The Game of Chunkey

A "chunkey stone" from a Mississippian site in Arkansas. The following discussion of chunkey stones and the game called chunkey is from Charles Hudson's The Southeastern Indians, pp. 421-423: "In the early colonial period, the most popular game among the Southeastern Indians seems not to have been the ball game, but the game called chunkey. Always played by males, this was a variety of the hoop and pole game which was played by Indians throughout North America. Chunkey was distinctive in that instead of a hoop made of wood, the Southeastern Indians used a wheel-shaped disc made of carefully polished stone. Similar stone discs were occasionally used by the Indians of the Northwest Coast of Canada and by the Mandans of the Missouri River region, but not nearly as often as in the Southeast. Archaeologists excavating in the Southeast have found a large number of these stones, some so beautifully crafted that they are virtually works of art."

"James Adair describes Creek and Chickasaw stones as being about two fingers in breadth and two spans in circumference. Many stones have been found at Mississippian sites, which generally conform to these dimensions. Often the stones are concave on both sides. The rims of the stones vary; some are flat, some rounded, and some are beveled such that when the stone is rolled, it goes in an arc to one side. The game was usually played by two men at a time, with crowds of onlookers betting on the outcome. Each player had a pole. One of them rolled the stone and just as it was about to stop rolling, they both cast their poles at it, the object being to hit as near the stone as possible when it came to a rest. After they cast their poles, they ran along after them, perhaps empathizing with their flight in a way modern bowlers empathize with the course of their bowling balls. Archaeologists have found several Mississippian gorgets with depictions of players casting chunkey stones."

"The chunkey stones were owned by the towns, or perhaps by particular clans in the towns, and they were carefully preserved. Each town had a smooth chunkey yard, sometimes covered with packed sand, where the game was played. The Cherokees scored their games in terms of how close the stone was to various marks on the pole. The Chickasaws played it with poles eight feet long which they annointed with bear oil. In the Chicka- saw game the pole nearest the stone scored two points. If both sticks were equally near, neither side scored. The Choctaws played the game on a yard that was approximately 100 feet long by 12 feet wide. Their poles were made out of hickory with four notches cut near the head, one notch in the middle of the pole, and two notches cut between these. The score depended on which set of notches ended up nearest the stone. The Choctaw game ended when one player scores twelve points. The players competed fiercely, the sweat drenching their bodies in the hot sun. They sometimes bet extravagantly on the game, even to the point of losing all that they possessed. In some cases they became so distraught after losing, they commited suicide."