The Choctaw appear to have had rather few games of chance. Among those described to the writer is one that closely resembles the moccasin game of the Algonquian and other widely separated tribes in America. This is said to have been played by the “old people” and is probably one of the oldest Choctaw games. It was described thus:
Twelve men were required in playing this game. They knelt or sat on the ground in two rows, or sides,” facing each other, six players in each row. Seven hats were placed on the ground in a line between the two rows of players.
The player who was to start the game and who was always at one end of his row held in one hand a small stone or shot. With his other hand he raised all the hats in order, placing under one of these the stone or shot; during the entire performance he sang a particular song. After the stone or shot had been placed, the player sitting opposite him guessed under which hat it lay. If he did not succeed in three guesses, the leader removed the object and again hid it under either the same or another hat. Then the second player on the opposite side had three guesses. If a player guessed under which hat the object was hidden, he in turn became the leader.
Unfortunately, those who described the game could not recall how the points were counted. They agreed, however, that the side having the greater number of points made by the six players combined, won.
Another game of chance, one that seems to have been a favorite and much played in this region, was
Tanje boska, or corn game
This was played, the writer was informed, with either five or seven kernels of corn blackened on one side. Holding all the grains in one hand, the players tossed them on the ground, each player having three throws. The one making the greatest number of points in the aggregate, won. Each “black” turned up counted 1 point; all “white” turned up counted either 5 or 7 points, according to the number of kernels used. Any number of persons could play at the same time, but usually there were only two.
Culin, who witnessed this game at Mandeville, some ten miles from Bayou Lacomb, in 1901, described it as played with eight grains of corn;1 hence it seems evident that no regular number was employed. The count, as described by Culin, is also somewhat different from that now followed at Bayou Lacomb.
The ball game, played by many tribes throughout the country, was by far the most important game of the Choctaw, but it has been described so often that mere mention of it is all that is here required. For full information on the subject the reader is referred to Doctor Culin’s monograph, above cited, in which are brought together many references and accounts of the game. A variation of the game as now played when there are few players was witnessed by the writer at Bayou Lacomb in February, 1909. This was played in the following manner:
The players were divided into two equal groups, or sides, which may be designated A and B. Two stakes, each about 10 feet in height and only a few inches in diameter, served as goals; these were about 200 feet apart. One-third of the A players were on the B side of the field and one-third of the B players were near their opponents’ goal. One player belonging to each side remained in the middle of the field. The ball was put in play by being thrown from one end of the field to the two players in the middle. No rackets were used, the ball being caught in the hands and thrown or held while the player endeavored to reach his opponents’ goal. To score a point a player was required to touch the goal post with the ball, or if the ball was thrown and hit the post, the play likewise counted. The first side to score a chosen number of points won the game. This game is seldom played, and the older game, formerly played with rackets (kapocha), has not been played for several years.
During the hot months of the year a favorite pastime of the boys and men Consisted in trying to swim blindfolded a wide stream to a certain point on the opposite bank. The first to reach the goal was declared the winner.Somewhat similar amusement participated in by the boys and young men consisted in rolling down hills while wrapped and tied in blankets or skins, the first to reach a certain line being the winner. As there are few hills in the vicinity of Bayou Lacomb, they resorted to the sloping banks of streams or bayous, but avoided the water.
At the present time both men and children play marbles, drawing rings on the ground and following the child’s game. The children play also “tag” after the manner of white children. Various other games and pastimes were undoubtedly known and practised in former days, but these have been forgotten by the Choctaw of whom this paper treats. The game of chungke may never have been in vogue with them, although it was played extensively by the main part of the Choctaw tribe.
The woman’s game described by Captain Romans in 17752 is not known to them.
Stewart Ulin, Games of the North American Indians, in Twenty-fourth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 146, 1907. ↩
Ibid., 709. ↩