The Mohawks who made Maryland’s lacrosse sticks
BALTIMORE (AP) — Marylanders think of their state as the spiritual homeland of lacrosse. But without the Mohawk Indians, the sport might never have come here.
Native peoples of the Americas have played lacrosse since well before the arrival of European settlers. In the 1800s, some began to make and sell lacrosse sticks — made from wood, catgut and leather — to outsiders. Ninety-seven percent of the world’s lacrosse sticks once were made by the Mohawks of Akwesasne — a reservation that straddles New York and Canada — and nearby Cornwall, according to Don Smith, manager of Canada’s Cornwall Community Museum.
After the Civil War, a man named Peck Auer, founder of Baltimore-based Bacharach Rasin sporting goods, brokered a deal with the Mohawks that gave him the exclusive right to sell their lacrosse sticks. Big shipments arrived here each spring, and students at area schools like Loyola College and Towson University picked up the sport simply “because the equipment was there,” as the now-deceased historian Thomas Vennum told The Sun in 1998.
The lacrosse stick-making industry was covered in an article in The Sun in 1951, entitled “Lacrosse Sticks: A Single Mohawk Tribe Makes, and A Baltimore Concern Sells, Most of the Entire World’s Supply.” Photos by A. Aubrey Bodine depicted Mohawk artisans bending wood and weaving together the strings for the pockets.
Though most lacrosse players use sticks from synthetic materials today, the traditional wooden sticks are making a comeback, says Arnold Printup, a Mohawk historian on the St. Regis Mohawk Indian Reservation. The reason is “simply because they’re very tough,” he said. “Modern ones tend to break a lot easier.”
Mohawk tribe members play two forms of lacrosse, said Printup: recreational lacrosse, as well as a more traditional form of the sport, used for healing purposes. When playing the ceremonial version, “We don’t play to win,” he said. “It’s played with the intent to uplift.”
But both forms of the sport remain very popular in native communities. On the reservation, said Printup, “I can honestly say if you’re a kid — girl or boy — you’ve picked up a lacrosse stick.”
Information from: The Baltimore Sun, http://www.baltimoresun.com