Stickball

Choctaw stickball have been described as the father of all field sports.  With its use of a soft ball, rackets, referees, goal posts, and a jump ball to start the game, this ancient sport has parallels with a number of more recently developed games.

While, Choctaw stickball equipment has changed a little bit with each new generation of players, certain basics remain the same.  The ball is round and covered in leather.  The sticks are made of hardwood (often hickory), and laced with strips of leather.  The equipment shown on the following pages represents some of the earliest surviving examples.  You will find that Choctaw stickball sticks haven't always had square handles, and that not all balls have been covered with a woven lacing.  You will also see the roots of today's game in the objects made by some of the ancestors who helped develop the sport into what it is today.

NMNH 1930 Sticks

Item's Choctaw Name:  Kapucha

Item's English Name:  Stickball Sticks

Age:  early 1900s ?

Material: light colored hardwood, lacing is light colored brain tan hide

Dimensions:
     Stick 1 (male): Length=84cm, Cup Length=20cm, Cup Max Width=7cm wide. Handle D=22.8mm, Cup Strip Max Width=22.9 and =6.2mm thick. Handle base=24.4mm x 20.0mm.

     Stick 2 (female): Length=79cm, Cup Length=15cm, Cup Max Width=6cm wide, Handle D=22.2mm, Cup Strip Max Width=30.2 and =6.2 thick. Handle base=23.2mm x 20.0mm.

Origin: collected, Philadelphia, MS,  1930s

Current Owner:  National Museum of Natural History # E380089

Location: Smithsonian Museum Support Center

Notes: These sticks were shaped with a flat-edged metal blade, such as a drawknife.  The base of the handle was cut with a saw; no rasp marks are evident.  The lacing holes been have been burned from outside in. Handles have spiral negative designs, that might have been created by loosely wrapping them in some type of material, and then scorching the exposed wood in between the wraps. The lacing and all wraps are made from braintanned hide.

NMNH 1830 Sticks

Item's Choctaw Name:  Kapucha

Item's English Name: Stickball Sticks

Age:  1830s

Material: Light Colored Hardwood (possibly hickory)

Dimensions:
     Stick 1: Length=66.5 cm, Cup length=25 cm, Max. cup width= 8.5 cm, Handle D=21.4mm
     
     Stick 2: Cloth repair on lacing, Length=64.5 cm, Cup length=24 cm, Max. cup width= 8.0 cm, Handle D=21.8mm

Origin:  These sticks were collected by George Catlin in Oklahoma, probably in 1834.

Current Owner:  National Museum of Natural History, #E073303-0.

Location: Smithsonian Museum Support Center

Notes: These sticks are of a very early Choctaw style, different from those played with today.  Each of these sticks is made from one strip of wood that begins at the base of the handle, wraps around the cup, and then back down to the base of the handle. This wooden strip is widest at the tip of the cup. 

Lacing holes in the cup were made while wood was green, by pushing or burning from outside in. The lacing string is made from the rawhide from a small animal. On one stick, the ties on the handle and cup are made from cloth-like material that may have been added later.

Tool marks indicate that the sticks were made using a wraps, and a sharp, flat metal blade.  The sticks have been smoothed and polished.

NMNH Ball

Item's Choctaw Name:  Towa

Item's English Name:  Stickball Ball

Age:  early 1900s

Material: Cloth covered interior (possibly cotton), lacing is light colored brain tan hide

Dimensions:
            Ball Length 46.8mm
            Ball Width 46.2mm
            Thong Width 3.3mm

Origin: collected, Philadelphia, MS,  1930s 

Current Owner:  National Museum of Natural History, #E380088

Location: Smithsonian Museum Support Center

Notes: This ball, covered by a woven leather thong, is of a style still commonly used in Choctaw stickball games today.

NMAI Ball 1

Item's Choctaw Name:  Towa

Item's English Name:  stickball ball

Age:  early 1900s?

Material: Wetscrape braintan and lacing

Dimensions: Average diameter = 5.0 cm

Origin: collected Scott / Neshoba Co, Ms, 1908

Current Owner:  National Museum of the American Indian, #018849.000

Location: Smithsonian Cultural Resource Center

Notes: The covering and lacing on this ball are made of lightly tanned hide, with the grain layer still adhering. The ball was made by sewing together two circular pieces of this leather using a baseball stitch.  A running stitch was laced through the baseball stitch.  An additional running stitch was placed on each side of the baseball stitch.  The ball was then turned 90 degrees and yet another running stitch run around the ball.

NMAI Ball 2

Item's Choctaw Name:  Towa

Item's English Name:  Stickball ball

Age: early 1900s?

Material: Braintan hide, with the grain on.  Braintan lacing

Dimensions: Diameter = 4.2cm x 4.8cm

Origin: collected Philadelphia, MS, 1964

Current Owner:  National Museum of the American Indian, #234886.000 

Location: Smithsonian Cultural Resource Center

Notes:  This ball is made from two pieces of lightly tanned leather, sewn together along their edges.   The interior appear to be wound up store-bought thread.

Atoka Museum Ball

Item's Choctaw Name:  Towa

Item's English Name: Stickball Ball

Age:  ca 1900

Material: Commercial leather, orange cloth, black commercial thread

Dimensions:
     Diameter:variable, 6.2 cm average
     Max. Length = 13 cm

Origin: Found at Boggy Depot, Atoka Co., OK

Current Owner: Atoka Confederate War Museum 

Location: Atoka, OK

Notes:  This is a "tailed" stickball.  The ball itself is woven from a commercial leather, using an unusual technique.  At the turn of the 20th century, a stickball ground was located on the line between western Atoka and eastern Pontotoc County.  Hotly contested games were played here between the Choctaw and Chickasaw residents of the counties twice a year.  This ball could well have seen action at the field.

NMAI Stickball Hat

Item's Choctaw Name:  Shvpo

Item's English Name:  Stickball Hat

Age:  ca. 1900

Material: Red, yellow, gray, and white cloth, thread, crane feather

Dimensions: Diameter = roughly 22cm.  Height = 19.5cm

Origin: collected Scott / Neshoba Co, Ms, 1908

Current Owner:  National Museum of the American Indian, #018873.000

Location: Smithsonian Cultural Resource Center

Notes: Hats such as this, were worn by Choctaw stickball players (particularly captains), around the turn of the century.  This piece was made using different colors of cloth and store-bought thread.

NMAI Stickball Cap

Item's Choctaw Name:  Shvpo

Item's English Name:  Stickball Hat

Age:  ca. 1900

Material: Denham, red cloth, beads, thread

Dimensions: Length 25.5cm, Width 17.5cm. Height

Origin: collected Scott / Neshoba Co, Ms, 1908

Current Owner:  National Museum of the American Indian, #018853.000

Location: Smithsonian Cultural Resource Center

Notes:  This modern-looking hat was made by a Choctaw person over 100 years ago.