PLATTER OR DICE.





The second in the list of games given by Father Brebeuf is that which

he calls "platter." Writers who describe the habits of the Indians at

the north have much to say concerning this game. According to

Lescarbot, Jacques Cartier saw it played, and recorded his

observations. [Footnote: Histoire de la Nouvelle France par Marc

Lescarbot, Nouvelle Edition, Paris 1856, Vol. III, p. 734.]



Sagard Theodat [Footnote: Histoire du Canada, etc., par Gabriel Sagard

Theodat; Nouvelle Edition, Paris, 1856, Vol. I, pp. 243-244.] devotes

considerable space to it. Both Father Brebeuf, in his Relation in 1636,

and Father Lalemant, in his Relation in 1639, give long accounts of the

game, the causes for its being played, the excesses in gambling to

which it leads, and the methods which prevail in its practice. In

Perrot's [Footnote: p. 50.] work there is a good description of the

game, although not so full as his account of lacrosse, from which we

have already quoted. La Potherie and LaHontan barely mention it.

Latitau [Footnote: Mours des Sauvages Ameriquains, erc, par le P.

Latitau, Paris, 1724, Vol. II, p. 339.] in his searching analysis of

the manuscripts deposited at Quebec, while seeking for traces of his

theory that a resemblance existed between the habits of the Indians and

those of the ancient dwellers in eastern Europe, found an unusual

quantity of material bearing on this particular topic, which he has

reproduced in his book. Charlevoix [Footnote: Vol. III, pp. 260-1.], in

a letter dated June 8, 1721, says, "As I was returning through a

quarter of the Huron village, I perceived a number of these Indians,

who seemed much heated at play. I approached them and found that the

game they were playing at was what they called the game of platter.

This is the game to which the Indians are addicted above all others.

They sometimes lose their rest and in some degree their very senses at

it. They stake all they are worth, and several of them have been known

to continue at it till they have stript themselves stark naked and lost

all their movables in their cabin. Some have been known to stake their

liberty for a certain time. This circumstance proves beyond all doubt

how passionately fond they are of it, there being no people in the

world more jealous of their liberty than our Indians."



In the description which Charlevoix then gives, he is relied partly

upon personal observations and also to some extent, upon accounts which

were at that time in manuscript in Quebec mid which were easily

accessible to him. He was himself an intelligent observer and a

cultivated man. His history and his letters, although not free from the

looseness of expression which pervades contemporaneous accounts show on

the whole the discipline of an educated mind. We learn from him and

from the authorities heretofore enumerated that two players only from

each side could participate in this game at any given time during its

progress. The necessary implements were a bowl and a number of dice

fashioned somewhat like apricot seeds, and colored differently upon the

upper and lower sides. Generally, one side was white and the other

black. The number of these dice was generally six. There was no fixed

rule as to the materials of which they were made; sometimes they were

of bone; sometimes the stones of fruits were used. The important point

was that the centre of gravity of each die should be so placed, that

when it was thrown into the air, or when the bowl in which it was

placed, was violently twirled, there would be an even chance as to

which of its two sides the die would settle upon when it lodged; and in

the game as it was played in early times that the whole number of dice

used should be uniform in the coloring of the sides, each die having

the different sides of different colors. The dice were placed in the

bowl which was generally of wood, between the two players who were to

cast them in behalf of their respective sides. These casters or

throwers were selected by each side and the prevailing motives in their

choice were generally based upon some superstitious belief in their

luck. Perhaps this one had dreamed that he would win. Perhaps that one

was believed to possess some magic power, or some secret ointment which

when applied to the dice would cause them to turn up favorably for his

side. [Footnote: Relations des Jesuites, Relation en l'Annue, 1636, p.

113.] The spectators were generally arranged in seats along the sides

of the cabin [Footnote: Ibid, Relation en l'Annue, 1639, p. 95.],

placed in tiers so that each person could have a view of the players.

They were in more senses than one deeply interested in the game. When

the cast was to be made the player would strike the bowl upon the

ground so as to make the dice jump into the air [Footnote: Sigud

Theodat Vol. 1, p. 213.] and would then twirl the bowl rapidly around.

During this process and until it stopped its revolutions and the dice

finally settled, the players addressed the dice and beat themselves on

their breasts. [Footnote: Shea's Hennepin, p. 300.] The spectators

during the same period filled the air with shouts and invoked aid from

their own protecting powers, while in the same breath they poured forth

imprecations on those of their adversaries. The number of points

affected the length of the game and as entirely optional. If six dice

were used and all came up of the same color, the throw counted five.

[Footnote: Among the Delawares it required eight counts of five to win.

