Native American Doubleball: The Woman’s Ball Game

Doubleball, also known as the women’s ball game, was played by many Native women of the Western Great Lakes and Plains regions. It was also played in California where, in contrast, it was played by men. A very social game like lacrosse, the players are given to pageantry.

“The young women of the village decorate themselves for the day by painting their cheeks with vermilion and disrobe themselves of as much unnecessary clothing as possible, braiding their hair with colored feathers, which hang profusely down to the feet.” – of Missisauga (Ojibwa) Doubleball (Culin, 1975: 654)

Doubleball was also played nearly the same as the Native sport of lacrosse. The game ball was tossed and caught with the racket – a wooden stick usually featuring a slight curve at the throwing end. Each player had one stick (although Catlin describes the Dakota players each using two) that measured two to six feet in length, that they employed in throwing, catching, and picking up the doubleball.

“They throw them [the doubleball] in the air by means of a staff excellently shaped for the purpose, and catch it ever so cleverly. The stick is sharp and slightly bent at the end, and adorned like the racquets [lacrosse rackets]. I once saw a very neat model of these instruments for the women’s throwing game suspended to the cradle of a little girl.” – of Chippewa (Ojibwa) Doubleball (Culin, 1975: 650)

The game ball was a set of two stuffed hide bags (usually stuffed with sand or small rocks) or wooden billets connected together. Two teams competed in a game, and anywhere from six to hundreds of women played on a side. The object was to throw the doubleball past the goal, or strike the goal itself. Goals consisted of mounds or blankets on the ground, tree limbs, or erected poles at each end of the ball field that measured up to one mile in length.

“The game is only played by women. They like to get two trees some distance apart – say a quarter of a mile – and use outstretched limbs for the goals. The ball must be thrown on the goal.” – of Sauk and Fox (Mesquaki) Doubleball (Culin, 1975: 655)

It was a sport that required much skill and strength.

“The game is played by women only, any number, but not by the old women, as great powers of endurance are required. It is in many respects similar to lacrosse. The game is a very interesting one and develops much skill. It is highly beneficial, as it develops a fine, robust class of women.” – of Cree Doubleball (Culin, 1975: 652)

It was a contact sport that could and did cause its players injury.

“Crowds [players] rush to a given point as the ball is sent flying though the air. None stop to narrate the accidents that befall them, though they tumble about to their not little discomfort; they rise, making a loud noise between a laugh and a cry, some limping behind the others, as the women shout” – of Missisauga (Ojibwa) Doubleball (Culin, 1975: 654)

More than a sport just for players, this social activity provided a mode of reciprocity. Onlookers were compelled to make bets on the game’s outcome, and the players themselves may receive prizes when they win a game.

“Worked garters, moccasins, leggins, and vermillion are generally the articles at stake. Sometimes the chief of the village sends a parcel as they commence, the contents of which are to be distributed among the maidens when the play is over.” – of Missisauga (Ojibwa) Doubleball (Culin, 1975: 654)

It was such a joyous occasion that it was even requested to liven the spirits of the sick (as in a case recorded among the Missisauga).

“My mother was very sick she told my father that it was her wish to see the Maiden’s Ball Play, and gave as her reason for her request that were she to see the girls at play it would so enliven her spirits with the reminiscences of early days as to tend to her recovery.” – Missisauga (Ojibwa) Doubleball (Culin, 1975: 654)

Native Tribes and Communities Cited Historically As Playing Doubleball
According to the comprehensive collection “Games of the North American Indians” by Stewart Culin – not to insinuate that other Nations did not.

Chippewa (Ojibwa)
Dakota (Sante)
Fox (Mesquaki)
Mississauga (Ojibwa)
Uinta Ute

Source: “Games of the North American Indians” by Stewart Culin

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