Traditional Indian Games And Toys

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There was one gambling game that was particularly popular: Bowl and Dice. The dice were circular discs made from bone or antler, with one side plain and one side ornamental. This game was simple in its play, yet complicated in the way the score was kept. The dice were tossed in a bowl, and sticks were awarded for getting five or six dice with the same side showing. Counting sticks of various sizes were awarded. These sticks were placed in piles, which kept track of how much they were worth. Bowl and Dice was often played in a large gaming house made from poles set in the ground and covered with tree boughs. Indians of New England played this game in the 1600s for animal skins, furs, kettles or axes. Sometimes entire villages wagered against other villages over the two individuals chosen to play.
Traditional Indian Games And Toys

A Paper By Susan Aucoin

December 2001
Plum-pit or Bowl Toss Game

This is one of the many games of chance enjoyed by Native Americans throughout

our continent. To play this game, some Native American tribes would use 5 plum pits

as dice. Each plum pit would have one undecorated side, and the other side would

feature a design image, with two plum pits sporting the same image and the other

three with another image. Players took turns placing the plum pits in the bowl and

then tossing them at once into the air, letting them fall into the bowl or onto the

ground. They would be awarded points based on what combination of blank and

marked sides they landed. Players would be collect counting sticks (small twigs) for

each point earned.

If you don’t wish to eat five plums and decorate the pits, you can re-create this

game using a margarine tub (decorated as you or the child wishes) or any bowl you

choose. As dice you can use cut-out shapes or milk jug lids. Choose two designs, and

with permanent marker draw design A on two lids and design B on the other three.

Place the dice in the bowl, and give them a good toss.

Tally which sides are facing up, and score as follows:

1 of “A” or “B” 0 points

2 “A”s 3 points

3 “B”s and two blanks 3 points

2 “A”s and 3 “B”s 3 points

4 marked sides up 1 point

5 blank sides up 1 point

5 marked sides up 8 points

Start with 50 counting sticks, which can be craft sticks or toothpicks. Players take

turns tossing the dice and collecting counting sticks, one stick for each point earned.

When all counting sticks are gone, count them up to see which player has the most.


Games of chance can be divided into two types, those involving guessing and those using a type of dice that are thrown to obtain a random score. Guessing games consisted of either hiding an object or guessing numbers. Games of chance use dice displaying a variety of decorations and made from materials such as bone, walnut shells, peach and plum stones, grains of corn, shell, and pottery disks. Score was usually kept with sticks or twigs. Over 130 tribes were ethnographically recorded during the 1800's as having played dice games. Both men and women participated in guessing games and games of chance, however not together.

Plum Stone Game
(Omaha and the Hidatsa, Brul
Á, Santee, Oglala, Teton, Wahpeton, Sisseton, Yankton, and Mandan of the Dakotas)

(Dice games were played by Ojibwa, Blackfeet, Pawnee, Sauk & Foxes, Cheyenne, Cree, Crows, Menominee, Illinois, and Iowa)

This type of dice game was played by a variety of tribes. The game was usually played by women in pairs. The game materials consisted of five plum stones with markings to indicate point value, a bowl or basket and 100 sticks or twigs for counting. The object of the game was to win the most points out of the 100.

The game started when players lightly tossed the stones upward using the bowl. The toss was light enough to move all the stones but not violent enough to make them fall out of the bowl. Any stones that did fall outside the bowl did not count. The player continued to toss the stones until no points were earned, then the next person took her turn.

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