Thomas Doty – Storyteller


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Playing the Stick Game

Here's a description of the stick game from Jaime de Angulo's novel, Indian Tales....

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Now the two Flint Chiefs sat on each side of the fire and Bear and Fox sat on the ground on the other side of the fire. Then somebody gave Bear and Fox each a pair of gambling bones; they were made of the shin bones of deer. Bear looked at them.

"You people use pretty long bones. You can hardly hide them in your hands. You must be afraid of cheaters."

"Oh, cheating's all right as long as you don't get caught, but if you get caught, you lose the game right there and then. That's the rule with us."

"Yes, we also have the same rule. And which bone do you guess, the one tied with black string or the naked white one?"

"We guess the naked one."

"All right, we are all set."

"You are the visitors, you start hiding them."

Bear and Fox started their song.

Bo lem em na, bolem bolem ...

The two Flint Chiefs were the guessers; they were studying the faces of Fox and Bear across the fire. One of the Flints nudged his brother.

"You guess."

"All right, brother ... guess the middle ... I think...."

Now he guessed; he shouted "HA!" with this arm straight out, palm vertical, which meant he guessed both naked bones in the middle. He guessed Bear right but he missed Fox. So Bear threw his bones across to the Flints, and the Flints paid one counter for the guess they had missed. And now Fox hid his bones again. This time the Flints guessed him right, and he threw his bones across, and it was now the turn of Bear and Fox to do the guessing.

And so it went for a long time.

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Below is the music for the gambling song mentioned in the text and photos of Pit River Indians playing the stick game -- also called the hand game -- near Alturas in 1937. Photos by Jervie Henry Eastman.

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