Cornstalk Shooting

Contestants shoot 80 yards from the target, and after all have shot, the archers walk the range to the cornstalk rack to count their scores. The score is determined by how many cornstalks the arrow pierces. After the scores are counted, the archers line up again, reverse the field and shoot the rack at the other end of the field.

The procedure is repeated until one of the archers reaches a total of 50 points.The cornstalk rack is a stack of stripped and cleaned cornstalks laid horizontally, 3 feet wide, 3 feet high and 12 inches deep. Four small vertical poles that are lashed together across the top for support hold the cornstalk rack.

Accuracy and strength is required to have the arrows penetrate the rack as horizontally as possible. The strength of the pull determines whether the arrow has enough velocity to pierce the tough woody fiber of the cornstalk.

"The Indian Pioneer Papers" are the product of a project which began in 1936. The Oklahoma Historical Society teamed with the history department at the University of Oklahoma to obtain a Works Progress Administration (WPA) writers' project grant for an interview program. The program was headquartered in Muskogee and was led by Grant Foreman. The writers conducted more than 11,000 interviews and after editing and typing the work, the results were over 45,000 pages long. The following excerpt is from the interview of Adam Bean of Stilwell.

"This game was known to the Cherokees for many years and was a great gambling game in the early days, according to the older Cherokees. The origin and date of the game are not known but it is still a great sport among the Cherokees. However, the younger generation do not shoot stalks as the Cherokees did forty or fifty years ago. The stalk ground was usually about a hundred and fifty yards long; smooth land and soft dirt. There was not any limit as to the number of members in a team, and I have shot in games where there were fifty men on a side.

The stalks were piled just exactly one hundred yards apart; these piles being three feet long, two feet thick and about three feet high. The big games were matched weeks in advance, so that the event could be noted throughout the country. Many people came from miles around to see the games and betting took place when the games started.

The members of the teams usually represented two or more communities, as the best shooters were chosen from several teams and made one team. After the teams were chosen the 'witcher' was chosen by the 'matcher.' The day before the game the chosen shooters began to come to the appointed place, often coming many miles. The matcher of the game and his backers or the gamblers furnished the food, which was usually cooked near the camp grounds.

Every member of the team was not always allowed to shoot, even though he had been chosen, for if the witcher for the team discovered that a member of the team was weak another player was chosen. The witcher was a smart man. He could sure tell if the team was going to win or lose.

The bows the payers used were made from bois d'arc and the arrows were made from black locust. The spears were made from wagon seat springs, the length of these spikes being from eight to eighteen inches.

Some of the old timers who shot with me [included] Johnson Tyler, George Soap, Sam Foreman, Isaac Hummingbird, Henry Walkingstick, Bill Downing, Alex Downing, William Shell, Riley Ragsdale, Ben Squirrel, John Rider, Tom Swimmer, Fixin Blackbird, William England and Toch Ketcher."

- Adam Bean, from "The Indian Pioneer Papers".

Information provided by the Cherokee Nation Cultural Resource Center. For information regarding culture and language, please contact: culture@cherokee.org.