Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Legacy Department


Committee Chair/Advisor

Anderson, Paul C

Committee Member

Jeffries , James

Committee Member

Grubb , Alan


The purpose of this thesis is to provide a history of lacrosse from the seventeenth century, when the game was played exclusively by Native Americans, to the early decades of the twentieth century, when the game began to flourish in non-Native settings in Canada and the United States. While the game was first developed by Native Americans well before contact with Europeans, lacrosse became standardized by a group of Canadians led by George Beers in 1867, and has continued to develop into the twenty-first century. The thesis aims to illuminate the historical linkages between the ball game that existed among Native Americans at the time of contact with Europeans and the ball game that was eventually adopted and shaped into modern lacrosse by European Americans.
Archeological evidence indicates that lacrosse originated among indigenous peoples of North America primarily in the southeastern part of the United States and along both sides of the Canadian border along the upper Midwest. By the time of the first arrival of Europeans during the sixteenth century, the game had spread to the many tribes in northeastern North America, where it took on unique regional and cultural characteristics. The thesis shows that the ball game was situated in a cultural context that entailed mythic stories, pre-game rituals, and spectator festivities and gambling among other ceremonies. It also served practical purposes as a means of settling disputes and as a social function bringing the community together.
During the mid-nineteenth century, however, a new version of the game was developed by Native Americans for a new purpose. In settings throughout the upper Midwest, Canada, and even in Europe, Native Americans began performing modified versions of the game for the enjoyment of non-Natives. My research shows that the presentation of these 'tamer' versions of lacrosse--versions that adopted a greater degree of rules and regulations to suit the tastes of the modern Western spectator--established the condition for the game adoption by non-Natives. Although the game would continue to be altered, and eventually regulated by Canadians in 1867, Native American influences persist today in the equipment, scoring methods, and rules of the game among other features.

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