Indian Games
By Andrew McFarland Davis

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Chunkee or Hoop and Pole.

Among the Indians at the south, observers noted and described a game of great antiquity, of which we have no record during historical times among those of the north, unless we should classify the game of javelin described by Morgan [Footnote: League of the Iroquois, p. 300.] as a modified form of the same game. The general name by which this game was known was chunkee. When Iberville arrived at the mouth of the Mississippi he despatched a party to explore the river. The officer who kept the “Journal de la fregate, le Marin” was one of that party and he recorded the fact that the Bayagoulas and Mougoulachas passed the greater part of their time in playing in this place with great sticks which they throw after a little stone, which is nearly round and like a bullet. [Footnote: Maigry, Deconvertes, etc., Vol. 4, p. 261.] Father Gravier descended the river in 1700 and at the village of Houmas he saw a “fine level square where from morning to night there are young men who exercise themselves in running after a flat stone which they throw in the air from one end of the square to the other, and which they try to have fall on two cylinders that they roll where they think the stone will fall.” [Footnote: Shea’s Early Voyages. Albany, 1861, p. 143.] Adair gives the following description of the same game: “The warriors have another favorite game, called ’chungke’, which, with propriety of language may be called ’Running hard labour.’ They have near their state house [Footnote: Consult E G Squire--Aboriginal Monuments of N.Y. Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge, Vol. II, pp. 1356 and note p. 136.] a square piece of ground well cleaned, and fine sand is carefully strewed over it, when requisite, to promote a swifter motion to what they throw along the surface. Only one or two on a side play at this ancient game. They have a stone about two fingers broad at the edge and two spans round; each party has a pole of about eight feet long, smooth, and tapering at each end, the points flat. They set off abreast of each other at six yards from the end of the playground; then one of them hurls the stone on its edge, in as direct a line as he can, a considerable distance toward the middle of the other end of the square. When they have run a few yards, each darts his pole anointed with bears’ oil, with a proper force, as near as he can guess in proportion to the motion of the stone, that the end may lie close to the stone. When this is the case, the person counts two of the game, and, in proportion to the nearness of the poles to the mark, one is counted, unless by measuring, both are found to be at an equal distance from the stone. In this manner, the players will keep running most part of the day, at half speed, under the violent heat of the sun, staking their silver ornaments, their nose-, finger-and ear-rings; their breast-, arm-and wrist-plates, and even all their wearing apparel, except that which barely covers their middle. All the American Indians are much addicted to this game, which to us appears to be a task of stupid drudgery; it seems, however, to be of early origin, when their forefathers used diversions as simple as their manners. The hurling stones they use at present were from time immemorial rubbed smooth on the rocks and with prodigious labor; and they are kept with the strictest religious care, from one generation to another, and are exempted from being buried with the dead. They belong to the town where they are used, and are carefully preserved.” [Footnote: See also Historical Collection, Louisiana and Florida. B. F. French (Vol. II.), second series, p. 74, New York, 1875.]

Lieut. Timberlake [Footnote: Memoirs of Lieut. Henry Timberlake, etc., London, 1765, p. 77.] describes the game as he saw it played among the Cherokees where it was known by the name of “Netteeawaw.” “Each player has a pole about ten feet long, with several marks or divisions. One of them bowls a round stone with one flat side, and the other convex, on which the players all dart their poles after it, and the nearest counts according to the vicinity of the bowl to the marks on his pole.”

Romans saw it among the Choctaws. He says, “The manner of playing the game is thus: they make an alley of about two hundred feet in length, where a very smooth clayey ground is laid, which when dry is very hard: they play two together having each a straight pole about fifteen feet long; one holds a stone which is in the shape of a truck, which he throws before him over this alley, and the instant of its departure, they set off and run; in running they cast their poles after the stone; he that did not throw it endeavors to hit it; the other strives to strike the pole of his antagonist in its flight so as to prevent the pole of his opponent hitting the stone. If the first should strike the stone he counts one for it, and if the other by the dexterity of his cast should prevent the pole of his opponent hitting the stone, he counts one, but should both miss their aim the throw is renewed.”

