Lee Hawkers: A 1960s Cape Breton Teen Hide-and-Seek Game – A Precursor To Paint Ball?
There are segments of the sociology, found perhaps only on Cape Breton Island, that need to be recorded, if not studied. The “Lee Hawkers” game is one such segment; a common midsummer night cry of “1-2-3 Lee Hawkers” heard in the woods surrounding the New Waterford neighborhood on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. This modified game of hide-and-seek involving two teams was part of the teens in the mid-1960s. Lee Hawkers was a creative game of hide-and-seek played in a specific suburban area of New Waterford called River Ryan/Scotchtown.
The River Ryan/Scotchtown area was, and still is today, a residential community. Unlike today, then the neighborhoods were more intertwined with forests and fields. Throughout the 1960s, summer days saw teenagers playing baseball, throwing horseshoes, building forts in the woods, practicing BB gun shooting, or cycling out of town to Kilkenny Lake for a swim. But what would these typically testosterone-fueled males do for late-night fun? What mischief could they find wrapped up in the darkness of sultry summer nights?
The caper arose when the childhood game of hide-and-seek morphed into a more adult-oriented game involving two teams, a ‘jail’, and few, but specific, rules of engagement around getting caught and released from jail. The best memory is that this night game was originally an all-male sport. Two teams of teenage boys took turns being either the Hiders or the Seekers. To begin, in a clearing, field, or someone’s driveway, using a tree branch or the heel of a player’s boot or sneaker, you would roughly mark a large circle (6 to 8 feet in diameter) in sunburned soil. . This would become the jail the Seekers would throw captured Concealers into.
To capture or catch a hidden member of the opposing team, seekers would begin their search in the dark wooded areas looking for any hiding. It is dark. it’s the forest Seekers could jump on a Hider… so hunting was usually done in pairs of Seekers. But why the name Lee Hawkers? Read on… once a Hider was isolated, according to the original search and seizure rules, a Seeker would have to spit (yes, a peddler!) at the Hider, punching him in the back while yelling “1 -2- 3 Lee street vendors.” This marked the Hider as a “captured” or “captured”. The Seekers would take the captured Hider back to the jail (the circle) for safekeeping. The “Lee” (short for lee) in “Lee Hawkers” was an obvious warning that you should spit, or hawk, downwind to avoid getting hit with your own spittle (ugh!). And so this spitting or yelling, “1-2-3 Lee Hawkers” capture sequence, would repeat until all of the Hiders were captured and imprisoned. Once all the Hiders were captured, the teams would swap roles: Seekers would become Hiders and Hiders would become Seekers. to hide. Struggle. cell. Change. It was that the game was so simplistic. The game was more complicated and much more dynamic because imprisoned Hiders could be released from “jail”. What what!
The jail was guarded by a couple of Seekers. These guard seekers remained on high alert to prevent Hider’s teammates from freeing their imprisoned teammates. If an uncaught Hider ran through jail, all jailed Hiders were now technically released from jail, free to run back into the woods and hide once more. How could the Seekers stop these repeated outbreaks?
The trick was to catch these rogue hideout experts before they made it through jail. By using the same 1-2-3 capture sequence (hawks, back blows, yelling “1-2-3 Lee Hawkers”), it would not only stop an escape attempt but also result in a recapture of Hider. “To jail with you!” At this point in the evolution of Lee Hawkers, you have a teenage male dominated game of hide and seek, hawkin ‘n hittin’, after dark. A bit messy, somewhat primitive, but relatively harmless.
Enter the teenage girls. They want to play. Coed Lee Hawkers. This had new possibilities, new promise. Hmm, a thought. A thought that fulfilled an ancestral goal: have fun while you find a partner. Like the Stag Line (see ezine article: “The “Stag Line” – A Cape Breton Dance Hall Etiquette (Part of Cape Breton Social Heritage)”), Lee Hawkers seems to have evolved from an excuse for a dating game wrapped in the guise of team sports. Or was Lee Hawkers an early form of the game now called Paint Ball? Could Paint Ball’s splashes of color have replaced the spitter, or peddler, in Lee Hawkers’ culturally historic Cape Breton game? Or was this game called Lee Hawkers just a ruse by teenagers to play with girls? Surely these are questions that require further discussion.
The girls were in the game. But first the spitting and screaming had to go! So it was. Lee Hawkers became a gentler sport for the mixed sexes. Catching a Hider now only involved “hitting” (lightly hitting) a girl Hider in the back while she yelled “1-2-3 Lee Hawkers”. Since the new rules removed peddling, Hiders about to be caught would no longer run to avoid the ‘guber’. Instead, Hiders would resist being captured by the Seeker by lying on their backs to avoid being hit. Based on Seeker-to-Hider’s size-to-strength ratio, attempts to flip and “back up” could turn into quite a drawn-out fight. Sometimes it takes the efforts of 2 or more Seekers to flip and hit a would-be captured Hider.
Now let your imagination fill in the blanks here. Imagine what happened when Hider was a woman, the Seeker was a man. Hider – female. Seeker – masculine. Fight. If the Seeker was a man and discovered a female Hider, he would never ask his Seeker teammates for help. This is the part where the subtle changes to the ‘unwritten’ rules came into effect when the girls joined the game. The effort was always different in these capture encounters from female to male. There was an unspoken adjustment to the rules of the game and a certain neutralization of male brute force. The male Seeker would gently fight the female Hider until she could flip or roll off her back, and the male Seeker could touch her back combined with the “1-2-3 Lee Hawkers” yell. The amount of time it took for a strong teenage male to perform a simple 45 to 90 degree turn of a woman to gain access to her back was amazing. It must be that inexplicable physique of women!
Just like Lee Hawkers’ game, so it is with dating, and so it is with love. Brute force in hormone-driven games is neutralized. He becomes a knight. He excites the chemistry of sexual attraction. And so life goes.
Lee Hawkers was one of those Cape Breton (or at least a Scotchtown – River Ryan) phenoms of the 1960s who, perhaps like Stag Line, was a dating game ritual wrapped in the guise of team sports . Or maybe it was the forerunner of today’s Paint Ball. Whatever it is, it sure was memorable!