When John Webster (Wolf Clan) was a mere child of 7 years old, he distinctly remembers learning a game from his paternal grandmother, Malenda Webster (Onondaga). The game was bones, and it is a lesson he learned well and has taken a step beyond playing. John not only enjoys playing the game, he also enjoys creating the pieces.

“I figured out how to make the pieces by looking at them,” said John, who is a talented artist in various media. “I’ve been making them for 25 years. I made 20 sets of bones for the Elders Conference (2010), and it took me two weeks, working off and on.”

Here are the steps as John explained:

  • Cut deer antlers into eight to 12 pieces, depending upon size.
  • Sand pieces with sander, rotating pieces to create as round a piece as possible
  • Sand both the sides.
  • With a butane torch, brown one side.

Eight pieces are needed per set; two or more players can play.

To play:

Place a pile of white navy beans in the center of the table. The object is to acquire more beans than your opponents. The game is over when all the beans have been drawn from the center.

Each player takes a turn throwing the eight “bones.” If a player throws all one color, they win 20 beans. If only one black or one white is rolled, the player receives four beans. Two black or two white, yield the player two beans. If the player throws any one of these combinations, they are entitled to an extra turn. The person with the most beans wins the game.

“I remember asking my grandmother if she played because she was good at it,” said John. “She said, ‘No. It’s all chance.’”

When was the last time you tried your luck at bones?