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Source: Indian Games

There was diversity in the forms of the games of simple chance as well
as in the athletic games, and besides those which have been already
described, the Indians on the Pacific Coast had a great variety of
games, or forms of the same game, in which, in addition to the element
of chance involved in determining the numbers or positions of certain
sticks or counters, there was also an opportunity for the player who
was manipulating them to deceive by dexterous sleight of hand. The
simplest form in which this is found is guessing in which hand a small
stone or bone is held. It would hardly seem that this artless effort
could be transformed into an amusing and exciting game; yet it has
attracted the attention of all travellers, and scarcely any writer, who
treats of the habits of the Pacific coast Indian, fails to give a full
account of this simple game. Lewis and Clarke, [Footnote: Lewis and
Clarke, Vol. II, 140; and also II, 94.] when writing about the Indians
near the mouth of the Columbia, say: "The games are of two kinds. In
the first, one of the company assumes the office of banker and plays
against the rest. He takes a small stone, about the size of a bean,
which he shifts from one hand to another with great dexterity,
repeating at the same time a song adapted to the game and which serves
to divert the attention of the company, till having agreed on the
stakes, he holds out his hands, and the antagonist wins or loses as he
succeeds or fails at guessing in which hand the stone is. After the
banker has lost his money or whenever he is tired, the stone is
transferred to another, who in turn challenges the rest of the company.
[Footnote: See also, Adventures on the Columbia River, by Ross Cox. p.
158; The Oregon Territory, by John Dunn, p. 93; Four Years in British
Columbia, by Commander R. C. Mayne, p. 273; it was played by the
Comanches in Texas with a bullet, Robert S. Neighbors in Schoolcraft,
Vol. II, p. 134; by the Twanas with one or two bones, Bulletin U. S.
Geol. Survey, Vol. III, No. 1, p. 89, Rev. M. Eels.] In the account
given by George Gibbs [Footnote: Contributions to North American
Ethnology, Vol. I, p. 206.] the count of the game among the tribes of
western Washington and northwestern Oregon, was kept by means of
sticks. Each side took five or ten small sticks, one of which was
passed to the winner on each guess, and the game was ended when the
pile of one side was exhausted. According to him, "The backers of the
party manipulating keep up a constant drumming with sticks on their
paddles which lie before them, singing an incantation to attract good
fortune." Powers describes another form into which the game developed
among the Indians of central California. It is "played with a bit of
wood or a pebble which is shaken in the hand, and then the hand closed
upon it. The opponent guesses which finger (a thumb is a finger with
them) it is under and scores one if he hits, or the other scores if he
misses. They keep tally with eight counters." [Footnote: Contributions
to North American Ethnology, Vol. III, pp. 332-3.]

Schwatka, in his recent exploration of the Yukon found this game among
the Chilkats. It was called _la-hell_. Two bones were used. One was the
king and one the queen. His packers gambled in guessing at the bones
every afternoon and evening after reaching camp. [Footnote: Along
Alaska's Great River. By Frederic Schwatka, p. 71.]

The simplicity of the game was modified by the introduction of similar
articles in each hand, the question to be decided being in which hand
one of them having a specified mark should be found. Kane [Footnote:
Kane's Wanderings, p. 189.] thus describes such a game among the
Chinooks: "Their games are few. The one most generally played amongst
them consists in holding in each hand a small stick, the thickness of a
goose quill, and about an inch and one-half in length, one plain, the
other distinguished by a little thread wound round it, the opposite
party being required to guess in which hand the marked stick is to be
found. A Chinook will play at this simple game for days and nights
together, until he has gambled away everything he possesses, even to
his wife." [Footnote: See also Overland, Vol. IV, p. 163, Powers, H. H.
Bancroft's Native Races, Vol. I n 244 Clay balls are sometimes used,
Ibid, Vol. I, p. 353, The Northwest Coast James G Swan, p. 158, Montana
as it is Granville Stuart, p. 71.]

Among the Utahs this form of the game was common: "A row of players
consisting of five or six or a dozen men is arranged on either side of
the tent facing each other. Before each man is placed a bundle of small
twigs or sticks each six or eight inches in length and pointed at one
end. Every tete-a-tete couple is provided with two cylindrical bone
dice carefully fashioned and highly polished which measure about two
inches in length and half an inch in diameter, one being white and the
other black, or sometimes ornamented with a black band." At the rear,
musicians were seated who during the game beat upon rude drums.
[Footnote: Edwin R Baker in the American Naturalist, June, 1877, Vol.
XI, p. 551.] In this game it will be noticed that the players paired
off and apparently each man played for himself.

Still another element is introduced in another form of the game, which
increases the opportunity afforded the one who manipulates the bones for
dexterity. This form of the game is repeatedly alluded to by Powers.
While relating the habits and customs of the Gualala, whose homes were
near Fort Ross, he describes what he calls the gambling game of "_wi_
and _tep_" and says that one description with slight variations will
answer for nearly all the tribes of central and southern California.
After describing the making up of the pool of stakes, he adds: "They
gamble with four cylinders of bone about two inches long, two of which
are plain, and two marked with rings and strings tied round the middle.
The game is conducted by four old and experienced men, frequently grey
heads, two for each party, squatting on their knees on opposite sides of
the fire. They have before them a quantity of fine dry grass, and with
their hands in rapid and juggling motions before and behind them, they
roll up each piece of bone in a little ball and the opposite party
presently guess in which hand is the marked bone. Generally only one
guesses at a time, which he does with the word '_lep_' (marked one), and
'_wi_' (plain one). If he guesses right for both players, they simply
toss the bones over to him and his partner, and nothing is scored on
either side. If he guesses right for one and wrong for the other, the
one for whom he guessed right is 'out', but his partner rolls up the
bones for another trial, and the guesser forfeits to them one of his
twelve counters. If he guesses wrong for both, they still keep on and he
forfeits two counters. There are only twelve counters and when they have
been all won over to one side or the other, the game is ended.
[Footnote: Powers in Contributions to North American Ethnology, Vol.
III, pp. 90-152; 189-332.] Sometimes the same game was played without
going through the formality of wrapping the pieces in grass, simply
shaking them in the hands as a preliminary for the guessing. [Footnote:
Contributions to North American Ethnology, Vol. III, 332; Alexander
Ross's Adventures, pp. 308, 309.]

