Butch Stone, a longtime Douglas County resident, creates an arrowhead in his shop.
Well-worn fingers, seeing something yet to be, grasp the smooth piece of stone. They know how to transform it — simple, yet heavy with potential — into an arrowhead. After all, those fingers belong to Butch Stone, a Douglas County arrowhead artist, who perches upon a wooden chair as he works.
Tool in hand, Stone issues a continuous crack-crack-crack as he steadily pounds the stone into shape. Eventually, he holds the emerging triangle-shaped tip, checking the edge with his thumb. To keep it from breaking, it’s important to know where to work — and when to stop.
Those arrowheads aren’t Stone’s only creations. He also shows primitive bows, stung tight with string, that he’s made and have helped him get five deer. But while such items are still used to hunt, Stone says these days they also go beyond survival.
“I’m not sure they really like me, some of ‘em,” says Stone of other flint knappers, as arrowhead makers are traditionally known. “Because I said, ‘We’re not makin’ tools. It’s become art.’ And it has.”
In the 25 years Stone has been creating these works of art, he’s lost track of how many arrowheads have passed his hands. But it all began with a challenge given by Stone’s father.
Stone uses a technique called “percussion” to form an arrowhead.
Stone’s workshop is nestled next to his home, found at the dead end of a gravel, tree-guarded road deep in Douglas County. Its backdrop, comprised of vibrant hills of green, tell of spring.
But a recent Saturday, fickle in typical Ozarks fashion, has turned crisply chilly. It’s cool enough to welcome the tiny curl of smoke escaping the chimney of Stone’s workshop, where he’s getting ready to craft a new arrowhead.
Time and repetition has made the Douglas County man extremely familiar with both bows and arrows. His father even made him his very own bow — and the first thing he killed was one of his mother’s chickens. “She never did know it,” laughs Stone of the forever-kept secret.
However, the younger Stone didn’t make the leap into creating bows and arrows until adulthood. It came after a challenge issued from his father around 25 years ago, give or take.
“My dad, he hated compound bows, and he said, ‘Why don’t you make a real bow and kill a deer?’” recalls Stone. “And I did, before he passed away.”
Stone says that “real” bows — also referred to as primitive — are made with all-natural materials. These days, he also notes they’re much less popular than compound models.
“You go to Bass Pro Shops, and (compound bows) are lined up just as far as you can see,” says Stone. In contrast, “you can carry the primitive, all they got, in your hands ‘cause it don’t sell.”
The difference, Stone says, is ease of use. “It takes a lot to learn to use primitive equipment,” he explains, and also says that the challenge also comes through in their creation, which in primitive models requires a balance of compression and tension.
“The best way I can explain it: Imagine your bow is full of little people, and they’re all looking for a weak spot to get out,” he says. “If there’s a weak spot on your bow, every one of them wants to jump on it.”
Stone can sell his bows for between $350 and $500 each, a low price tag when one considers the months of time and work that’s invested into each one. For example, he could work with wood that’s been seasoned for six months, he says, “but it’s never going to be a good as wood that’s been sitting in the corner for three years.”
Digging into history
Arrowheads, on the other hand, are much quicker to make. They can be realized in a matter of minutes, the flint knapper preserving tradition with each and every one. However, Stone says there’s one person he especially credits with keeping the tradition alive.
“My hero, and always has been, is Ishi,” says Stone of the Native American man, who in the early 1900s was said to be the last member of the Yahi tribe. The rest of its members were eradicated, seemingly with no less remorse than eliminating feral animals. “They hunted his people just like we hunt varmint,” says Stone.
Ishi, believed to be alone, eventually emerged from the California wilderness in 1911. He quickly became a subject of fascination for scientists and the general public alike, and spent the rest of his life demonstrating and teaching about nearly lost customs. He died in 1916, after contracting tuberculous.
“I’m quite sure, if it wasn’t for him, there wouldn’t be flint knappers or bow huntin’ today,” says Stone.
Stone’s home is decorated with a variety of arrowheads of different styles and material.
