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Stick Game or The Witches [B]
Cosmos & Consciousness By Ronald Thomas West, Bookmark 20 [B]


The preceding description is a general picture of the game, as I have seen it played many times, and describes what happens when a team of journeyman players runs into a set of crack players.

This has happened, much as described above, countless times. But it is the exception, not the rule. There is no typical game, games last 30 minutes, an hour, 2 hours, 10 hours (I hated those games.) It is a matter of not only skill, it is about collective will.

I am not going to give up all of my Stick Game secrets, the old Medicine Ways shared with me, here. What point, example given, would there be in telling you that the white, very old wild dog shit, Coyote shit from the prairie, is good protection against a particular kind of Indian witch at Stick Game, when that same Indian witch, when not sitting opposite me at Stick

Game, is my friend? I mostly won’t go there, the where’s, whys and how’s of that. Anyway, that sort of thing is truly dangerous, if you do not know how to read the context of the sorceries going on in a given game, something like that little piece of crap can, in a manner of speaking, explode in your face. But there is plenty I can, and will tell. Some of it perhaps useful to a player that might read this, some of it interesting to people who just want to know.

I will reconstruct some of my own play in games here, intended as instructive/entertaining descriptions. I know that my presence as a Pointer bothered a lot of the Indians I faced in competition over the years. Floyd Heavy Runner’s daughter, Sarah, once made a somewhat hilarious observation in casual conversation that I can relate to this. I was enjoying lying in the prairie grass by a campfire at one of our outdoor summer campsites by the Badger Canyon, there were visiting Indians, everything was relaxed and cool. There is always joking going on, these are incredibly fun and self deprecating people who, when among themselves, make jokes about nearly everything having to do with life.

Someone was telling what could be taken as a racist joke, a joke story about a ‘honky’, these stories did not bother me, I made my own jokes about my race, as the Blackfeet did theirs. When the joke had been told, I noticed one of the visitors looking somewhat wide eyed at me, for a reaction. Sarah also noticed and chimed in, “Don’t worry about Ron, he doesn’t realize he’s not an Indian.” That drew even more laughs.

Having Indians like Sarah, people who did not concern themselves with my race, on my Stick Game teams, and faced with racially conflicted Indian opposition on many occasions at the games, I believe gave me an advantage that very few may have ever known when playing the game. Add the fact that further, I had the most knowledgeable possible teachers and was a meticulous student of the game, and you sometimes met with a recipe for disaster as an Indian facing me in the game for the first time. No matter how good a player you were, not far into the game, fear could strike you. I had become a master of the obscure rules and technical detail.

Also, I played the race card in subtle ways, to my psychological advantage, when faced with racially conflicted Indians. Stick Game is War, and short of cheating with the Bones, or getting angry (never get angry at Stick Game, a cardinal rule, if you get angry, you are really finished), you do whatever it takes to win.

One time I was faced with a Pointer I knew did not like me, did not like Whites. He was typically one of the better game leaders in our region. By this time I was also known as a premier Pointer.

He was confident he could beat me, it would be a Coup for him to beat the Whiteman, and he was playing a strong game. So I resorted to a very dirty tactic, for me it was time tested and true against the racist Medicine Men that play the game. I noticed he had a lot of confidence in one song in particular when his team was singing and I made myself learn that song, listening, on the spot. Having won the Bones back, I signaled to my singers to sit quiet and I took a drum and sang his song back to him, making no move to choose my hiders, but singing several stanzas, the first ones correctly, to show him I had his song, and the subsequent stanzas I deliberately fucked up, while looking right at him and saw an expression that made it appear he had herniated his rectum right there. And then, without missing a beat, I converted to one of our team’s songs, which my singers immediately picked up, and handing the drum back to its owner, I delivered the Bones to my hiders, now my entire team has picked up the singing and we took all of his sticks, game over.

Another time, a woman Pointer at Flathead, facing me for the first time, and having heard of my reputation, stated carelessly across the no-man’s-land as we were preparing to play, “So I hear you are a ‘big time’ Bone handler.” With a straight face I fired right back “I will leave handling the ‘Big Bone’ to you”, an oblique reference to male anatomy. Coming from a Whiteman, that otherwise totally fair taunt killed her gaming ability, wrecked her psychology, before we ever played. An easy win for me.

