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Yuchi Games

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With the Yuchi, all games have a strong ceremonial aspect. They are, most of them, of a public character, taking place in the allotted playground adjacent to the public square. The afternoon of the second day of the annual festival is the usual time for playing them ceremonially. Many of the games are accompanied by ritual, more especially the ball game. Stakes are wagered in nearly all games by both players and spectators. Like most Indian games the betting is a very important item of consideration.

Fig. 34. Plan of Ball Field
Fig. 34. Plan of Ball Field

The first to call for description is the ball game played with two rackets and known quite generally among the tribes of the Southeast. A number of descriptions of the game as played by various tribes are available and offer interesting material for comparison.[1]

This game commands more interest among the Yuchi than any other, and is always played after the emetic is taken and the feast completed, on the second day of the annual ceremony. It has been, however, played at other times of the year by different parties in the tribe or made an intertribal or inter-town contest for the purpose of betting. The Yuchi have frequently played against other towns of the Creek Nation. The game is still played in a modified manner.

A rite, called the Ball Game Dance, is performed the night before, ill honor of the sticks which are used in the game, and the supernatural power residing in them. The sticks are placed on a scaffold, usually in the west lodge of the square ground, with a line of women standing behind it. Men, including the players, are lined up on the opposite side. They all sing and stamp their feet, but in this dance the loudest singing is done by the women. Sometimes the sticks are painted red for this ceremony, to symbolize their combative function.

As many players as wish or are fitted to do so may take part in the game, though the sides must be evenly matched. On this occasion, men of the Chief class form one side and Warriors the other. The latter are tradition-ally mean players, even nowadays resorting to
foul play and violence. Each side choses a chief or leader, and his regalia at the present day consists of a cow’s tail stained red, worn sticking out from the back of the belt, or a collar of red cloth having a number of blue strips hanging from it. Common players must not wear foot coverings or hats. The custom now is to have a handkerchief bound around the head. Formerly no clothing save the breechcloth and sash or cow’s tail was worn.

Goals consisting of two uprights and a cross piece are erected at each end of a level stretch, about 250 feet apart. The course of the ball field is east and west. Each goal is sacred to one side, and various means are attempted to bewitch that of the opponents. If a woman with child can be made to encircle the goal of the opposite side it will cause that side to lose. In very formal games certain taboos of actions and diet were enforced, but these practices are now obsolete.

The sticks used in this game are made of hickory. Two are used by each player, that in the right hand often being longer by several inches. These ball sticks, dagancá (Pl. VI, Fig. 2), are usually about three feet long, of heavy, well-seasoned hickory wood. They are sometimes circular, sometimes polygonal in section. The scoop to catch the ball in is formed by cutting about one foot of the shaft down flat, then turning and bending it back upon the handle end, where it is lashed fast in several places. The open scoop is then netted with rawhide or deerskin, one thong running lengthwise across the open and another crosswise. In some particularly good sticks there are two thongs each way. Holes through the rim of the scoop are made for fastening the thongs. Some variety in detail is found in different specimens. The crosswise thongs are twisted up tight, so as to hold fast the lengthwise strand which passes through the twist perpendicularly.

The ball, dagän’, is made of buckskin stuffed with deer hair and contains a conjured object in the center. It is about two and one-half inches in diameter, the cover consisting of two round pieces of soft deerskin sewed together all around their edges. A specimen ball, when opened, proved to contain a core of red cloth which was itself sewed up in the form of a ball. The large ball, daganeä, used in the football and handball game, is six inches in diameter and much softer than the small one. Several auxiliary lines of stitching are put on the opposite sides of the joining seam to take up whatever slack might result from violent usage.

The other tribes using two sticks in this game, in contrast to the one-stick game of the northern Plains and Algonkian tribes, are the Creek, Seminole, Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Shawnee. The Choctaw seem to have carried the ball game to its highest athletic and ceremonial form.

Before the Yuchi begin a game, an address of encouragement and instruction is given by an old man of the Warrior society who has charge of the event. In one form of the game the sticks are laid on the ground in a pile and at a the players scramble for them. At other times, time is taken up in conjuring the score-ground. An old man, a Warrior, marks a line on the ground near the ball field. He cuts small sticks to represent points or goals. Then he begins a harangue to the sticks and the mark, telling them to be fair and so on, pointing all the time at the different objects He names the sides on the line and the little score sticks. After this conjuration he takes the ball and, when the players are ready, being arranged in squads near their goals, tosses up the ball from the middle point between the goals. Then he runs to one side to escape the clash of the opponents. The players close in to catch the ball in their rackets and force it through their opponents’ goal posts.

Strict care must be taken by the players not to allow the ball to be touched by their hands. This is about the only rule of the game, every sort of strategy and violence being allowed. When a player makes a goal he throws his body forward, elevates his elbows and gives the ‘gobble ‘ yell, a tremulous whoop also given as a scalp cry. This is a taunt.

