In 1829, the Frenchman Theodore Pavie, in his memoir Journey to Louisiana and Texas, 1829-1830, wrote about Indian games held near Natchitoches each fall. He watched the Indians arrive into the camp from the four points of the compass on a thousand different paths. Children imitated the players’ moves while women cooked. Warriors hung their weapons from trees and gathered wood for their tribal bonfires.
THE NIGHT before the big game, warriors sat around their bonfires and told of past games and boasted of their previous exploits. Just before sunrise the games began. Posts marked off the distance and the nations took their positions on the field. The chief took in a deep draw from his peace pipe and blew four puffs of smoke, each to one of the four corners of the horizon. Then, he gave the signal to begin.
A ROAR went up from the crowd. Birds flew away and bullfrogs ceased their croaking. Twenty nude warriors converged to catch a ball in their rackets and hurl it back into the air. It bounced off the head of one Indian who fell unconscious to the ground. It struck the stomach of another and tore his flesh open as blood gushed forth to stain the red dust. The ball flew back and forth. It wounded, it killed, and was hurled again and again. The game wore on.
Everywhere women encouraged their team members and struck them with sticks. The young and old tribal members filled gourds at the river and watered the sweaty, panting, dying and wounded players. Unable to stand, Indians lying on the ground held onto the legs of those still standing. The blood flowed until one of the two teams threw the ball to its post, and the game was over.
THAT OCTOBER, the Pascagoula, a tribe on the Red River, gained a victory over the combined team of East Texas Choctaws and Caddo, who slowly drifted back to the East Texas forest and planned next year’s victory.
To read more details about the Indian games see; see Betje Black Klier, Pavie in the Borderlands; The Journey of Theodore Pavie to Louisiana and Texas, 1829-1830 published by Louisiana State University Press. The book was the 2000 winner of the Best Book about East Texas History presented by the East Texas History Association and it was named Best Book in Texas History by the Texas Institute of Letters.
The East Texas Historical Association provides this column as a public service. Linda S. Hudson is retired from East Texas Baptist University, a past president of the Association, and lives in Georgetown. Scott Sosebee is Executive Director of the Association and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org