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



“Ball up” signals the beginning of the Choctaw ballgame, as judges toss a ball into the air and players try to keep it off the ground as long as possible. Dressed alike in girdles and horsehair tails, as many as six or seven hundred men run and tumble, frantically attempting to catch the ball with their ball-sticks and throw it between the stakes at opposite ends of the field. If the ball hits the ground, there is a frenzied struggle, sometimes resulting in violence and injury. Catlin sketched this game, similar to the modern game of lacrosse, near Fort Gibson, in present-day Oklahoma.