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- Indian Games - 3/9 -


the place appropriated to the play, and throws up into the air a ball of roe-skins rolled about each other," while Powers [Footnote: Contributions to North American Ethnology, Vol. III, p. 151.] says that among the Californian Indians this act was performed by a squaw. The judges started the ball among the Choctaws. [Footnote: Cuthu, Vol. II, p. 12.] Notwithstanding the differences in the forms of the goals, their distance apart and the methods of play disclosed in all these descriptions, the game can only be regarded as the same. The historians who have preserved for us the accounts of the ancient southern games from which quotations have been made, are all Englishmen except Bossu, and he entered the country not by the way of Quebec but by way of New Orleans. It is not strange, therefore, that we do not find in use amongst them the name which the early French fathers and traders invariably applied to the game. The description, however, given by these writers, of the racket used in the south, corresponds so closely with the crook from which the game took the name by which it is known, that we must accept the game as a modified form of lacrosse. From Maine to Florida, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, we trace a knowledge of it. We have found it in use among the confederate nations of the north and of the south and among scattered tribes throughout the country.

In the majority of instances the natural instincts of those who participated in the strife were stimulated by local pride. The reputation of their tribe or their village rested upon the result. Ardent as the spirit of the contest must necessarily have been under such circumstances, among a people where courage and physique counted for so much, their intense passion for gambling intervened to fan into fiercer flames the spirits of the contesting players and to inspire them to more earnest efforts. Stakes, often of the utmost consequence to the players and their backers, were wagered upon the games. A reputation for courage, for skill and for endurance, was the most valuable possession of the Indian. The maintenance of this was to a certain extent involved in each game that he played. Oftentimes in addition to this, all of his own possessions and the property of his friends and neighbors in the form of skins and beads were staked upon the result of the contest. In games where so much was involved, we need not be surprised to learn from Perrot that limbs were occasionally broken and that sometimes players were even killed. In the notes to Perrot's Memoir it is stated that some anonymous annotator has written across the margin of Perrot's manuscript at this point: [Footnote: Perrot. Note 1, Ch. x. p. 187.] "False, neither arms nor legs are broken, nor are players ever killed." We scarcely need the corroboratory statements of La Potherie [Footnote: Vol. II, pp. 126-137.] that "these games are ordinarily followed by broken heads, arms and legs, and often people are killed at them;" and also of LaHontan, [Footnote: Vol. II, p. 113.] that "they tear their skins and break their legs" at them, to satisfy us that Perrot rather than his critic is to be believed. If no such statements had been made, we should infer that so violent a game, on which stakes of such vital importance were placed, could not be played by a people like the Indians, except with such results. Notwithstanding the violence of the game and the deep interest which the players and spectators took in it, the testimony of historians is uniform to the effect that accidental injuries received during its progress produced no ill will. We have seen that Perrot states that if anyone attempted to hold the ball with _his feet_, he took his chance of injury, and that those who were injured retired quietly from the field. Adair says, "It is a very unusual thing to see them act spitefully, not even in this severe and tempting exercise." Bossu bears testimony to the same effect, in the following words: "The players are never displeased; some old men, who assist at the play, become mediators, and determine that the play is only intended as a recreation, and not as an opportunity of quarrelling."

Where the game was played by appointment in response to a challenge, the men and women assembled in their best ornaments, and danced and sang during the day and night previous to that of the appointed day. The players supplicated the Great Spirit for success. Female relations chanted to him all the previous night and the men fasted from the previous night till the game was over. [Footnote: Adair, p. 401, Bossu, Vol. I, p. 306, and Willet's Narrative, p. 109.] The players wore but little in the way of covering. Romans speaks of them as being "almost naked, painted and ornamented with feathers;" and Bossu says they were "naked, painted with various colours, having a tyger tail fastened behind, and feathers on their heads and arms."

It is not astonishing that a game which called for such vigorous exorcise [Footnote: Ferdinand Vol. I, p. 134, and Major C. Swan in a Report concerning the Creeks in 1791. Schoolcraft, Vol. v, p. 277, that the Whites exceed the Indians at this game.] and which taxed the strength, agility and endurance of the players to such a degree, should be described by writers in terms which showed that they looked upon it rather in the light of a manly contest than as an amusement. Nevertheless the young people and the women often took part in it. Perrot tells us so, and both Romans and Bossu say that after the men were through, the women usually played a game, the bets on which were generally high. Powers [Footnote: Contributions to North American Ethnology, Vol. in, p. 151.] represents the squaws among the Californian Indians as joining the game.

Dexterity in the game lay in the skilful use of the racket; in rapid running; in waylaying an adversary when he was in possession of the ball; in avoiding members of the opposing side when the player himself was running with the ball for the goal, and in adroitly passing the ball to one of the same side when surrounded by opponents. To give full scope to skill in the use of the racket, great stress was laid upon the rule that the ball was not to be touched by the hand. Perrot says, "if it falls to the earth he tries to draw it to him with his cross." Charlevoix says, "Their business is to strike the ball to the post of the adverse party without letting it fall to the ground and without touching it with the hand." Adair says, "They are not allowed to catch it with their hands."