History of the Mission of the United Brethren among the Indians etc. G

H Loskiel. Translated by I Latrobe, Part I, Ch. VIII, p. 106.] If five

of them were of the same color it counted one. Any lower number failed

to count. If the caster was unsuccessful he gave place to another, but

so long as he continued to win his side would retain him in that

position. [Footnote: Charlevoix Vol. III, p. 264.] The game was often

ushered in with singing. Like lacrosse it was prescribed as a remedy

for sickness or in consequence of dreams, and the sufferer in whose

behalf the game was played was borne to the cabin in which it was to

take place. Preliminary fasting and continence were observed, and every

effort made that superstition could suggest to discover who would be

the lucky thrower and who could aid the caster by his presence at the

contest. Old men, unable to walk thither, were brought up on the

shoulders of the young men that their presence might be propitious to

the chances of the game. [Footnote: Ibid p. 202.] The excitement which

attended one of these games of chance was intense, especially when the

game reached a critical point and some particular throw was likely to

terminate it. Charlevoix says the games often lasted for five or six

days [Footnote: Loskiel (p. 106) saw a game between two Iroquois towns

which lasted eight days. Sacrifices for luck were offered by the sides

each night.] and oftentimes the spectators concerned in the game, "are

in such an agitation as to be transported out of themselves to such a

degree that they quarrel and fight, which never happens to the Hurons,

except on these occasions or when they are drunk."



Perhaps rum was responsible also for these quarrels; for in the early

accounts we are told that losses were philosophically accepted. Father

Biebeuf tells of a party who had lost their leggings at one of these

games and who returned to their village in three feet of snow as

cheerful in appearance as if they had won. There seems to have been no

limit to which they would not go in their stakes while under the

excitement of the game. Clothing, wife, family and sometimes the

personal liberty of the player himself rested in the hazard of the die.

[Footnote: Cheulevoix Vol. III, p. 261. Le Grand Voyage du Pays Des

Hurons, pan Gabriel Sigud Theodat Puis 1632, Nouvelle Edition, Paris,

1835, p. 85, Relations de Jesuites, Relation de la Nouvelle France en

l'Annee 1639, pp. 95-96, Lafitau, Vol. II, p. 341.]



The women often played the game by themselves, though apparently with

less formality than characterized the great matches. The latter

frequently assumed the same local characteristics that we have seen in

the game of lacrosse, and we hear of village being pitted against

village as a frequent feature of the game. [Footnote: Penot p. 43,

Histoire du Canada par F. X. Garneau, Vol. I, p. 115.]



Morgan [Footnote: League of the Iroquois, p. 602.] describes a game

played by the Iroquois with buttons or dice made of elk-horn, rounded

and polished and blackened on one side. The players spread a blanket on

the ground; and the dice were tossed with the hand in the air and

permitted to fall on the blanket. The counts were determined as in the

game of platter by the color of the sides of the dice which were

exposed when they settled. The number of the dice was eight.



In Perrot's [Footnote: Periot, p. 50.] description of the game of

platter he, alludes to a game, played with eight dice, on a blanket in

precisely this way, but he adds that it was practised by women and

girls. La Potherie [Footnote: La Potherie, Vol. III, p. 23.] says that

the women sometimes play at platter, but ordinarily they cast the fruit

stones with the hand as one throws dice.



Under the name of "hubbub" this game has also been described by

observers among the Abenakis. Ogilby [Footnote: America, being an

Accurate Description of the New World, etc. Collected and Translated by

John Ogilby. London, 1670, Book II, Ch. II, p. 155.] says: "Hubbub is

five small Bones in a small Tray; the Bones be like a Die, but

something flatter, black on the one side and white on the other, which

they place on the Ground, against which violently thumping the Platter,

the Bones mount, changing Colour with the windy whisking of their Hands

to and fro; which action in that sport they much use, smiting

themselves on the Breasts and Thighs, crying out Hub Hub Hub; they may

be heard playing at this game a quarter of a mile off. The Bones being

all black or white make a double Game; if three of one colour, and two

of another, then they afford but a single game; four of a colour and

one differing is nothing. So long as the Man wins he keeps the Tray,

but if he lose the next Man takes it."



There is but little said about this game in the south by writers. It

evidently had no such hold there as among the Hurons and the tribes

along the Lakes. Lawson [Footnote: History of North Carolina by John

Lawson, London, 1718, p. 176.] saw it played in North Carolina with

persimmon stones as dice. While this fixes the fact that the game had a

home among the southern Indians, the way in which it has been slighted

by the majority of writers who treat of that section shows that it was

not a favorite game there.



To what shall we ascribe this? Its hold upon the northern Indians shows

that it was peculiarly adapted to the temperament of the natives, and

we should naturally expect to find it as much in use among the tribes

of the south as with those of the north. An explanation for this may

possibly be found in the difference of the climate. The game was

especially adapted for the winter, and while its practice was evidently

not exclusively confined to that season, it is possible that its

greater hold upon the affections of the Indians of the north arose from

their being obliged to resort to in-door amusements during the

protracted winters in that region. From this necessity the southern

Indians being in a measure exempt, they continued their out-door games

as usual and never became so thoroughly infatuated with this game.



