Stick and Pole Games

Menominee Indian holding snow-snake preparatory to throwing
From "Games of the North American Indians by Stewart Culin


Drawing of Shinny
and Snow Snake
From Games of the
North American Indians

Reference, Snow-Snake was a game played by many North American Native tribes, but strictly where there was snow. There does not seem to be any "Dry land" version of it. The game is played by throwing an object across the ice and snow. Usually down a sort of "Track" or depression in the snow made for it. These snow-snakes could be thrown for very great distances due to the slippery conditions of the ice and snow. And, it also became a sort of "Kid's game" as the kids were able to go to retrieve the snow-snakes after they were thrown.

In Games of the North American Indians Culin mentions that there are said to be three types of snow-snakes. The first is a long straight wooden rod with can be up to 3 meters (10 feet) in length. It has a special "head" on the end that makes it look much like a long straight snake. The second type is a bone slider, in which a piece of bone or horn stuck with two feathers is made to slide along the ice. And the third is when a javelin tipped with something like a cow's horn is thrown along the ice, or thrown onto the ice to then bounce up and dart through the air. The object of the game was simply to gain the greatest distance.

Culin writes "As suggested by the Omaha game, the first form appears to have been originally a game of sliding bows, and these may be referred to their war clubs." The origin of many other forms have not been explained.

Imagine the technique required to throw the snake to keep it straight or if a track is used, to send it down that tiny track accurately. We at Faire Tyme have been told by native folk that the record for throwing a snow snake on an open river of ice is 7 miles!

Snow Snakes: length 30 inches.
Reference, Sauk and Fox Indians
American Museum of Natural History.
  • As mentioned above the first type of snow snake can be anywhere up to 3 meters in length. As seen here they can look very much like a real snake. Again, these would very greatly from tribe to tribe and individual to individual creator, but most would look quite similar to these. And generally these would be thrown down a long, narrow trough in the ice and/or snow. See the photo above also.

Feathered bone slider: 7 inches
Also Mentioned
as called "Wing Bones"
By Raymond A Bucko
In "When Does a Cactus
Become an Angry Buffalo"

Reference, Cheyenne Indians, Oklahoma
Free Museum of Science and Art
University of Pennsylvania

  • Culin quotes a Mr Lewis L. Meeker (Reference, Cheyenne, Oklahoma) that to throw one of these "The thumb is placed on one side of the bone, the forefinger between the sticks with the end against the end of the bone, and the other three fingers opposed to the thumb against the other side of the rib, the convex side of which is down. It is then thrown down and forward against a smooth surface, preferably ice, so that it glances forward as throwing-sticks and snow-snakes do. The marks etched on the bone represent a horned toad, a tarantula, the milky way, and the moon. The four marks invoke the four winds, while the six legs of the tarantula represent up and down and the cardinal points."

Girls throwing stick. Length 63 in
Reference, Oglala Dakota Indians, South Dakota
From "Games of the North American
Indians" by Stewart Culin
  • The third type of Snow-Snake is a type of throwing stick again. There is generally a cow's horn or similar attached to one end of it. In Culin's book he quotes Rev J Owen Dorsey in Games of Teton Dakota Children. The American Anthropologist, v. 4, p. 338. 1891. (Reference, Dakota, Teton, South Dakota).
    "The boys assemble at the corral or some other place where the cattle have been slaughtered, and gather the horns with have been thrown away. They kindle a fire and scorch the horns, noticing how far each horn has been burnt. That part of the horn is cut off, as it is brittle and they make the rest of the horn very smooth by rubbing. They cut off all the small and pliable branches and twigs of a pum tree and insert the root end into a hole in the horn, tightening it by driving in several small wedges around it. At the small end of the plum stock they fasten a feather by wrapping deer sinew round and round it. The pteheste is then thrown along the surface of the snow, or it often goes under the surface, disappearing and reappearing at short intervals. Sometimes they make it glide over the ice. Stakes are frequently put up by or for the players. "

Lance Game

In Book of American Indian Games by Allan and Paulette Macfarlan
Reference, Plains, Northwest Coast
Pole is 8 foot by 3/4 inch with a 1/2 inch wide mark in exact center. Two challengers face each other holding the pole in front of them at about eye level. Each holds the pole with right hand at the extreme end; his left hand grasps the pole and touches his right hand. On "Go" each instantly moves his right hand rapidly over his left hand and grasps the pole, with his right hand touching the left for a second. Immediately he places his left hand over right to take up a new grip alongside and touching the right. These movements rapidly continued in the correct sequence each hand advancing as swiftly as possible toward the mark on the center of the pole. Challenger whose hand first touches the mark wins.

Lance Hold

In Book of American Indian Games by Allan and Paulette Macfarlan
Reference, Plains, Northwest Coast
Lance is a pole 6 to 8 feet long 1 inch diameter with rounded ends. Lines mark the center 9 inches of the lance. Lines mark the outer 10 inches of each end of the lance. Chief holds the lance on it's end and then lets it drop. Players must grab it with LEFT hand. Center section counts two points. End sections equal 1 1/2 points and other areas 1 point. Right hand must never be used. Each team tries to get the most left hands on the lance. When "Hold" is called, the players stop but leave hands in place and chief counts the number of hands. Team with most hands (points) wins.

Pole Pull

In Book of American Indian Games by Allan and Paulette Macfarlan
Reference, Northwest Coast
Involves use of a 10 foot by one inch pole. Players sit three at each end inside each other's legs with legs spread apart. Only the RIGHT hand is used. Players grasp the pole with right hand about waist level. From there it is a simple tug of war using right hand only.

Pole Pull

In Book of American Indian Games by Allan and Paulette Macfarlan
Reference, Woodland, Plains, NorthWest Coast
Game involves use of a pole about 9 feet long by 1 1/2 inches. A bucksin streamer hangs down the middle as a marker. Players stand facing each other with a mark just in front of them. Half way between those marks is a center mark. Each player holds one end of the 9 foot pole. Each tries to pull his opponent toward him by pulling on the polehand over hand without twisting it or moving from his original position. Pole held just above the waist and can pass on either side of the body as it is hauled in. Player who pulls rival over center line wins.
In a similar game the players push instead of pull. Each player has a three foot line behind him. Pole is NEVER placed in front of stomach but is handled on one side or the other.

Native Wing Bones
Photo Property of St Francis Mission
Buechel Memorial Lakota Museum
Notice Native Kids Playing a Non Native Ring Game
Copyright to Above. Absolutely No reproductions without permission
Reproduced here with Thanks to Above

Click for St Francis Mission

Photo courtesy of... St. Francis Mission, Buechel Memorial Lakota Museum (located in the state of South Dakota, on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation.) email address for the museum...
Address: 350 S. Oak Street, P.O. Box 499, St. Francis, SD 57572 , at website: ...

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