Ball Games, Dancing and Ghost Dance

Indian Ball Game

     The following account of an Indian ball game, played some years ago, has been sent to the writer.

      When it was announced that the teams were about to appear, there was some nervousness on the part of most of the spectators. It had been reported that the red men would appear in costumes that would put the sea-side bathing suit to shame and make the average ballet dancer consider her dress fit for the Klondike. Instead of this, however, no one appeared in breech cloth and with the exception of two or three who were stripped to the waist, each brave had on a shirt and knee trousers. All were barefooted. Modesty alone prevented their appearance in the abbreviated uniform of former days, as their manager said they thought the many white squaws in attendance might be shocked.

     The game of Indian ball would probably never be very popular with the average American audience. It is a modified form of lacrosse, hockey or shinney, together with a sprinkling of foot-ball thrown in. It is much quieter than either of the other games. Nine men constitute a team and the players wear red or blue cloths over their heads or about their waists to indicate the team to which they belong. Each player is provided with two ball sticks made of hickory, thirty-six inches long, the wood being curved or bent into a loop at the bottom. A piece of buckskin wound back and forth across the loop constitutes a net by which the ball is kept from falling through the loop. The aim is to pick the ball up with the two sticks and throw it against a board at the end of the ball ground. No player is allowed to touch the ball with his hands. Each time the ball is thrown against the board counts a point and twelve points usually constitute a game. Now here is where the sprinkling of foot-ball comes in. If a player gets the ball between the loops of the two sticks and starts to run with it instead of throwing it immediately, any player of the opposite team may drop his sticks, tackle the runner and throw him to the ground. In the excitement attendant upon the scramble for the ball it not infrequently happens that a player gets struck on the head with an opponent’s stick, and occasionally a player is dangerously wounded.

      The ball used in this game is about the size of a golf ball. Indian women will oftentimes carry buckets of water and first aid supplies for their sons who are engaged in the games.

     The contests between the ball teams of different towns (districts) became quite spirited at times, and it was customary for the medicine-man of each town to take charge of his team for several days before entering a contest and put the members in good physical condition. No player who was physically unfit was permitted to take part in a game.


     Sofki has been one of the favorite dishes of food for the Indians, especially among the Creeks. It is made of corn, pounded into coarse meal, treated with lye and mixed with water. The wet meal is boiled and lye is dripped into it through a sieve filled with wet wood ashes. When the mixture becomes a thick mush, it is removed from the fire and allowed to cool, sometimes ground nuts are added to the mixture. Sofki is still made and relished by many Indian families.

Indian Dancing

     The Indian, like many of his white brothers, is fond of dancing, and like them too, he indulges in numerous kinds of dancing. Many of the Indian dances, however, possess a religious significance. Some are of the nature of supplications for rain, for good crops, for the recovery of a sick friend, for prevention of a scourge, or for a victory in battle. In the case of sickness or a threatened plague, the medicine man begins the ceremony by gathering certain roots and herbs, known only to him, from which he compounds his medicine. He sprinkles this mixture around the premises and on the bed of the sick Indian. This is followed by feats of magic or legerdemain in the presence of the patient, partaking somewhat of the nature of mesmerism. At the close of the third day a feast is served to the invited guests, which is followed by dancing to the music of the tom tom. The dancers, usually men and women, form a circle, and to the music of the tom tom, accompanied by low chanting of voices, the dance proceeds, and frequently continues throughout the entire night. If the patient is not seriously ill, the excitement of the occasion may induce him to leap from his bed and participate in the dancing, whereupon he is declared cured by the medicine. These old-time Indian dances have long since been discarded by the Five Tribes, except that a few of the full-bloods occasionally celebrate them.

The Indian Ghost Dance

     Mr. James Mooney of the U. S. Bureau of Ethnology gives the following account of the Indian Ghost dance of a hundred years ago : “From the venerable James Wofford of the Cherokee Nation, the author, in 1891, obtained some interesting details in regard to the excitement among the Cherokees. According to his statement, the doctrine first came to them through the Creeks in 1812 or 1813. It was probably given to the Creeks by Tecumseh and his party during their visit to that tribe in the Fall of 1811. The Creeks were taught by their prophets that the old Indian life was soon to return, when instead of beef and bacon they would have venison, and instead of chickens they would have turkeys.

     “Great sacred dances were inaugurated and the people were exhorted to be ready for what was to come. From the South the movement spread to the Cherokees, and one of their priests, living in what is now upper Georgia, began to preach that on a day near at hand there would occur a terrible storm, with a mighty wind and hailstones as large as hominy mortars, which would destroy from the face of the earth all but the true believers who had previously taken refuge on the highest summits of the Great Smoky mountains. Full of this belief, numbers of the tribe in Alabama and Georgia abandoned their bees, their orchards, their slaves and everything else that might have come to them from the white man ; and in spite of entreaties and remonstrance’s of friends who put no faith in the prediction, took up their toilsome march for the mountains of Carolina. Wofford, who was then about ten years of age, lived with his mother and stepfather on Valley River, and vividly remembers the troops of pilgrims, with their packs on their backs, fleeing from the lower country to escape the wrath to come. Many of them stopped at the home of his stepfather, who, being a white man, was somewhat better prepared than his neighbors to entertain travelers, and who took the opportunity to endeavor to persuade them to turn back, telling them that their hopes and fears alike, were groundless. Some listened to him and returned to their homes, but others went on and climbed the mountain, where they waited until the appointed day, arrived. Slowly and sadly they then took up their packs once more and turned their faces homeward, dreading the ridicule they were sure to meet with on their return, but yet believing in their hearts that the glorious coming was only postponed for a time. This excitement is noted at some length in the old Cherokee Advocate of November 16, 1844, published at Tahlequah.”

Source: Benedict, John D. Muskogee and northeastern Oklahoma, including the counties of Muskogee, McIntosh, Wagoner, Cherokee, Sequoyah, Adair, Delaware, Mayes, Rogers, Washington, Nowata, Craig, and Ottawa. 3 v. illus., ports., facsims. 28 cm. Chicago, S.J. Clarke Pub. Co., 1922.

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