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- Indian Games - 1/9 -




"There are," says Father Brebeuf in his account of what was worthy of note among the Hurons in 1636, [Footnote: Relations des Jesuites, Quebec, 1858, p. 113.] "three kinds of games particularly in vogue with this people; cross, platter, and straw. The first two are, they say, supreme for the health. Does not that excite our pity? Lo, a poor sick person, whose body is hot with fever, whose soul foresees the end of his days, and a miserable sorcerer orders for him as the only cooling remedy, a game of cross. Sometimes it is the invalid himself who may perhaps have dreamed that he will die unless the country engages in a game of cross for his health. Then, if he has ever so little credit, you will see those who can best play at cross arrayed, village against village, in a beautiful field, and to increase the excitement, they will wager with each other their beaver skins and their necklaces of porcelain beads."

"Sometimes also one of their medicine men will say that the whole country is ill and that a game of cross is needed for its cure. It is not necessary to say more. The news incontinently spreads everywhere. The chiefs in each village give orders that all the youths shall do their duty in this respect, otherwise some great calamity will overtake the country."


In 1667, Nicolas Perrot, then acting as agent of the French government, was received near Saut Sainte Marie with stately courtesy and formal ceremony by the Miamis, to whom he was deputed. A few days after his arrival, the chief of that nation gave him, as an entertainment, a game of lacrosse. [Footnote: Histoire de l'Amerique Septentrionale par M. de Bacqueville de la Potherie, Paris, 1722, Vol. II, 124, _et seq._] "More than two thousand persons assembled in a great plain each with his cross. A wooden ball about the size of a tennis ball was tossed in the air. From that moment there was a constant movement of all these crosses which made a noise like that of arms which one hears during a battle. Half the savages tried to send the ball to the northwest the length of the field, the others wished to make it go to the southeast. The contest which lasted for a half hour was doubtful."

In 1763, an army of confederate nations, inspired by the subtle influence of Pontiac's master mind, formed the purpose of seizing the scattered forts held by the English along the northwestern frontier. On the fourth day of June of that year, the garrison at Fort Michilimackinac, unconscious of their impending fate, thoughtlessly lolled at the foot of the palisade and whiled away the day in watching the swaying fortunes of a game of ball which was being played by some Indians in front of the stockade. Alexander Henry, who was on the spot at the time, says that the game played by these Indians was "Baggatiway, called by the Canadians _le jeu de la Crosse._" [Footnote: Travels and Adventures in Canada, etc, by Alexander Henry, New York, 1809, p. 78, Travels through the Interior parts of North America, by Jonathan Carver, London, 1778, p. 19. The Book of the Indians, by Samuel G. Drake, Boston, 1811, Book V, Ch. III, p. 52.]

Parkman [Footnote: The Conspiracy of Pontiac, by Francis Parkman, Boston, 1870, Vol. 1, p. 339.] concludes a vivid description of the surprise and massacre of the garrison at Michilimackinac, based upon authentic facts, as follows: "Bushing and striking, tripping their adversaries, or hurling them to the ground, they pursued the animating contest amid the laughter and applause of the spectators. Suddenly, from the midst of the multitude, the ball soared into the air and, descending in a wide curve, fell near the pickets of the fort. This was no chance stroke. It was part of a preconcerted scheme to insure the surprise and destruction of the garrison. As if in pursuit of the ball, the players turned and came rushing, a maddened and tumultuous throng, towards the gate. In a moment they had reached it. The amazed English had no time to think or act. The shrill cries of the ball-players were changed to the ferocious war-whoop. The warriors snatched from the squaws the hatchets which the latter, with this design, had concealed beneath their blankets. Some of the Indians assailed the spectators without, while others rushed into the fort, and all was carnage and confusion."

Thus we see that the favorite game of ball of the North American Indians, known to-day, as it was in 1636, by the name of "lacrosse," was potent among them as a remedial exercise or superstitious rite to cure diseases and avert disaster; that it formed part of stately ceremonials which were intended to entertain and amuse distinguished guests; and that it was made use of as a stratagem of war, by means of which to lull the suspicions of the enemy and to gain access to their forts.

The descriptions of lacrosse which have been transmitted to us, would often prove unintelligible to one who had never seen the game played. The writers of the accounts which have come down to us from the early part of the seventeenth century were men whose lives were spent among the scenes which they described and they had but little time, and few opportunities for careful writing. The individual records though somewhat confused enable us easily to identify the game, and a comparison of the different accounts shows how thoroughly the main features of the game have been preserved.

