All posts by lsmith

The Spirit in the Stick: Chapter 2 – A Visit from Red Hawk

To penetrate the Indian game, one must enter a world of spiritual belief and magic.

– Dr. Thomas Vennum, Jr.
American Indian Lacrosse: Little Brother of War

     Robbie was too excited to sleep that night. He tossed for hours, staring out his window at the light from the full moon and dreaming of the endless possibilities of the stick. His imagination spun questions and answers concerning the carvings and writing on the shaft. Finally, after drifting off, he was met in a dream by a young Indian boy. Though asleep to the rest of the world, Robbie was completely awake in his dream, fully aware of what was happening to him.

           The Indian boy approached Robbie and introduced himself. “Hello, I’m Red Hawk. You’re Robbie, right?”

            “Yes,” Robbie said, stunned that the stranger knew his name.

            “And you are now the custodian of the stick?” Red Hawk asked with a broad smile.

            Robbie smiled back, “Mr. Lewis gave me the stick this afternoon.”

            “Well, it’s nice to meet you,” Red Hawk offered sincerely.

            “Same here,” gushed Robbie, overwhelmed by the notion that he might be talking to someone who had lived two-hundred years before. Though Robbie didn’t ask, based on their similar heights he could tell that Red Hawk was about his age, perhaps fourteen.

            “When he gave me the stick, Mr. Lewis told me that it was special, but I had no idea that this is what he meant.” Robbie continued. “This is unbelievable!”    

            “Well, I know this is hard for you to believe, but through the stick I have been able to visit several other boys, and all of them had the same initial response. They have all been great boys and men!”

            “What am I supposed to do with the stick?” Robbie posed as an obvious first question.

            “That’s up to you. You can do whatever you want,” Red Hawk smiled again.

            Robbie wasn’t sure what was in the realm of possibility, so he asked a more pointed question. “Mr. Lewis told me that I would be able to find out more about the history of this stick through the stick itself. Did he mean that someone like you would be able to teach me things?”

            “That depends on what you want to learn,” Red Hawk replied cryptically.

            “Can you tell me how you got the stick, then?”

            “Sure. But perhaps we should talk about some other things first. I should start by saying, Robbie, that we’ll be able to visit people and places of the past. We’ll be able to see and hear all around us, but none of the people of those earlier times will notice us. We’ll be there, but we’ll be completely unknown and invisible to anyone involved,” Red Hawk explained.

            Robbie’s dream was so real and so clear and he went deeper into its magic.

            Red Hawk thought it best to begin with a narrative on the nature of the game of lacrosse in his culture.

            “For any young man in our Cherokee tribe, these sticks symbolized a great deal. As soon as we touched the sticks, every one of us could immediately feel the power and spirit of the warriors, living and deceased, in our tribe. What the French named lacrosse, we called stickball. The game was a central part of our lives as boys, a way for us to be accepted as men. When we were still too young to go into battle with our older brothers, uncles, and fathers, stickball substituted as a means to show our strength, skill, and courage—the same traits that would make us successful as hunters and defenders of our tribe. When we became older, we still played with passion, mostly to invite the favor of our gods, to strengthen our boys, to earn respect for our clans in contests with others, and to continue to parade our physical prowess and courage. It was a game but also a tool that helped us become men. Would you like to see what the game looked like for my people?”


            Red Hawk walked Robbie through a small stand of shade trees which ran into the shadows and burst out into a bright, sun-lit meadow. This was Robbie’s first trip through time and it was to a Cherokee village on the Little Tennessee River in current-day Smoky Mountain National Park on the western edge of North Carolina. The year was 1835.

Red Hawk began, “This is the clan of my grandfather, the Bear Clan. They are preparing for a stickball game with the Wolf Clan, who issued a challenge earlier in the summer.”

            Robbie soaked in the lush green scenery, the gentle mountains all around. Red Hawk led Robbie to a small stream where they saw about twenty Cherokee young men waist deep in the water. Red Hawk described the scene.

            “These players are undergoing preparations for the contest tomorrow. They must cleanse themselves completely. Our tribe calls this ritual ‘going to water.’ It is conducted almost exactly like the ceremony for warriors going on the war path. It is necessary for each combatant, each player in this case, to cleanse and purge themselves.”

            Some of the youngest warriors drank strong spirits from a jug and immediately vomited in the stream.

            “That man,” Red Hawk pointed out the older man, “is the village conjurer or shaman. He is responsible for invoking the proper spirits and rituals to ensure success.”

            Robbie watched as the man wiped ointment on the small sticks and then prayed over them. The boy noticed the interesting shape of the sticks. They were much smaller than he expected, and they were used in pairs. They were not quite like the one he had just inherited.

