Games — American Indian Style

Ah, it’s June already.  Where I grew up, June was a very hot summer month.  Here in southern California, it can be hot, yes, but it’s August and September that are the hottest months of the year here.  Nevertheless, June reminds me of games and play.  As a child we played all kinds of games: tag, hide-and-seek, softball, red robin, mother-may-I.  And of course we climbed and swung from many a tree.  I should tell you also that I’ll be giving away a free book to one lucky blogger today, so do come on in and leave a message.

Off to the left here is a Geroge Catlin painting of ball play.  So, what sort of games did the American Indians play?  We often hear of their skill in war and in the hunt, but what did they do for fun?

All tribes were different, of course.  But let’s start with the Western tribes.  The Mandans and most all Plains tribes had sham fights.  These were for the young boys and it was a part of their regular exercise.  Catlin also writes that it also constituted a branch of their education.  These were carried on in the mornings of the summer months and were played by boy between the ages of 7 and 15.  They played their games naked, although each one had a belt around his waist where he carried a knife made of wood or something equally harmless.  The game lasted about an hour and those that took “scalps” (not the real thing of course) would step forward and tell of their deeds after the sham battle.  Meanwhile their sweethearts looked on with affection and wonder at these young heros.

Off to the right here is another picture of the American Indian’s Style of ball play.  There were also games of the moccasin, of the platter and of course feats of archery.  The Mandans played a game calle Tchung-kee — which Catlin describes as “a beautiful athletic exercise.”  The game is played on a pavement of claywhich is smooth and hard.  Two champions choose their sides — bets are then made and then the game starts.  As George Catlin describes it:  “Two men start off upon a trot, abreast of each other, and one of them rolls in advance of them, on the pavement, a little ring of two or three inches in diameter, cut out of a stone; and each one follows it up with his ‘tchung-kee’ (a stick of six feet in length), which he throws before him as he runs, sliding it along upon the ground after the ring, endeavouring to place it in such a position when it stops, that the ring may fall upon it, and recive one of the little projections of leather through it, which counts for game, one, or two, or four, according to the position of the leather on which the ring is lodged.”  Sounds a little complex, as well as a game requiring a great amount of skill.

There were also horse races.  And in tribes (particularly the Eastern tribes) that didn’t have horses, the races were almost always foot races.  I found it interesting that almost all of these races were done in the nude.  As a matter of fact, I’ve written twice (maybe three times) about these races that were carried on in the nude.  How intriguing.  Interestingly George Catlin found himself in a position where he had to race.  It required him to strip down completely, which was quite embarrassing for him.  One can almost feel his blush on the pages of his work.  Another interesting fact was that after the race was over, a crowd of girls waited at the finish line where he was to dismount.  Apparently they were curious as to what a white man looked like in the nude.  Another fact that he found quite embarrassing.  I guess it’s why I’ve written about it on two or perhaps three different occasions.

To the left here is a painting done by Karl Bodner.  This is of an Assiniboine warrior.  It’s one of my favorites of his paintings.  The Assiniboine tribe had an interesting game of chance — gambling — called Cos-soo.  In one of my books, THE SPIRIT OF THE WOLF, I describe this game in detail, since the hero of the book “wins” the heroine in this game of chance.  In this game when it was played for real, many a man lost all that he owned, including the very clothes on his back, along with his wife.  Another interesting fact is this:  Did you know that Sacagewia was won by her husband — a French trader in a game of chance?  At the time, the man who lost her got himself into a lot of trouble with his wives.

Women also played many games — I was trying to find a picture on the internet of one of these games — I believe that Catlin painted a picture of this.  But alas, I couldn’lt find it.  I don’t believe that the games played by the women carried bets — they were played for fun and exercise.  And of course everybody learned early how to swim and how to ride a horse.  In fact, another “game” of sorts was a kind of rodeo, where the men would show off many different feats of horsemanship.

To the left is a Catlin painting of an Archery contest.  And of course there were also the buffalo hunts, that, while these were serious in nature, were also feats of bravery and skill.  I guess when all is said and done, we might be able to say that we all share many different traits, regardless of who we are or where we’re from.  And perhaps in times of conflict this is something to remember and take note of.  What are some of these traits:  Well, for one we all love our families.  We all desire to protect that which is ours and we all want to shelter those we love.  Plus, we all love to play.

So tell me, do you have a favorite sport?  A favorite game?  Don’t foget that I will be giving away a free copy of the book, BLACK EAGLE, today.  So come on in and leave a post. 

And please if you haven’t done so already, pick up a  copy of SENECA SURRENDER today!  Here’s hoping you’ll give my new book a try.

