Friday, 17 October 2014
Indian Games and How to Play Them
By El Comancho
Illustrations by H. T. Denison
From The American Boy magazine, October 1916. Digitized by Doug Frizzle, October 2014.
WHEN I was “growing up,” I lived west of the
The country was very new then and white boys were few and far between, so most
of my playmates were Indian boys. Many times I have entered into their sports
and games and been one of them as nearly as it is possible for white to turn
These games were of two sorts, the outdoor, athletic game, which was mostly based on animals and their ways; and the indoor game, which usually was some guessing game based on combinations of numbers, something like dice throwing or dominoes.
The outdoor games were the favorites and by far the more popular and as these can be played by white boys as well. I will describe several of them, telling in detail how we played them.
The Deer and Wolves
“THE DEER AND WOLVES” was a great favorite and we played it always in the winter when there was snow on the ground. For the “deer” we picked the fastest runner we could get among all the boys and gave him an hour’s start ahead of the “wolves.”
The "deer” then left camp and went where he pleased, usually in a big circle at least a mile away from camp. He was to imitate the traveling habits of the deer, to do as nearly like a deer as he could if the deer were roaming about.
He would therefore go to the roughest bit of near-by country he could find and there wind about from one deer feeding ground to another, going through thickets, possibly crossing or following streams, passing over hills and valleys, and wandering about just as would a deer as nearly as he could.
Of course, wherever he went he left a trail in the snow and it was fair and part of the game for him to do anything to break or hide this trail that he could, for the “wolves” must follow the trail to catch him.
The “deer” could double back on his trail, jump down off of a bank to rocks or bare ground, wade in a stream or do any like thing to lose his trail and thus throw the “wolves” off the scent and escape. But he must not come nearer to camp than a mile away until he was seen by the “wolves” who trailed him.
The “wolves” left camp about an hour later than the “deer” and they had to follow the “deer trail” until they saw the “deer,” then they chased him into camp or caught him before he reached camp if they could. When the “wolves” sighted him, the “deer” would run for camp as hard as he could go, to keep away from them.
If, on the way to camp, the “deer” could get out of sight, say in timber or under a high bank, etc., then he could dodge and double about and thus escape any way he could by throwing the “wolves” off the trail again. The "wolves” could run “by sight” only when they could see the “deer” and at all other times they must follow the trail.
This gave a fine chance for a clever boy to double and dodge and to use woodcraft knowledge to so confuse his trail that the “wolf pack” could not find it and would have to give up beaten sometimes. If any of the “wolf pack” could touch the “deer” before he could reach camp, they thereby killed the “deer” and so won the game, and if the “deer” could get to camp ahead of the “wolves” after they caught sight of him a mile or more from camp, then the “deer” won. It was a good hunting game and was always played with lots of vim and excitement, for it very closely duplicated an actual deer hunt and every Indian boy is a keen hunter.
and Wolves Buffalo
“THE BUFFALO AND WOLVES” game was another popular one that we played in camp and it called for about the same rough and tumble tactics that modern football does, only in a different way. This game was, like the other, based on animal habits. When wolves attack buffalo, the buffalo bunch thickly together, the calves and weaker animals being in the center of the herd, with the older, stronger buffalo forming a circle around them. The outer ring of buffalo all stand pressed back against the herd behind them, thus presenting a solid front of heads, horns and hoofs to the wolf pack and it is a wise wolf or a very strong or exceptionally quick one that can dodge through that circle and drag down a call' in the middle of the herd without being trampled or gored.
Our “Wolf and
Buffalo” game enacted
these animal habits in this way: All of the smaller boys who wanted to play
were bunched together in the center to represent the calves, then the older,
stronger ones who took the part of the buffalo formed a circle facing out
around the smaller boys.
Those taking the part of wolves circled around outside the “herd,” trying to get a chance to break through and grab a "calf” and pull him outside the circle.
The players representing the circle of buffalo prevented this by “bunting” at the “wolves,” either with their heads or shoulders. They could not, under the rules of the game, use their hands to take hold of a “wolf” but must defend by “bunting” just as the real buffalo did. They could also trample the wolves, using their feet to block the rush of a "wolf” or to trip him and tumble him over, but handholds were barred for the “buffalo,” although a wolf could use his hands for any purpose a real wolf would use his teeth for.
