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Canebrakes: Missouri's Bamboo Forests

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Published on: Oct. 2, 2002

Last revision: Nov. 12, 2010

highly effective cane arrows. Some of those were used against Hernando De Soto's conquistadors. While in the southern part of North America, De Soto's men suffered 760 arrow wounds despite wearing armor and chain mail. One of De Soto's soldiers recorded the following observations in his journal:

"...the arrows are made of a certain cane, like reeds, very heavy, and so stiff that one of them when sharpened, will pass through a target. Some are pointed with a bone of a fish, sharp like a chisel, others with some stone like a point of diamond; of such the great number, when they strike upon the armor, break at the place where the parts are put together; those of cane will split, and will enter a shirt of mail doing more injury than when armed."

Most southern tribes, including the Osage and Quapaw, used cane arrows for hunting all manner of large game animals.

Small game were subject to cane projectiles too, but not in the form of arrows or spears. Indians crafted blowguns and blowgun darts from river cane. Sticks with burning ends and chert-tipped drills were used to hollow out the nodes to forge a blowgun. Heat was used to straighten the blow gun so it could deliver a dart accurately to a target.

Darts consisted of either hickory splints or a large section of cane split along its length and sanded to perfection. The ends were fletched with milkweed fluff and tipped with a small flint point. Today, these are known as bird points. Blowgun darts were used to kill rabbits, squirrels, grouse and other small game animals.

Cane had domestic functions, too. Huts made by Mississippian mound builders were framed with large log poles. Between those poles they strung a woven mat made of cane that was split lengthwise and coated the mat with a mud and-grass mixture. This process was called wattle and daub; cane was the wattle and mud, the daub. Archaeologists who find bits of daub can see the impressions of split cane, long since rotted or burned away.

Smaller diameter cane, known as switch cane (Arundinaria gigantea tecta), was often woven into mats for sleeping or as flooring. Switch cane grows to a height of four or five feet and has a diameter of about one-half inch. Splitting and soaking make the pieces pliable for woven cane seats and baskets. The Cherokee tribe is

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