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Ojibwe Lacrosse (1804)

When assembled in the summer season at the Company's forts, or at any other general rendezvous, it is customary with them [the Ojibwe], if not occupied with their more serious concerns, to amuse themselves at different games.

The “hurdle” is their favorite game; not only their young men, but men advanced in life sometimes engage in it. On this occasion they strip naked, save their breech clouts, head dress, a few silver ornaments on their arms and a belt around their waist; their faces and bodies are painted in the highest style. Each man is provided with a hurdle, an instrument made of a small stick of wood about three feet long, bent at the end to a small circle, in which a loose piece of net work is fixed, forming a cavity big enough to receive a leather ball, about the size of a man's fist.

Every thing being prepared, a level plain about half a mile long is chosen, with proper barriers or goals at each end. Having previously formed into two equal parties, they assemble in the very middle of the field, and the game begins by throwing up the ball perpendicularly in the air, when, instantly, both parties form a singular group of naked men, painted in different colors and in the most comical attitudes imaginable, gaping with their hurdles elevated in the air to catch the ball. Such a scene would make a scene worthy of the pencil of a Hogarth or a Poussin.

Whoever is so fortunate as to catch the ball in his hurdle, runs with it towards the barrier with all his might, supported by his party, while his opponents pursue him and endeavor to strike it out.

He who succeeds in doing so, runs in the same manner towards the opposite barrier and is, of course, pursued in his turn. If in danger of being overtaken, he may throw it with his hurdle towards any of his associates who may happen to be nearer the barrier than himself. They have a particular knack of throwing it to a great distance in this manner, so that the best runners have not always the advantage, and, by a peculiar way of working their hands and arms while running, the ball never drops out of their hurdle.

The best of three heats wins the game, and, besides the honor acquired on such occasions, a considerable prize is adjudged to the victors. The vanquished, however, generally challenge their adversaries to renew the game the next day, which is seldom refused. The game then becomes more important, as the honor of the whole village is at stake, and it is carried on with redoubled impetuosity, every object which might impede them in their career is knocked down and trod under foot without mercy, and, before the game is decided, it is a common thing to see numbers sprawling on the ground with wounded legs and broken heads, yet this never creates any disputes or ill will after the play is decided.

The women [also] have a game in imitation of the hurdle, in which the men never join. On this occasion, these heroines are provided with straight poles, about six feet long and pointed at one end, with which they throw two balls joined together by a short link or cord, about four inches long.

The game is begun and continued in the same manner as the hurdle, with the same impetuosity, but, seldom, with the same order and good humor, for it is common for these ladies, before the game is decided, to quarrel and fight with their cudgels in good earnest, and to the no small diversion of the men, who are often spectators of the farce, and take particular pleasure in seeing the women thus embroiled in their play.


REFERENCE: Peter Grant. The Saulteux Indians about 1804. Les bourgeois de la Compagnie du Nord-Quest, edited by L. R. Masson Quebec: De L'Imprimerie Generale A. Cote et cie. 1890. 303-366 p.

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