On another occasion, I was not leading the game, but was playing as a hider. Our team’s leader was Ed North Piegan, a Canadian Blackfeet who had married a Browning Indian that was a relative of mine, Wilma Wells. I was doing a good job winning sticks, and the other team was nearly defeated. Chosen again to hide, after Ed had won the Bones back, Ed smiled approval at me from his chair, and as he was leaning forward in my direction, tossing me the Bones to hide again, and in full hearing of hundreds of Indians, a woman player, sitting close to Ed and pointing to me, shouted to the opposing team over the din of the drums, “This is your worst nightmare, look there, it is a Honky with the Bones.” Ed nearly fell out of his chair laughing, he knew my real value as a player.

Every Pointer has to wait, at times, for his or her turn to take a games leadership. Sometimes your turn comes up sooner if you are sitting on a persistently losing side that changes Pointers often. But even in that situation a good Pointer may have to wait. Such was the case for me with the big Inter-Tribal games at the Browning Indian Days Celebrations in the 1980s’. I never had the seniority of the other good Blackfeet Pointers and most of them would turn out for these games. So I was, in a manner of speaking, quite a ways down the list at these events. During those summer celebrations when the Blackfeet hosts were winning, and the games did not often change Pointers (I was always a ‘home team’ player), most times I had no opportunity to point at all. But I always got to play because I also was a good hider, not only a Pointer.

There were, however, two memorable occasions that I was able to lead Blackfeet teams against other tribes teams at these big events.

On one of these occasions, there was a sort of inter-tribal team of All Stars, a select group of top players from several Canadian tribes that had made the trip together as a team, to take on the Browning Blackfeet at the Stick Games. The strategy of assembling this special team for the occasion had paid off. These Canadians, mostly Crees, had not lost a game since they had begun play, now it had been two days. The Blackfeet persistently took them on, again and again, Stick Game Indians at home just don’t give up. They can’t. These Crees could go home and brag that they had whipped their old enemies, the Blackfeet, but they would never be allowed to say they ran the Blackfeet out of their own games, that just would not happen.

One of my Blackfeet ‘Blood Brothers’ from Brockett, Andrew Small Legs, had been playing on our side since the beginning of this fiasco for the Blackfeet home team, and now it was his turn to take the Point. But he exercised his right to give his turn away to the Blackfeet player of his choice, and he gave the game to me. Andrew told me, “I have seen what you can do. I know you can take these people down.” It was about 9 PM. I had my big game. The Pointer for this amalgam of Crees was about 35 years old, and a friend of mine, Lloyd Chippewa, like myself a Vietnam veteran, was his main assistant. They had picked up Lloyd, a Montana Chippewa/Cree, and a good player, for advice on the Indians they would encounter at these games.

Lloyd had played against our Blackfeet, and me, many times. I had also played with Lloyd, in the past, when we had banded together against common foes, such as at the games on the Flathead Reservation and at Fort Hall, Idaho, against the ‘Snake’ (Shoshone) Indians. Lloyd and I had also played together at Wellpinit, Washington, in a sort of informal national finals Stick Game event.

We knew each other’s game well. But nobody on the side opposing me, including Lloyd, was prepared for me to take this game’s point, it was a complete surprise. Up to that moment, I had only sat and watched these games. But now I was sitting beside my brother Andrew, ready to begin. And these particular Crees, Lloyd excepted, had never faced a Whiteman leading a Stick Game before. That was their problem. This was the Big Time, and I would play my most skilled game, there would be no room for mistakes.

Looking across and seeing Lloyd, I wanted to modify the game I was most fond of, my technique that Lloyd knew, but I repressed that urge. I did not dare, at that point, deviate from my game scheme. It was a tested means of play, I had learned it from very old people some years before, it was good, and I did not want to place myself in unfamiliar territory by adopting a different technique. My game was good enough to give even Lloyd, who grasped it, a least a bit of a difficult time and he was not the main Pointer for their side, Lloyd had had no chance to explain me to his Pointer, consequently, importantly, the main body of Indians I faced would not realize, initially, that I would employ a very old method of play, complete with arcane rules.

In Stick Game, you have to play up, to the level of game your opposition brings you. And you might be surprised to discover Stick Game is diverse in strategy, much like Chess, and there are many techniques that can be employed.

