Steal-the-Flag: A Game Played in South Louisiana

By Malcolm Comeaux



On school grounds in south Louisiana in the late 1940s and early 1950s, children played many games once found throughout North America, such as two knife games (territory and mumble-peg), tops, various marble games, along with many others. These were mostly "boys'" games, but there were others considered mostly "girls'" games, such as jacks, jump rope, or hopscotch. Many of these games, however, are no longer played on school playgrounds.

Most school games today are regulated, deliberate, and planned. With a coach or teacher standing by, feelings are protected, chances of failure are lessened, and spontaneity discouraged. There is a great emphasis on boys and girls playing together, without discrimination, even toward those with little athletic ability. There is also great emphasis today on safety, and even the simple game of "tag" has been outlawed on some school grounds as it could lead to shoving matches, fights, and injured students, although "shadow tag" is allowed, where the shadow is tagged, and not the person (Bland 2007).1 Another reason for the changing play of youngsters is simply that there is much more competition for the time of youngsters, such as television, computers, shopping malls, cell phones and other electronic gadgets, and the like.

Steal-the-flag was a game played on school grounds in south Louisiana at least until the late 1950s.2 Like most games, it was seasonal, played in the fall and into the winter months. Although an exciting game, it apparently was little played in the English-speaking world, as it has not been mentioned in the literature. There are a plethora of books in English that describe many games, but as regards this one, all are silent. This was a complex and well-thought-out game, with hard rules, so not one invented by local boys. It is a game that should be described, and its origins traced, for today it probably survives only in the memories of older informants.

Steal-the-flag was played at Cathedral, an all-boys school in Lafayette run by the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools (also known as Christian Brothers, the Lasallian Brothers, the De La Salle Brothers, and the French Christian Brothers).3 I attended this school from the fourth through the eighth grades (1948-1953). Before and after this time I attended public schools, and never played the game elsewhere--at other schools, with cousins, or with neighborhood friends. The field was well marked out, and it remained so with deep scratch marks at least into early spring. This was the main game played at noontime for weeks on end, as well as at recess. It must be mentioned, however, that we also, at times, played softball (especially in spring) and two-hand-touch football, and occasionally basketball.

Rules of the game

Steal-the-flag was played on a large, flat play area that was largely dirt (and certainly un-grassed at the end where the "flag" was located). It required an oblong field, perhaps thirty to thirty-five feet across, and sixty to seventy feet long (Figure 1). There was a semi-circle, about eight feet across, marked out on the ground at the center of one end of the field. In the outer edge of this arc was a coke bottle with a handkerchief (the flag) sticking out. No boy could enter the arc except when trying to steal the flag. In this game, there could be up to a dozen boys on each team. These were impromptu games, with "captains" alternatively choosing sides after flipping a coin, and teams re-forming for every play period.

Figure 1. Steal the flag.

The objective of the game was to have a boy steal the flag, and race with it to the other side of the field without being tagged. Before stealing the flag, however, a member of the team on offence (Team O) had to penetrate the line of the defenders (Team D, behind line A-B) without being tagged, which was nearly impossible, with all the boys around. Thus, the number of players had to be whittled down, especially those on defense.

The offensive team would select one of the best players (that is, someone fast and agile), and station him in front of their team (player X in Figure 1). The name for this position was "guard." His job was to protect his offensive team members, and tag out opponents. If he tired, another team member could replace him, but this rarely happened. Any member of the defensive team tagged by the guard while in the field of play was out of the game, and had to sit on the sidelines. Offensive and defensive players were safe only when behind their respective lines, although they could place one foot in the field of play and yet be safe.

Offensive team members would move toward the A-B line, baiting defenders to come out and attempt to tag them. When an offensive player was tagged, he was out of the game. If the guard moved to the right, his team members would move forward in that area, knowing they were somewhat protected; they would try to get a defensive team member to move forward, make a rash move, and be tagged out by the guard. Oftentimes, a defensive player would run in a wide sweep from the opposite side, and try to catch a player that strayed too far forward. But, if all offensive players made it back behind their line (C-D on the sketch), they were safe, but the overly rash defensive player was trapped between the guard and the safety of his A-B line. He could be tagged out. Another way a player could be forced out of the game was if he crossed the very clearly marked sidelines (A-C or B-D), or if a defensive player ran beyond the offensive line (C-D). This seldom happened. Slowly, players of the game were reduced to fewer and fewer. Offensive players kept luring out defenders too far (so they could be tagged out by the guard) or were tagged out themselves by a defender. Should a defender tag someone, he was allowed safe passage back to his line. He could tag out only one person and had to return behind his line before attempting to tag another. Sooner or later one of the offensive boys would cross line A-B without being tagged, and then the game would get more interesting.

