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- Indian Games - 2/9 -


When one of them holds the ball between his feet, it is for him, in his unwillingness to let it go, to avoid the blows which his adversaries incessantly shower down upon his feet. Should he happen to be wounded at this juncture, he alone is responsible for it. It has happened that some have had their legs broken, others their arms and some have been killed. It is not uncommon to see among them those who are crippled for life and who could only be at such a game by an act of sheer obstinacy. When accidents of this kind happen, the unfortunate withdraws quietly from the game if he can do so. If his injury will not permit him, his relations carry him to the cabin and the game continues until it is finished as if nothing bad happened."

"When the sides are equal the players will occupy an entire afternoon without either side gaining any advantage; at other times one of the two will gain the two games that they need to win. In this game you would say to see them run that they looked like two parties who wanted to fight. This exercise contributes much to render the savages alert and prepared to avoid blows from the tomahawk of an enemy, when they find themselves in a combat. Without being told in advance that it was a game, one might truly believe that they fought in open country. Whatever accident the game may cause, they attribute it to the chance of the game and have no ill will towards each other. The suffering is for the wounded, who bear it contentedly as if nothing had happened, thus making it appear that they have a great deal of courage and are men."

"The side that wins takes whatever has been put up on the game and whatever there is of profit, and that without any dispute on the part of the others when it is a question of paying, no matter what the kind of game. Nevertheless, if some person who is not in the game, or who has not bet anything, should throw the ball to the advantage of one side or the other, one of those whom the throw would not help would attack him, demanding if this is his affair and why he has mixed himself with it. They often come to quarrel about this and if some of the chiefs did not reconcile them, there would be blood shed and perhaps some killed."

Originally, the game was open to any number of competitors. According to the Relation of 1636, "Village was pitted against village." "Tribe was matched against tribe," says Perrot. The number engaged in the game described by La Potherie [Footnote: Vol. II, p. 126.] was estimated by him at two thousand. LaHontan [Footnote: Memoires de L'Amerique Septentrionale, ou la Suite des Voyages de Mr. Le Baron de LaHontan, Amsterdam, 1705, Vol. II, p. 113.] says that "the savages commonly played it in large companies of three or four hundred at a time," while Charlevoix [Footnote: Histoire de la Nouvelle France. Journal d'un Voyage. etc, par le P. de Charlevoix, Paris, 1744, Vol. III, p. 319.] says the number of players was variable and adds "for instance if they are eighty," thus showing about the number he would expect to find in a game. When Morgan [Footnote: League of the Iroquois, by Lewis H. Morgan, Rochester, 1851, p. 294.] speaks of six or eight on a side, he must allude to a later period, probably after the game was modified by the whites who had adopted it among their amusements. [Transcriber's Note: Lengthy footnote (2) relocated to chapter end.]

Our earliest accounts of the game as played by the Indians in the south are about one hundred years later than the corresponding records in the north. Adair [Footnote: The History of the American Indians, particularly those Nations adjoining to the Mississippi, etc, by James Adam, London, 1775, p. 399.] says the gamesters are equal in number and speaks of "the crowd of players" preventing the one who "catches the ball from throwing it off with a long direction." Bossu [Footnote: Travels through that Part of North America formerly called Louisiana, by Mr. Bossu, Captain in the French Marines. Translated from the French by John Hemhold Forster, London, 1771, Vol. I, p. 304.] says, "they are forty on each side," while Bartram [Footnote: Travels through North and South Carolina, etc., by William Bartram, Philadelphia, 1701, p. 508.] says, "the inhabitants of one town play against another in consequence of a challenge." From this it would seem that among those Indians, as at the North, the number of players was governed only by the circumstances under which the game was played.

The ball, originally of wood, [Footnote: La Potherie, Vol. II, p. 126; Perrot, p. 44.] was replaced by one made of deer skin. Adair gives the following description of its manufacture: "The ball is made of a piece of scraped deerskin, moistened, and stuffed hard with deer's hair, and strongly sewed with deer's sinews." [Footnote: p. 400.]

According to Morgan the racket has undergone a similar change, from a curved wooden head to the curved stick with open network, but we have seen in the earliest description at our command, that in the days of Perrot the cross was "laced like a racket." [Footnote: League of the Iroquois. p. 298; Perrot p. 44.]

The game was played not only by the Indians of our Coast, but Powers [Footnote: Contributions to North American Ethnology, Vol. III, p. 151. Tribes of California by Stephen Powers; The same game is described among the Meewocs in The Native Races of the Pacific States by H. H. Bancroft, Vol. I, p. 393.] found it also among the Californian Indians. He describes a game of tennis played by the Pomo Indians in Russian River Valley, of which he had heard nothing among the northern tribes. "A ball is rounded out of an oak knot as large as those used by school boys, and it is propelled by a racket which is constructed of a long slender stick, bent double and bound together, leaving a circular hoop at the extremity, across which is woven a coarse meshwork of strings. Such an implement is not strong enough for batting the ball, neither do they bat it, but simply shove or thrust it along the ground."

