Published March 26, 2016
LAWTON, OKLAHOMA—Eric Smith’s work makes a dramatic appearance very early in the award-winning movie, “The Revenant.” While you won’t see Smith’s face on screen, his work literally makes a big impact, because he made the arrows that slam into the fur traders’ camp as the Arikara warriors launch their violent attack.
Smith, a Chickasaw bowyer from Lawton, Oklahoma, also made the bows the warriors carry during several subsequent appearances in the film.
Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby said that Smith is helping revitalize an important part of Chickasaw culture.
“Bow making is an essential part of Chickasaw culture that has been passed down from generation to generation for centuries,” said Gov. Anoatubby. “It is gratifying to know that Eric Smith is practicing the craft he learned from his grandfather and passing that knowledge on to others.”
While Smith has been making Native American style bows and arrows for more than 30 years, shipping them to collectors, galleries and museums all over the world, this is the first time he has contributed to a major motion picture.
Smith said he had turned down a previous request from a filmmaker, because they didn’t understand his commitment to authenticity, adding that the makers of “The Revenant” showed more respect for Native American culture.
“What impressed me about the whole experience was they wanted everything to be historically accurate. I had to respect this project because they were wanting to represent Native people accurately by using the right equipment, the right tools.”
In his quest for historical accuracy, Smith used made the bows from Osage Orange and Black Locust wood. He used dogwood for the arrows and pre-1900 barrel hoops for the points. Animal sinew and turkey feathers were used for the fletching.
Soon after that project began, he received a request to make bows and arrows for the upcoming HBO series, “Lewis and Clark.”
While Smith enjoys working on the film projects, he didn’t seek out the jobs.
“It’s never been my goal to make bows and arrows for Hollywood,” said Smith. “And it was never my goal to make bows for people.
“But after I started making them, people would see my work and say, ‘I would like to have something like that, or my dad would like that.’ Then word kind of spread around so I started a website years and years ago.”
As the number of orders continued to grow, he began making bows and arrows full time. Since then, he has shipped bows to 50 states and 26 countries around the world.
That eventually led to the request to supply bows and arrows for “The Revenant.” Initially, he was somewhat skeptical.
“I received an email one day – I wasn’t sure if it was legit or not, but it said, ‘hey, we’re making a movie and we would like buy a bow and arrow from you to see it as a prototype.’”
After some discussion, he sent a bow and arrow representing the type used by the Arikara people in the 1820s. Working with assistant property master Michelle Hendriksen, he eventually sent 37 bows and 300 arrows to be used in the film.
It was a big order, but Smith was prepared because he cuts wood year round and had a stockpile of bow staves he could work with.
Smith and his apprentice worked 10 to 12 hours a day making bows of Bois d’arc and Black Locust and arrows of Dogwood for the project. After many of those long days, he would take his work home, often fletching the arrows with turkey feathers and animal sinew long into the night.