Vol. 11


Cow Patty Bingo

c. 1990; Fort Hall, Idaho, USA

Have you ever heard of bingo? Have you ever heard of cow patty bingo? About twenty-five years ago in Fort Hall, Idaho, my mother, Deanna Williamson, played it. It was played mostly by Indians1 on Indian reservations,2 but was always open to the public. At the time, my mother was very poor and did not have many forms of entertainment. Cow patty bingo was one of the main ways to entertain herself.

It was played in an open field sectioned off by string and spray paint. There would be one cow in the middle, and it would wander around and graze on the grass. People there would bet on where the cow would poop. The first patty would be first place, the second patty would be second place, and the third patty would be third place. Most of the prizes were money, but every now and then a gift card would be the award.

After school or on the weekend, Deanna would go to the field with her two friends Bernie and Mickey; they would usually place bets on squares and find seats. The bleachers were usually full, so they almost always sat on the grass next to the field. While they waited, they would get a snack or go to one of the craft tables along the woods. The Indians would sell items like dreamcatchers,3 clothing, and beadwork.

Deanna played several times before she gave up. She never won a game, but she was one square away one time. Both of her friends won once for first place and twice for third. Deanna quit mainly because sometimes it took a very long time for the cow to poop. While waiting, many of the folks watching would drink beer and begin getting rowdy. That’s when she and her friends knew it was time to leave.

Sometimes when the power goes out, my mother and I mark off a cutting board and drop a piece of paper on it as a mini-version of cow patty bingo. Sometimes Deanna tells our family about the games she played at the field. If she hadn’t gone there, she would not have met the lady who taught her how to cook Indian ghost bread.

Ty Williamson; North Carolina, USA


1. The terms “American Indian” or “Native American” are preferred by some. Others prefer to use the name of the specific tribe or nation.

2. A reservation is land managed by an Indian tribe under the U.S. government, but not under the government of the state where it is located.

3. A dreamcatcher is believed to give its owner good dreams. It consists of a circular frame with loose netting, and is decorated with feathers and beads.



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