Moccasin or Hidden Ball

Menominee Indians, Wisconsin
Note, Drummer, Counting Sticks, Moccasins, and pointing sticks.


Mr George S Cottman of Irvington Indiana states that in "Indianapolis News", July 22, 24, 1879, one of the earliest Pioneers named Robert Duncan wrote the following (Reference, Delaware, Indiana):
"Moccasin was a gambling game much practised among the Delaware Indians, and was borrowed of them by the white settlers. As originally played, a deer skin was spread upon the ground and a half dozen upturned moccasins arranged in a semicircle within easy reach of the player. The latter, holding to view a good sized bullet, then quickly thrust his hand under each moccasin in turn having the bullet under one of them. This was done so skillfully as to leave the onlooker in doubt, and the gambling consisted in betting where the bullet was. This was called moccasin. Subsequently the whites modified the game slightly by placing caps on the table, and the game became changed to bullet. It was played so extensively among the pioneers as to become a recognized evil, and on the early statutes stands a law making gambling at bullet a finable offense."

Mr Cottman writes that in 1807 on page 104 of "The Laws of Indiana Territory" there "was a statute forbidding various gambling games, among them that of bullet, the penalty fixed for practising them being five dollars and costs."

We have been told by Daryl Stonefish, researcher and historian of the local tribal council (Delaware Nation) that the game of moccasin was often played by them to raise money for special events or decide who provided things for certain events, etc. Many books, including "Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society. Oklahoma Delaware Ceremonies, Feasts and Dances" tell of the game of moccasin playing a real purpose in the burial ceremonies of the Delaware. It tells how anyone who wishes could come to sit all night with the corpse, and play at the game of moccasin until dawn. There was a time when the game of Moccasin was only used at Funerals by the Delaware, and not for amusement. Thus there was no longer gambolling involved with it since it was at a funeral. It was really simply used to keep those sitting beside the deceased awake all night. At the beginning of the game each side would have four moccasins. Then the women would take away one from each side. Later they would remove another so there were only two left, and then another so with only one left the game could no longer be played, so it was known that it was time to quite playing the game.

Moccasin Game, Bullets
and Counting Sticks,
Chippewa Indians,
United States National Museum

In "Archaeological Report", 1899, page 38, Toronto, 1900, Mr David Boyle writes the following as the first part of a description on the subject (Reference, Seneca, Ontario):
"When friends and neighbors are assembled at a wake, it is customary for them to engage in a game to comfort in some measure the bereaved ones, and, to a certain extent, as a mere pastime. It may be premised that in so doing there is no desire that either side engaged should win, and the whole of the proceedings are conducted with seriousness. If, during the progress of the game a young person should forget himself, the Had Man, or master of ceremonies, takes occasion to point out that at such times light behavior is unseemly.

As many players, men and women, may engage as there is room to accommodate when the two sides sit face to face. The game consists in the hiding of a pebble (a marble, or a bullet is now often used) in one of four moccasins or mittens held in the lap of the hider for the time being, the other side trying to guess in which of these the object has been placed.

The Head Man makes a long speech to the players. .........

In book of American Indian Games by Paulette and Allan Macfarlan reference Plains, Woodland, Northwest Coast, Southwest A different form of Hidden Ball is described. A number of Indians sit around a blanket. One player has a small stone like a marble or small ball. He pretends to hide it in many different areas under the blanket using songs, pantamine, and many types of tricks to conceal which place he actually places the small stone. Other players pick one person to guess where they think that the ball is hidden.

In Indian Games and Dances with Native Songs Alice C Fletcher writes Hiding the disks. One player puts 9 discs (uneven number) under a robe. One disc is marked. He shuffles them back and forth in two piles, and suddenly a player at the other end will point to one pile. If the marked disc in in that pile he wins. If not discs are given the the "hider" , and he begins again to shuffle them back and forth.

