Choctaw Ball Games
The border Indians are all fond of games; many of them have learned to play cards and to gamble with considerable skill; but with the most of the tribes, and especially the Choctaws, ball-playing is the favorite amusement. They have an irresistible passion for such sports and pastimes. Their game was quite similar to that known among our lads as “Bandy.” They did not hurl the ball with the naked hand, but each had a cudgel, about three feet long, at the end of which there was a net-work or basket made to resemble the shape of a man’s hand; with that bandy club they would catch and hurl the ball with astonishing force and precision. Every Indian manifested a deep interest in the play; old, middle-aged, and young of both sexes, would invariably attend as spectators, if not as participants in the amusement. Such was the eagerness to be present on every occasion that all other business matters must be suspended and every interest stand in abeyance, and nothing must be permitted to come in conflict with the ball-play. We recently had an illustration of this truth. The Rev. Mr. Steele had published that a camp meeting would be held at the base of the Sugar-Loaf Mountain, near to the residence of Colonel Thomson M’Kenny, to commence on the eighteenth day of August. The meeting had been published in every community within the limits of the district; the preparations were all made, and ministers were engaged to be present to assist in the services. But, three days before the time set for the meeting to commence, Colonel M. sent a polite note to Mr. S., informing him that it was necessary to postpone the camp meeting for a few days, as it would come in conflict with the interests of a ball-play, which would come off at Ayakni Achuckma, the council-ground, commencing on the day set for the meeting. The young men of Puckchenubbee district had sent a challenge to their brothers of the Moshulatubbee to meet them in their favorite game.
Indians, regarding the code of honor as authoritative, never pocket a challenge, but boldly meet their antagonists, utterly regardless of consequences.
When a challenge has been given and formally accepted, and the time and place agreed upon by their oracles, then the light-horsemen are instructed to notify every man, woman, and child in the district that a play will commence upon a set day. Whole families will repair to the ground, build their camp fires, and there remain till the contest is fairly ended, the laurels won, and the victors crowned. It sometimes occurs that some sharp trader will smuggle ardent spirits into the camps, when a general carousal at once ensues, terminating in bruises and broken beads ; violent deaths occasionally result from a general drunken frolic; while it is but an act of justice to record that very many of the substantial Choctaws do not drink to excess under any circumstances; and they labor vigilantly to keep whisky out of the nation.
Mr. Steele at once abandoned the effort to hold his camp meeting at the Sugar-Loaf; for he knew that it would be extreme folly to come in competition with the play. But, a short time after his defeat, he ascertained that the district court would, at a certain time, be held at the council-house; and, as it would bring a multitude of people together, the most of whom would have no business in the courts to occupy their time and attention, Mr. Steele thought it would be a most favorable occasion for a camp meeting. He accordingly announced, all around his circuit, that a camp meeting would be held at the council-ground during court-week. The necessary preparations were made, and, at the set time, Mr. Steele was promptly on the ground ready to open his battery and pour hot shot into the bosom of the enemy, and press ” the battle to the gate.” But, alas! he was again doomed to disappointment; for, after the crowds had assembled and arranged their camps, some one had vauntingly hurled a ball high into the air, accompanied with a challenge to a game to commence immediately. The challenge was accepted in a moment, and instantly the whole camp was filled with excitement. In a few minutes the preliminaries were all settled, the ground-limits defined, and the contestants in their appropriate positions. The interest in the game became at once intense and all-absorbing, and the result was that both court and camp meeting indefinitely postponed.
Mr. Steele was left to bear the chagrin and mortification of his second defeat with that philosophy which Christianity alone inspires. He retired from the camp consoling himself with the reflection that his intention had been right, his motives pure in God’s sight; he had done what he could, and with that his responsibility ended. It was the last effort of that character during the conference year. At the ensuing conference session Mr. Steele was appointed to a circuit in the southern portion of the nation, embracing portions of the Pushmataha and Puckchenubbee districts.