Le Page du Pratz [Footnote: Histoire de la Louisiane, Paris, 1738, Vol. III, p. 2.] describes the game as practised among the Natchez. He calls it “Le Jeu de la Perche which would be better named de la crosse." Dumont who was stationed at Natchez and also on the Yazoo, describes the game and speaks of it as “La Crosse.” [Footnote: Memoires Historiques sur la Louisiane, Paris, 1753, Vol. I, p. 202.]

Adair is correct when he speaks of the antiquity of this game. When he dwells upon the fact that these stones are handed down from generation to generation, as the property of the village, he brings these tribes close to the mound dwellers. Sanier, [Footnote: Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley, p. 223.] speaking of discoidal stones, found in the mounds, says, “It is known that among the Indian tribes of the Ohio and along the Gulf, such stones were in common use in certain favorite games.” Lucien Carr [Footnote: 10th Annual Report Peabody Museum, p. 93. See also Schoolcraft’s Indian tribes, Vol. I, p. 83.] describes and pictures a chunkee stone from Ely Mound, Va. Lewis and Clarke [Footnote: Lewis and Clarke’s Expedition, Phila, 1814, Vol. I, p. 143.] describe the game as played among the Mandans. This tribe had a wooden platform prepared on the ground between two of their lodges. Along this platform the stone ring was rolled and the sticks were slid along the floor in pursuit of it. Catlin [Footnote: Vol. I, p. 132 et seq. Dorsey describes two forms of the game in use among the Omahas: “shooting at the rolling wheel” and “stick and ring” Third Annual Report. Bureau of Ethnology, pp. 335-336. cf. Travels in the Interior of America, in the years 1809, 1810 and 1811, by John Bradbury, p. 126.] describes the game as played by the same tribe. They had a carefully prepared pavement of clay on which they played. The “Tchunkee” sticks were marked with bits of leather and the counts of the game were affected by the position of the leather on or near which the ring lodged. The Mojaves are accustomed to play a similar game which has been described under the name “Hoop and Pole”. [Footnote: Lieut. A. W. Whipple in Pac. R. R. Rep.. Vol. III, p. 114; Harper’s Mag., Vol. XVII, p. 463; Domenech. Vol. II, p. 197; H. H. Bancroft’s Native Races, Vol. I, p. 393, p. 517 and note 133. The Martial Experiences of the California Volunteers by Edward Carlsen, Overland, Vol. VII, No. 41. 2nd Series, p. 494.] A similar game was played by the Navajoes. [Footnote: Major E. A. Backus in Schoolcraft. Vol. IV, p. 214.]

The Yumas played a game with two poles fifteen feet long and a ring a few inches in diameter. [Footnote: W. H. Emory, U. S. and Mexican Boundary Survey, Vol. I, p. 111.] Kane [Footnote: Kane’s Wanderings, p. 310; H. H. Bancroft’s Native Races, Vol. I, p. 280.] says that the Chualpays at Fort Colville on the Columbia “have a game which they call ’Alkollock,’ which requires considerable skill. A smooth, level piece of ground is chosen, and a slight barrier of a couple of sticks placed lengthwise is laid at each end of the chosen spot, being from forty to fifty feet apart and only a few inches high. The two players, stripped naked, are armed with a very slight spear, about three feet long, and finely pointed with bone; one of them takes a ring made of bone or some heavy wood and wound with cord. The ring is about three inches in diameter, on the inner circumference of which are fastened six beads of different colors, at equal distances, to each of which a separate value is attached. The ring is then rolled along the ground to one of the barriers and is followed at the distance of two or three yards by the players, and as the ring strikes the barrier and is falling on its side, the spears are thrown, so that the ring may fall on them. If any one of the spears should be covered by the ring, the owner counts according to the colored bead on it. But it generally happens from the dexterity of the players that the ring covers both spears and each counts according to the color of the beads above his spear. They then play towards the other barrier, and so on until one party has obtained the number agreed upon for the game.”

