Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Ball Play Among Canadian Indians:

Origins of La Crosse



[This text was originally published in 1907 by the Bureau of American Ethnology as part of its Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico . It was later reproduced, in 1913, by the Geographic Board of Canada. The work done by the American Bureau was monumental, well informed and incorporated the most advanced scholarship available at the time. In many respects, the information is still useful today, although prudence should be exercised and the reader should consult some of the contemporary texts on the history and the anthropology of the North American Indians suggested in the bibliographic introduction to this section. The articles were not completely devoid of the paternalism and the prejudices prevalent at the time. While some of the terminology used would not pass the test of our "politically correct" era, most terms have been left unchanged by the editor. If a change in the original text has been effected it will be found between brackets [.] The original work contained long bibliographies that have not been reproduced for this web edition. For the full citation, see the end of the text.]



The common designation of a man's game formerly the favorite athletic game of all the eastern tribes from Hudson bay to the Gulf. It was found also in California and perhaps elsewhere on the Pacific coast, but was generally superseded in the W. by some form of shinny. It was played with a small ball of deerskin stuffed with hair or moss, or a spherical block of wood, and with 1 or 2 netted rackets; somewhat resembling tennis rackets. Two goals were set up at a distance of several hundred yards from each other, and the object of each party was to drive the ball under the goal of the opposing party by means of the racket without touching it with the hand. After picking up the ball with the racket, however, the player might run with it in his hand until he could throw it again. In the N. the ball was manipulated with a single racket, but in the S. the player used a pair, catching the ball between them. Two settlements or two tribes generally played against each other, the players numbering from 8 or 10 up to hundreds on a side, and high stakes were wagered on the result. Preceding and accompanying the game there was much ceremonial of dancing, fasting, bleeding, anointing, and prayer under the direction of the medicine-men. The allied tribes used this game as a stratagem to obtain entrance to Ft. Mackinaw in 1784. Numerous places bearing the name of Ball Play give evidence of its old popularity among the former tribes of the Gulf states , who have carried it with them to their present homes in Oklahoma , where it is still kept up with the old ceremonial and enthusiasm. Shorn of its ceremonial accompaniments it has been adopted by the Canadians as their national game under the name of la crosse , and by the Louisiana French creoles as raquette. The Indians of many tribes played other games of ball, noteworthy among which is the kicked ball of the Tarahumare, which, it is said, gave the name to the tribe.


Source: James WHITE, ed., Handbook of Indians of Canada , Published as an Appendix to the Tenth Report of the Geographic Board of Canada , Ottawa , 1913, 632p., p. 55.


© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College