By Amber Johnson —
We are living at a point in time with so much technology and so many amenities that it leaves little room for imagination and fantasy about survival in the past. Most of us turn to the TV, our phones or the Internet for nostalgia.
Nevertheless, I am still guilty of playing a game of pretend and letting my crazy imagination roam. Enjoying a good movie like “Wonder Woman” or “Hunger Games” never hurt a gal’s aspirations, either. After all, surely if we lived in the past, we also would have had the potential to be a warrior princess, fighting alongside men in battle and war.
In May my boyfriend and I set out to hike the Grand Canyon’s South Rim. After receiving input from fellow hikers, I determined that we would descend via the South Kiabab Trail. Our intentions were to spend the first day hiking a few out-and-back recommended trails.
So, on Day 1 we descended lower and lower into the Grand Canyon. We reached what was to be our turn-around spot, Skeleton Point, where we stopped to snack and rehydrate in the increasing heat.
“Hey, look!” I declared. “You can see the Colorado River from here. It looks like it isn’t too much further. We should totally go to the river!”
“Hon,” my boyfriend, Brad, replied, “we are not going to the bottom. Just think of all the effort it took to get to the bottom. It’ll be twice as much work to ascend back to the top. I think it is wise to just turn around and return to the rim.”
I started chuckling out loud.
“What’s so funny?” he asked.
“Gee, in the mythical Greek times, you would have to prove your strength to be worthy of my courtship and hand,” I answered in a haughty tone. “Don’t be a pansy! Let’s go to down to the Colorado River!”
I continued to pressure him coyly.
“Be my Hippomenes!”
His look told me he was not interested.
In her book Lives and Legends of Warrior Women Across the Ancient World, historian and author Adrienne Mayor tells of Atalanta, the Greek Amazon woman with tremendous strength and archery skills. Atalanta’s father could not tolerate his brave and heroic daughter’s unwed state. He insisted she marry.
In turn, Atalanta demanded a high-stakes contest. She would wed only the man who could defeat her in a footrace, but she would kill with her spear every man who lost the race.
The tale goes on to describe how the athletic, radiant Atalanta was so desirable that many young men eagerly lined up to race her, even though the penalty for losing was instant death. Many lost their lives.
Finally, a man named Hippomenes used some trickery but won the race. Atalanta consented to be his mate, and the myth goes on to say the couple spent their days as hunting companions and lovers.
I am pleased to state that my Grand Canyon insistence paid off, as well. While finishing his snack, Brad struck up a conversation with a fast-walking, wirily older man who was on a mission.
“I’m going for a personal record — South Rim to the river and back,” the man stated. “I’ve done it a dozen times or so now.”
So, with renewed energy and determination, Brad led us downward, conquering many switchbacks until we finally could celebrate in the cold waters of the breathtaking Colorado River. The details of our ascent that same day on the Bright Angel Trail is a comical story for another time, but needless to say, I declared Brad my Hippomenes after all!
The historical reality of Amazon-like women who were contemporaries of the ancient Greeks is now fully documented by archaeological and DNA-tested evidence. Ruins and tombs have been uncovered in countries from Bulgaria to Mongolia, and the evidence is mounting that skilled, armed women were indeed a reality.
Tombs and graves have been discovered with heavily decorated warrior women complete with their horses, arrows and quivers. The archaeological record proves beyond doubt that hunter-warrior horsewomen were a historical reality across a great expanse of land, from the western Black Sea to northern China, for more than a thousand years. These women did not shirk combat and had excellent aim.
Nowadays, most of the wars we see are viewed on social media or from the comforts of our living room. However, if war was coming to my hometown, I still would want to recruit a few good archers for my next encounter with the enemy. In fact, I can think of three generations of women from the Meisenheimer family that I would select for my protection and mentorship because, in my opinion, they are modern-day versions of Atalanta — they are warrior women.
I met these women during Fall 2015 at the South Dakota Becoming an Outdoors Woman weekend following my build-a-bow session. I had carved my very own bow, which was measured to have a 40-pound draw. Unfortunately, I was a hot mess at the target range. Turns out I was a right-hand-dominant gal with a lazy right eye who was also left-eye dominant.
Now I’m able to look back and laugh at the bruising on my forearm and all three women coming to my shooting zone with advice and various “lefty” bows to get me straightened out. I was lucky to meet them, so I thought I’d give you a chance to meet them here and learn how you, too, can learn to master archery.