A slightly different method prevails among the Indians of Washington
and northwestern Oregon. Ten disks of hard wood, each about the
diameter of a Mexican dollar and somewhat thicker, are used. "One of
these is marked and called the chief. A smooth mat is spread on the
ground, at the ends of which the opposing players are seated, their
friends on either side, who are provided with the requisites for a
noise as in the other case. The party holding the disks has a bundle of
the fibres of the cedar bark, in which he envelops them, and after
rolling them about, tears the bundle into two parts, his opponent
guessing in which bundle the chief lies." [Footnote: Contributions to
North American Ethnology, Gibbs, Vol. I, p. 206.] The same game is
described by Kane, except that the counters, instead of being wrapped
in one bundle which is afterward torn in two, are originally wrapped in
two bundles. [Footnote: Kane's Wanderings, p. 189; Swan's Northwest
Coast, p. 157, Eels in Bulletin U.S.G. Surv., Vol. III, No. 1.]

Still another complication of the guessing game was described by Mayne.
[Footnote: Mayne's British Columbia, p. 275.] Blankets were spread upon
the ground on which sawdust was spread about an inch thick. In this was
placed the counter, a piece of bone or iron about the size of a half a
crown, and one of the players shuffled it about, the others in turn
guessing where it was.

The game of "moccasin" was but a modification of this game. As
described by Philander Prescott three moccasins were used in this game
by the Dacotas. The bone or stick was slipped from one to another of
the moccasins by the manipulators, and the others had to guess in which
moccasin it was to be found. Simple as this description seems, the men
would divide into sides, playing against each other, and accompanying
the game with singing. [Footnote: Schoolcraft, Vol. IV, p. 64;
Domenech, Vol. II, p. 192.]

Among the Zunis, the guessing game was exalted to the nature of a
sacred festival. Frank H. Cushing [Footnote: The Century, Vol. XXVI, p.
37.] gives the following account of its practice. "One morning the two
chief priests of the bow climbed to the top of the houses, and just at
sunrise called out a 'prayer message' from the mount-environed gods.
Eight players went into a _kli-wi-lain_ to fast, and four days
later issued forth, bearing four large wooden tubes, a ball of stone,
and a bundle of thirty-six counting straws. With great ceremony, many
prayers and incantations, the tubes were deposited on two mock
mountains of sand, either side of the 'grand plaza.' A crowd began to
gather. Larger and noisier it grew, until it became a surging,
clamorous, black mass. Gradually two piles of fabrics,--vessels, silver
ornaments, necklaces, embroideries, and symbols representing horses,
cattle and sheep--grow to large proportions. Women gathered on the
roofs around, wildly stretching forth articles for betting, until one
of the presiding priests called out a brief message. The crowd became
silent. A booth was raised, under which two of ho players retired; and
when it was removed the four tubes were standing on the mound of sand.
A song and dance began. One by one three of the four opposing players
were summoned to guess under which tube the ball was hidden. At each
guess the cries of the opposing party became deafening, and the mock
struggles approached the violence of combat. The last guesser found the
ball; and as he victoriously carried the latter and the tubes across to
his own mound, his side scored ten. The process was repeated. The
second guesser found the ball; his side scored fifteen setting the
others back five. The counts, numbered one hundred; but so complicated
were the winnings and losings on both sides, with each guess of either,
that hour after hour the game went on, and night closed in. Fires were
built in the plaza, cigarettes were lighted, but still the game
continued. Noisier and noisier grew the dancers; more and more
insulting and defiant their songs and epithets to the opposing crowd,
until they fairly gnashed their teeth at one another, but no blows. Day
dawned upon the still uncertain contest; nor was it until the sun again
touched the western horizon, that the hoarse, still defiant voices died
away, and the victorious party bore off their mountains of gifts from
the gods." The picturesque description of Cushing brings before our
eyes the guessing game in its highest form of development. Among the
tribes of the East, if it had a home at all, it was practised in such
an inobtrusive way as not to attract the attention of writers who have
described their habits and customs. The nearest approach to it which we
can find is a guessing game described by Hennepin, as follows: "They
take kernels of Indian corn or something of the kind, then they put
some in one hand, and ask how many there are. The one who guesses

Mackenzie [Footnote: Alexander Mackenzie's Voyages in 1789 and 1893
London, 1801, p. 311.] fell in with some Indians near the Pacific coast
who travelled with him a short distance. They carried with them the
implements for gambling. Their game was different from the guessing
games which have been heretofore described. "There were two players and
each had a bundle of about fifty small sticks neatly polished, of the
size of a quill, and five inches long. A certain number of their sticks
had red lines round them and as many of these as one of the players
might find convenient were curiously rolled up in dried grass, and
according to the judgment of his antagonist respecting their number and
marks he lost or won."

The same game was seen at Queen Charlotte Islands by Francis Poole.
[Footnote: Queen Charlotte Island, a narrative etc., p. 25.] He says
there were in this game from "forty to fifty round pins or pieces of
wood, five inches long by one-eighth of an inch thick, painted in black
and blue rings and beautifully polished." These pins were divided into
two heaps under cover of bark fibre and the opposite player guessed odd
or even for one of the piles.



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