Cornstalk shooters aim to keep tradition alive | Culture

TAHLEQUAH – As one of the youngest local cornstalk shooters, Jesse Grayson is already determined to pass on the tradition he learned growing up.

“What I’m doing is I’m trying to learn everything I can so that way I can keep passing it on,” the Cherokee Nation citizen said. “There’s not too many people who continue this tradition.”

Grayson, 31, of Tahlequah, is president of the Cherokee Cornstalk Shooters Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to preservation of the traditional Native American game. Established in 2001, the group currently attracts 12-15 shooters.

“I would say we’re rekindling that fire because we were a big group while we were shooting, but a lot of them have passed away, they’ve moved on,” Grayson said.

Looking to a younger generation, the organization elected Grayson as president in October.

“I was pretty adamant about getting back out here because COVID stopped a lot of it,” he said. “I don’t think we shot for a year because of it. After that, we’re trying to build back and we’ Every now and then we may get like a 7-year-old, an 8-year-old out here. We may get a teenager out here. But on a regular basis, I think I’m the youngest with the exception of one who comes out every once in a while. ”

Much of what Grayson learned was from his father, Webster, also a longtime cornstalk shooter, but there is still more to learn, he said.

“It’s just a tradition that we’ve kept alive for so long. It’s a lot of friendship and companionship out here,” he said.

While origins of the cornstalk shoot are unknown, the game uses custom, hand-made bows and arrows, and is a staple during the Cherokee National Holiday held each Labor Day weekend in Tahlequah.

“We do know the game of marbles is over 1,200 years old,” Grayson said. “The cornstalk shoot is actually older than that. There’s no specific date; we just know it’s older than that.”

As per the name, cornstalk shooting uses actual cornstalks as targets, placed on average 100 yards apart.

“As a group we cut the cornstalks down,” Grayson said. “We look for some that are a good diameter. We take all the husk and corn off it. Then we cut each cornstalk down to 3 feet and we stack them 3 feet. wide, 3 feet tall and 1 foot deep. Typically the arrows go about halfway into the stalks. ”

Cornstalk bows are typically made from bois d’arc trees, a skill cornstalk shooters hope to pass on, Grayson said.

“It goes by many names – Osage orange, hedge apple, yellow locust,” he said. “But a lot of people just know it as bois d’arc. The traditional bow is just the one-piece longbow. There’s no breaks in There. It’s all one piece of wood. Making that bow is a craft on its own, especially with that bois d’arc. It’s not forgiving. ”

Most arrows are made out of river cane, dogwood or cedar because of their light weight. They are tipped with metal shafts between 5 and 8 inches long instead of arrow tips or points.

“You can’t buy the cornstalk points,” Grayson said. “These actually have to be made. You can see where they were welded. That, I’m still learning how to do.”

The game’s goal is to penetrate as many cornstalks as possible for points. Archers from the Cherokee Cornstalk Shooters Society practice and compete at One Fire Field in an area they refer to as “The Shire.”

“The meaning of it was the place where traditions are continued. So since 2001, that’s what it’s been known as,” said Grayson, who hopes to pass the tradition on to his children, ages 12, 3 and 5 months.

“They sit out there and watch me while I work on a bow or making arrows,” he said. “I plan on getting them out here with me just like my father did. It was something I did when I was growing up, so I don’t want to be the generation where it dies out. ”

During the Cherokee National Holiday, the organization typically hosts a traditional shoot, youth shoot, primitive shoot and more. For more information, visit the group’s Facebook page called Thack, named after the sound an arrow makes when it hits a stack of cornstalks.

“Every so often we’ll go live when we’re shooting so people are still able to watch,” Grayson said. “We are always welcoming people to come out and learn about it. Our biggest thing is trying to get the youth,” getting that word out. ”

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