Ball Playing Among Native Americans

Indian Ball-Player

Indian Ball-Player

As synopsized at Early Baseball Milestones ( Captured by Native Americans, a youth sees them playing a game of ball. The “ball” was part of a sturgeon’s head covered with deerskin strips, the club was of hickory, some number of safe-haven bases were formed by small piles of stones, and there was plugging. “Their principal object seemed to be, to send the ball as far as possible, in order to enable the striker of it, to run around the great space of ground, which was comprised within the area formed by the piles of stones….” There is no mention of a pitcher, and if a batter-runner was put out, he would replace the fielder who made the putout. Some games would last for days.

Source:  Anonymous (the credited author is “Lucy Ford,” the protagonist), Female Robinson Crusoe: A Tale of the American Wilderness (1837), pp. 176-78.

Some of the male adults were playing ball, which article was, as he afterwards ascertained it to be on examination, portion of a sturgeon’s head, which is elastic, covered with a piece of dressed deerskin.  Another ball which he noticed was constituted of narrow strips of deerskin, wound around itself, like a ball of our twine, and then covered with a sufficiently broad piece of the same material.

An Indian Ball-Play, Dwight's American Magazine & Family Newspaper, August 8, 1846.

An Indian Ball-Play, Dwight’s American Magazine & Family Newspaper, August 8, 1846.

In playing this game, they exhibited great dexterity, eagerness, and swiftness of speed.  The party engaged, occupied an extensive surface of open ground, over whose whole space, a vigorous blow with the hickory club of the striker, would send the ball, and also to an amazing height.  On its coming down, it was almost invariably caught by another player at a distance, and as instantly hurled from his hand to touch, if possible, the striker of the ball, who would then drop his club, and run, with a swiftness scarcely surpassed by the winds, to a small pile of stones, which it was part of the game for him to reach.  If the runner succeeded in attaining to the desired spot, before the ball touched him, he was safe.  Otherwise, he had to resign his club to the fortunate thrower of the ball against him, and take his place to catch. The runner, by watching the coming ball, was almost always enabled to avoid its contact with him, by dodging or leaping, which was effected with all the nimbleness of one of the feline race.  If that was effected, another person, in his own division of the playing party (there being two rival divisions), assumed the dropped club, to become a striker in his turn.Female Robinson Crusoe, A Tale of the American Wilderness (1837)

Their principal object seemed to be, to send the ball as far as possible, in order to enable the striker of it, to run around the great space of ground, which was comprised within the area formed by piles of stones, placed at intervals along the line of the imaginary circle. Two rival parties would thus contrive in eager contest for hours, and their captive, has actually known them to keep up the game for several days, regardless of food or drink, which, however, their fellow savage spectators, who became interested, would bring, and persuade them to partake of, in order to sustain in vigour, their drooping strength and spirits.  When the darkness of night had involved the scene, and they could no longer discern the ball, they would drop asleep in the very spot where they had stood, at the time that the obscurity in the air, obliged them to suspend playing; and at the earliest gray of dawn, some arose, and immediately making the welkin ring with their shouts, thus awakened the others, and at it again they all went, with scarce a moment’s cessation, until night again temporarily stopped the sport.


1 Comment

There is a some resemblance to the Maya Ball Game, probably a cousin.
Just proves how natural is the urge to hit tape measure home runs…

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