From this point on the game is a wild struggle. The bystanders add to the confusion by shouting and yelling cries of encouragement, gyä, ‘hurry up,’ kye, ‘here,’ and other directions intended to aid the players, just like white spectators. Wherever the ball is there is a pushing, shouting, yelling crowd of players trying to get it in their rackets. Those on the inside are fumbling and trying to prevent others from securing it, while those farthest away are pushing and hammering with their sticks to break a passage toward the center, until someone secures the ball and sends it up in the air over the heads of the crowd toward the opponents ‘ goal if possible. Then someone else who has been waiting at a distance for just this occasion has time to seize the ball between his rackets and line it off for a goal before the crowd reaches him. He is lucky if he does not get clubbed by some angry opponent after this. If his throw falls short or misses the goal someone else has a chance to get it and make a throw. Or if the player who catches the ball is near the hostile goal he may try to run with the ball tightly gripped in his rackets. Then his success depends upon his speed, but his pace may be slackened by a blow from the racket of some one of his pursuers, Where upon he drops the ball and the crush closes in about him. Or he may circle off and by outrunning the rest succeed in carrying the ball through the goal posts, while everyone sets up a yell and the sides line up with suppressed excitement for another inning.

The line-up was observed as follows: according to the number of players a certain force was placed to guard the goal post on each side, while the majority were grouped on opposite sides of the center of the ground where the ball is tossed up. Thus there were two squads on each side. Between these squads few half-way men were stationed. The diagram, Fig. 34, shows a typical arrangement, the black dots representing one side, the circle their opponents. The cross X is where the ball is tossed up. As the games observed were between members of the two societies of the tribe, the players in the figure, indicated by circles and dots, represent respectively Chiefs and Warriors.

Goals obtained are marked by the score-keeper, by driving small sticks in the ground on the side of the line which has scored. The first side to score twenty goals wins. In this game men arc often seriously injured and killed. It is stated that, in a game between the Yuchi and one of the Creek towns some years ago, four men were fatally injured. The photographs (Pl. XVI.) show groups of players at different stages of a game which took place in conclusion of the annual ceremony of 1905.

Fig. 35. Foot Ball
Fig. 35. Foot Ball

A similar game in which women may take part on both sides, or against men, is played with a large ball (Fig. 35), the bare hands alone being used. This is an informal and very amusing event. Played in another way the ball is kicked by men and women on opposite sides. This was called dagAntoné, “ball kick”

Another game is called cow’s head. A cow’s head is elevated on a pole about twenty feet high, and men and women strive to hit it with a small ball, which the women throw with their hands and the men with ball sticks. Counts are as follows:

Hitting cow’s head counts for men 1, for women 5

Hitting cow’s horn counts for men 1, for women 2

Hitting two feet below head counts for men 3, for women 1

Played in another way, the women throw the ball, which was a large one in this case, while the men kick it. Twenty players were on each side. Betting was carried on with both of these games.

Like the prairie tribes, the Yuchi women also played a game with two balls connected by a thong. This they tossed by means of a simple straight stick. There was no goal, the object merely being to get the chain ball away from the opponent. The hoop and throwing stick game was also known to the Yuchi. Cat’s cradles or string games are well known by children and adults. Four or five of these string figures were seen. One of them, for instance, was called Crowfoot,[2] another resembled the common Jacob’s Ladder,[3] while the others, extremely long and complex, could not be named. All of the figures were made by one person alone and the figures were brought out chiefly by manipulating the right hand. A common figure was similar to that known to white children under the name of ‘sawing wood.[4] Some of the string figures may have been learned from white people.

Horse racing, foot racing and trials of strength and endurance are greatly to the liking of the Indians. On such occasions they usually indulge freely in betting. Among other contests carried on by men is a form of wrestling. The first grasp is an elbow grasp, each man holding the other somewhere near the elbow and trying to throw him backwards by dexterous twisting or by combined strength and weight. The semi-formal giving of presents to guests and friends is also a fairly common practice upon the occasion of the gatherings. The event is hardly to be called formal, as the giver simply offers tobacco to the person he wishes to honor and states aloud what he will give. The recipient is under no obligations to return the favor until some time has passed, when he is expected to return to the giver another and more valuable gift.


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  1. A compilation of much of the material has been made by Culin and published. See games of the North American Indians, in Twenty-fourth Annual Report of Bureau American Ethnology (1902-190.3), p. 561, et scq.
  2. The finished pattern resembles “Leashing of Lochiel’s Dogs” (cf. String Figures, by Caroline F. Jayne, New York, 1906, pp. 116, 120; also the Tanana ” Raven’s Feet”) (ibid. p. 306, fig. 825) ; and the Cherokee “Crow’s Feet” (cf. A. C. Haddon, American Anthropologist, Vol. V, No. 2, p. 217).
  3. This resembles an Osage figure recorded by Mrs. Jayne (cf. String Figures, p. 27, Fig. 50.)
  4. Cf. ibid. p. 357 Fig. 805.

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