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Miwok Material Culture: Indian Life of the Yosemite Region (1933) by S. A. Barrett and E. W. Gifford


We have divided Miwok games into field games and sitting games. In the first category fall shinny, basket ball, ball race, football, footcast ball, hoop and pole, lance throwing both with and without a whip, archery contests, and certain children’s games such as hide-and-seek and tag. The game in which a lance was thrown by means of a buckskin thong attached to a stick (Field Museum 70231, 1-3) suggests the Roman method of throwing spears, and also the atlatl, which was used anciently in the Humboldt lake region,95 Nevada, and which has also been reported from the Santa Barbara region.96 Of sitting games there were (1) guessing games in which marked and unmarked sticks were hidden in the hands and their positions guessed; (2) stick games in which the number of sticks held were guessed; and (3) dice games.

Men’s shinney (alō'la, müla, S) was played by the Southern Miwok on a field similar in size and arrangement to the football field. It was not played by the Central Miwok. Each player was provided with a shinney club of oak or mountain mahogany (mu'la, S), three or four feet long and with a hooked or clubbed end. The Field Museum has a set of four mountain mahogany sticks (70229, 1-4) from Yosemite. The ball (alō'la, S) was about the size and shape of a billiard ball (plate LV, figs. 3, 4), and was made of oak (Field Museum 70233, 1-2), mountain mahogany (Field Museum 70288, 1-2), or mistletoe. Of mistletoe the globose base of the plant was used. This was very hard and cross grained. The game might be played by many men, in which case they lined up as in football. In case only two men played they followed the ball at top speed down the field. The object of each side was to put its ball between the two goal posts. When several men were playing much care was needed in striking the ball so that it would land advantageously to the stroke of the next player in the line. Evidently there were no scrimmages and little danger of injury from an opponent’s club. Culin,97 quoting Hudson, describes the game from two Southern Miwok groups on the Chowchilla river. By the Chowchilla two oak-wood balls, three inches in diameter, were used. “Played only by men, who are divided in two equal sides, say fifteen on a side. The goals, which are each some 200 yards from the center, are two trees or two posts, a long step, or, say, 3 feet, apart. Two men standing side by side cast the ball up and strike it to their opponents’ goal.” By the Wasama on the Chowchilla river the game was called “müla". Dr. Hudson describes it as follows: “Played with a club, mu-lau’ of mountain mahogany, and a mahogany ball, o-lo'-la.

“Two or more men play in couples or pairs from a start line (fig. 812). The captains at station 1 strike their respective balls toward their respective partners at station 2. If the ball falls short of 2, the failing striker must forward his ball to station 2 by an additional stroke; when the ball passes into the territory of the partner at station 2, he (no. 2) must drive it forward from where it stopped. The last stationed partner must drive it over the goal line. The smallest number of aggregate strokes on a side wins. Station keepers must keep within their own territories.”

The women’s shinney game (ti'klī, P, N, C) was played on a field quite similar to that of the men’s. It was played with sharp-pointed, five-foot, willow poles and with a rope ring two feet in diameter or with a braided buckskin string (modernly a rag) a foot and a half to three feet long. In the center of the field was a small shallow hole into which, at a given signal, a man threw the ring or string. Immediately the women scrambled for possession of it and each endeavored to throw it toward her end of the field. It could not be carried on the stick and must not be touched by the hand. In the scramble a woman would sometimes have her foot jabbed by a stick accidentally. Any desired number of women might engage in the game. Among some of the Miwok there was but one goal post, some six feet in height, at each end of the field. The string or ring must be thrown against a goal post to score. In this respect the game resembles the lacrosse game of eastern North America. One Central Miwok informant stated that in the form she knew the game there were two goals of arched willow branches about one hundred yards apart. The endeavor was to drive the ring or string to the opponents’ end of the field and over their goal. There was no special grouping of players by lineage or moiety, but often people of different localities played against one another. Each side staked valuables. One informant stated the game and the name ti'klī were Maidu and acquired directly from that people. Dr. Hudson records,98 under the name “tawilu” (S). what appears to be a form of this game. “Two or more women contest with 3-foot sticks for a braided buckskin strip 10 inches long. The goals are 150 feet apart.”

