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Ball Play of the Choctaw--Ball Up

Ball-play of the Choctaw—Ball Up, 1846–1850
by George Catlin
Smithsonian American Art Museum

Lacrosse was created by Native Americans, who played a version of the game much different than the one played today across the country. It was often violent and had few rules, and was called "little brother of war" in Choctaw. The sport tested endurance, agility, strength, and skill. The image portrays hundreds of Choctaw Indian men and boys playing a game similar to lacrosse near Fort Gibson, Oklahoma. Despite the game's violence, painter George Catlin described it as "a school for the painter or sculptor, equal to any of those which ever inspired the hand of the artist in the Olympian games or the Roman forum."

Catlin painted many portraits of Native Americans during his travels west of the Mississippi, along the Arkansas and Missouri Rivers, into the Great Lakes region and down into Florida. Between 1830 and 1838, Catlin visited over 70 tribes and created more than 500 paintings of Native Americans. He then toured the country and later visited Europe, showing his paintings and the artifacts he collected along the way. In 1841 he published Manners, Customs, and Conditions of the North American Indians, a two-volume work with illustrative engravings. In later years he explored Central and South America and returned to the American West and published several more books about his travels and observations of Native Americans.

For more information, go to the item description at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.