            “The conjurers play a great role in determining the outcome of a contest,” Red Hawk shared. “They perform many rituals over the players. They even cast spells on the opposing team to impose poor play on them.”

            The young men left the stream and began to march to the village center, where they were received by a large assemblage. “This is the ball play dance, Robbie. To energize their team all the villagers come out to offer chants, to beat drums, and to dance. These events will go on well into the night.”

            Red Hawk then took Robbie to the events of the next morning. They observed the players wearing only breechclouts around their waists and feathers in their hair, marching in single file with sticks in hand to the river. “They are going to water again, Robbie. Each player has fasted at least since yesterday. Now once more they will cleanse themselves.”

            The players dipped their sticks in the water and then bathed themselves. As the players waded out of the water, the conjurer ‘scratched’ each player. Robbie was shocked to observe the blood seeping out of the shallow gashes. Red Hawk brought Robbie closer. The boy stared at the scratching implement. It looked like a comb with about six or eight teeth. The teeth, however, were rattlesnake fangs inserted into a feather’s quill. The shaman dipped the comb into a pot of sacred plant juice and meticulously etched the body of each warrior. Some of the players requested scratching in two or three areas—the chest, the arms, and the legs—with the hope that this would strengthen their lungs and limbs for the contest. After scratching, the conjurer rubbed all of the players with ointment.

            The players then again formed a single file and began their march to the field in step with the beat of a war drum. Some of the players bellowed whoops as they marched. Most focused silently within themselves, invoking the Great Spirit to provide strength and courage.

            Before the contest started, the conjurers of each team escorted the players to the center of the field, where they faced each other. Robbie marveled at the similarity to the pre-game lineup of his games. The conjurers then offered instructions on the rules of the contest and on fair play. Robbie noticed the goals were about three hundred yards apart and marked by two sticks set about ten feet apart.

            Play began with two center men battling for a ball tossed in the air. A face-off, Robbie thought. Play was intense. The ball was often picked up with one stick and then carried with the second stick placed on top of the first. It seemed as though the fastest, strongest, and smartest players were the most successful. Passing did not seem to be an integral part of the game—many players simply ran with the ball until they were stopped by force, resulting in a mad scramble for a loose ball. Robbie watched in amazement as several pairs of players dropped their sticks and wrestled each other.

            Play went on for a few hours, the Bear Clan scoring fifteen goals to the Wolf’s twelve. After the game, the players again adjourned to the river for cleansing and finally to the village center for the Victory Dance.

            “You can see, Robbie, these ceremonies are as important as the games themselves. The Victory Dance is similar to the one we perform when warriors return from battle.”

            Robbie remembered that Red Hawk had said that his people were the Cherokee and Mr. Lewis had told him that the stick was from the Iroquois.

            “Did you say that your people were the Cherokee?”

            “Yes. Why do you ask?”

            “Well, Mr. Lewis told my family and me that this stick was from the Iroquois.”

            “Oh, right. Well, we will have plenty of time to discuss that. I’ll be back to see you soon. We must go now.” He gestured to the shadows, and they quickly moved into the trees. “I really just wanted to introduce myself tonight. I’ll see you again soon.”

The next morning Robbie woke none the worse for having been engaged in such a real and passionate dream. He shared the experience with his parents, who rather quickly dismissed it as a fantastical trip brought on by the excitement of the previous day.

The Spirit in the Stick: Introduction


“Lacrosse is one of the great team games on the American sports scene. Nearly everyone who has played it or watched it as a spectator loves the game. Lacrosse gets in your blood because it is such a fast-moving and exciting sport.” My love of lacrosse remains as strong today as it was when I wrote those words almost 30 years ago. In the last three decades lacrosse’s popularity has grown by leaps and bounds, and though today’s players, whether male or female, are more skilled and better conditioned than ever before, the Game is still the Game.

The magic of lacrosse has captivated me—heart, mind, and soul for over 60 years. It is in my blood. The lessons the game has taught me have guided me all my life. The game has connected me with thousands of people who share a love for the game, resulting in lasting friendships with players, coaches, and their families.

Lacrosse, considered the oldest sport known to North America, is a game rich in tradition and history. Yet there is very little lacrosse literature. So it is with great pride that I introduce The Spirit in the Stick. This work is, to the best of my knowledge, the first and only of its kind. Its story is so deep and powerful that it is sure to enrich everyone who reads it.

