A FRIEND AMONG THE SENECAS                David Swatzler   Stackpole Books - 2000

“Games can tell us about the people who play them. The Iroquois bowl game, lacrosse, and snow snake were played for practice at skills and for entertainment, but also for religious reasons or as medicine to cure the sick, to prevent illness, and to bring favorable weather.

The bowl game was named for the large, flat-bottomed, wooden bowl with which it was played. Also used were six peach or plum stones, each ground down into a flattened oval, scorched black on one side, and left its natural light color on the other. The stones were placed in the bowl, the bottom of which was then thumped on the floor or on a blanket laid on the ground, causing the stones to bounce upward. They were caught again in the bowl as they fell downward.

Each throw was scored according to the color combinations presented by the stones after the bowl had been thumped — all black or all white yielding the highest score. A throw resulting in fewer than five stones showing the same color produced no score. The color that predominated - white or black - was immaterial. Beans were used as counters; typically there were 102 beans, which were awarded on the basis of the score thrown. Initially the beans came out of a common pile, but once that was exhausted, beans were awarded from the opposite team’s accumulated winnings. When one team accumulated all the beans, it won and the game was over.

Two players sat opposite each other, with the bowl between them and the numbers of their respective teams ranged behind them. As soon as a player took the bowl to throw the stones, members of the opposite teams started making faces and gesturing wildly. At the same time, members of the player’s own team began displaying similar antics, and trying to drive bad luck back to the opposition. Both sides kept this up until the stones settled from the throw. A player continued thumping the bowl until he or she threw a scoreless combination, at which point the bowl passed to the opposing team. The player who threw a scoreless combination was replaced by another person from his or her team before their next turn. In this way, many, if not all, members of the team had a chance to try their luck with the bowl and stones during the course of the game.”


Courtesy of the Warren County Historical Society