Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

Border Wars

by Elizabeth Eggleston Seelye
Assisted by Edward Eggleston
New York
Dodd, Mead and Company, Publishers, 1879.



IROQUOIS Indians frequently occupied their long, idle days with games, on which they were accustomed to bet. One of their favorite pastimes was a game of ball, and great ball matches were sometimes played between different tribes. The Mohawks once challenged the Senecas to a national game of ball. A great concourse of Indians had gathered to witness the game. The Senecas stood in groups upon one side of the playground, the Mohawks upon the other. First the betting began. The Indians betted ornaments, hatchets, swords, rifles, belts, knives, and furs, upon the results of the contest. A bet upon one side of a valuable article was matched with an article of like value upon the other. The stakes were placed under the care of a company of aged Indians. The game then began.

The ball was of deerskin; the bats were woven with deerskin thongs. A certain number of players were chosen upon each side. They were entirely naked except for the breechcloth. Each party had a gate, or two poles planted in the ground about three rods apart. The aim of the players on each side was to drive the ball through their own gate a specified number of times. It took several contests to decide the match. The players provided with bats were ranged in opposite lines, and between them stood two men chosen from each side. The ball was then placed among them. Sometimes a pretty Indian girl, very gayly dressed and decked with silver ornaments, ran into the midst of the players and dropped the ball on the ground. It was one of the rules of the game that the ball must not be touched by foot or hand. Instantly the ball was placed on the playground each of the two Indians who stood in the centre made a struggle to give it the start toward his own gate. The ball once flying through the air was followed by the players from both sides. It would be caught among them, and there would be an exciting struggle to extricate it. Such a struggle was always going on at some point upon the ground. Perhaps some fleet-footed player would succeed in getting the ball upon his bat. He would run with all his might towards his gate bearing the ball upon his bat; for if he could run through the gate with it his side would make one point. But the opposite side would have stationed runners to guard against any such easy success. They would bend every nerve to interrupt the runner. If he did not succeed in dodging them just as they were upon him, he would perhaps throw the ball over his head toward the gate or toward some player on his side. Sometimes one party would rescue the ball at the very gate of the opposing party and carry it back in triumph through its own. When the match was finally decided, the victorious tribe would throw caps, tomahawks, and blankets into the air in an ecstasy of exultation.

Players were frequently severely hurt in the fierce struggles over the ball. It was usually taken in good part, but at this particular game a Mohawk player struck a Seneca a hard blow with his bat. Instantly the Senecas dropped their bats, took up the stakes that they had laid down in betting, and returned to their own country. Three weeks after, Red Jacket and some other chiefs sent a belligerent message to the Mohawks demanding satisfaction for the insult. Brant immediately called a council of his people, and it was decided to recommend a friendly council of both nations to settle the difference. The Senecas contented to this, and the council met. Red Jacket was opposed to a reconciliation. He made a stirring speech in which he pictured the offence in its blackest light, and was in favor of nothing less than war. But the older Senecas, and among them Cornplanter, who had not yet lost all his influence, were opposed to a break between the two nations, and proposed that presents should be made in atonement to the young man who had been injured. The Mohawks consented to this, and the pipe of peace was finally smoked in friendship.

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