Published on January 23, 2012 by Casey
Lacrosse has its origins in a tribal game played by all eastern Woodlands Native Americans and by some Plains Indians tribes in what is now Canada. The game has been modernized extensively by European immigrants to create its current form.
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The first westerners to encounter lacrosse were French Jesuit missionaries in the St. Lawrence Valley. During the 1630s, they witnessed the game and condemned it. They were opposed to lacrosse because it was violent, betting was involved, and it was part of the religion they sought to eradicate.
One missionary, Jean de Brébeuf, was the first to write about lacrosse and thus gave it its name. He described the Huron Indians playing in 1636. Some say the name originated from the French term for field hockey, le jeu de la crosse. Others suggest that it was named after the crosier, a staff carried by bishops.
Despite Jesuit opposition, many other European colonists were intrigued by lacrosse. Betting on games became common, and around 1740 many French colonists were taking up the game. However, they could not match the skill of the Native Americans.
In 1763 the Ottawas used a lacrosse game to gain entrance to Fort Michilimackinac (now Mackinac). Chief Pontiac invited the fort’s British troops to watch a lacrosse game in celebration of the king’s birthday. The players gradually worked their way close to the gates, and then rushed into the fort and carried out a general massacre.
In 1805 during an expedition up the Mississippi River, Continental Army officer Lt. Zebulon Pike observed a group of young Sioux and Winnebago men playing this game, or one resembling it, near the east bank of the river, in what is now west-central Wisconsin. He named the region “Prairie La Crosse”, which in turn inspired the name of both the Wisconsin county and its principal city in that region.Today, two statues in the city of La Crosse (one downtown, the other along southbound US Highway 53 entering the city from the north) commemorate the game observed by Pike.
In 1834 a team of Caughnawaga Indians demonstrated lacrosse in Montreal. Although response to the demonstrations was not overwhelming, interest in lacrosse steadily grew in Canada.
In 1856, William George Beers, a Canadian dentist, founded Montreal Lacrosse Club. He codified the game in 1867 to shorten the length of each game, reduce the number of players, use a redesigned stick, and use a rubber ball. The first game played under Beers’ rules was at Upper Canada College in 1867. During the 1860s lacrosse became Canada’s national game. The first overseas exhibition games were played in 1867. In 1876, Queen Victoria witnessed an exhibition game and was impressed, saying “The game is very pretty to watch.” Her endorsement was enough for many English girls’ schools to adopt the sport in the 1890s.The Mohawk Lacrosse Club in Troy, New York became the first organized club in the United States.
As lacrosse grew, opposition to its violent aspects was a major obstacle. The game was banned in some areas when, in 1900, Choctaw Indians attached lead weights to their sticks to use them as skull-crackers.
By the 20th century, many high schools, colleges and universities had adopted lacrosse as a league sport. Lacrosse became an Olympic sport for the 1904 and 1908 Summer Olympics, but was then dropped as an official sport. After 1908, lacrosse was a sport in the World Games.
In the 1930s, an indoor version of the game, box lacrosse, was introduced in Canada. It quickly became the dominant form of the sport in Canada, in part due to the severe winter weather that limited outdoor play.
Minor leagues developed for box lacrosse and college lacrosse. Two professional leagues also were created: In 1987 the Eagle Pro Box Lacrosse League was founded; it eventually became the Major Indoor Lacrosse League, and then the National Lacrosse League (NLL). In the summer of 2001, a professional field lacrosse league, known as Major League Lacrosse (MLL), was inaugurated.Also lacrosse has evolved to Arizona and all through-out the United States.