The Flint Knapper

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Published on: Dec. 2, 1998

Last revision: Nov. 3, 2010

much variance at 20 yards. The steel points he used to shoot weigh about 125 grains, and his stone points are similar; he adds that the lighter ones may shoot a little high. He also makes arrowheads for practice shooting as well as hunting broadheads. When he hunts, he carries only stone points-there is no steel to fall back on.

He likes obsidian points because they are so sharp; he buys the obsidian in chunks or in sawed pieces.

"Many people here don't value flint knapping," Murphy says. "If a child wants one of my arrowheads, a parent may say, 'Oh, your dad has some of those in a shoe box at home.' But now and then you get someone who comes along and sees it in a different light, sees and understands the art of it. It's an artisan thing." He thinks the old ways of living are disappearing as the world becomes more caught up in technology. Murphy smiles when he says, "I think I'm becoming an antique."

Murphy displays his work at shows in Missouri, Illinois and Iowa. His pieces also are sold at shops in South Dakota and Italy. He says flint knapping is strictly a commercial business for him, and that he does not misrepresent his work. He doesn't want people to mistake it for archaeological artifacts, and he often uses exotic stones that anyone with a little knowledge of flint knapping would immediately recognize as modern and not primitive. "You can heat treat a knife blade, but no one would think it was authentic because primitive knife blades were never heated," he says.

"If I wanted to cheat, I could be getting $450 for a piece rather than $45. I avoid people I suspect of that; they don't get invited to Italy to demonstrate their art." Murphy says he is suspicious of customers looking for authentic pieces made of raw stone. He says most people buy his work just to display it at home. Knife collectors often want to have at least one stone knife among their collection of steel blades. Murphy urges people to use his pieces to hunt with as well as for show.

Tim Murphy is keeping alive an art form that helped humans thrive in a time when the only meat available for dinner was the meat you killed and dressed yourself. He hopes one day to help teach American Indians a craft that many have never encountered in their modern lives. With the gumption to move 8,000 pounds of rock with him on his journey through life, Murphy should have no problem with that task.

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