Authentic Indian Games

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Revision as of 19:28, March 31, 2007

The Indians were, just as we are, a fun-loving people - practical jokers, great athletes, music lovers, and tellers of tall tales. They played handball and kickball, lacrosse, shuffleboard and quoits. They gambled. They raced - on foot, on horse. Just as we train for football, the trained - and dieted - for games.

Some games they played for fun. Some games were sacred; others helped avert disaster, the Indian believed, or healed the sick. Shinny, snow snake, ring-and-pin, hoop-and-pole, and cat's cradle were favorite Indian games. Juggling and archery were Indian pastimes. Youngsters teetered on stilts, spun tops, used beanshooters, and flew kites.


Pa-tol Stick Game

Some 130 tribes threw dice - not the ivory dice we know, but stick dice made of split cane, hard wood, and bone, or small dice tossed in a basket or bowl and made of beaver teeth, peach and plum stones, or nutshells. All the dice were marked for scoring purposes, not cheating.

For the Pueblo pa-tol stick or dice game, each Indian had three dice - hard sticks, 4½ inches long, 1 inch wide, and a ½ inch thick, marked as illustrated. They laid forty stones, each about the size of a fist, close together in a circle about 3 feet in diameter. They left a space (called a "river") between every tenth and eleventh stone. In the center of the circle they set a flat 6-inch diameter stone. Each player also had a stick marker - a "horse."

Once seated around the circle, the first player took three sticks tightly in his hand, then threw them hard so that the ends hit on the surface of the flat stone. (He let go of the stick about 6 inches above the flat stone.)

If two sticks fell with the plain sides showing and one with the three lines showing, he had ten points. Using a river as a starting point, he then moved his horse fifteen stones. When his horse landed in a river, he threw again. If it didn't, the next man threw the dice and moved his marker, starting from any river and going in any direction. First man to make it around the circle won. Many took part.

Sometimes "killing" was allowed. For example, if player A's horse landed on the same stone as player B's, player B had to start over. Sound like fun? Try it!

Moccasin Game

Singing and swaying to the beat of an Indian drum, excited Indians used to have great fun hunting for balls and beads, or bullets, as they called them, hidden under boxes, moccasins, or even cloth.

EQUIPMENT: Four bullets (you could use beads or marbles), three alike, one different; four moccasins or fur pieces (use pieces of cloth); twenty counting sticks or twigs.

Two teams of three sat on a blanket facing each other with the four moccasins between them. A knife was flipped. As it landed, the blade pointed out the starting player. With the bullets in his right hand, he skillfully worked his hands under the moccasins, leaving a bullet under each. A teammate played the drum to divert the opponent's attention. Next, the opponent flipped over moccasins with a stick attempting to find the odd-color bullet. The object was to flip the right moccasin on the third try, thus gain three counting sticks (points). If he found the odd bullet on the first try, he gave his opponent four sticks; on the second try, three sticks. He lost four sticks to his opponent if the odd bullet remained under the last moccasin. The team getting all twenty sticks won. Sometimes individuals competed.


You'll need some level ground for this game, varieties of which were played by almost every tribe. Even the hoops and poles varied greatly, some hoops having netting, some bearing marks for scoring, some made of stone, some of cornhusks. Perhaps one of the simpler forms of hoop-and-pole fun was the following game played by the Washo Indians.

EQUIPMENT: A hoop made by soaking then bending and tying a twig or sapling into a circle 12 inches in diameter (the Indians wrapped the hoop in buckskin); one pole or lance per player.

Two Indians at a time competed. One rolled the hoop past his opponent who then threw his spear. Impaling the hoop with the spear counted one point. Seven points was game.

The Walapai Indians played a similar game on a 100-foot long course. Two men, each having a lance, ran side by side. One rolled a hoop ahead of them, then they both threw their spears, sliding them across the ground ahead of the hoop. Object: Stop the hoop so that it rests with one edge on the pole; this gave the player one point. If the hoop rested over the point of the pole, it scored four points or game. The point of the pole could not go through the hoop.


Ring-and-pin, another game popular among many Indians, provided hours of entertainment for adults and children alike. Here's how the Assiniboin played:

EQUIPMENT: Seven bones from the feet of deer, strung on a 30-inch thong with a bone needle tied to one end and a piece of buckskin, perforated with one large and several small holes, at the other end.

Swinging the seven bones forward and up, the player tried to catch them on the needle. Or he tried to put the needle through a hole in the buckskin. Game was forty points. Threading the first bone gave the player five points, the second bone, ten points, etc. The small holes in the buckskin counted four points; the large, nine.

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