February 2013 Artifact of the Month
Materials: wood, rawhide, sinew, synthetic laces
Lacrosse is one of the most enduring of all Native American games. Native people have been playing it for hundreds of years, making it one of the oldest team sports in North America. It originated in the northeast woodlands around the upper Great Lakes area and quickly became the game of choice among such tribes as the Chippewa.
The lacrosse stick that we have on display is a good example of the kind that many tribes used over the centuries. The objective of the game was to throw a small ball, usually made of wood or deerskin, between the opposing team's goal posts. In order to keep this ball in play, each player used one lacrosse stick, which was usually about three feet long, bent at one end, and laced with deerskin. The size and shape of the stick gave them greater arm reach and allowed them to throw the ball farther and with more force.
Originally, a tribe played lacrosse in order to train and condition its men for battle. Perhaps that was the reason that it was played with such violent enthusiasm. Once the ball was in play, both teams vied for possession and did everything they could to claim it, including tripping, pushing, and hitting members of the opposing team. Although chaotic, these matches were popular and could draw hundreds of spectators from the surrounding village communities