Skip Meisenheimer, is 78 years old, yet she still crawls up into a treestand. Grandma Skip was one of the first female archery hunters in the state of South Dakota. She started with a custom bow made to fit her frame. She has taught archery for over 50 years. She taught at the very first South Dakota BOW event and was a founding member of the Outdoor Women of South Dakota. Presently, she teaches archery in Watertown for the summer recreation programs, 4H programs, Camp Chance for Youth and more.
Next is Skip’s daughter-in-law, Jackie Meisenheimer. Jackie received her first bow at age 19 when she married into archery. For the first year she shot targets, but quickly moved from targets into hunting. Jackie has competed in archery tournaments at the state, sectional and national level for over 30 years. During competition, she always competed “bare-bowed” without using a sight or release.
Jackie has two daughters, Laci and Jodi Meisenheimer, who have handled bows since they were 2 or 3 years old.
“Grandma Skip would make blinds behind the trees with tree branches and a blanket,” Laci said. “Grandma had a secret pass code, where if either my sister or I spotted a deer, we would tap Grandma. She wanted us to learn to be very quiet and not talk. She always took a book with, too.”
Today, Laci continues to compete in 3D tournaments and enjoys hunting deer, antelope, elk and turkey. She eventually taught her boyfriend archery, and he loves hunting with the girls. Jodi enjoys bowhunting but also has a knack for bowfishing.
Jodi now has a son named Kaiden, and he was first introduced to archery when he was 2 years old. When Jackie’s husband passed away a year and a half ago, Kaiden, who is now 12 years old, firmly stated he wanted Grandma Skip, and no one else, to take him on a mentored deer hunt. So, on her birthday, Grandma Skip helped Kaiden kill his first deer. Since then, the ladies have also taken him antelope hunting, thanks to a widowed rancher out west that continues to invite the ladies out as long as they share a glass of wine with her at the end of the day.
For those of you dreaming of turning yourself into a warrior women like the Meisenheimers, they had some suggestions. For starters, they firmly believe your first bow should be purchased from a pro shop where the staff can get you fitted for an entry-level bow. Most manufacturers have entry-level bows that cost around $400. If it becomes something you really enjoy, then you can step it up and rely on professional help to get you ready for archery hunting.
If you plan on hunting in South Dakota, you will need to complete a bowhunting safety course. They are offered by the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department both online or in a classroom setting. A bowhunting safety course is not required in North Dakota, but the state does require all hunters ages 12 and over to have a hunter education certificate to purchase a license.
The women also suggested taking lessons. There are adult programs offered across the Dakotas by organizations like the Minnehaha Archers, a nonprofit group in Sioux Falls that has been around since 1952. For youth, 4H programs have archery components, and some schools have implemented the National Archery in the Schools Program, or NASP, which is an in-school program aimed at improving educational performance among students in grades 4-12. Through NASP, students are learning focus, self-control, discipline and patience along with some lessons required for success in the classroom and in life. You also can search for local and state archery clubs, with many found on social media, too.
What these ladies want to stress is that archery can be a lifelong, enjoyable hobby. It’s an activity that doesn’t discriminate based on popularity, athletic skill, gender, size or academic ability. The V.A. even offers an adaptive archery program.
These women have many fond memories and make archery a part of their everyday lives. At Easter, they set up Easter egg targets and take aim. They even gather the neighbors out back and shoot just for fun. But the memories are what keep them going, and they shared some of their favorites with me.
“About 20 years ago I was deer hunting in our ‘secret’ area up north,” Jackie recalled. “All of a sudden, probably 70-80 deer came across our positions from both sides of the trees. I emptied my whole quiver and didn’t hit a single deer. I was running out and picking up arrows to reshoot, but they literally knocked the arrow off my bow because they were so close.”
Another Meisenheimer rule is whoever gets the deer buys the beer, and Laci said she carries a bottle of Boone’s Farm wine in her hunting backpack.
“The rule for myself and my hunting companions is that we can’t crack open the wine until the first harvest,” Laci said. “One trip I carried that wine around for over six hours. We shot a deer and couldn’t find it. I guess it won’t go bad in my backpack because it already tastes awful to start with!”
Now that’s the Amazon spirit! Don’t these ladies motivate you to become a real flesh and blood warrior? What are you waiting for? You’re never too old to try something new!
Stay tuned for my next column when we will celebrate the month of October and South Dakota’s 100th official pheasant season. I’m going to introduce you to one woman named Maggie and her expertise with hunting our state’s favorite game bird.
About the Author: Amber Johnson is a freelance writer and avid outdoors woman.