In his “Life among the Apaches,” [Footnote: Life among the Apaches by John C. Cremony, p. 302.] Colonel Cremony describes the hoop and pole game as played by the Apaches. With them the pole is marked with divisions throughout its whole length and these divisions are stained different colors. The object of the game is to make the hoop fall upon the pole as near the butt as possible, graduated values being applied to the different divisions of the pole. The women are not permitted to approach within a hundred yards while the game is going on. [Transcriber’s Note: Lengthy footnote relocated to chapter end.] Those who have described this game in the various forms in which it has been presented dwell upon the fact that it taxed the strength, activity and skill of the players. In this respect it rivalled lacrosse. In geographical range the territory in which it was domesticated was nearly the same.

There are many, doubtless, who would decline to recognize the discoidal stones of the mounds as chunkee stones, but it can not be denied that the “netlecawaw” of the Cherokees [Footnote: Timberlake p. 77.], the “hoop and pole” of the Mojaves and Apaches [Footnote: Whipple, Pac. R. R. Rep., Vol. III, p. 114. Cremony, p. 302, Harper’s Mag. Vol. XVII, p. 463.], the second form of “spear and ring” described by Domenech, [Footnote: Domenech, Vol. II, p. 197.] the “alkollock” of the Chualpays [Footnote: Kane’s Wanderings, p. 310.] and the chunkee of Romans and Adair are the same game. The change from the discoidal stone to the ring; the different materials of which the ring is made, whether of stone, [Footnote: Lewis and Clarke, Vol. I, p. 143; Catlin, Vol. I, p. 132.] of bone, [Footnote: Kane’s Wanderings, p. 310.], of wood, [Footnote: Cremony, p. 302.] or of cord; [Footnote: Whipple, Pac. R. R. Rep., Vol. III, p. 114.] whether wound with cord [Footnote: Kane’s Wanderings, p. 310.] or plain; the different lengths of the spears varying from three feet [Footnote: Ibid.] to ten feet [Footnote: Timberlake, p. 77; Cremony, p. 302.] and even reaching fifteen feet in length among the Mojaves; [Footnote: Whipple, Pac. R. R. Rep., Vol. III, p. 114.] the different markings of the spear [Footnote: Cremony, p. 302; Domenech, Vol. II, p. 197; Timberlake, p. 77.] and the ring; [Footnote: Kane’s Wanderings, p. 310.] the different ways of preparing the ground, whether tamping with clay, [Footnote: Catlin, Vol., I, p. 132.] or flooring with timber, [Footnote: Lewis and Clarke, Vol. I, p. 148.] or simply removing the vegetation, [Footnote: Domenech, Vol. II, p. 197.]--all these minor differences are of little consequence. The striking fact remains that this great number of tribes, so widely separated, all played a game in which the principal requirements were, that a small circular disk should be rolled rapidly along a prepared surface and that prepared wooden implements, similar to spears, should be launched at the disk while in motion or just at the time when it stopped. Like lacrosse, it was made use of as an opportunity for gambling, but owing to the restriction of the ground on which it could be played, the number of players were limited, and to that extent the interest in the contests and the excitement attendant upon them were proportionally reduced.

[Relocated Footnote: The Hawaiians were accustomed to hurl a piece of hard lava along narrow trenches prepared for the purpose. The stone which was called Maika closely resembled a chunkee stone. It is described as being in the shape of a small wheel or roller, three inches in diameter and an inch and a half thick, very smooth and highly polished. This game appears to have been limited to a contest of skill in rolling or hurling the stone itself. The additional interest which was given by hurling the spears at it while in motion was wanting. Narrative of the U. S. Exploring Expedition by Charles Wilkes, London, 1815, Vol. IV, p. 35.]


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.