The tools for starting a fire were essential to Native American life. Native American tribes used fire itself as a tool. They used it not only to cook their food and keep them warm but also to clear land for farming and hunting, to control pests, and even as a means of communication through smoke signals. The many fire-starting tools that different tribes employed document the range and significance of fire to the Native Americans.
One common Native American fire-starting tool used in the Southwest was the fire drill. The fire drill was a two-part tool consisting of a wooden stick and a piece of wood with a hole carved into it. The wooden stick was twirled rapidly around in the hole, and after a while, the friction would heat the stick and make a spark, which would land on a bunch of dried grass or crushed bark and start the fire.
Bow and Drill
The bow and drill were another set of Native American fire-starting tools similar to the fire drill. The bow and drill comprises a wooden bow with a thong secured to stick. The stick is attached to a fire-starting board with a hole in the bottom, as with a fire drill. The bow acts like a saw to push and twist the stick against the fire-starting board, creating enough friction to start a fire.
Historical accounts record the prevalence of using mineral stones to start fires among Native American tribes during the early 1600s. Native American men carried mineral stones in leather cases or pouches so that they could start a fire at a moment's notice. These "strike-a-light" pouches contained all the necessary material for starting a fire, and through the 1800s included steel, flint and matches.
Michelle Labbe has been writing online and for print since 2004. Her work has appeared in the online journals Reflection's Edge and Cabinet des Fées as well as in Harvard Book Store's anthology, "Michrochondria." She is pursuing a Master of Arts in publishing and writing at Emerson College.