The early writers were struck with the fact that the character of the exercise in this game was fitted to develop the young warriors for the war path, and they commented on the practice that they thus acquired in rapid running and in avoiding blows from an instrument in the hands of an adversary.

"When we review the various features of the game which its chroniclers have thought worthy of record, we can but conclude that it was rather a contest of grave importance to the players than a mere pastime, nor can we fail to accept the concurrent testimony as to the widespread territory in which it was domesticated, as additional evidence of the extent of the intercourse which prevailed among the native tribes of this country."

[Relocated Footnote (1): I translate _apiffez_, "bedecked," assuming from the context that the author meant to write "_attifez_." We have, elsewhere, accounts which show that ballplayers, even though compelled to play with scant clothing, still covered themselves with their ornaments. J. M. Stanley in his Portraits of North American Indians, Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, Washington, 1862, Vol. II, p. 13, says that the "Creek" ball-players first appear on the ground in costume. "During the play they divest themselves of all their ornaments which are usually displayed on these occasions for the purpose of betting on the result of the play."]

[Relocated Footnote (2): The game is also mentioned in An Account of the Remarkable Occurrences in the Life and Travels of Col. James Smith during his Captivity with the Indians in the years 1755-1759. Cincinnati, 1870, p. 78. It is described by Col. William L. Stone in his Life of Brant, Albany, 1865, Vol. II, p. 448. In one game of which he speaks, the ball was started by a young and beautiful squaw who was elaborately dressed for the occasion. Notwithstanding the extent and value of Col. Stone's contributions to the literature on the subject of the North American Indians, he makes the erroneous statement that "The Six Nations had adopted from the Whites the popular game of ball or cricket" See p. 445, same volume, _cf_. The Memoir upon the late War in North America, 1755-1760, by M. Pouchot, translated and edited by Franklin B. Hough, Vol. II, p. 195. A game of ball is also described in Historical Collections of Georgia, by the Rev. George White, 3d edition, New York, 1835, p. 670, which took place in Walker County, Georgia, between Chatooga and Chicamauga. The ball was thrown up at the centre. The bats were described as curiously carved spoons. If the ball touched the ground the play stopped and it was thrown up again. Rev. J. Owen Dorsey in a paper entitled "Omaha Sociology," printed in the Third Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, etc, 1881-1882, Washington, 1884 p. 230, p. 336, describes the game amongst the Omahas.]

PLATTER OR DICE.

The second in the list of games given by Father Brebeuf is that which he calls "platter." Writers who describe the habits of the Indians at the north have much to say concerning this game. According to Lescarbot, Jacques Cartier saw it played, and recorded his observations. [Footnote: Histoire de la Nouvelle France par Marc Lescarbot, Nouvelle Edition, Paris 1856, Vol. III, p. 734.]

Sagard Theodat [Footnote: Histoire du Canada, etc., par Gabriel Sagard Theodat; Nouvelle Edition, Paris, 1856, Vol. I, pp. 243-244.] devotes considerable space to it. Both Father Brebeuf, in his Relation in 1636, and Father Lalemant, in his Relation in 1639, give long accounts of the game, the causes for its being played, the excesses in gambling to which it leads, and the methods which prevail in its practice. In Perrot's [Footnote: p. 50.] work there is a good description of the game, although not so full as his account of lacrosse, from which we have already quoted. La Potherie and LaHontan barely mention it. Latitau [Footnote: Mours des Sauvages Ameriquains, erc, par le P. Latitau, Paris, 1724, Vol. II, p. 339.] in his searching analysis of the manuscripts deposited at Quebec, while seeking for traces of his theory that a resemblance existed between the habits of the Indians and those of the ancient dwellers in eastern Europe, found an unusual quantity of material bearing on this particular topic, which he has reproduced in his book. Charlevoix [Footnote: Vol. III, pp. 260-1.], in a letter dated June 8, 1721, says, "As I was returning through a quarter of the Huron village, I perceived a number of these Indians, who seemed much heated at play. I approached them and found that the game they were playing at was what they called the game of platter. This is the game to which the Indians are addicted above all others. They sometimes lose their rest and in some degree their very senses at it. They stake all they are worth, and several of them have been known to continue at it till they have stript themselves stark naked and lost all their movables in their cabin. Some have been known to stake their liberty for a certain time. This circumstance proves beyond all doubt how passionately fond they are of it, there being no people in the world more jealous of their liberty than our Indians."

In the description which Charlevoix then gives, he is relied partly upon personal observations and also to some extent, upon accounts which were at that time in manuscript in Quebec mid which were easily accessible to him. He was himself an intelligent observer and a cultivated man. His history and his letters, although not free from the looseness of expression which pervades contemporaneous accounts show on the whole the discipline of an educated mind. We learn from him and from the authorities heretofore enumerated that two players only from each side could participate in this game at any given time during its progress. The necessary implements were a bowl and a number of dice


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