Gambling Mat

Gambling Mat

Small mat woven of string and grass

Dark and light brown weaving forms a diamond design. Edges frayed badly.

Reported to have been used as a gambling mat for the 'stick game'. The stick game was a gambling game played by two men. The men would sit on either side of the mat about three feet apart. The players both had a set of sticks. These small cylindrical sticks approximately four to five inches long and were beautifully handcrafted of wood or bone. The men played with twenty-five to eighty sticks. Some sticks would have designs or inlays, these marked sticks are called scheet, meaning 'painted' sticks, the other sticks were left plain, these are called wu-de-shutch-yar-ka, meaning "washed clean' sticks. One or more sticks with special markings are called naq which translates literally to 'devilfish' (squid), its intended meaning is 'bait'. This stick is the bait, or the trump stick.

Each player arranged his sticks around him. He placed his wu-de-shutch-yar-ka with one or more trump (bait) to his left. To his right he placed a corresponding number of painted sticks in sets of three. At the start of the game, each player took one trump and three painted sticks and wrapped each one in bark. The wrapped sticks were placed in front of the player. The player constantly moved and rearranged them under the watchful eye of his opponent. When the player had finished arranging them, the opponent would try to point out the Trump stick.

The dealer would then take a handful of sticks from the main pile, usually about fifteen to twenty, in hold them in his left hand. The selected covered stick would be inserted into the middle of the sticks in the dealer's hand. The bark would slide off the stick as it was pushed into the bundle with its identity concealed. The opponent then identified another covered stick which was also bundled in the same fashion. These two bundles of sticks were joined together. The player then pulled the sticks out one at a time, throwing them on a leather square on the mat. When the first painted stick appeared, it was placed to the side. If a second painted stick appeared, the player got a point. These points were kept track by counter sticks off to the side.

Then holding the remaining sticks, the player waited for the opponent to select one of the two remaining bundles (plain sticks with a covered stick), to be added to his hand. If a third painted stick was removed from the pile then the player received another point. Then the fourth bundle with the naq was revealed. Then the opponent would become the dealer. If the naq was presented sooner, the round was over and the dealer would switch. When one player had accumulated all the counter sticks (points) but one, they played a special final round. Three piles were made, two contained painted sticks, and the third bundle contained a trump stick. The opponent picked two piles, if a painted stick was drawn, then player won and left with the wagers.

The kitty which usually consisted of blankets and furs was kept to the side near the counter sticks for the duration of the game. Often spectators made side bets behind the players. This game eventually lost its popularity to a hand toggle game. The toggle game allowed more people to play at a time and created more excitement for the men.


George Johnston Museum, Teslin

Accession Number