Neil Duffy has shared the incredible story of a boy, Robbie Jones, who joins an ageless fraternity when he is presented with an ancient Native American lacrosse stick by Navy’s Jimmy Lewis, considered by many, myself included, to be one of the game’s greatest players. The stick and its original custodian, an Indian boy named Red Hawk, lead Robbie on a journey to places and times and to meetings with people he could never have imagined. Robbie learns lessons of integrity, respect, and honor from each of the stick’s previous custodians.

This story is a major contribution to the great game of lacrosse. Indeed, it transcends the game. The rich historical and spiritual roots of its main characters provide stories that will touch every reader, regardless of age, gender, or association with the game of lacrosse.

In much the way lacrosse does, The Spirit in the Stick will captivate your heart, mind, and soul. It will get into your blood. Prepare to embark on a marvelous and special journey. I’m sure you will enjoy it!


Bob Scott
Johns Hopkins University
April 2004


The Spirit in the Stick: Prologue

If I had known that Jackson would drive us from our homes I would have killed him that day at the Horseshoe.

– Junaluska
Cherokee chief

Cherokee Territory: November 1, 1838

It was a typical fall morning in the Great Smoky Mountains—cool and damp, with slate-colored clouds hanging low in the sky. It seemed all-too-fitting that the rain couldn’t decide whether to fall or sit suspended, so it hung motionless and heavy in the air. As a bugle commanded “Forward, March,” the notes ripped through the misty hearts of the natives as surely and harshly as they did through the misty air. While the Indians didn’t know exactly what the bugle call meant, their feet acknowledged that it probably meant to move out. And so the wagons creaked into motion, and hundreds of feet began to drag westward. Thus began the infamous Trail of Tears, the forced migration of the Cherokee Nation—and that of other Native Americans—from their native homeland for relocation in the Indian Territory to the west.

The lifeless bodies of the natives shuffled forward in the mist, their goods, livestock, homes, clothes, blankets, and children having been dispassionately and, in many cases, violently stripped from them during the round-up weeks earlier. Their strength, health, and spirit had been further assaulted by the rancid conditions of the United States Army’s holding pens.

A young brave, a seventeen-year-old named Red Hawk, clutched in his right hand a deerskin bag strapped across his chest, tilted his chin slightly skyward, and whispered, “Stay with me.” His left hand held the trembling right hand of his eleven-year-old sister, Sunflower. In response to the bugle call, Red Hawk and Sunflower inched forward, hoping their movement might stir the feet of their father, Great Moose, who stood stoically, unable to look in the direction of the forced migration. He stood with his back facing south, a deliberate act of defiance signifying his contempt for Andrew Jackson.

Great Moose faced north, toward the land of his birth in the Great Smoky Mountains, where his wife had been buried two weeks earlier after being ravaged by cholera in the army stockade. Because in the time since he had eaten and drunk next to nothing, he was extremely weak. His heart had been shattered first by President Jackson, then by the soldiers during the round-up, and finally by the loss of his wife. He could bear no more.

Red Hawk released his sister’s hand, and with a nod and a gentle nudge sent her to retrieve their father. The girl slid her hand into her father’s and squeezed and tugged it ever so softly. Instinctively, her father, returning her unspoken love, turned slowly to her, and looked down into her beautiful brown eyes—mirrors of her mother’s. Seeing his wife’s face in place of his daughter’s, he found his reason to go on, and looked to the north one last time to honor her memory. He turned back to the girl, this time he looked through her eyes and into her soul. Complying with her unspoken plea, he stepped with her toward the land of the setting sun.

Understanding, if not entirely empathizing with the unspeakable affront the bugle call had sealed upon the natives, the soldiers, at least for now, were more tolerant of sluggish feet than they had been when they originally drove the helpless victims to the pens, and allowed them to set their own pace. As Red Hawk moved slowly ahead of his father and sister, a young army officer guided his mount quietly into the view of the young warrior, allowing the boy the opportunity to make eye contact. Immediately Red Hawk recognized the man as the officer who had overridden the orders of two soldiers who had detained him as his mother was being dragged from the stockade for burial.

Of the dozen-or-so Cherokee who had perished in the stockade, only the family of the first to die, an old woman, had been permitted to leave the pen to render appropriate burial honors. Immediately after that burial, as the family made their way back under the guard of two army privates, three young men in the group broke and ran to hide in the hills. After a short and fruitless chase, the soldiers summarily beat the remaining family members and returned them to the stockade. All future mourners attempting to accompany their deceased loved ones were systematically thwarted by the guards with their bayonets, which they did not hesitate to use. The act of defiance of the three escapees had immediately and unequivocally established future policy.