In his years of experience, Stone has produced arrows from a variety of stones including Texas flint and obsidian. The latter, however, isn’t one he works with much these days.
“I’ve got a lot of obsidian, but they’ve got me on blood thinners,” he says, which is problematic. “You play with obsidian, you bleed.”
There are a variety of styles, too, which typically correspond to different time periods. Who knows, however, how far back arrowheads as a whole fly into the past.
“You hear all kinds of theories,” he says. “I like that, ‘cause you’re never wrong. It’s just a theory to begin with.”
Looking back, Stone says that his favorite part of the process is teaching others about the tradition of bows and arrows — especially local children. “Apparently, arrowheads intrigue everybody,” he says.
Tying to tradition
Continuing tradition has long been part of Stone’s own life in other ways as well. “My family’s been here since who-knows-when,” says Stone. “I don’t have a clue. I know my great-grandma, they come out of Arkansas.”
Stone recalls his father’s childhood home, not that far away, complete with loopholes on the second story in case one needed to shoot something. He also remembers tales his father told about two trunks in the attic, containing letters from England — ones he used to practice reading.
“He said they were wrote in that real fancy scroll,” says Stone, voicing disappointment that such things weren’t saved. “It’s all gone. Just rotted.”
However, Stone does have a memento he ties to his Ozarks past. It’s a glass arrowhead, light blue in color, that today hangs from his living room’s ceiling fan.
“Me and my buddy was arrowhead huntin’, and he picked that up,” says Stone of the glass, which was found on family land. He wondered if it might’ve been part of one of his grandmother’s canning jars — and the possibility led him to create an arrowhead from it.
“I like to think she had that jar,” says Stone. “Maybe she did, maybe she didn’t. But I still like to think that.”
Now 72 years old, save a brief period after birth and stint in the service during the Vietnam War, Stone has lived all of his his life so far in the same four-mile area. “I’ve been around, but I can’t find nothing that I like any better,” he says.
He grew up going to the Bertha School, a one-room facility near Gentryville. After a few months of high school classes in Ava, he decided there were better ways to spend his time than in a classroom, and ended his days of book learning.
He spent those early years working at the local sawmill, coon hunting and trapping — and once he got the hang of the latter, it was a skill he carried for years. “A good raccoon would bring $35 to $40,” he says, noting days when fur buyers specifically came through the area. “Now, last year, you couldn’t even give them away.”
All in the family
The road to the Stones’ home.
Stone came to own the rolling homestead decades ago, after purchasing it from an extended family member. “I thought this was the prettiest place I’d ever seen, and (told the owner) if she ever decided to sell, I wanted first shot at it.”
He got that first shot, and built the home he and his wife, Dawn, live in today. Tucked away from the world, the destination is seemingly in one of its own. Goats, sheep, dogs and chickens contentedly wander the nearby slopes. Serenely silent, the soul-calming solitude is broken only the river-like creek, crisp and clear and rushing on its way.
It’s a homestead one can visit if the Lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise.
This no-name branch of water, along with another nearby spring, flow through the Stone’s front yard.
“It is a different world here,” says Dawn Stone, recognizing what they have is special. But it’s something that seems to have an expiration date.
“It’s coming to an end fast,” says Stone. “The big land grabbers are snatching up all the land. To me, they are.”
That’s why, when the Stones found out they would soon border Bryant Creek State Park, they were relieved.
“I’m tickled to death,” says Stone. “I hope it stays that way. I’d much rather look over at that then see a mansion go up on top of the hill and look down at my yard.”
Because, for the Stones, their home is an oasis in an ever-changing world. One that represents what some might say is a simple life — but one, to the Stones, is simply wonderful. One that’s filled with work, yes, but the kind that rewards with satisfaction and contentedness: Things that Stone says might contrast with what the modern world’s definition of success.
“I never really wanted nothing. I’ve always been content. You know, whatever we had was fine,” says Stone, pausing. “But that makes you a failure.”
Not, perhaps, to everyone.