What Mackenzie did not take into account was that, while “ruin” in his eyes would follow the loss of his possessions, it was not so for the Indians, accustomed to share in what his band had if he needed it. Any property he had could be remade – such as a bow and arrows. A man could lose his immediate possessions, but someone else in the band had won them. Social pressure demanded that the band share the goods – even the winnings. Hoarding more than one’s needs was taboo.
As to the “domestic affection”, Indian marriages were not “love affairs” necessarily. Also, marriage was no “until-death-do-thee-part” contract. If the man gambled his wife – and lost – the woman was expected to change partners. Indeed there was a sort of prestige in belonging to the household of a notably successful gambler, especially if he were very successful in the “hand game”. The same was true if she were won in a wrestling match.
It is difficult for anyone to understand the psychology of another race, in other circumstances. It might be observed that white men – even Alexander Mackenzie – thought it all right to take an Indian woman without the necessity of winning her in fair competition! The missionaries were shocked, of course, at wife exchange, or wife winning. They recorded their disapproval.
J. G. MacGregor in his Land of Twelve-foot Davis records, in praise, the Beaver Indian women “singularly chaste,” refusing to marry men of other tribes or white men either.
Mackenzie’s observation respecting “excess” may not have been based on full investigation. As among other people anywhere, games might result in a fight. Mackenzie records further:
“I was this morning threatened with a very unpleasant event, which however I was fortunately able to control. Two young Indians being engaged in one of their games, a dispute ensued . . . they drew their knives and . . . would I doubt not have employed them to very bloody purposes. So violent was their rage, that after I had turned them out of the house and severely reprimanded them, they stood in the fort for at least half an hour, looking at each other with a most vindictive aspect, and in sullen silence.”
In other words, it counts if an uneven number turns up, and the player gets another turn.
Simple – but no simpler than throwing dice.
An account of the extremely complicated way of playing the universal hand-game is given elsewhere. It seems that the Dog-ribs played the most difficult version of the game. Mr. Rick Belcourt, who has visited several modern bands, has not observed anywhere a game as complicated as that described among these Dog-rib Indians. He has seen the Hand-game played where only one man hiding the object is guessed at a time. Often only three or four comprise a “team”.
Among the Beavers the game is played much more seriously and with less fun. Among the Crees there is much clowning, gaiety and good nature. Belcourt reports this to be typical of these two tribes in many ways. The drums and the singing are the same, as are the elaborate tactics to deceive the guesser.
The fur trader-explorer, Harmon, writing in the early 1800’s, records that the love of winning appeared in earliest childhood. While the little boys competed in many forms of hunting and other skills necessary to life, there was always something at stake, even if it were only an arrow or some trifle. Gaming was part of their culture.