Red Hawk had clung to his mother’s body as it was being dragged by two army privates toward the camp gate, while Sunflower cried as she watched from the arms of her mother’s brother. When Red Hawk encountered resistance in the form of the bayonet, he had pleaded as best he could, “We will bury her! We will bury her!” True to their orders, however, the soldiers would have none of his defiance and had pushed Red Hawk and his father roughly away from his mother’s corpse. Just as the boy had abandoned any hope of a proper burial, an officer quietly approached on horseback from outside the gate. While no words were spoken, the officer immediately accepted the plea in the boy’s eyes, a silent promise guaranteeing he would not run if permitted to bury his mother.

The officer, who didn’t seem much older than Red Hawk, intentionally allowed the sheath of his sword to clang against the heel of his boot, thus alerting the gate guards that an officer had just arrived; thereby eliciting a salute. The officer gently but firmly modified the standing order, “Let them take her. I will see to the situation.”

“Yes, sir, lieutenant,” one of the soldiers drawled for effect, “If you say so,” and waved Red Hawk and Great Moose on with his rifle.

Red Hawk had carried his mother to the top of a nearby hill, and he began to dig her grave while his father stood and wept silently, his mind returning to Horseshoe Bend. For some three or four hours the lieutenant milled about on his mount a respectful distance away while Red Hawk and his father buried and prayed for his mother. Good to his unspoken pledge, Red Hawk escorted his grief-stricken father back to the stockade under the distant but trusting eye of the young lieutenant.

After the brief and silent exchange, the officer swung his horse with a snap on its bridle, thus departing as quietly and quickly as he had arrived not ten seconds before. Red Hawk and his family continued on their weary way.

History is the mighty tower of experience, which time has built amidst the endless fields of bygone ages. It is no easy task to reach the top of this ancient structure and get the benefit of the full view. There is no elevator, but young feet are strong and it can be done.

– Hendrik Willem van Loon
The Story of Mankind

The Spirit in the Stick: Preface

A remarkable story began to unfold before my eyes, leading me on a journey I never could have imagined.


This project began some eleven years ago, with a relatively benign phone call from Tom Duquette to me. Tom was coaching the lacrosse team at Norfolk Academy, and I held a corresponding position at nearby Nansemond-Suffolk Academy. At that point, I had known Tom for several years. In fact, he was instrumental in encouraging and supporting my pursuing a career in education.

Over the years, we had discussed a variety of topics related to lacrosse and other sports as well as education in general. When we discussed the history of the game of lacrosse, Tom always spoke reverently of Jimmy Lewis, United States Naval Academy Class of 1966, placing him on the same rung with his childhood heroes Johnny Unitas and Brooks Robinson. Lewis had a tremendous impact on Tom as a young lacrosse player growing up in Baltimore. Though I had played lacrosse at Navy myself, I was embarrassed to realize that my knowledge of Captain Lewis’s career was close to non-existent. I had, thankfully, known of him, but I did not fully understand his on-field brilliance or that of his team, his true place in the history of Navy Lacrosse, or in the history of the game.

The nature of Tom’s call was simple enough: Could you contact the Naval Academy and get a video tape of Jimmy Lewis? Tom had hoped to share the video with his players, one in particular who had developed a burning desire to study all the great attackmen in history. As with all things, actual video would be more valuable than a second-hand description of Lewis’s play or an attempt to replicate it. I thought it a simple enough request, one upon which I might be able to exercise some sort of alumni privilege. And surely the Naval Academy had tape of their teams and players of that era, including Lewis.

It didn’t take me long to realize that my search was not to be as simple as I had hoped or expected. After calling several offices at USNA, I was told that there were no such tapes, or at least none that anyone would be able to find. In disbelief, I began to call other schools Navy had played—Johns Hopkins, Army, Maryland—and other institutions, all to no avail. After several attempts (and a couple of years) to resurrect the tapes, I went straight to the source: Captain Lewis himself. No joy. More months. More years. Still nothing.

It became clear that I needed a new angle on this problem. So, in lieu of actual footage, I began to research Lewis’s career, as well as the history of the game, so that I might find something useful for Tom and, at that point, our players (I had changed positions and was now working with Tom) at Norfolk Academy. As I dug further and further into the career of Captain James Crawford Lewis, U.S. Navy (Retired) and contacted a number of wonderful and helpful people, a remarkable story began to unfold before my eyes, leading me on a journey I never could have imagined.

Though this story’s foundation is cast in the actual lives of its main characters, Major R. Bruce Turnbull, U.S. Army (Retired) and Captain Lewis granted me the necessary writer’s license to connect the key elements of the story. Perhaps it is best left to the reader to decipher fact from fiction.

Virginia Beach, VA
April 24, 2004