Informal contests were often held between players, in which the use of

the bowl or platter was dispensed with. The dice were held in the hand

and then tossed in the air. They were allowed to fall upon some prepared

surface, generally a deerskin spread for the purpose. The same rules as

to the color of the surfaces of the dice when they settled in their

places governed the count. This form of the game is sometimes described

as a separate game. Boucher [Footnote: True and Genuine Description of

New France, etc, by Pierre Boucher, Paris, 1644 Translated under title

"Canada to the Seventeenth Century," Montreal, 1883, p. 57.] calls it

_Paquessen_. [Footnote: Played by women and girls. Sagard Theodat,

Histoire du Canada, Vol. I, p. 244.] The women of Oregon played it with

marked beaver teeth. [Footnote: Contributions to North American

Ethnology, Vol. I, p. 206, George Gibbs; H. H. Bancroft's Native Races,

Vol. I, p. 244, The Northwest Coast by James G. Swan, p. 158.] Among the

Twanas it was played with beaver or muskrat teeth. [Footnote: Bulletin U

S Geological Survey, Vol. III, No. 1, April 5, 1877. Rev. M. Eels.]

Powers [Footnote: Contributions to North American Ethnology, Vol. III,

p. 332.] says that among the Nishmams, a tribe living on--the slopes of

the Sierra Nevada between the Yuba and Cosumnes rivers, a game of dice

is played by men or women, two, three or four together. The dice, four

in number, consist of two acorns split lengthwise into halves, with the

outsides scraped and painted red or black. They are shaken in the hand

and thrown into a wide flat basket, woven in ornamental patterns. One

paint and three whites, or _vice versa_, score nothing; two of each

score one; four alike score four. The thrower keeps on throwing until he

makes a blank throw, when another takes the dice. When all the players

have stood their turn, the one who has scored the most takes the

stakes."



The women of the Yokuts, [Footnote: Contributions to North American

Ethnology, Vol. III, p. 377.] a Californian tribe which lived in the

San Joaquin valley near Tulare Lake, had a similar game. Each die was

half a large acorn or walnut shell filled with pitch and powdered

charcoal and inlaid with bits of bright colored abaloni shell. Four

squaws played and a fifth kept tally with fifteen sticks. There were

eight dice and they scooped them up with their hands and dashed them

into the basket, counting one when two or five flat surfaces turned up.



Schoolcraft [Footnote: Schoolcraft's Indian Tribes, Vol. II, pp. 71,

72.] says "one of the principal amusements of a sedentary character is

that of various games, success in which depends on luck in numbers.

These games, to which both the prairie and forest tribes are addicted,

assume the fascination and intensity of gambling; and the most valued

articles are often staked upon the luck of a throw. For this purpose

the prairie tribes commonly use the stones of the wild plum or some

analogous fruit, upon which various devices indicating their

arithmetical value are burned in, or engraved and colored, so as at a

glance to reveal the character of the pieces." Among the Dacota tribes

this is known by a term which is translated the "game of plum stones."

He gives illustrations of the devices on five sets of stones, numbering

eight each. "To play this game a little orifice is made in the ground

and a skin put in it; often it is also played on a robe." [Footnote:

Domenech. Vol. II, p. 191, First Annual Report of Bureau of Ethnology.

Smithsonian, 1881, p. 195.] The women and the young men play this game.

The bowl is lifted with one hand and rudely pushed down to its place.

The plum stones fly over several times. The stake is first put up by

all who wish to play. A dozen can play at once if desirable.



Schoolcraft [Footnote: Vol. n, p. 72.] describes still another form of,

the game which he found among the Chippewas, in which thirteen pieces or

dice were used. Nine of them were of bone and were fashioned in figures

typifying fish, serpents, etc. One side of each was painted red and had

dots burned in with a hot iron. The brass pieces were circular having

one side convex and the other concave. The convex side was bright, the

concave dark or dull. The red pieces were the winning pieces and each

had an arithmetical value. Any number of players might play. A wooden

bowl, curiously carved and ornamented, was used. This form of the game

may have been modified by contact with the whites. It seems to be the

most complex [Footnote: See also a simpler form of the game described by

Philander Prescott among the Dacotas--Schoolcraft, Vol. IV, p. 64. The

tendency of the modern Indians to elaborate the game may be traced in

the description of "Plumstone shooting" given in "Omaha Sociology" by

Rev. J. Owen Dorsey. Third Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology to

the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. Washington, 1884, p. 335.]

form in which the game appears. The fact still remains however, that in

some form or other we find the game in use across the entire breadth of

the continent. [Footnote: Col. James Smith describes the game among the

Wyandots. An Account of the Remarkable Occurrences in the Life and

Travels of Col. James Smith, during his Captivity with the Indians in

the Years 1755-1759. Cincinnati, 1870, p. 46. Tanner also describes it.

He calls it _Beg-ga sah_ or dice. Tanner's Narrative, New York, 1830, p.





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