We wrote a while back about the Alte Knockers, which is Yiddish for “old guys”), a gritty team of U. Several City alumni had been playing “Indian Ball” at McKnight’s Tilles Park for over 60 years. One of the St. Louisans invented it, and it was a practical way to play, even if there weren’t enough players to form a team. A Spanish Lake Indian Ball Championship is also held, and the American Indian Ball Association runs by a St. Louisan.
We received a note confirming that the Indian ball was created in the 1700s. A linked article was published in American Anthropologist 1890. It stated: “The French, whose lighthearted wit and quick adaptability so endeared [the Cherokee] to their hearts, were quick to adopt the Indian ball game.”
Perhaps they brought it to St. Louis.
The article continued to describe players who whittle hickory sticks, twist nets of bear-sinew, and…wait a minute. Nets? The game was played in many different places across North America. However, the sticks ended up in a rocket-shaped paddle, a mesh cup, or a bowl made from twisted squirrel skin. The Cherokee legend of a little rodent that wanted to fly in midair with the Eagles was closest to a bat. They made him leather wings.
The Indian ball rituals, which eventually evolved into lacrosse were very intense. There was no sex for one month, and naked bodies were rubbed with bone splinters and slippery elm. Sometimes, horsehair tails were donned. They won’t be interested in playing the Apalachee version with 50 men per side. The goal is to kick a small buckskin ball between high goalposts and ideally onto an eagle’s nest on a pole. Some players could have their eyes slit or their ribs ripped out, while others died. To revive them, buckets of water were poured. It continued to be played until 1684 when Franciscan missionaries declared that the “devil himself” had instigated it and declared, “The Indians from Florida shall not play basketball.”
This version sounds very similar to football (ceremonial dance females, scrimmages, and a dropkick), however, our Indian baseball is a simple, light-weight baseball. It’s possible to believe that baseball was invented at Cooperstown. But that is a myth too. In the 1000s, early versions were played by the Mayans in Egypt and medieval France.
But what the heck? St. Louis also takes credit for Iced Tea, which was invented at least four decades before the World’s Fair. Perhaps we should rename the game, “Louie ball?” and footnote any inspirations.