Lacrosse is played to-day as follows: The number of players on the opposing sides should be equal. Regular stations are assigned in the rules for playing the game, for twelve on each side. Goals, each consisting of two upright posts or staffs, generally about six feet apart and of equal height, are planted at each end of the field. The length of the field and its bounds are determined by the character of the ground and the skill of the players. The effort of each side is to prevent the ball from passing through the goal assigned to its protection, and equally to try to drive it through the opposite goal. Under no circumstances can the ball be touched during the game, while within the bounds, by the hands of the players. Each player has a racket, the length of which, though optional, is ordinarily from four to five feet. One end of this racket or bat is curved like a shepherd's crook, and from the curved end a thong is carried across to a point on the handle about midway its length. In the space thus enclosed between the thong and the handle, which at its broadest part should not exceed a foot in width, a flat network is interposed. This forms the bat. It is with this that the player picks up and throws the ball used in the game, which should be about eight or nine inches in circumference. The ball is placed in the centre of the field by the umpire, and when the game is called, the opposing players strive to get possession of it with their rackets. The play consists in running with it and throwing it, with the design of driving it between the adversary's goal posts; and in defensive action, the purpose of which is to prevent the opponents from accomplishing similar designs on their part. As the wind or the sunlight may favor one side or the other on any field, provision is generally made for a change of goals during the match. The stations of the players and the minor rules of the game are unimportant in this connection.

The oldest attempt at a detailed description of the game is given by Nicolas Perrot who from 1662 to 1699 spent the greater part of his time as _coureur de bois_, trader, or government agent, among the Indians of the far West. It is of him that Abbe Ferland says, "Courageous man, honest writer and good observer, Perrot lived for a long time among the Indians of the West who were very much attached to him." His accounts of the manners and customs of the North American Indians have been liberally used by subsequent writers and as the part treating of games is not only very full but also covers a very early period of history, it is doubly interesting for purposes of comparison with games of a later day. He [Footnote: Memoire sur les Moeurs, Coustumes et Relligion des Sauvages de l'Amerique Septentrionale, par Nicolas Perrot, Leipzig et Paris, 1864, p. 43, _et seq._] says, "The savages have many kinds of games in which they delight. Their natural fondness for them is so great that they will neglect food and drink, not only to join in a game but even to look at one. There is among them a certain game of cross which is very similar to our tennis. Their custom in playing it is to match tribe against tribe, and if the numbers are not equal they render them so by withdrawing some of the men from the stronger side. You see them all armed with a cross, that is to say a stick which has a large portion at the bottom, laced like a racket. The ball with which they play is of wood and of nearly the shape of a turkey's egg. The goals of the game are fixed in an open field. These goals face to the east and to the west, to the north and to the south." Then follows a somewhat confused description of the method and the rules of the contest from which we can infer that after a side had won two goals they changed sides of the field with their opponents, and that two out of three, or three out of five goals decided the game.

Reading Perrot's description in connection with that given by de la Potherie of the game played before Perrot by the Miamis, helps us to remove the confusion of the account. Abbe Ferlande [Footnote: Cours d'Histoire du Canada, par J.B. Ferland, Quebec, 1861, Vol. I, p. 134.] describes the game. He was a diligent student of all sources of authority upon these subjects and was probably familiar with the modern game. His account of the Indian game follows that of Perrot so closely as to show that it was his model. It is, however, clear and distinct in its details, free from the confusion which attends Perrot's account and might almost serve for a description of the game as played by the Indians to-day. Perrot was a frontier-man and failed when he undertook to describe anything that required careful and exact use of language. We can only interpret him intelligently by combining his descriptions with those of other writers and applying our own knowledge of the game as we see it to-day. He is, however, more intelligible when he gets on more general ground, and after having disposed of the technicalities of the game, he proceeds: "Men, women, boys and girls are received on the sides which they make up, and they wager between themselves more or less according to their means."

"These games ordinarily begin after the melting of the ice and they last even to seed time. In the afternoon one sees all the players bedecked [Transcriber's Note: Lengthy footnote (1) relocated to chapter end.] and painted. Each party has its leader who addresses them, announcing to his players the hour fixed for opening the game. The players assemble in a crowd in the middle of the field and one of the leaders of the two sides, having the ball in his hands casts it into the air. Each one then tries to throw it towards the side where he ought to send it. If it falls to the earth, the player tries to draw it to him with his cross. If it is sent outside the crowd, then the most active players, by closely pursuing it, distinguish themselves. You hear the noise which they make striking against each other and warding off blows, in their strife to send the ball in the desired direction.

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