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The Creator's Game Sam Brettschneider

Background

Lacrosse is the oldest team sport in North America. It was created by the Native Americans, commonly referred to as "The Creator's Game", but the exact origin of the sport is unknown as the game was played for many centuries prior to when it was first recorded in the 1600's. Today, lacrosse is the fastest growing team sport in the United States.

Lacrosse was played all over the modern-day United States by the Native Americans. Each region had different variations of rules and gameplay, but the main objective was the same. The object modern lacrosse is to score points against an opposing team by putting a ball in their net, opposing the other teams' net across the field, primarily using sticks with a net and cradle at one end. Original versions of the game stretched over playing fields miles and miles across, played for days, and resulted in casualties, trade, betting, peace, and the spread of culture. Original accounts of lacrosse reveal the common translation to english of the game's name was close to "Ball" with "Ball-players".

Today, there are 3 main variations of modern lacrosse. Field lacrosse, box (indoor) lacrosse, and women's lacrosse. Men's and women's lacrosse vary in rules and regulations, field size, physicality, and other small variables. The women's game is growing faster than the men's game and it is closer to the original Native American game with a longer field and less equipment but much less violent.

This awesome video was made by fellow colleagues of mine, TLN. It details the timeline of lacrosse's journey to the present day.

Primary sources

These 7 sources are first-hand, original records of lacrosse and events in lacrosse's history. They help us connect to the originality and ancient nature of the sport and provides insight and information on the history of this nation and the complicated relationship with the native inhabitants of its land.

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Works of George catlin (1796-1872)
George Catlin was an American artist living in the 1800s that documented Native American life and frequently included ancient Lacrosse games and players

These works of art are rare gateways into original games of lacrosse played in the 1800s. Some paintings were accompanied with text and give us insight directly about the subject.

Ball-Play of the Choctaw

by George Catlin

1846-1850

Smithsonian American Art Museum

This painting made by George Catlin from 1846-1850 depicts a huge game of lacrosse near modern-day Oklahoma near the Arkansas River. Since image technology was not available at this time, paintings of original lacrosse games are rare and extremely valuable. We can see that the plains version of lacrosse stretched over fields and hills, much larger than the modern lacrosse field. Entire tribes are seen to be participating, with many players on the ground possibly in combat or fighting in play.

Catlin wanted to show Americans the incredible sight of a lacrosse game, and closely assimilated the play to Roman or Olympic competition. These games were considered the "Little Brother of War" and were extremely physical and demanding of the players This valuable piece of art gives us an accurate sense of scale of the games. These games are no longer played, so sources like these are the only way to see ancient lacrosse games.

We-chúsh-ta-dóo-ta, Red Man, a Distinguished Ball Player

by George Catlin

1835

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Catlin painted this Sioux Native American ball-player near the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers. This specific player, named We-chúsh-ta-dóo-ta, was regarded as one of the best players in the tribe.

Catlin wanted to display the grand and exotic figure of this champion. He is doused in red paint and is posed in an admiring and strong position. This sophisticated depiction of a Native American showed a unique side of Native American culture that the American public was not exposed to as often during this time.

It is written that Catlin was impressed when he saw the athleticism and complexity of this game, but knew that the power and influence of the American settlers would not bode well for these Natives. He saw their joy in this game, conflicting him as he knew there was trouble in their future as westward expansion grew and anti-native movements became more prevalent in society and politics during the mid-1800s.

Ball Players

by George Catlin

Smithsonian American Art Museum

This painting of 3 Native American ball-players depicts the incredible look of original Native American lacrosse players. The game was closely related to war, and the players took on the warrior-like aesthetic. Feathers, paint, headdresses, and custom sticks all added to a player's persona, and their play during the games were deemed as an integral part of life in their culture, and in many ways dominated players lives.

This painting is arguably the most popular and famous visual depiction of a classical Native American player. There are not many accounts of original lacrosse players that are this visually detailed and Catlin beautifully captured their athleticism in their poses and muscular definition. This image shows creativity, art, and uniqueness within Native American culture, contrary to the public opinion of these peoples as "savages".

These men were incredible athletes.

Ball-play Dance, Choctaw

By George Catlin

1834-1835

Smithsonian American Art Museum

This unique image painted by Catlin shows a ritual dance performed by the Native Americans in the same setting as Ball-Play of the Choctaw by Catlin. This image is extremely important as it shows the religious connection that the Native Americans had to lacrosse. This game was similar to war, but similar to many other aspects of Native American life, lacrosse was inherently spiritual and ritual.

In many ways, the games were seen as ceremonies that gave status and recognition to members of the tribe. The tribe would prepare for the games for days and nights, singing, dancing, chanting, and celebrating the awaiting games.

Insight to these ceremonies and aspects of Native American life are unique to lacrosse. This game was played by thousands of people all over North America and because of those deeply-rooted and integral aspects of lacrosse, modern day Native Americans still see the game as an integral part of life, culture, and part of their history.

Literary works (1689-1869)

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An Account of the Indians in Virginia

by John Clayton*

1689

*Thought to be written by a clergyman named John Clayton in 1689, An Account of the Indians in Virginia provides some of the very first recordings of Native American lacrosse. Possibly journalistic recordings of life during this time, the purpose of this text and accounts of the Native Americans is not known for sure, but it gives the reader an unparalleled example of life in the late 1600s in Virginia, and if written by John Clayton, is written by a minister of Jamestown. Along with the game he depicts their day-to-day life, crucial to understanding the Native Americans living in Virginia during the times of the first colonies, comparing and contrasting their ways to the settlers.

In this source Clayton wrote, "Another game is with a crooked stick, and ball made of leather stufft with hair: he wins that drives it from the other between two trees appointed for the goal." (Clayton, 232). This description of what would become modern-day lacrosse is extremely important as one of the first accounts of the game in the timeline of lacrosse.

The Historie of Travaile Into Virginia Britannia: Expressing the Cosmographie and Comodities of the Country, Togither with the Manners and Customes of the People

by William Strachey

1849

This account written by William Strachey provides his description of what would become modern-day lacrosse. He describes the game as an exercise similar to an English game, Bandy (pg. 134). Even though there is not much content on the actual game, the inclusion of the game shows allows us to analyze the other aspects of Native American life Strachey provides throughout the text.

The games and "exercises" Strachey described were slightly different to other types of lacrosse played, including rules that are similar to modern-day soccer and field hockey. Although a small detail, this customization and uniqueness shows how culture spread among Native American tribes and regions. This documentation of differences and unique aspects of differing games gives us the opportunity to track, document, and group the similarities and differences in Native American cultures throughout North America.

Lacrosse: The National Game of Canada

by William George Beers

1869

George Beers established and recorded the first defined set of rules for Lacrosse in 1869 by writing Lacrosse: The National Game of Canada. He was coined the "Father of Modern Lacrosse" as he tried to make the game more accessible and marketable to white Canadians as it is Canada's national sport.

Before Beers wrote Lacrosse: The National Game of Canada, Lacrosse was still seen as chaotic and of lesser-viewed Native standards, and by Beers "translating" the rules for mass use, it allowed the game to be seen and played by more and more people; providing the initial step for lacrosse on its journey to becoming a main-stream sport.

The END
Created By
Sam Brettschneider
Appreciate

Credits:

Created with images by Ella Jardim - "untitled image" • Jason Lander - "dusk" • echoroo - "When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice. - Cherokee"

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