Fletcher also describes a game in which there are two guessers. North and South. North "Hides his ball in one of his hands shifting it behind his back, then he holds out both hands in front of him with all the fingers closed except the index finger which is extended as if pointing to the other guesser. Both hands and forearms must be rhythmically moved up and down. The south side guesser watches for a moment and then points with his wand to the hand he thinks has the ball. As soon as he points to a hand it must be immediately opened palm upward. Should the ball be in the other hand it must be shown to be lying there. If the guess was correct ....... it counts one." The game continues with two people sitting side by side hiding the balls.

In "Games of the North American Indians" Cullin quotes a Mr S C Simmons who gives the name of the game as wahpetah, and describes it as follows (Reference, Papago, Arizona.):
"This is a game of four wooden cups, in which something is concealed. One may use any convenient thing; beans or corn will do. After the object is concealed, the cups are filled with sand and handed to one's opponent. If he first hands you back the one containing your bean, you gain 10; if the bean is in the second, you gain 6; if in the third, 4; but if in the last one you lose your turn and he conceals the bean. As soon as you give him the cup he empties it and conceals the bean again. The score is 50, the loser paying from a pile of fifty beans. (Note by Faire Tyme. We believe that the cups are concealed when the bean is hidden in the cup. There is no moving the cups round and round to confuse the other player. It is simply a matter of picking the bean from 4 cups that were hidden when a bean was placed in one.)

In "Games of the North American Indians", Cullin quotes a Mr Thomas V Keam of Arizona (Reference, Arizona):
"The game consists of ten points. It is played during the winter month of January in the kivas by two or more individuals. When the tubes are placed over the object they are hidden from the view of the contesting party by a blanket. A small round sandstone pebble is the object used. It is placed under one of the tubes, and the contesting side calls out the figure marked on the tube under which the pebble is supposed to be, and at the same time lifts the tube. If it exposes the pebble and is done with the right hand, it counts 2 points; if done with the left, it counts 1 against him. When the 10 points are won by the outs, they take the stake and assume control of the game, which is sometimes prolonged during the night.

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In "Cullin's book he quotes from a Mr Henry P Ewing as follows (Reference, Walapai, Arizona):
"To play the game, two persons or two sides select a place where the soil is soft and sandy and dig up with a stick or the hands two trenches or holes about 3 or 4 feet long and about 6 or 8 inches deep and a foot wide. The loose soil or sand is left in the trench, and one of the players takes the ball while the bundle of counters is placed between the two trenches on the ground. The player with the ball takes it in his left hand and buries it, hand and all in the loose sand at one end; then he draws his hand back at the same time piling the sand over the buried hand with the other. He gradually withdraws the hand to the far end of the trench, all the time piling up the sand over the trench. When he has withdrawn the hand from the trench the ball is missing, he having hid it somewhere in the loose earth. He divides the earth in the ditch into four piles by piling it up with his hands. One of this opponents now runs his hand into one of the piles. If he finds the ball there, he takes it and hides it in his trench. If he misses, sometimes the hider will say "Guess again". " ........ (Description continues.) A similar game is shown in Book of American Indian Games by Allan and Paulette Macfarlan
Reference, Northwest Coast, and Plains 9 wooden discs about 2 1/2 inches are required. One is marked with special painting, etc. One player is chosen to hide discs in straw or shavings, and two teams of equal numbers are involved in pointing out where the special disc is located.
While drummers beat drums and the guessers sing, the "hider" gathers straw or shavings into large pile, and begins to hide the discs in tune with the rhythm making sure that the marked disc can never be seen. Gradually he forms two piles of discs, and makes two piles of straw over them. All of the time he is making dramatic gestures and movements to confuse those trying to guess which pile that the disc is in. He continues to make gestures and movements over the piles until one of the guessers points to the pile he thinks that the marked disc is in. This ends all guessing.
Instantly the hider begins to roll all discs one by one into the pile not pointed to and the guesser looks at each to see if it is the marked disc. If he guesses correctly a counting stick is placed in front of him. If he does not the counting stick is placed in front of the other team.

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