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Old Man’s Playing Ground

Old Man’s Playing Ground: Gaming and Trade on the Plains/Plateau Frontier

Gabriel M. Yanicki
Allan Pard
Henry Holloway
Art Calling Last
Series: Mercury Series
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 312
  • Book Info
    Old Man’s Playing Ground
    Book Description:

    When Hudson's Bay Company surveyor Peter Fidler made contact with the Ktunaxa at the Gap of the Oldman River in the winter of 1792, his Piikáni guides brought him to the river's namesake. These were the playing grounds where Napi, or Old Man, taught the various nations how to play a game as a way of making peace. In the centuries since, travellers, adventurers, and scholars have recorded several accounts of Old Man's Playing Ground and of the hoop-and-arrow game that was played there.

    Although it has been destroyed, much can be learned from an interdisciplinary study of Old Man's Playing Ground. Oral traditions of the Piikáni and other First Nations of the Northwest Plains and Interior Plateau, together with textual records spanning centuries, show it to be a place of enduring cultural significance irrespective of its physical remains. Knowledge of the site and the hoop-and-arrow game played there is widespread, in keeping with historic and ethnographic accounts of multiple groups meeting and gambling at the site.

    In this work, oral tradition, history, and ethnography are brought together with a geomorphic assessment of the playing ground's most probable location-a floodplain scoured and rebuilt by floodwaters of the Oldman-and the archaeology of adjacent prehistoric campsite DlPo-8. Taken together,the locale can be understood as a nexus for cultural interaction and trade,through the medium of gambling and games, on the natural frontier between peoples of the Interior Plateau and Northwest Plains.

    eISBN: 978-0-7766-2136-4
    Subjects: Anthropology, Archaeology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-xvi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xvii-xxvi)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    On December 31, 1792, Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) surveyor Peter Fidler arrived at the headwaters of the Oldman River, in present-day southern Alberta, at a place now known as the Gap. This visit was a historic occasion: it marked the furthest exploratory foray of a European yet into what was then Piikáni territory; it was also at this spot that Fidler made the first contact with the Ktunaxa. This study is an examination of a footnote to that historic occasion, a “curiosity” that briefly captivated Fidler’s attention that day. What he observed, recorded what he could learn of, and sketched...

  5. Chapter 1 Background: Stories of Place
    (pp. 7-34)

    The modern-day reserve of theAapátohsipikáni, or Northern Piikáni, is within sight of the Livingstone Range in southwestern Alberta, a range they know asPanihtatsis, ‘the Tipi Liners.’ In an interview conducted for this study (for full text, see Appendix A), Piikáni ceremonialist Allan Pard,Mikskimmisukahsim(‘Iron Shirt’), explained the meaning of the term:

    Allan Pard (AP): If you look at that area, the range kinda just looks like the tipi curtains.

    Gabriel Yanicki (GY): Symbolically, what do you think that means?

    AP: Well it’s basically.. they call it that because of the chinook winds that we get. When you...

  6. Chapter 2 Ethnohistory of the Hoop-and-Arrow Game
    (pp. 35-60)

    Among the recurrent themes that appear in stories of Old Man’s Playing Ground, in addition to its association with Old Man, is that a game was played there in which arrows were thrown like darts at a rolled hoop. This appears most explicitly in Peter Fidler’s account (HBCA E. 3/2, fo. 17), but also in the much later version of the story related to Clark Wissler and David Duvall (1995 [1908]: 24). Similar accounts are ubiquitous among the travelers and adventurers who first explored the shores, and later the interior, of North America. From the bowling greens of the Eno...

  7. Chapter 3 Landform Identification & Geomorphic Assessment
    (pp. 61-94)

    The reasons for the abandonment of Old Man’s Playing Ground are complex—disease, changing patterns of warfare, and the imposition of the reserve system in the 19th and 20th centuries all likely had a role to play. Due to this process of abandonment, the location of the site is only generally known in First Nations communities today. Oral traditions are quite consistent in pointing to the headwaters of the Oldman River in the vicinity of the Gap, but specific details remain vague. Questions of abandonment may be moot, however, in explaining why the playing ground’s exact location is unknown. The...

  8. Chapter 4 Archaeological Assessment of the Lower Landform
    (pp. 95-110)

    As detailed in the previous chapter, the concentration of charcoal fragments recovered from a sediment core at the south end of the low flat at the south end of the Gap provided an encouraging AMS ¹⁴C result, the interpretation of which could suggest that a surface dating to the thirteenth century AD may be buried there intact. This finding was equivocated, however, by AMS ¹⁴C results from plant macrofossils, namely spruce needles, from strata at similar depths elsewhere on the low flat which showed only recent deposition.

    To better understand these findings, an archaeological testing program was undertaken to confirm...

  9. Chapter 5 Archaeological Assessment of DlPo-8
    (pp. 111-204)

    Several principal study objectives of this research program could not be addressed through the archaeological assessment of the low terrace at the south end of the Gap. Trenching proved negative for a rock alignment or any other cultural material. While this resolved the question of whether any trace of Old Man’s Playing Ground might remain intact, other questions such as the age of the site, cultural affiliation, and the circumstances of its eventual abandonment remain unanswered. Indirectly, however, much of that information might be obtained through an investigation of DlPo-8, the archaeological site situated on the higher terrace directly above...

  10. Synthesis & Conclusions
    (pp. 205-210)

    Archaeological evidence for the destruction of Old Man’s Playing Ground may be disappointing from a heritage management perspective, but the fate of the rock alignment may have little bearing on the significance of the site. Textual sources suggest it was built in close proximity to the Oldman River (Fidler, HBCA E. 3/2; Dawson 1886; MacGregor 1966) and that its degradation was a gradual process that occurred over the span of a century or more. The low-lying flat that best corresponds with descriptions of the playing ground’s location has indeed been severely impacted by numerous recent flood events. At this location,...

  11. References Cited
    (pp. 211-232)
  12. Appendix A Interview Transcripts
    (pp. 233-276)
  13. Appendix B Hoop-and-Pole Game Variants
    (pp. 277-280)
  14. Index
    (pp. 281-285)