Fallen tree at Shawnee Indian Mission becomes raw material for Westwood bow maker

Shawnee Indian Mission
This hackberry tree fell at the Shawnee Indian Mission, so a local archer and bowyer decided to craft a few bows out of the wood.

After a tree fell at the Shawnee Indian Mission, one local resident decided to turn some of the wood into archery bows.

Randall “Hutch” Hutchison runs the primitive archery activities at Shawnee Indian Mission’s annual Fall Festival, which is set to return next month. So, when he saw that high-speed winds had toppled a massive hackberry tree in a thunderstorm several months ago near the Mission grounds, he hauled a limb home.

“It’s pretty impressive; it’s a big tree,” Hutchison said. “As they were processing the tree — and I drove by several times — it popped into my head that I should take one of the limbs and make a bow for the Mission as a ceremonial bow or a wall-hanger, as some people call them.”

Shawnee Indian Mission
Randall ‘Hutch’ Hutchison runs the archery activities each year at the Fall Festival at the Shawnee Indian Mission. Photo from Shawnee Indian Mission archives

The tree technically fell on the St. Agnes Catholic Parish property just east of the Mission, but the land was part of the historic Mission operations.

Hutchison, who lives in Westwood, said he makes bows from scratch as a hobby, often alongside his friend Tom Brown, another bowyer who lives in Overland Park. Bows are considered primitive when they’re made from 100 percent natural material such as wood, stone, sinew and corn.

Hutchison said he and Brown will model the two bows after the bow-making designs tribes that lived here. Once completed, the bows will be donated to Kathy Hamilton-Dix at the Mission. They will also make some arrows to go with the bow.

“We’re going to make a generic, Shawnee-style design bow fitting the Mission’s name and one of the biggest tribes that were pushed this way,” Hutchison said. “That’s kind of my idea: Make a bow from a tree right off the grounds where it fell.”

Bows are often made from oak, cherry and other harder woods, but the hackberry wood is more flexible and also easy to shape for a bow. Drying out the wood takes months, but once the water content in the wood is at 7 percent, he and Brown can finish crafting the bows in just a few days.

Shawnee Indian Mission
Last year’s archery activities at the Fall Festival at the Shawnee Indian Mission. Photo by Shawnee Indian Mission

“Hackberry (bows) are a quick, easy, functionable, usable, durable bow that you can make quicker than you can other bows,” Hutchison said.

Although festival-goers get to try out Hutchison and Brown’s handmade bows, these particular hackberry bows won’t be available for use. Hutchison said the bows will be “shootable,” but he and Brown don’t want amateur marksmen to try stringing or shooting it.

“We’ve learned from the past, we get someone that’s excited or very large and pulls the bow too far and breaks it, we don’t want that to happen,” he said.

Hutchison and Brown hope to finish the bows just in time for the 31st annual Fall Festival, set for Oct. 12-14 at the Shawnee Indian Mission State Historic Site, 3403 W 53rd St., Fairway.