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KAREN KAY aka GEN BAILEY is the multi-published author of American Indian Historical Romances. She has written for such prestigious publishers as AVON/HarperCollins, Berkley/Penguin/Putnam and Samhain Publishing. KAREN KAY’S great grandmother was Choctaw Indian and Kay is honored to be able to write about the American Indian Culture.
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30 thoughts on “Games — American Indian Style”

  1. Very interesting post. Very!

    We loved Red Light, Green Light as kids and also Hide and Seek and Red Rover. I have always been a fan of more active games.

    For those interested in children’s games I want to pass along the greatest book ever to help you remember those childhood games and maybe even play them again, Hopscotch, Hangman, Hot Potato, & Ha Ha Ha: A Rulebook of Children’s Games by Jack Macguire.

    Isn’t it a shame that as adults we tend to play more games that require you to sit still?

    Thanks again for a great post.

  2. It seems to me that the Native American way of life mostly revolved around exercise. Setting up their summer camp, hunting, hiking: to get water, to wash their clothes, to gather food like berries and fruit,searching for firewood, trading for items, moving camp for their winter home, playing games and practicing for war and actual fighting.

    I can’t imagine chasing that circle over the rough uneven ground. It definitely would take skill and luck. I find it hard to believe that they would gamble away everything. It would be hard to save face and regain anything. I wonder how the wives felt about this?

    We played kickball, softball, badmitten, tennis, croquet and football. We swam a lot. We jumped rope. We biked everywhere. At night we also played Statue, Tag, Red Light, Green Light, Duck, Duck, Goose, and Hide & Seek. As we grew older we played golf.

    I can’t imagine playing games naked. However, I believe that the men in the first Olympic Games also were naked. Skinny dipping anyone?

    How did the Native Americans feel about bathing? They were in such close proximity to others that naked bodies were probably just a fact of life and really no big deal. I believe that they must have had a lot of respect for the other tribe members.

  3. Great blog, Karen. George Catlin’s contributions, both in art and observation, are so wonderful.
    As kids, growing up without TV or electronic games, we played all kind of games outside. My grandsons are in soccer and football leagues, but everything is so organized these days. Not the same.

  4. Fantastic and very interesting blog, Karen. I haven’t ever given much thought on how games kids play prepare them for their future endeavors(even the men playing nude LOL). And, to captured them so vividly. How much fun! Thanks for sharing. Hugs, P

  5. Hi Julie!

    Thanks for the great information and passing that along. Oh, I remember those games. : )

    Yes, it is a shame that we tend to play more games where we sit — did you know that Hide & Seek was originally an adult game?

  6. Hi Laurie!

    I remember some of those games, too. Like Statue or Freeze. The American Indian bathed daily — but there were the girls part of the stream and the men’s part of the stream. Usually, however, someone did guard them as the women bathed.

    Yes, that’s right — golf. Oh, and I remember bike riding everywhere, too. 🙂

  7. Hi Elizabeth!

    It’s true. Things are definitely organized nowadays — not like in the old days when you just picked up a bat and ball and went and played. 🙂

  8. Hi Phyliss!

    Yes, like I’ve said I’ve made use of that racing nude — and Catlin being caught in having to do it — almost a comedy sketch — if he hadn’t been so embarrassed. 🙂

  9. Interesting post, Karen. I’ve never been much of a sportswoman — books were always my favorite things, but I grew up playing jacks and pickup sticks. I’d like to see tschung-kee played. I’ll bet it’s very difficult.

  10. Kay, I love finding out what other cultures played as children. I was a game junkie as a child. Many days and evenings were spent playing something or another. I rarely sat still, except when I became addicted to paper dolls. My favorites were games that allowed my imagination free rein. Kids today are just addicted to games but they’re the computer and Wii kind.

    Thanks for taking me back to my childhood!

  11. Fascinating as always, Kay. And I can’t imagine the nude foot races. One problems comes to mind immediately, but we won’t go there… I think archery would be fun. I had a class in high school and I really loved it. I would imagine being accurate was really important in those days to kill game and such.

