The Seneca-Mohawk Lacrosse Game of 1797

Bronze edition: 35 | Height: 17″

“The tall erect posture and the elastic tread of the Indian… is attributable to… physical training. The consequence is,….the Indian indulges in those sports which expand the chest and throw back the shoulders and impart agility and grace to the movements of the limbs. In addition to their athletic exercises of running, wrestling and leaping was the game of [lacrosse]* . Indeed, so much attached were they to this manly exercise, that the game had become national throughout the {Iroquois} confederacy; and it was no uncommon thing for one nation to challenge another to play a match upon a much larger scale, beyond doubt, than was ever [to be] practised among the pale-faces.

“A game of this kind was commenced… in the year 1794 between the Mohawks and the Senecas… three years afterward, in the summer of 1797 another match was played between the two nations. Played at the Mohawk Village on the Grand River {Ontario},… the place selected for the trial of strength, agility and skill was a broad and beautiful green of perhaps a 100 acres perfectly level and smooth as a carpet. On one side of the green, the Senecas had collected to the number of more than 1000. On the other side, the Mohawks were… assembling in even greater numbers. The combatants numbered about 600 on a side, young and middle aged men — nimble of foot, athletic, and muscular… the game… was commenced by 60 players on a side… all things being ready, a beautiful maiden richly dressed in the native costume of the people… plumed with eagle feathers and glittering with bracelets and other ornaments of silver, came bounding like a gazelle into the area with the ball, which she placed on the ground in the centre. Instantly… rang the shouts of the whole multitude of spectators and the play began; while the bright-eyed maiden danced back {to the side lines}. The match was played with great spirit and the display of agility and muscular strength was surprising. Every nerve was strung and so great were the exertions of the players that each set {of 60 players} was relieved … every 15 or 20 minutes; thus alternating and allowing every player of the whole number to perform his part until the game was finished. The scene was full of excitement and animation.

“In terms of sheer spectacle, I feel confident in saying that no sporting event anywhere on the planet is ever likely to equal it.”

“A body of elderly sachems of each nation [kept score]. Their mode of counting the game was peculiar, [they] not being bound by arbitrary rules, but left to the exercise of a certain degree of discretionary power. Each passage of the ball between the goals…counted one so long as the contest was nearly equal; {however} whenever one party became considerably in advance of the other, [the chiefs] at their discretion and by the consent of each other, though unknown to the players, would credit the winning party with only 2 [points] for every 3 passages of the ball [between the goalposts]. The object was to protract the game and increase the amusement. Frequently by this discretionary mode of counting, the game was continued 3 or 4 days. [In this game at the end of] 3 days… after a severe struggle, the Senecas were proclaimed the victors.

“Samuel Woodruff of Windsor, Ct. who left us the account of the game and was a guest of the principle Mohawk Chief – Joseph Brant, ‘declared [it] to have afforded him a greater degree of satisfaction than any game or pastime that he had ever beheld.’ Played on this scale the 1797 game was to be the last great Iroquois lacrosse match and in terms of sheer spectacle, I feel confident in saying that no sporting event anywhere on the planet is ever likely to equal it.”

From: “The Life of Joseph Brant-Thyendanegea”
in 2 volumes by William L. Stone, 1838

* Lacrosse- so named by Fr. Jean Brebeuf living among the Huron who supplied perhaps the earliest account of the game in 1636.