The Bowyer of Choctaw County
A life-long fascination with bows transforms primitive weapon to art
Story Slim Smith | Photographs Luisa Porter
Like most boys who grew up in the country, Bobby Cooper made his own bows and arrows.
Unlike most boys, Cooper never really stopped.
“I started out when I was about 8 years old, making bows with a hatchet and a butcher knife and shooting at goldenrod stems, birds, anything I could aim at.”
Today, you will still find him busy making bows in his workshop next to the home he has shared with his wife of 62 years, Mary Lou, for the past 59 years.
Cooper has an upright bearing, vitality, quick wit and steady hand that belie his 85 years. Unlike the crude hickory stick weapons he fashioned as a child, the bows he makes today are expertly crafted, uniquely designed bows that pay tribute to the ancient weapons of previous civilizations. He is particularly enamored of the English longbow, the weapon that proved essential to England’s victory over France in the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) and the Choctaw and other American Indian tribes that once dominated central Mississippi.
An accomplished painter — his professional-quality wildlife watercolors can be found throughout the Coopers’ home — Cooper makes bows that are not only functional, but elegant.
“I just always liked bows,” he said, matter-of-factly. “I’ve always admired them. After all these years, I’ve come to realize that bows have their own personalities, if you can believe that. No two are the same. That’s why I always say if you try out a bow and hit what you aim it at, you better stick with it.”
Cooper said each bow he makes involves a painstaking process of selecting the right piece of wood, curing the wood, and layer upon layer of lamination.
“It’s probably a five-day process,” he said.
Cooper said he became serious about bow-making when he chanced to meet a man named Curtis Pounds during a fishing trip. The men began to talk and the subject somehow turned to bow hunting.
Cooper, a state champion archer many times over, was intrigued by Pounds’ hobby of making bows.
“He wasn’t an educated man, but he had a lot of common sense,” Cooper said. “His bows were kind of crude, but they were very good. I guess I kind of got the bug from him.”
Cooper’s love of bows is the product of a combination of natural interests. He has lived in Ackerman since his family moved from Louisville when he was in the first grade and was immediately drawn to the woods and the adventures they held.
In fact, aside from a two-year stint in the military, he has called this part of the world his home ever since.
“When I was in the service, my wife and I found out we could get a furnished apartment for $75 per month. I was stationed in Louisiana and as a lieutenant, I was making around $500 per month, which was really good pay back then. Every time I got paid, I’d send $200 to my dad and tell him to buy land. Back then, you could buy land around here for $3 or $4 an acre. By the time I got out of service, I had bought a fair amount of land.”
Cooper raised Angus cattle and cultivated timber before turning over the business to his son.
His love of the outdoors, his interest in history — “I don’t read novels because I read to learn something” — and his natural talents as an artist have made his bows highly coveted pieces.
The bows are suitable for the close-range hunting he prefers — “The Indians didn’t worry about range; most of their targets were within 10 yards” — but are also delicately fashioned, beautiful works of art.
Most of the bows he makes these days are purchased by friends and acquaintances as gifts.
He keeps about 50 in his home, a few others in his workshop.
And while the bows he makes now are a far cry from those he made more than 75 years ago as a young boy, one thing remains a constant:
“I just always loved bows,” he said. “I think all boys do. Maybe it’s in our genes or something.”