  12. I remember when young being kicked outdoors for most the day although I always had to come in too early lol. I do think that’s a big problem for kids now adays. They have too many video games and not enough CREATIVE free time because everything seems to be scheduled for them. I do belive all play has a purpose – even if it’s just the joy of it. You learn to socialize, invent, time management, future careers. Really all life should be play – if you’re really lucky you get paid for it 🙂

  13. Hi Tracy!

    Interestingly, I was kinda both. I loved playing outside, but I also loved reading. I’m still kinda the same way today. Sometimes I just don’t know where to get the time to do everything…but then I think that may be just the way of things today. 🙂

  14. Hi Linda!

    Like you I was outside more than inside when I was little — my favorite, I must admit was dolls. I had baby bottles, diapers, buggies — you name it. In truth, when I had my first baby I thought — wow, this is kinda like playing dolls. That didn’t last long though. Soon, it was work — wonderful work — but work. 🙂

  15. Oh, Charlene, you made me laugh. I thought of that, too. But apparently they played it completely in the nude — same way with adult racing…

    I have written about it…

  16. Jeanne, you post, though short, is very wise. You really put an insight into all this. Yes, all work should be play — goodness, we certainly spend most of our time working.

    Very wise.

  17. So many fun things as kids… pretended we were our fav cartoon characters, hide and seek, red light green light, so many board games, jump rope, skating, races, the list goes on… amazing how active I used to be… having too much fun with technology these days, but the Wii can give you a work out…

  18. Hi Colleen! I remember red light and green light — also “Freeze” or Statue — jumping skating — roller skating, biking — I’d forgotten about the skating. Yes, I was active, although I also loved to read. Like today — I’m still very active, but oh, how I love my books. 🙂

  19. Kay, you sound a lot like me! As a kid, I loved to play outdoors–couldn’t get enough of it. We loved to roller skate (back then we had sidewalks in our little town) and had the old-fashioned skates with a key that we wore around our necks on a shoestring. We had a neighbor next door that lived in a gorgeous old run-down house, complete with servants’ quarters over the garage and and amphitheater in the backyard! But she was old and crotchety. Daringly, we would skate around her house on her sidewalk–we knew where every crack was and how to keep from hitting the big ones. Summer was wonderful–we’d ride our bikes to the store to get a candy bar and coke–lots of exercise. But, my best friend and I also loved to read, so we’d put an old packing quilt out on my lawn under the trees and my mom would make a pitcher of lemonade for us, and we’d just lie out there together and drink lemonade and read and watch the world go by. Great memories. I love the idea of racing nude–I’d WATCH it, mind you–just not PARTICIPATE. LOLLOL Great post.

  20. very interesting!
    i like the horse racing best…had to laugh at poor white boy stripping down…that would be awful!
    i can’t imagine men fighting or running naked…too much jangling around, wouldn’t you think it’d be uncomfortable? and something could get hurt?
    dangerous, lol

    i would pretty miffed as a wife if i were lost
    crazy to think how women could be traded around

    games…i lived outside as a child
    favorites of ours were kickball and basketball with all of my cousins
    my personal favorite was pretending i was riding a horse in my uncle’s back timber
    i would race a barrel pattern and poles over and over playing rodeo…or just run as fast as i could pretending i was a jockey 🙂

  21. Hi Cheryl,

    Yeah, it does sound alot like my childhood, also. I remember the lazy days and skating — I had the same kind of skates — with a key and everything — and we had a neighbor who always had lawn chairs and we’d sit and talk and do things for him — like shell peas and such. But then we’d play dolls stretched out over the lawn — it wasn’t until I got into high school that I discovered a friend who also liked to read. We didn’t stretch out on the lawn — we were too busy doing other things — reading was always a private sort of affair.

    Great memories.

  22. Hi Tabitha!

    You know I thought the same thing and for the same reason — horse racing, foot racing, etc. Then I saw an old FIRM workout — and at the end of it it had 20 questions about fitness — and they show a man completely in the nude running. Things did jiggle around a bit, but it didn’t look uncomfortable. But apparently, like the Greeks, it was done in the nude.

    But then in most Indian camps, the boys ran nude in the summer and so were probably used to it — I think the girls ran nude, too, up to a certain point and age for both boys and girls — then modesty set in. At least that’s my understanding of it. 🙂

  23. Karen, I absolutely love what I learn from your blogs and what information I glean from your books.

    My family is very into archery and participate in a leaque much like golf every week.

    I have the “honor” in the family of having been shot with a bow and arrow. My brother shot me when we were children with his homemade bow. I was very lucky in that other than a small scar on my lip I suffered no real damage. Of course at the time I thought that I was dying. The arrow went through my lip and stuck in my tongue. Still both my brother and I went on to paticipate in archery competitions.

  24. Hi Connie!

    Thanks so much for your compliments. Wow! And shot through the lip — now, this is what I call making lemonaide when handed lemons — go out and win archery competitions. Wow!

    Thanks for such a great post.

  25. Hi KarenK!

    We share a similar name. My kids also played kickball — but for me it wasn’t one of those neighborhood games. My kids, however, love it.

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