Ball-play is an ancient Indian game that gave birth to the contemporary sport of lacrosse. The Chactas (Choctaws) and Moskogees (Creeks) were in a fierce dispute about who would control the hunting ground that lay between their territories. The rival tribes agreed to settle the matter with a game of ball-play. The match would determine who had rights to hunt the land between the Tombecbee River, known today as the Tombigbee, and the Black Warrior, then known as the Apotaka Hacha or Border River.
That match is recounted in a book begun in 1884 by H.B. Cushman titled “History of the Choctaw, Chickasaw and Natchez Indians." Cushman, the son of missionaries who lived among the Indians, relied on the account of an aged Choctaw who witnessed the competition. The old Indian describes the ball-play as taking place one mile below Tuscaloosa on the West bank of the Black Warrior River. “Both parties claimed the victory," the old Indian said. “A violent dispute arose ... followed by a furious battle in which many were killed and wounded on both sides, but the Choctaws were victorious."
A long war between the Choctaws and Creeks persisted, and it would not end until the Choctaw Chief Pushmataha helped Gen. Andrew Jackson defeat the Creeks during the Creek War of 1813-14. On a map of Tuscaloosa County, I traced a line to a point one mile below Tuscaloosa and up the West bank of the river. That put me at the Warrior Baseball fields in Kentuck Park. I’ve always enjoyed imagining the invisible past, so I went there and took a photo. Along with a painting by George Catlin, who witnessed Choctaw ball-play first hand, we can imagine what that competition so many days ago, may have looked like.