Caddo Hand-Game, Racing

The Caddo Hand-game (kanidano’tsuisa, they are going to have a hand-game) may be played at any time, indoors. It is played by men and women, mixed, not sex against sex. A drummer and choir sit on the west side, likewise the score keeper, the two rows of players, north and south (Fig. 1). The score keeper hands the two little bones to the two players nearest him in the north row, a bone to each. The player opposite in the south row has to guess which hand the bone is in, the player with the bone keeping both hands in motion, crisscrossing. If the hand is guessed, the player lays the bone down in front. Then the second bone holder is guessed over by the player opposite. If the guesser fails, the first bone holder gets his bone back; if the guesser succeeds, both bones are given by the score keeper to the two first players in the south row to be guessed over. For every failure to guess, one of the six tally sticks passes to the player not guessed. Tallies and bones pass on down the lines, the play progressing by successive couples, tallies as well as bones crossing from row to row, e.g. when the second couple in the north row is being guessed by the couple opposite with success, the tallies held by the first couple in the north row pass over to the successful guessers in the south row. When one row holds all six tallies, the game is won. There may be any number of players, from a dozen to fifty. They play seated. 1


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page40—-Drummer, Choir

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Fig. 1. Positions in hand-game

Foot races are run during the assembly for the Ghost dance, some time in August. The chief, Enoch Hoag, is the organizer. Before dawn he goes out and calls for the race. He hangs up two large gourds with beads inside 2 on a small pole, 3 to which from a distance of about three hundred yards the runners sprint. The winner gets the gourds to set off with in the long race to follow. Whoever overtakes him, takes from him the gourds, since whoever is in the lead has to carry the gourds. 4 The goal of the race of several miles -nowadays about ten, formerly from forty to fifty-is at the dancing grounds. Lookers-on follow on horseback, whooping. Women used to ride out, too, mothers riding to encourage their sons to stay in to the finish. One man is appointed to keep the equestrians on the side from which the smell of the horses will not reach the runners, for it is believed that horse smell will weaken them. There may be from twenty-five to thirty runners, including older men, although many run only in the initial sprint. Formerly there was gambling on the race. The race is non-ceremonial, merely as practice in carrying messages, to keep fit. However, there is racing medicine (Ingkanish).

A male infant may be put out near the end of the race track to have the winner pass his foot over him, that he in turn may become a good runner.

The following story about horse racing was told White Moon by his step-grandfather (Gen. II, 18), Tom Williams, the “old man” in the story.

In early days when they had the North and South fight [Civil War] three Indians were scattered. They were hitting for Kansas, they camped. Next morning they went hunting. They couldn’t find anything; they killed a young steer. That night they made a fire and were roasting some ribs. They heard a horse, they jumped up, they saw a White man, they got out their guns. The man held up his hands, rode up, and got off. One Indian wanted to kill him anyway, thinking he was the owner of the steer. The White man said by signs he was hungry. He had hardly any clothes on; it was in the fall of the year, pitiful. Still the Indian wanted to kill him. That night every time the Indian raised up his head, the others watched him to protect the White man. At daybreak all got up, they had breakfast together. The White man, the cowboy, was riding a very poor horse, all skin and bones. They understood that he wanted to trade horses, he was going somewhere. The old man said he had a wild horse, he took the cowboy down to him, said he would trade. Agreed. The cowboy got on the horse, the horse began to run; way down the valley the horse kept on running.

The old man kept the horse, the horse began to pick up, got heavier. As they were going through a village, people were horse racing. The three raced their horses and lost some races. The old man rode his horse one day, thought it was a pretty good runner, said to these Indians he would bet ten horses and run them a half a mile. So they went up to the line and started. At first they left him at the start. After a hundred yards the horse began to gain. About seventy-five yards to the finish he caught up to them and beat them by five yards. That way he won some horses. 5 After that he took care of the horse as a race horse and won all the races.Citations:

  1. Voegelin saw Ioway and Oto play this same sort of hand-game, in 1938. Compare Grinnell’s account of hand-game as played by Pawnee, and Dorsey’s account of it as played by Wichita, in Culin, 276, 279-280.[]
  2. No ritual attaches to these undecorated gourds. Anybody may loan for the race the gourds he happens to have.[]
  3. Cp. Joutel, 354.[]
  4. Compare Hopi race pattern.[]
  5. At an earlier period Caddo like other tribes raided for horses (Joutel, 352-353). And again as among other tribes horse racing appears as a substitute of a kind for horse raiding.[]


Parsons, Elsie Clews. Notes on the Caddo, Memories of the American Anthropological Association. Supplement to American Anthropologist, Volume 43, No. 3, Part 2. 1921.

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