Indian Games
By Andrew McFarland Davis

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Public Domain Books

Other Athletic Games.

In addition to the games of lacrosse, platter or dice, straws and chunkee, there were other games, some of an athletic nature, some purely of chance, which observers have described, some of which are mentioned only in limited areas, while others, like the games above mentioned, were played by Indians scattered over a wide territory and apparently having but little in common. Some of these games were but modified forms of those which have been already described. Such, for instance, is a game of ball which is described by Lafitau [Footnote: Lafitau, Vol. II, p. 353.]and by Charlevoix. [Footnote: Charlevoix, Vol. III, p. 319.] This closely resembled lacrosse in its general methods of play, but as no rackets were used, it was less dangerous and less exciting. Goals were erected at each end of the field, separated by five hundred paces according to Lafitau. The players were divided into sides. The ball was tossed into the air in the centre of the field. When it came down the players of each side strove to catch it. He who was successful ran in the direction of the goal which he wished to reach. The players of the opposite side pursued him and did what they could to prevent him from accomplishing his object. When it was evident that the runner could gain no more ground, he would pass the ball, if possible, to some player upon the same side and his success in accomplishing this was dependent largely upon his skill. The game is probably not so old as lacrosse, for the ball is described as being larger and softer than the one used in lacrosse, thus indicating that it belonged to the period when the stuffed deer-skin ball was used in that game.

Both Dumont and Le Page du Pratz describe this game with this difference, [Footnote: Dumont, Vol. I, p. 201, LePage, Vol. I, p. 378.] that the ball, according to their descriptions, was incessantly tossed in the air. Romans says that this game was played among the women; and Lafitau, who describes it separately, adds that in this form it was only played by girls. He also says that the Abenakis indulged in a similar game, using an inflated bladder for a ball; and that the Florida Indians fixed a willow cage upon a pole in such a way that it could revolve and tried to hit it with a ball so as to make it turn several times. [Footnote: Lafitau. Vol. II, p. 158.]

Joutel in his historical journal describes a curious game as follows: “Taking a short stick, very smooth and greased that it may be the harder to hold it fast, one of the elders throws it as far as he can. The young men run after it, snatch it from each other, and at last, he who remains possessed of it has the first lot.” [Footnote: French’s Historical Collections of Louisiana, Vol. I, p. 188; Sanford’s History of the United States before the Revolution, p. clxxxii.]

Football is found at the north. Ogilby [Footnote: Ogilby, Book II, Chap. II, p. 156. See also Smith’s Narrative, p. 77.] says: “Their goals are a mile long placed on the sands, which are as even as a board; their ball is no bigger than a hand ball, which sometimes they mount in the air with their naked feet, sometimes it is swayed by the multitude, sometimes also it is two days before they get a goal, then they mark the ground they win, and begin there the next day. Before they come to this sport they paint themselves, even as when they go to war.” At the south it was “likewise a favorite manly diversion with them.” [Footnote: Bartram, p. 509.]

Certain forms of ball-play which were neither lacrosse nor chunkee, but which resembled these games were found in different localities. Such for instance is the game which Catlin [Footnote: Vol. II, p. 146.] saw played by the Sioux women. Two balls were connected with a string a foot and a half long. Each woman was armed with a stick. They were divided into equal sides. Goals were erected and the play was in some respects like lacrosse. Stakes were wagered on the game. This game is also-described by Domenech, [Footnote: Vol. II, p. 196.] who says the women wore a special costume which left the limbs free and that the game was “unbecoming and indecent.” Powers [Footnote: Contribution to North American Ethnology, Vol. III, p. 383.] found a game among the Nishinams, on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada, not far from Sacramento, which in some respects also resembled lacrosse. He says “The ’Ti’-kel’ is the only really robust and athletic game they use, and is played by a large company of men and boys. The piece [Footnote: The equivalent in the game, of the ball in lacrosse.] is made of raw-hide or nowadays of strong cloth, and is shaped like a small dumb-bell. It is laid in the centre of a wide, level space of ground, in a furrow, hollowed out a few inches in depth. Two parallel lines are drawn equidistant from it, a few paces apart, and along these lines the opposing parties, equal in strength, range themselves. Each player is equipped with a slight, strong staff, from four to six feet long. The two champions of the party take their stations on opposite sides of the piece, which is thrown into the air, caught on the staff of one of the others, and hurled by him in the direction of his antagonist’s goal. With this send-off there ensues a wild chase and a hustle, pell-mell, higgledy-piggledy, each party striving to bowl the piece over the other’s goal. These goals are several hundred yards apart.

In an article in the Overland Monthly, [Footnote: Vol. II, p. 433. See also Smith’s Narrative, p. 77.] A. W. Chase describes a game in vogue among the Oregon Indians which he says was identical with hockey, as follows: “Sides being chosen, each endeavors to drive a hard ball of pine wood around a stake and in different directions; stripped to the buff, they display great activity and strength, whacking away at each other’s shins, if they are in the way, with a refreshing disregard of bruises. The squaws assist in the performance by beating drums and keeping up a monotonous chant.” In the first of the two games of “spear and ring,” described by Domenech, [Footnote: Vol. II, pp. 197-8.] the players are divided into sides. The stone ring, about three inches in diameter, is fixed upright on the chosen ground, and players two at a time, one from each side, endeavor to throw their spears through the ring. The spears are marked along their length with little shields or bits of leather, and the count is affected by the number of these that pass through the ring. He also mentions a game [Footnote: He does not give his authority for this game. He has evidently copied in his book from other writers, but seldom indicates whether his descriptions are based upon personal observation or quoted.] among the Natchez in which the ring was a “huge stone” and the spear a “stick of the shape of a bat.”

If we classify Domenech’s first game of “spear and ring” among those which resemble chunkee, rather than as a form of chunkee itself, we shall probably be compelled to pursue the same course with Morgan’s game of “javelin” to which we have already alluded. [Footnote: League of the Iroquois, p. 300.] In this game the players divided into sides. Each player had an agreed number of javelins. The ring, which was either a hoop or made solid like a wheel by winding with splints, was about eight inches in diameter. The players on one side were arranged in a line and the hoop was rolled before them. They hurled their javelins. The count of the game was kept by a forfeiture of javelins. Such as hit the mark were safe, but the javelins which did not hit were passed to the players of the other side who then had an opportunity to throw them at the hoop from the same spot. If these players were successful the javelins were forfeited and laid out of the play. If, however, they in turn failed the javelins were returned to their original owners. The hoop was then rolled by the other side and the process continued until one of the sides had forfeited all their javelins.


Lacrosse.  •  Platter or Dice.  •  Straw or Indian Cards.  •  Chunkee or Hoop and Pole.  •  Other Athletic Games.  •  Other Games of Chance.  •  Contests of Skill.  •  Other Amusements of Women and Children.