Ball-play of the Choctaw – ball up

Copied George Catlin, Ball-play of the Choctaw--ball up, 1834-1835, oil on canvas, 19 1227 12 in. (49.670.0 cm), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr., 1985.66.428
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Artwork Details

Ball-play of the Choctaw – ball up
Not on view
19 1227 12 in. (49.670.0 cm)
Credit Line
Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr.
Mediums Description
oil on canvas
  • Group
  • Figure group
  • Western
  • Indian — Choctaw
  • Recreation — sport and play — ball
Object Number

Artwork Description

“The game commenced, by the judges throwing up the ball at the firing of a gun; when an instant struggle ensued between the players, who were some six or seven hundred in numbers, and were mutually endeavouring to catch the ball in their sticks, and throw it home and between their respective stakes; which, whenever successfully done, counts one for game. In this game every player was dressed alike, that is, divested of all dress, except the girdle and the tail, which I have before described; and in these desperate struggles for the ball, when it is up (where hundreds are running together and leaping, actually over each other's heads, and darting between their adversaries' legs, tripping and throwing, and foiling each other in every possible manner, and every voice raised to the highest key, in shrill yelps and barks)! there are rapid successions of feats, and of incidents, that astonish and amuse far beyond the conception of any one who has not had the singular good luck to witness them. In these struggles, every mode is used that can be devised, to oppose the progress of the foremost, who is likely to get the ball; and these obstructions often meet desperate individual resistance, which terminates in a violent scuffle.” George Catlin sketched this scene near Fort Gibson (in present-day Oklahoma) in 1834. (Catlin, Letters and Notes, vol. 2, no. 49, 1841; reprint 1973)