Conservation // 4 min Read

Living Primitive

Written by Palmetto Bluff

Jan 11, 2019

Dallas, North Carolina, is a sleepy town of a few thousand people between Gastonia and Charlotte. In 1977, it didn’t have much. But what it did have was arrowheads – thousands of them – scattered in the soil and trees of its forests, tiny reminders of a long-gone tradition of native hunting. As a child, that’s all James Parker needed.

He gathered them where he could, and before too long, he was making his own. Of course, you can’t do much with an arrowhead on its own, so young Parker started making his own bows and arrows, soaking up ancient knowledge from every book he could get his hands on. From Time Life’s series on the emergence of man, he learned flintknapping. “That’s the layman’s term for the scientific phrase ‘lithic reduction continuum,’” he said, “which is the making of stone tools.” If you ask him where he learned to make a bow, he’ll list off books written by J. B. Hunt, Jim Hamm, Dr. Charles Grayson, Adam Karpowicz, and more.

It’s a decidedly intellectual path to take toward a way of life that perished around the time such intellectual pursuits were born. But Parker soon realized he could only go so far on natural ability alone. “The first bow I made, my teacher still has that thing. I begged her for it back,” he said. “It’s pretty pitiful.”

Parker’s teachers encouraged his interest in primitive technology, with one history teacher even basing an entire lesson on it for the sole benefit of one student. As part of the lesson, the teacher showed a film on French flintknapper Francois Bordes plying his trade. “It was the first time I ever saw someone flintknapping,” Parker said. “When I saw that, I knew I was doing it wrong.”

His research would put him in the company of some of the leading experts in primitive living. Dr. Errett Callahan, considered one of the grandfathers of primitive technology, was an early mentor. It was during his workshops that Parker encountered a whole world of techniques for crafting everything from axes to knives using materials pulled from the ground. Another mentor was Steve Watts, who served as a prop maker on the film Cast Away and has written several books on how primitive man lived. He not only shepherded Parker through his journey from student to teacher, but he also introduced him to an entire way of life that harkens back to man’s roots. “He taught me everything that you would have to know to live in a primitive setting. It takes hundreds of skills,” he said. “Just making bows and arrows you’re going to starve. You have to know plant identification; how to make friction fires, baskets, clothes, and medicine; how to find water; how to hunt and trap. . . . This is how we lived for thousands of years, and then we just messed it up.”

Today, Parker is trying to bring back these old ways. Those who attended Palmetto Bluff’s Field + Fire will recall the large clutch of men standing off to one corner of the River House’s expansive lawn. They were there in awe of Parker and the array of historical bows and arrows at his table. There was the stick bow, the simple bent piece of wood employed by both Native Americans and English bowman. Then there were horn composite bows, the next great leap in weapons technology pioneered by the nomads of the Asiatic steppe. Crab bows, which look like curls of wood until contorted into deadly form by a rope. Bows from Egypt, Mongolia, and Greece, each with a different take on the design as the weapon marched toward modernity.

And with each piece, he told the story of how mankind’s march to modernity was defined by the weapons we used to hunt.

“Without this technology, there would be no compound bow. There would be no rifle,” he said. As his audience eyed the bows in rapt silence, he told of how these weapons evolved. How a Turkish prince once shot an arrow half a mile, a record for the longest projectile that would stand until the single-fire cartridge was invented. But that’s just how he preaches the gospel of man’s forgotten skills one person at a time. Beyond leading workshops like the one at Field + Fire, he teaches primitive living classes, guiding students through the basic survival skills we all once shared. He also teaches classes on making your own bow, giving hunters a chance to reconnect with that primitive euphoria that has been diminished by firearms technology.

“You’re at the top of your game when you make your own bow, arrow, and arrowhead and take game with it. You can’t top it,” he said, adding with a laugh. “The only way to top it is to jump on its back and knife it or bite it.”

And with each student who passes through his class, he helps preserve a way of life we’ve left behind.

“These skills used to be passed from family to family, from group to group,” he said. “Some of these skills were lost because they weren’t passed down, and now they’re long forgotten.”

But for those that remain, Parker is here to pass them on.

Photography by Krisztian Lonyai%GALLERY%

palmetto bluff builders

Architecture & Design / The Palmetto Bluff Builders Design Process

Behind the Design with Jason Kimes & Leighann Markalunas In the heart of the Lowcountry, where the gentle sway of Spanish moss-laden trees meets the tranquil embrace of the coast, lies a unique community: Palmetto Bluff. Their approach to home design capt...

Sep 2023

Food & Wine / Fall Recipes From Buffalos

Your Pine-ness Cocktail Recipe Before delving into the ingredients and recipe for Buffalos’ delectable Ricotta Meatballs and Sauce, it is imperative that the chef has an excellent cocktail for cooking. Pairing the sweetness of pineapple with the woody flavo...

Sep 2023
palmetto bluff neighborhoods

Real Estate / Waterfront Neighborhoods in Palmetto Bluff

Coastal Palmetto Bluff Neighborhoods Palmetto Bluff, a private community nestled along the South Carolina coastline, presents a harmonious blend of luxurious living, recreational spaces, and a vibrant atmosphere. The meticulously designed Palmetto Bluff neigh...

Sep 2023
wilson landing

Waterways / Behind the Bluff with Marina Captain: Thomas Shanahan

Meet Captain Tom of Palmetto Bluff’s Wilson Landing  In the tranquil embrace of Bluffton's Lowcountry, where rivers wind their way through nature's masterpiece, an extraordinary tale unfolds at Wilson Landing of Palmetto Bluff. The story belongs to Captain Th...

Sep 2023
luxury kitchen design

Architecture & Design / Designing the Southern Kitchen of Your Dreams

Your Guide to a Luxury Kitchen Design The kitchen has long been the heart of the home, where cherished memories are cooked up and shared. When it comes to Lowcountry living, a well-designed kitchen is not just a place to prepare meals but a space that encapsu...

Sep 2023
summer bucket list

Culture / Summer Activities to Check Off Your List Before the Fall

10 Activities You Have to Cross Off Your Summer Bucket List While the days are long and the sun hangs high in the sky, summer offers a golden opportunity to create lasting memories and partake in a variety of thrilling activities. Before the cooler breeze of ...

Sep 2023

Conservation / Water Way

Palmetto Bluff is an ecological wonderland, with its maritime forest and tidal rivers, its salt marsh and abundant wildlife. But perhaps one of the most unique features of this wedge of Lowcountry is the impressive inland waterway that wends through the landsc...

Aug 2023

Artist in Residence / Places Around Palmetto Bluff to Paint Plein Air

Plein Air Painting and Our August Artist in Residence Palmetto Bluff is a paradise for art enthusiasts and nature lovers alike with its breathtaking landscapes, diverse ecosystems, and serene atmosphere. With that being said, the Bluff is the perfect canvas f...

Aug 2023
coastal living

Waterways / Experience Health and Happiness By Living on the Coast

5 Health Benefits of Coastal Living Did you know that life by the coast is not only the most idyllic way to live, but it also improves your health? All in all, coastal living is a rejuvenating experience for the mind, body, and soul. From the cool, salty bree...

Aug 2023
south carolina lowcountry

Culture / 9 Enticing Facts About the Lowcountry

Discover the Charm of the South Carolina Lowcountry Where history and nature intertwine with effortless grace, the South Carolina Lowcountry is a region that allures visitors and residents alike with its timeless beauty, enchanting landscapes, and diverse cul...

Aug 2023
Community Villages
Palmetto Bluff Club
On The Water
The Arts Initiative
About Us