant and a shish-kabob skewer. Only the white downy part of the thistle is used on the end of the dart, much like feathers at the end of an arrow. ROGER GRAHAM/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
PARK HILL, Okla. – On Sept. 16, the Cherokee Heritage Center held a blowgun-making class as part of its cultural class series.
“Our class teacher is Steve Daugherty. Steve has spent the last five or six years in the ancient village learning to make all of these Cherokee crafts. He’s quite the artist and has been teaching blowguns for several years,” CHC Education Director Tonia Weavel said.
The CHC’s website states that while people associate bows and arrows with Native Americans, which were weapons used for hunting and warfare, the Cherokee and other Southeastern woodland Indian tribes also made extensive use of blowguns. Unlike the bow and arrow, which was used for larger game, the blowgun could be used to effectively kill birds and smaller animals such as squirrels for food. It was a boy’s first weapon, and the skill and stealth required to effectively hunt with a blowgun proved essential to his later use of a bow and arrow.
Instructor and Cherokee Nation citizen Steven Daugherty said one of the key points to blowgun making is picking a good piece of river cane.
“Make sure it’s the straightest piece you can find,” he said.
He added that finding a straight piece of cane isn’t always possible, so manipulating the cane with heat and rolling it on a hard surface will help with straightening river cane. Daugherty said it’s important to let the cane age and dry for at least a couple of weeks before working with it.
“Green cane can make a bad blowgun because it can warp as it dries,” he said.
The next step is hollowing out the cane, which is complicated because river cane is a jointed plant, and the joints that connect each inside section are solid. There are several methods or ideas on how river cane was hollowed, but the modern method is to heat a rod of rebar and then push the heated metal down the cane’s chute until all joints are eliminated. Once this is completed, one can move on to making darts from wood and thistle.
CHC Diligwa villager Danny McCarter assisted with the dart-making segment of the class.
“First of all, you have to be sure you’re using a straight shaft so it’s unimpeded when traveling through the blowgun,” McCarter said. “Which is why now days, we use wooden shish-kabob skewers.”
Thistle grows wild locally and is used on the end of the dart for both propulsion and guidance. McCarter told the class that only the white downy part of the thistle is used on the end of the dart much like feathers at the end of an arrow. McCarter also said he uses a twine slightly heavier than thread to attach the thistle material to the dart.
“I’ve been doing this a long time. Steve and I can definitely show you how to make and use blow darts, which is why I hope more folks will sign up the class,” McCarter said.
CN citizen and blowgun student Sasha Bowles, who travels from Arkansas to CHC to take classes, said she attends because she enjoys learning Cherokee history and ways.
“These classes make me feel closer to my heritage,” she said.
For more information, visit www.cherokeeheritage.org
or call 918-456-6007.