Cherokee marbles are an ancient game, dating back to at least 800 A.D. The marbles used in the traditional Native American game are much bigger than modern marbles and were originally carved from stone. Today, players typically use billiard balls instead of the smooth stone marbles of the past, partly because few Cherokee people are still alive who carve the old-fashioned marbles. The playing field is much larger, too. It is a five-hole course in an L shape covering about 100 feet.
The Cherokee Nation has been working in recent years to revive the traditional tribal culture. In addition to implementing a Cherokee language immersion school where students become fluent in their native tongue from an early age, the tribe is also reintroducing traditional games like stickball and Cherokee marbles. I recently wrote about how the game of Cherokee stickball is a very rough game with a tendency toward player injuries. Cherokee marbles is a much more peaceful game, with no direct contact between players.
Teams of players engage in competition to be the first to complete the course, sort of like croquet. Also like croquet, players can try to knock the marbles of the opposing team off course. In Cherokee marbles, however, the marbles are not hit with a mallet. Instead, they are tossed much like in the sport of bocce. And much like golf, the players must manage to put their marbles in consecutive holes before moving on to the next hole on the course.
Cherokee marbles is a complex game, but easy enough for anyone who can throw a billiard ball to play. The Cherokee Nation holds annual tournaments as part of the Cherokee National Holiday in September, and teams have come from across the country to participate. Players also get together to play casually and in local competitions, and school children have begun playing the game in some schools as part of their physical education. Some folks get together to play regularly after dinner just like throwing horseshoes in the backyard.
Carving the traditional Cherokee marbles has become a sort of art form. The marbles are made of very hard rock, carved with a rock hammer or stone and then polished to a beautiful smooth finish. Although beautiful, the stone marbles can crack and split when they hit the ground. It is not surprising that players today opt for cheaper and more replaceable billiard balls.
You can set up a Cherokee marbles course easily in a large backyard, and if you learn the rules, you can play any time you’d like. Maybe you could even bring the game to your local scout troop or after school program and help children in your community learn one of our land’s oldest Native sports.
More by Tavia:
Beginners Guide to Disc Golf
Cherokee Stickball is Traditional Excitement
Best Backyard Games for Get-Togethers
Tavia worked as a naturalist and recreation specialist at an Oklahoma lake during her college years. She enjoys using what she learned as an outdoor educator in her work with children today.