Basket ball. This game, called a'mta (P, N, C) and ama'tup (C), was played by women and girls only. The field was about two hundred yards long and had a willow arch goal at each end, or else two upright posts at each end, as shown in text-figure 86. A single ball, called po'sko (P, N, C), about two and a half inches in diameter, was employed, and each woman was furnished with a pair of handled baskets resembling seed beaters and called ama’'ta (P), tcama'tī (N), a'mta and ammutna (C). These and two of the balls used in this game are shown in plate LV, figs. 1, 2, 5, 6. The ball was of buckskin stuffed with deer hair, moss, or grass. A man, called the potcukbe (C), threw the single ball down hard in the middle of the field. Then the women who were in their positions on each side rushed and scrambled for it. The attempt was made to catch it when it bounced. It could be caught only in the baskets, being caught in the larger of the two baskets and covered with the smaller, while the player ran. If caught with the hands the side having the ball had to give it up, and a game was counted lost by that side. Each side tried to carry it or throw it through its own goal, past the line of opponents standing there, who tackled the players who carried the ball, and if possible threw the ball back toward their own goal. The group, which put the ball between its own goal posts first, won. Male and female spectators as well as the players bet on the outcome. All sorts of property were wagered, including horses and money in later days. At times water moiety women played against land moiety women, but there seems to have been no alignments on the basis of lineages. Culin99 describes the rackets used in this game only for the Central Miwok (Bald Rock and Groveland, Tuolumne county). He pictures three baskets and a ball. Culin describes this game as football rather than basket ball and states that equal numbers of men and

Fig. 86--Field for women's basketball game.
[click to enlarge]
Fig. 86—Field for women’s basketball game.
Fig. 87--Field for men's football game.
[click to enlarge]
Fig. 87—Field for men’s football game.
women played, the former kicking the ball, the latter carrying it with their baskets.100

Culin,101 after quoting Hudson, describes for the Central Miwok, under the name “sakumship” a basket ball game in which no men participate : “Two women, standing 50 feet apart, throw a 4-inch ball of buckskin filled with hair, each using two baskets to throw the ball, which they may not touch with their hands. The casting baskets, called shak-num-sia, are made somewhat stronger than the a-ma-ta.

“This is a great gambling game between women, and is played for high stakes. It is counted with sticks, and a player forfeits one if she fails to catch or throw the ball so that it goes beyond the other’s reach.”

A sort of lacrosse game was played by the Central Miwok with a buckskin ball three or four inches in diameter. The players tried to put the ball through a triangular opening at the top of the goal stick about ten feet above ground. The ball was caught and thrown in a small basket on a stick. Several men might play on each side. This may be the game described by Bancroft.102

Ball race. Culin103 describes a ball race as played about 1850 by the Cosumni, a Plains Miwok group. Two parallel tracks were laid off and each party had its own ball. The game was more properly a foot race.

Culin also mentions the game from the Southern Miwok, called the Wasama, near Grant Springs, Mariposa county.

Football. This game, called po'sko (P, N, C) was played by men or boys only. The field and the initial positions of the players are shown in text-figure 87. The field was usually about fifty yards long and had only one pair of goal posts, six to eight feet apart, set up at one end. The players, sometimes as many as twenty-five on a side, ranged themselves down the length of the field, and each group so manoeuvered its ball as to send it between the goal posts. The two balls, also called po'sko (P, N), (plate LV, figs. 5, 6), were placed each on a little cone of earth about six inches in height, and were kicked off at a given signal. The skill in this game lay in so kicking the ball that it would fall advantageously for the next player in the line to kick it toward the goal. The spectators on the side lines held the stakes and served as judges. No umpire or referee was needed and in case of any difference of opinion among the players the spectators settled the matter. No player was allowed to touch the ball with his hands while it was in motion. The ball used in this game was six or eight inches in diameter and was made of buckskin filled with deer hair, shredded cedar bark, moss, or soaproot fiber. Culin, after Hudson, describes this game for the Central Miwok.104 He states that the field was five hundred yards long, whereas our informant said fifty yards. It would seem likely that his figure is the more correct one, though Culin does add that the number of players regulates the length of the field.

A variant of the football game just described is called wī'topup or wī'tupo (C). It employed two goals like those in the women’s basket ball game (amta, C). Two balls, eight to ten inches in diameter, were kicked by men of the opposing teams simultaneously. Each side tried to get its ball through the goal first. Once this was accomplished they turned and repeated the performance to the other goal. Neither goal was owned by either side. Bets were collected after each play to one end of the field.

Perhaps a variant of this game, also Central Miwok, was one in which footballs of buckskin or modernly of rags, were kicked the length of a field, one by each of several players. The starting point was two poles about eight feet apart. Each man tried to kick his ball first through the goal posts, also about eight feet apart and about a quarter mile distant.

