Local becomes arrowhead craftsman

Published 12:04 am Sunday, May 17, 2015

John Tuttle sits with different examples of arrowheads and knives he has made in the same fashion Native Americans did. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

John Tuttle sits with different examples of arrowheads and knives he has made in the same fashion Native Americans did. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — The cracking sounds of rock beneath John Tuttle’s feet are the sweetest sounds in the world to the Natchez resident. Tuttle, 68, makes his way out into his backyard where his shed is dedicated to nothing but his hobby for more than 50 years — arrowhead making.

Tuttle, who moved to Natchez when he was 8, said his first encounter with an arrowhead came as a child.

“We were out on Kingston Road, and this man had a swingset and I was swinging and looked down and there was an arrowhead. That was the first one I ever found and I was fascinated with it,” Tuttle said. “I asked my dad and many people how they made them and I heard a bunch of stories about it.”

And so his learning process began.

“I was so interested in how people could take a rock and make it into such a beautiful piece of art,” he said. “I just kept experimenting myself and when I became a teenager I finally figured out how to use a hammer stone, and I started making points from there.”

A few years later, Tuttle found himself in Texas learning from one of the biggest arrowhead makers he knew.

“He was making just beautiful arrowheads,” Tuttle said. “He showed me a lot of what he was doing and I was able to learn and use what he taught me.”

At one time in his life, Tuttle was making arrowheads for a living, which gave him an opportunity to travel the southern half of the country.

“I was getting rock out of Texas, Tennessee, Louisiana, Georgia and other southern states,” he said. “I would drive out to Dallas and come back with 2,000 pounds of rock in the back of my truck.”

Tuttle said he would use up to 8,000 pounds of rock a year when he was working full-time.

“I was able to make thousands and thousands of arrowheads with that rock,” he said.

Surprisingly, Tuttle said the process of actually making an arrowhead is shorter than most people expect.

“It really just depends on the size of the rock,” he said. “I can make a big arrowhead faster than a little one because the little ones are so hard to handle, but I would say if you want to make a really nice point, it would take around 15-20 minutes.”

Tuttle said injury is just part of the deal, but after practicing and taking a countless amount of blows to his hands, he almost has it mastered.

“It probably took about a year before I got comfortable,” he said. “ But people always ask me how long it takes for them to learn it, and I can’t answer that question. How long is it going to take someone to be good at baseball or tennis or shooting pool?”

Ultimately, he said it comes down to reading angles and knowing where to strike the rock.

“The whole deal is angles,” he said. “You use half of a circle to make arrowheads and you use any angle that is in that half of a circle. The greater the angle, the less material you would remove. If you hit straight down, you’ll only remove a little bit. If you come in on a 45, you’ll move more.”

Tuttle is now retired, but said he still works on arrowheads about two hours a day and still occasionally has customers come through and place orders. But for now, he is just enjoying a hobby he’s had his whole life.

“I guess this never gets boring because every rock is a challenge,” he said. “You know what point you want, but the challenge is to make it come out perfect that size, shape and design. It is like meditation. All your problems and worries go away because you are constantly concentrating because if you hit just 1/16 off, you’ll break that rock. You’ve got to have perfect aim.”