After four tries, the Crees won the Kick. They were singing, I put my kit away. Now I leaned back in my chair, close my eyes for 30 or 40 seconds and let my senses take in their drumming. I allow their drums into my head, and note any thoughts, visualizations or sensation the sound evokes to emerge, the ego is consciousness set aside, now I am in the disciplined meditative or waking dream state learned from fasting, a state of subconciousness I have learned to evoke at will. 30 seconds can seem like a long time in this state. I have found where I want to be, I see some things.

I will play the north-south variation of my game. The will be no middle or outside signals in my points, only both their right hands or both of the hiders left. I am willing to give up a stick to do that. Now I sit forward, opening my eyes, and look towards the hider to the north, my left, but keep my eyes unfocused and looking past this player with a set of Bones. I am studying the player with my peripheral vision, looking for energy fields. There is something dark clinging to her right side, perhaps the unmarked bone is masked there by her concentration, she is visualizing the marked bone as being on her right and directing that thought towards me. I make my decision regarding her, but make no indication of it, and turn my unfocused gaze to the other player. I see the dark energy on his right side as well, perhaps the unmarked Bones are set up that way, imbued with a dark masking energy to ward off a guess, and my several misses, while playing for the Kick, reinforce the thought. Suddenly I send my left arm north, forefinger extended, guessing both players right hands and nod. I have caught them both, now we can sing. Andrew looks across at the other side with the slightest cagey smile, he knows these Crees are in for a tough time.

Now I am surveying the Indians playing on my team, while standing with the four Bones in my hands, our people are singing and no one looks at me- it would be poor form while I am deciding who should hide. My people had been getting whipped around the clock up to now and I want hiders who have seen my play in the past, in games I have won for them, and have a confidence boost at my taking both sets of Bones with my first shot. But it cannot be Andrew, he is my 1st assistant in this game and hides with me either as a last resort if I get in trouble, or to make the kill, nearing the end of a game that goes our way. Meanwhile Andrew does nothing- unless I need him to make a point against a hider that gives me trouble.

I see a woman that is smiling and taunting, looking confident, and she seems familiar to me, I throw one set of Bones to her, the other set I give to a Browning woman that has played for me before. Their Pointer shoots and ‘kills’ my players, they both throw their Bones to the other side.

Now I am using my ‘gaze’, my unfocused sight again, and I can see the dark energy on both their hiders, but it would require a shot from me to the Middle and I won’t go there. I pick up a stick and give it to Andrew, designating him to take this shot, but I also lean over to him and say just one word: “Middle.” Andrew takes the stick and acts as though he is in his own meditative state to divine the Bones, then suddenly points the stick to the ground and nods, the Middle, and both hider throw their Bones back across to us, Andrew hands me the Bones together with the stick, which I place back on the ground. Now we are singing and I return the Bones to the same women that were ‘killed’ on the last point against us. I want all my team to see my faith in my players.

Both of my hiders are looking at me and I make a peculiar fist signal to them both, use the ‘War Club’, hit them, both nod understanding and turn to concentrate on hiding without giving up clues, straight faces, unfocused gaze, refusing to react to, or notice, any of the many distractions directed at them by the opposing team. The opposing Pointer is looking at me now, I had just stalled his runs and momentum in these games, and he is checking out this Whiteman that runs a team like a professional. Well, I am a pro, and I notice one of his better players from earlier that night, a woman, is besides herself, barely able, actually not very well able to contain her outrage at what they are confronted with. I take note of that, her rage likely will be useful. Lloyd is just taking it in from the other side, he does not want to lose, but he knows it would be futile to try and explain what they are up against during the actual game, it would only distract his Pointer.

His best chance is just to sit back and hope his Cree team can cope. They couldn’t. It was a short game that lasted perhaps twenty minutes and their streak was over. Winning the Bones back only twice more, and winning only two sticks, other than the Kick, which they ultimately were unable to hang on to, my hiders had gained confidence over the obviously rattled Crees. The two Points that I gave up a stick each, winning only one set of Bones on those points, happened when the energy showed me their hiders were on the ‘Outside’ and ‘Middle.’ I could not let Andrew take all those shots without chancing giving away clues that I could ‘see’ through to the bones and/or was playing a game with an element of Taboo.