Foot-cast ball. Culin105 reports “a game of casting a heavy stone ball with the top of the foot, the object being to see who can throw it farthest; observed only in California by Doctor Hudson among the tribes of two stocks (Mariposan and Moquelumnan).” For the Miwok (Moquelumnan) he reports the game from Aplache, Big Creek, north of Groveland, Tuolumne county, California. The Aplache people at Groveland were of Southern Miwok lineage, so the game evidently should be attributed to the Southern Miwok. Central Miwok informants did not know the game. Its Southern Miwok attribution is strengthened by its presence among the Chukchansi. The game was called by the Aplache “sawa puchuma (sawa, stone; puchuma, to lift or cast with the top of the foot): A pecked stone ball, about 3 inches in diameter, is cast with the top of the right foot. The left foot must not get out of position. The one who can throw it farthest wins.”

Hoop and pole game. The ring and dart game (te'ūle, C) was played by the Central Miwok. A ring about a foot in diameter was made of chaparral, or of wild cherry (Prunus demissa), and wound with buckskin. This was rolled along a course by one of the players and his opponent threw a five-foot dart, hū'la (C), at the ring as it approached him edge on. If he put the dart through the ring, the roller must give him a dart and allow him another trial. Thus they played until all the darts were in the possession of one player. No betting was done on this game as a rule. It was played by children, chiefly boys, and by women, more than by men.

For the Central Miwok near Groveland, Tuolumne county, Culin has published Hudson’s description of the game106 under the name “teweknumsia”:

“The implements consist of a plain lance, ho-cha, 10 feet in length, marked on the butt end with proprietary marks, in paint, and a hoop of oak, 30 inches in diameter, bound with buckskin, te-wek-num-sia. The game is played by four players, who face each other on opposite sides of a square 90 feet across. The casters, each of whom have four lances, stand opposite to each other, while two assistants, one for each side, roll the hoop across. As the wheel rolls, both casters throw at it, each trying to transfix it. If one is successful his opponent comes across to his place, and, standing in the successful caster’s tracks, tries to transfix the fallen hoop. After him, the first player tries at the same mark and from the same position. They cast alternately until all have thrown their four lances. The greater number of transfixing spears decides. There are 30 counting-sticks, 15 to a side. The buckskin is to keep the hoop from bounding.”

For the Southern Miwok, Culin,107 quoting Hudson, records the game from the Chowchilla river, where it was known as “pachitu": “A ring of Asclepias, 2 1/2 inches in diameter, called he-wi'-ta, is rolled, the caster racing, and casting after the ring a 10-foot lance, called hu-wo'-ta. A ‘lean’ counts 3, a ‘balance’ 5, and a ‘transfix’ 12.”

The Field Museum of Natural History possesses two sets of four lances each (70234, 1-4; 70235, 1-4) of wild cherry (Prunus demissa). These are about nine feet long, peeled only at the ends, and pointed at the distal end. The specimens are from Groveland in Central Miwok territory.

From the Southern Miwok group known as Wasama, in Madera county, Culin, quoting Hudson, describes a variant game in which arrows are shot at the hoop, made of Fremontia californica bark bound with buckskin.108 This game was called “hewitu numhe.”

Lance throwing. Culin,109 after Hudson, describes two forms of lance throwing observed among the Central Miwok near Groveland, Tuolumne county. In one, four-foot lances of decorticated willow or Calacanthus were cast along the ground. The player throwing farthest won. The loser was thumped on the head with the knuckles. The game was called “pakumship,” after “pakür, lance.”

The second form was one in which the lance, thirty-eight inches in length, was thrown with a whip consisting of a thirty-one inch rod with a buckskin thong attached. The game was called “kuitumsi (kuitu, farthest one).” The lance was called “lamakuyita,” the buckskin thong “pehunahaata (buckskin to whip).” The farthest cast won. The Field Museum has a whip and two lances (70231, 1-3), which are figured by Culin (figure 535).

Archery contest. Culin110 describes, after Hudson, an archery game played by the Central Miwok of the vicinity of Groveland. The name of the game was recorded as “thuyamship.” “The two contestants, armed with bows and blunt arrows, stand beside an arrow stuck in the ground and shoot alternately from a distance of about 170 feet. Two other players stand near the arrow targets and mark the shots. The players shoot back and forth until one of the two arrow targets is struck and broken.” The Field Museum has two arrows (70243, 1-2) collected in Yosemite valley in 1857, and said to have been used in a game.

95Loud and Harrington, 110.
96Kroeber, 1925, 560, 816
98Culin, 659.
99596, 597.
100Culin, 703, 597; fig. 919.
102Bancroft, 393.
105711, 712.
106Culin, 484.
108Culin, 485.
109414, 415.

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