Competitive Races: Arctic To High Plains
The formats for races varied widely. In the Montana high country the Crow used a 300 yard track, and had a hard time controlling jump-starters. Most races began a dozen times before they got under way. To the east, in present-day North Dakota, the Mandan cleared a three mile track, formed like a giant horseshoe, so that start and finish lines were but a hundred yards apart. Camp criers announced the race days ahead. Betting in blankets, buffalo robes, quilled shirts and leggings took a while because backers had to equalize their stakes. At the appointed time, onlookers thronged within the curved track. Pairs of barefoot, painted runners would be dispatched until the Track was packed. Three heats were necessary before the winners might Receive their red-painted feather, victory tokens to be exchanged for Spoils. Then all plunged into the cool Missouri.
In the land of the Osage along the present-day Kansas/Oklahoma border, an early nineteenth century chief named Black Dog constructed a race track to keep his warriors in trim. A length of two and half miles, it ran north-south in today's Rogers County, Oklahoma. Black Dog invited neighboring tribes to challenge his men. It was valuable training for the days when Osage couriers ran back and forth on the Black Dog Trail for the Confederacy. Inter-tribal running contests were also held in upper New York State between the Iroquoian tribes and the Missisauga of Ontario.
Far to the north the Nunivak Eskimo held short foot races during their Bladder Feast, a fourteen day ritual held during "worst of the moon" -- January. The running honors the dead, whose spirits accompany the runners. In recent times Alaskan Eskimo Fourth of July festivities have included races. As a boy in the village of Gambell on St. Lawrence Island, Nathan Kalkianak was reluctant to join his village's celebration. "I didn't want to be in the race while there were so many people watching ... I didn't care a bit about winning," he says in the autobiography taken down by Charles Hughes. Nevertheless, he won, and yet, "Oh I felt more bashful now .. I seemed to talk to my parents in a funny way ...the old folks were pestering me with praises and congratulations which I didn't like very much." That afternoon Kalkianak watched an "old fashioned" Eskimo race, between grownups. Runners started from the village and ran along the north shore up to the mountain, then circled its base to Lake Troutman, returning via the shoreline. Anyone who stuck the whole way was considered a substantial runner.