The Creator’s Game

In an earlier blog, we wrote about the Iroquois League of Six Nations and how Sharon Springs was once part of Mohawk territory. The Native name for the Iroquois is Haudenosaunee, “People of the Longhouse.” To the west in the confederacy were the other Haudenosaunee tribes: Oneida, Onondaga, Tuscarora, Cayuga, and Seneca. A recent article in the New York Times – “In a Native American Sport, a Family’s Giant Leap” (March 9, 2014) – tells of three Haudenosaunee lacrosse players who, although recruited by the lacrosse powerhouse Syracuse University, decided to attend the University of Albany instead, just 45 miles to the east of Sharon Springs.

Ty Thompson, the oldest, led the way to the University of Albany, part of the State University of New York system. His cousins – the brothers Miles and Lyle Thompson – soon followed although their older brother Jeremy had played for Syracuse. They are all gifted players, and their coach has said their shared playmaking seems telepathic. Last year, as a sophomore, Lyle was a finalist for the Tewaaraton Award given to the year’s most outstanding collegiate lacrosse player (and named after the Mohawk term for the game). And last year Albany defeated Syracuse for the first time. The three made the cover of Inside Lacrosse magazine’s February 2014 edition at the start of this season.

Ty grew up in Akwesasne – the Mohawk reservation that straddles the international border between New York and Ontario (the reservation on the American side is also known as St. Regis). Miles and Lyle lived there for a time as well before moving to the Onondaga Reservation near the city of Syracuse, where they played high school lacrosse. The fact that they decided to play for a university other than Syracuse that has long sought Native talent has led other schools to intensify recruiting in Haudenosaunee communities.

Native peoples throughout much of present-day eastern Canada and the United States played various versions of lacrosse long before Europeans arrived, perhaps as early as the 12th century. The oral tradition of the Iroquois League describes how, at the time of the League’s formation, thought to have occurred in the 15th or 16th century, young warriors staged a lacrosse game for Hayewat-ha (sometimes spelled Hiawatha), one of the confederacy’s founders, to console him for the loss of his children. The French Jesuit missionary Jean de Brébeuf wrote about witnessing a game in the 1630s. At the time, he was living in present-day Ontario among the Huron, an Iroquoian-speaking tribe. He called the game la crosse after the rackets with long wooden handles, curved heads, and webbing, probably in reference to the “crosier,” a ceremonial staff hooked at one end carried by Christian clergy. The rackets were used to toss a small ball – sometimes a spherical block of wood or a deerskin ball stuffed with hair or moss – among teammates and between two poles for a score. Northeast Indians, such as the Haudenosaunee, used a single racket; Southeast Indians generally used two shorter rackets.

The games were ceremonial in nature, supposedly pleasing to the Creator, and known in some tribes as the “Creator’s game.” In Haudenosaunee tradition lacrosse was also played to honor the Thunders, seven spiritual beings who cleansed the earth with winds and rains. In some modern Native communities, lacrosse is still considered a sacred activity and is used in healing rituals.

Lacrosse originally involved hundreds of players with the goals far apart – as much as a half mile or more. The games might be played from sunup to sundown over several days, until a team scored a designated number of goals. Entire villages, often competing against each other, were caught up in the game and its surrounding festivities. Prizes such as wampum, jewelry, or furs might be awarded to the winners. In addition to the spiritual and social aspect of lacrosse, the often violent games served a practical purpose as training for real war. Some Southeast tribes referred to lacrosse as the “little brother of war.”

In 1750, a group of Mohawk taught the game to French Canadians in Montreal. The first known organized game between European descendants and Native Americans took place in 1844. A little known fact, given the popularity of hockey among Canadians, is that lacrosse was declared Canada’s National Game in 1859. The National Sport Act of 1994 made lacrosse Canada’s National Summer Sport and hockey its National Winter Sport. Haudenosauneee players toured England in 1867, putting on exhibition games. In 1875, the first English lacrosse club, still in existence, was founded in Stockport. Lacrosse has been adopted in other countries as well. New York University established the first collegiate lacrosse program in 1877, and the college game grew from there. The first modern women’s lacrosse game was played in Scotland in 1890, and colleges now field women teams.

In 1904 and 1908, lacrosse became a medal sport at the Olympics, with teams competing from Canada, the United States, and Britain. Canada won the gold medal both years. Although played internationally, as organized by the International Lacrosse Federation, lacrosse has not been an Olympic sport since that time other than as an exhibition. The Iroquois League of Six Nations sponsors a team that draws on talent from other tribes as well – the Iroquois Nationals – founded in 1983 and competing internationally as a Federation team since 1990. Some professional lacrosse leagues have also formed, such as Major League Lacrosse in the United States. The National Lacrosse League, with both Canadian and American teams, is a box lacrosse league, played indoors in arenas that are also used for hockey.

In ancient times, the lands around Sharon Springs were hunting grounds for the Mohawk. Most of the tribe’s longhouses were situated to the north of the village along the Mohawk River, a tributary of the Hudson, flowing into it near present-day Albany – not far from where Ty, Miles, and Lyle Thompson carry on the tradition of their Haudenosaunee ancestors.


The History Boys are

Chris Campbell has made his permanent home in Cherry Valley, NY. The Campbell family dates back to 1739 in this town, situated about eight miles from Sharon Springs. Some family members were captured by Tories and Iroquois allies in the Cherry Valley Massacre of 1778 during the American Revolution and taken to Canada, released two years later in Albany as part of a prisoner exchange. Chris is a rare book and map collector and has had a lifelong interest in history, especially relating to upstate New York and colonial land patents. He was the founder and first chairman of the Cherry Valley Planning Board and has worked as a surveyor and realtor as well as a researcher for the Otsego County map department. His hobbies include Ham radio.

Carl Waldman, also living in Cherry Valley, is a former archivist for the New York State Historical Association in Cooperstown. He is he author of a number of reference books published by Facts On File, including Atlas of the North American Indian and Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes, both originally published in the 1980s and both in their third editions. He is the co-author of Encyclopedia of Exploration (2005) and Encyclopedia of European Peoples (2006). Carl has also done screenwriting about Native Americans, including an episode of Miami Vice entitled “Indian Wars” and the Legend of Two-Path, a drama about the Native American side of Raleigh’s Lost Colony, shown at Festival Park on Roanoke Island in North Carolina. His hobbies include music and he works with young people in the Performance and Production Workshops at the Cherry Valley Old School.

Are you a history buff?

If you wish to find dates about the Haudenosaunee and other subjects relating to Sharon Springs, you can order our eBook The Sharon Springs Timeline: A Microcosm of American History with Dates Relating to a Remarkable Village and Neighboring Regions, from the 16th Century to Modern Times.

It can be ordered for $4.99 from Alva Press at the following link: http://www.alvapressinc.com/alva_thesharonsrpingstimeline.html Or it can be ordered from Amazon.com or Kobo.com.

by History Boys

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Kate's Daughter

Lacrosse is still mostly a club game here in Florida. We tend to surprise people when we show evidence of knowing the details that you’ve documented above. It is a very nice and comprehensive explanation of the beginning history of Lacrosse. Thanks for sharing it with everyone!


Probably the most informative site around. No matter what your interests. Always interesting. Thanks Guys!


And they said that you two were just a couple of pretty faces! The history of Upstate New York (I used to live in Columbia County) is so interesting, but the explanation of the evolution of lacrosse makes it even more so. Thanks for keeping us all learning.