The old ones that had taught me the north-south variation, forbid shots to the middle and outside: it was a ‘Medicine Rule.’ So shooting only north or south, but able to ‘see’ the energy, I was able to always pick up one set of Bones on the first shot. When there is only one set of Bones being hidden for the second shot, there is no middle or outside, there is only north-south. So when they went outside or middle, my trade off was only one stick for both sets of bones, not bad. My hiders didn’t have that problem. At the moment the game ended, a Blackfeet women from our team, who could speak their language, told them in Cree “It took a Whiteman to beat you.” Their leadership, including Lloyd, disappeared for a short while to confer about the next game. Normally they could have left with their winnings after a loss following a long string of wins, not being a home team, but not under these circumstances. Now there was the matter of the Whiteman having defeated them, they could not leave without a victory over me. Now they were back in their chairs and ready to play again.

I had suspected Lloyd would be my next Point opponent, that was a near given, but what I really wondered was whether they would bring out a different set of Bones. The Bones we had used in the previous game obviously had been ‘Doctored’, the ‘ward off’ energy associated with the unmarked Bones in that set had worked against my team until I sat down to take the lead, but now the power of those Bones had fled to me. I liked them. Lloyd was asking the Pointer of the previous game for a Bone set. It was the same set. I brought out my Bone set, Lloyd had his set of Bones and we both hid for the Kick guesses. I had won the game, so Lloyd had to guess me first, and he indicated his choice of my hands. I did not show any expression or open my hands, but I guessed Lloyd while deliberately trying miss. He showed his bones, I had missed, and I did not even show my Bones, but simply threw them back into my bag as though Lloyd had caught me. I wanted to play with their Bones. They began singing, unknowingly taking a ‘thrown’ Kick, and Lloyd was preparing his game set for the upcoming play, dividing the sticks between us.

This would not be a north-south game on my part. Lloyd knew that game well and it would be too difficult for me. That was history, behind me, and besides the fact for this game. Anyway, I wanted to destroy this Cree team psychologically, devastate them right here, right now, while I had this advantage over their Bone sets. I only had to read the energy, which was clear to me, and I intended to take them down hard, as hard as I could.

My first shot was the ‘Middle’ and it killed them both. I have the Bones and we are singing. Lloyd looked surprised at me, but only momentarily. Lloyd was a consummate professional, a seriously good player of the game, and would not easily lose his composure. He won the Bones back handily. But he had a problem he was as yet unaware of. His team could not hide from me, their Bones had become traitors. Again I ‘Killed’ both his hiders, the Bones came back over to my side. We won a stick, and then Lloyd had the Bones back. Now, a third time I shot them down double and Lloyd is looking at me with a strange look, like ‘How did you do that’, but it was nothing compared to the look of the Cree woman that had been outraged at this entire circumstance, since I had taken the lead, a game back. She clearly wanted to really kill somebody, probably me.

Now my team’s hiders took the next several sticks. Lloyd wins the Bones back again, and now, one of his hiders is this angry woman, and it is the first opportunity of the night I have to guess her. But she has a surprise in for me, and it appears she is on to me.

She brings out two scarves to cover the Bones in her fists and suddenly I could not ‘see’ the energy of the Bones in her hands, she had nullified that advantage. Now I upset her some more, with a hand signal, I waved her off, I would not be guessing both her teams players at a single shot, and turned my attention solely to the other hider and promptly ‘Killed’ him, retrieved that set of Bones, and only then turned to her, with my full attention. She is looking right at me, angry, determined, and unafraid. I can’t let this turn of event get under my skin, I am not going to change my game now, it is too late for that, so I decide it is just a guessing game at this point, on any given guess with her, it is 50-50. I missed, tossed over a stick, she ducked to rehide, too fast, when she brought out her scarves again and looked up, it was right into my point, I had my arm extended already, just a pure guess, but she ran into it, and I had caught her.

We had all of the Bones again, she had nearly thrown hers directly at me, not the cursory toss, and we could sing again now, and I took my time choosing hiders for my side, buying time to think over this new development. This woman appeared to be angry for reasons other than I had initially thought. Clearly, she saw something that nobody else on her side was seeing, appearing to be on to me, demonstrated by her scarves, she was obviously upset, but she had not totally lost her composure, she was not afraid of me, she believed she could take me on, and that is not the rattled confidence typical of a racist Indian being humiliated by a Whiteman in a game they never believed a Whiteman should play. At least not in my experience up to this time. I was puzzled. Now, I was not so sure my quiver held the arrow with her name on it. But I could not just roll over, I had to come up with a solution to this player, otherwise she might go on a tear with the Bones. Meanwhile, my players are winning sticks, and Lloyd’s game is in trouble anyway. But the game still could go either way.

Concluded in 20 [C]

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