Sometimes we had pretty exciting times at one of these games, especially when some good smart boy led the "wolf pack” and planned his attacks so that he used the weight of numbers to rush the “buffalo” on one side of the circle while a few of the “wolf band” slipped around on the other side and by quick work broke through the circle and got a “calf” before the “herd” could rally and prevent them.
The Wolves and Badger Game
IN “The Wolves and Badger” game, one boy took the part of the badger and all the rest were “wolves.” The “badger” would back into an angle of a steep bank along the river, or he would back down feet first into an old coyote hole until only his head and shoulders were outside. The idea was to imitate the real badger, which always backs into his hole until only his head is outside, and there he stays to fight it out with any intruder.
In our game the “badger” followed the same tactics by taking a position where no one could get behind him. It was then up to the “wolves” to “pull him out of his hole,” which was a big job if the “badger” was a quick, strong boy in such a position that he could brace his knees against something to hold himself from being pulled out.
I know one boy who managed to hold his position in an old coyote hole for over three hours while at least twenty of us worked as hard as we could to get him out.
In “The Wolves and Porcupine” game, one boy sits down, clasps his arms tightly about his knees, puts his head down and “doubles up in a knot” just as tight as he can to represent the disturbed porcupine. The “wolves” then roll him about and pull at his arms and legs in an effort to break his hold and so “straighten him out.” If you think it is an easy task to do this, just let some strong athletic boy play the porcupine and a dozen or so of the rest of you try to get him straightened out and then keep him that way, for the "porcupine” can break your hold and “double up” again if he gets the chance.
To win, the “wolves” must put the “porcupine” flat on his back, with legs and arms extended flat, then hold him there long enough to show that he is beaten. If the “porcupine” can twist loose and double up again before he is "flattened out.” the wolves have their work all to do over again! It is a rough and tumble kind of a game that teaches speed and exercises every muscle in every player.
“THE WHEEL AND ARROW” game was played two ways, sometimes as a summer game, but oftener on hard snow for a winter game. If one or two persons play, it is a running game, and if “sides” play, it becomes a standing game. To play it, a hoop of wood is used. This hoop can be any size, though the smaller it is the more difficult the game. I have seen one of not more than six inches in diameter used; but a foot is about the usual measure.
The hoop is rolled along the ground and the player tries to throw an arrow (or small arrow-like stick) through the rolling-hoop without touching the hoop. If only one is playing, he must roll the hoop and then run up alongside and throw his arrow. If several players play at once, they form in two lines facing each other and about forty feet apart. The hoop is then rolled down between the lines, each player throwing his arrow as it passes him.
The arrows are thrown like a spear and a very quick player can throw as high as four arrows as the hoop passes him. If the arrow goes through clean, without touching, the player scores; if the arrow touches the hoop anywhere, the play counts a foul and takes off one from the player’s score. The score can be any number, though it is usually set at ten.
"The Snow-Snakes” game is a trial of strength and skill. It is played in the winter on smooth crusted snow, usually on a level place or on a very slight down grade. The “snow-snakes” are simply peeled willow or other straight growing shoots or saplings, bluntly pointed at the large end. They may be any size or length to suit the player and each player usually has a dozen of so of them.
The players stand in line and throw these sticks just as they would throw spears, except that the sticks should strike the snow as flat as it is possible to make them do so. They should never strike in such a manner as to bury the head or big end, because this stops them; or they may penetrate the snow, or slide along under it and become lost.
The whole idea of “The Snow-Snakes” game is to throw the stick so it will slide, heavy end first, along the top of the snow just as far as possible. The "snow-snake” that is the greatest distance from the throwing line when all players have thrown all their “snake” sticks is the winning throw.
FOR indoor games we threw bone or beaver tooth dice and counted on the combinations of marks or spots that were upward, just as white people throw dice. We also played “The Sing-Gamble” game without the gambling that went with it when the grown-ups played it. This was a simple guessing game wherein the player held a short stick in each hand and changed them from hand to hand swiftly in time with a chant. One stick had all the bark peeled off and the other was peeled except for a thin ring of bark in the center.
The game was to guess where the ringed stick was, a correct guess winning for the guesser and an incorrect guess losing a point. This game was played either as a ten point or as a one hundred point game. Sometimes only two players played at it, sometimes “sides” were engaged and it became exciting.
Of course, we had numerous ball games of one kind or another, but none of them at all like baseball. Ball games were usually of the pitch and catch order or based on throwing distance.
I do not remember of ever having seen a “bat” used in connection with Indian ball play anywhere, in the sense of our baseball usage.
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- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.