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George Catlin
Ball-play Dance, Choctaw, 1834–35
Choctaw
oil
19 5/8 x 27 1/2 in.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr.


“The ground having been all prepared and preliminaries of the game all settled, and the bettings all made, and the goods all ‘staked’ night came on … a procession of lighted flambeaux was seen coming from each encampment, to the ground where the players assembled around their respective byes; and at the beat of the drums and chaunts of the women, each party of players commenced the ‘ball-play dance.’ Each party danced for a quarter of an hour around their respective byes, in their ball-play dress; rattling their ball-sticks together in the most violent manner, and all singing as loud as they could raise their voices; whilst the women of each party, who had their goods at stake, formed into two rows on the line between the two parties of players, and danced also, in an uniform step, and all their voices joined in chaunts to the Great Spirit; in which they were soliciting his favour in deciding the game to their advantage; and also encouraging the players to exert every power they possessed, in the struggle that was to ensue. In the mean time, four old medicine-men, who were to have the starting of the ball, and who were to be judges of the play, were seated at the point where the ball was to be started; and busily smoking to the Great Spirit for their success in judging rightly, and impartially, between the parties in so important an affair” (Letters and Notes, vol. 2, p. 125, pl. 224).

Sketched near Fort Gibson in 1834. Catlin produced a lively rhythm in the ball-play scenes by repeating the pose of figures engaged in a similar action.

The subject is repeated in plate 22 of Catlin's North American Indian Portfolio, first published in 1844, and in cartoon 175. The Schweitzer copy lacks Catlin's animated touch.



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