Fort Snelling Lacrosse

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Many of you have read and heard about the lacrosse game that took a fort, Fort Michilimackinac. But another fort, Fort Snelling in St. Paul Minnesota, had a number of significant lacrosse events.

After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, President Jefferson sent Louis and Clark to explore and document the acquisition. They recommended a fort be built at the intersection of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers.

In 1805 Lieutenant Zebulon Pike was sent to the area to find a suitable site to construct the fort. On this trip Pike recorded lacrosse games being played on the eastern side of the Mississippi river, an area he called Prairie de La Crosse. When a town was formed there they took this name as the city, La Crosse, Wisconsin. When Pike reached the area defined by Lewis and Clark he “purchased” the land from the Dakota.

The fort was originally named Fort St. Anthony, but upon completion of the fort it was renamed after the architect Colonel Josiah Snelling. Having Fort Snelling located on the two rivers made it the center of trade. The Ojibwe and Dakota both traded at the fort.

In the spring of each year the Ojibwe from the north and the Dakota from the west and south came to trade. They played lacrosse games surrounding the fort and gambled on the games.


George Catlin

Upon hearing about the lacrosse games in the area George Catlin visited the forts in 1835 and 1836. On these visits the he sketched and painted the lacrosse games. Here is where Catlin painted his favorite player, Ah-no-je-naje (He Who Stands on Both Sides). He is featured on the far right of this painting of the three lacrosse players.


Catlin Ball Players

Because no treaties had been signed when Catlin visited, the Ojibwe and Dakota had not been forced off lands and were still practicing much of their culture including harvesting wild rice, hunting animals, and playing lacrosse. These paintings provide valuable insight into the spectacle of this community sport.  It was 1851 when the treaties would open the land to white settlers and who in the words of Little Crow, “infested the land like locust”.

In 1841 another artist would come to the area only this time he was the Fort Commander, General Seth Eastman. Eastman and his wife Mary spent years in the surrounding areas near the fort interacting with the Dakota and Ojibwe. Mary Eastman, wrote about the culture and practices of the Dakota. Seth Eastman was an artist and he painted the Dakota, the fort, landscapes, and lacrosse games.

Seth Eastman Ball Play on the Minnesota River

Seth Eastman Ball Play on the Minnesota River

Books referenced in this post.

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