Paul Kane [Footnote: Wanderings of an Artist among the Indians of North America by Paul Kane, p. 190; H. H. Bancroft's Native Races, Vol. I, p. 244.] describes a game played among the Chinooks. He says "They also take great delight in a game with a ball which is played by them in the same manner as the Cree, Chippewa and Sioux Indians. Two poles are erected about a mile apart, and the company is divided into two bands armed with sticks, having a small ring or hoop at the end with which the ball is picked up and thrown to a great distance, each party striving to get the ball past their own goal. They are sometimes a hundred on a side, and their play is kept up with great noise and excitement. At this play they bet heavily as it is generally played between tribes or villages."

Domenech [Footnote: Seven Years' Residence in the Great Deserts of North America by the Abbe Em. Domenech, Vol. II, pp. 192, 193.] writing about the Indians of the interior, calls the game "cricket," and says the players were costumed as follows: "Short drawers, or rather a belt, the body being first daubed over with a layer of bright colors; from the belt (which is short enough to leave the thighs free) hangs a long tail, tied up at the extremity with long horse hair; round their necks is a necklace, to which is attached a floating mane, dyed red, as is the tail, and falling in the way of a dress fringe over the chest and shoulders. In the northwest, in the costume indispensable to the players, feathers are sometimes substituted for horse hair." He adds "that some tribes play with two sticks" and that it is played in "winter on the ice." "The ball is made of wood or brick covered with kid-skin leather, sometimes of leather curiously interwoven." Schoolcraft describes the game as played in the winter on the ice. [Footnote: Schoolcraft's North American Indians, Vol. II, p. 78. See also Ball-play among the Dicotis, in Philander Prescott's paper, Ibid, Vol. IV, p. 64.]

It will be observed that the widest difference prevails in the estimate of the distance apart at which the goals are set. Henry, in his account of the game at Michilimackinac says "they are at a considerable distance from each other, as a mile or more." Charlevoix places the goals in a game with eighty players at "half a league apart" meaning probably half a mile. LaHontan estimates the distance between the goals at "five or six hundred paces." Adair, [Footnote: Henry, p. 78 Chulevoix Vol. III, p. 319, Kane's Wanderings, p. 189, LaHontan, Vol. II, p. 113; Adair, p. 400.] who is an intelligent writer, and who was thoroughly conversant with the habits and customs of the Cherokees, Choctaws, and Chicasaws estimates the length of the field at "five hundred yards," while Romans [Footnote: A concise Natural History of East and West Florida, by Capt Bernard Romans New York, 1770, p. 79.] in describing the goals uses this phrase "they fix two poles across each other at about a hundred and fifty feet apart." Bossu [Footnote: Vol. I, p. 104 Similarly, Pickett (History of Alabama, Vol. I, p. 92) describes a game among the Creeks in which there was but one goal consisting of two poles erected in the centre of the field between which the ball must pass to count one. He cites "Butram," and the "Narrative of a Mission to the Creek Nation by Col. Mammus Willet," is his authorities neither of them sustains him on this point.] speaks as if in the game which he saw played there was but a single goal. He says "They agree upon a mark or aim about sixty yards off, and distinguished by two great poles, between which the ball is to pass."

The goals among the northern Indians were single posts at the ends of the field. It is among the southern Indians that we first hear of two posts being raised to form a sort of gate through or over which the bull must pass. Adair says, "they fix two bending poles into the ground, three yards apart below, but slanting a considerable way outwards." The party that happens to throw the ball "over these counts one; but if it be thrown underneath, it is cast back and played for as usual." The ball is to be thrown "through the lower part" of the two poles which are fixed across each other at about one hundred and fifty feet apart, according to Romans. In Bossu's account it is "between" the two great poles which distinguish the mark or aim, that "the ball is to pass." On the other hand, Bartram, describing what he saw in North Carolina, speaks of the ball "being hurled into the air, midway between the two high pillars which are the goals, and the party who bears off the ball to their pillar wins the game."

In some parts of the south each player had two rackets between which the ball was caught. For this purpose they were necessarily shorter than the cross of the northern Indians. Adair says, "The ball sticks are about two feet long, the lower end somewhat resembling the palm of a hand, and which are worked with deer-skin thongs. Between these they catch the ball, and throw it a great distance." [Footnote: Adair, p. 400; A Narrative of the Military Adventures of Colonel Marinus Willett, p. 109.]

That this was not universal throughout the south would appear from Bossu's account who says, "Every one has a battle-door in his hand about two feet and a half long, made very nearly in the form of ours, of walnut, or chestnut wood, and covered with roe-skins." Bartram also says that each person has "a racquet or hurl, which is an implement of a very curious construction somewhat resembling a ladle or little hoop net, with a handle near three feet in length, the hoop and handle of wood and the netting of thongs of raw-hide or tendons of an animal."

Catlin [Footnote: Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs and Condition of the North American Indians, by George Catlin, Vol. II, p. 123 _et seq._] saw the game played by the Choctaws, on their Western Reservation. They used two rackets. In this game the old men acted as judges.

The game was ordinarily started by tossing the ball into the air in the centre of the field. This act is represented by Perrot as having been performed by one of the leaders in the game, but it is more in accord with the spirit in which the game was played, that it should have been done by some outsider. Bossu says, "An old man stands in the middle of


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