Games and Entertainment of Long Ago

Does summertime mean game time to you? Maybe you enjoy some laid-back games like horseshoes, bocce ball, croquet, or Frisbee. Games are deeply rooted in history. In times past, people of all ages were game players too. Since all work and no play is not fun, the Indigenous people living in what is now Lake County put aside work for play as well.

In fact, cultures around the country have played surprisingly similar games to one another across time. The Pomo, Wappo, Patwin, Miwok, and Yuki people who resided here thousands of years ago played games of all description, including games of skill, dexterity and chance. The materials they utilized for the games varied since they reflected the tribes’ natural surroundings, such as mountain, woodland, wetland or grassland.

Some games were games of skill, such as a variation of shuffle-ball when deer bone was wrapped with string prepared with milkweed. Some Indian football games made use of a ball formed from deer hide stuffed with soaproot, which had been shredded. Another game included a form of archery practice with sunflowers grouped together as a target for the arrows.

Dice games were popular and utilized walnut shells which had been filled with pine pitch. Other dice were formed from animal teeth, fruit stones, wood or reed. The game of shinny was a lively outdoor game resembling today’s field hockey. Some field hockey games required two teams with three to ten players each. Goals were created on each side of a field as players held one stick per player to hit a ball which was formed from madrone root, animal bone, wood or mistletoe stalk.

In times past, the various villages of Indigenous people played against one another. Another game, foot cast, was played with a ball made of stone which was thrown from the top of a player’s foot, possibly similar to hacky sack ball game played today.

There were many variations of grass games. The Smithsonian describes a simple Pomo grass game as utilizing two bones, one that is wrapped with string, then covering the bones with grass held in her hands while switching them back and forth. Next, one closed hand with a bone is held in front and one behind the person with the bones. Whoever guesses which hand holds the die or bone with the string and the die without string a dozen times is the winner!

Another fun game enjoyed by many tribes was ring and pin. The rings were made of deer bones and strung together in order to be ‘caught’ by the stick ‘pin’ to which they were attached.

The Handbook of North American Indians, Volume  8 tells us that it is likely that most children in the differing Indigenous cultures of the past played jump rope, running races, swings and more. Both children past and present still enjoy twirling tops and playing a cat’s cradle variation of the games today. It’s fun to think that we are but a continuum in the line of sports and games that were enjoyed so very long ago.

Kathleen Scavone

Kathleen Scavone, MA., is a retired educator who has resided in beautiful Lake County for over 45 years. She freelances fiction, poetry, nature writing, curriculum ideas, and local history. She writes for The Press Democrat, Napa Valley Register, News From Native California, Green Prints, etc. She has published three books, a play and a poetry chapbook. The second edition of her locally set historical novella, People of the Water- a novella of the events leading to the Bloody Island Massacre of 1850 is available in local museums and stores, as well as on Amazon.com and IngramSpark in both paperback and e-book formats. She has written Anderson Marsh State Historic Park- A Walking History, Prehistory, Flora and Fauna tour of a California State Park, and Native Americans of Lake County. Kathleen is a photographer and potter. Her other interests include hiking, assisting on archaeology digs, travel, gardening and reading.

error: Content is protected !!

Your Cart

Cart is empty.