The offensive player who passed the A-B line would place one foot behind the line, and the second in the semi-circle. Only boys on offense who had crossed the A-B line were allowed to be in the arc. The defensive team now had to prevent that boy from taking the flag and running to cross his line (C-D) without being tagged. If he made it, his team won and the game was over, but if he was tagged, he was out of the game, and the flag was replaced in the coke bottle. Defenders, therefore, had to be even more brazen, and go further out, particularly on the sides, to prevent the boy from stealing the flag. The guard would be running back and forth across the A-B line, causing the defenders to retreat, and perhaps giving his team member a chance at stealing the flag. Also, no offensive player could block a defensive player chasing a boy with the flag. As the game progressed, there could be several boys behind line A-B, prepared to steal the flag. What often happened was the flag would eventually be stolen and successfully carried across line C-D without the runner being tagged. That side had thus won the game. The teams then reversed sides.

From the above description, a perceptive reader might imagine that if players were hesitant or not willing to play with abandon, the game could last forever and become quite boring. This, however, was never the case. Young boys are willing to take risks, especially if the penalty of getting caught was only to sit out the rest of the game. If a rash boy was successful, he was the hero of the moment, and most were willing to take chances. Oftentimes the sides were rather large, as there were 50 boys in my seventh grade class (The Tiger's Roar 1951: 32-33) and many wanted to play. The fastest and best players often played along the sides (C-A or D-B), and were always willing to take undue risks. Also, the players knew the bell would ring and they would return to classes, so they were anxious to move the game along and take those risks. By the end of a play period, the game had usually ended, but if a game went particularly fast, teams could switch sides and play a second game.

Pleas for help

In order to locate informants who might help me in remembering and recording the game, two tacks were tried. The school where I played the game put an announcement in their newsletter mailed to alumni, but it produced no results. A reporter for a local newspaper was asked to put an article in the paper, asking those who knew of the game to contact this writer. He did so, and the response was positive (Bradshaw 2007a; Bradshaw 2007b).

Unfortunately, the vast majority who wrote, e-mailed, or phoned, told of other games. Whenever anyone started out saying "We played that game in the Boy Scouts" I knew immediately they would be speaking of other games, all of which have been amply described in numerous books and articles. These games only somewhat resembled the steal-the-flag game we played. They were quite different, and doubtless have dissimilar historical antecedents. Names for these similar games were such as 1) seize the bacon, 2) capture the flag, 3) French and English, 4) stealing sticks, 5) steal the flag, 6) snatch, 7) rob and run, 8) grab rag, among several others. Two informants did come forward, however, who were very helpful.

One informant, Roland Pautz, was born in Besancon, in eastern France, about 50 miles east of Dijon, and 30 miles from the Swiss border. He attended a religious school and often played the game at school (but, like me, only at school, and not with other playmates away from the school grounds). From his description of the game, which he called drapeau (flag),4 it seemed to be essentially the same game (Pautz 2007). There were, however, three major differences. First, the flag was always attached to a stick, and the player stealing the flag ran with both stick and flag. Second, the player who protected his team in the center of the playing field was called le chien (the dog). When questioned about the term, he described it as "Like a watchdog that protected the flock." That made sense in how the word was used. Third, there was a "prison" in the game he played, with boys tagged out by le chien going to a prison in the corner of the play area next to the offensive players' line. Prisoners, however, could be freed if they were tagged by one of their team members (one foot had to remain in prison, but they could stretch out into the play area). In fact, in his game all prisoners could be freed if they formed a chain out from the prison into the play area, and if a boy from their own team touched any of the prisoners.

A second very helpful informant was 87-year-old Brother Ephrem Hebert, a member of the Brothers of the Christian Schools.5 As a youngster, he attended Landry Memorial High School in Lake Charles, Louisiana; the school was staffed by this order of brothers from 1927 to 1963. He specifically said that the game was "pushed" by the "old brothers from France." I also talked to two older retired brothers, 90-year-old Brother Daniel, and 77-year-old Brother Martin, who confirmed the comments of Brother Ephrem. The game was often played while Brother Ephrem was in training for the order. When Brother Ephrem was in high school (called "juniorate," with students called "juniors"), the game was often played. When he became a "novice" (during the last year of high school), he received the black habit (robe) and white collar. The boys did not play the game while wearing the habit (getting it dirty was frowned upon), but they continued to play it in street clothes. After making their first vows at the end of the Novitiate, these young Christian Brothers went to college (known as "scholasticate") in New Mexico where the young men (now called "scholastics") completed their undergraduate degrees in three intensive years of study. At this time their work was time-consuming, and the game there was rarely played--but all knew the game.

With Brother Ephrem's encouragement, the male students he taught always played the game. He taught in Louisiana from 1941 to 1950, and then in Nicaragua, where he taught his students the game.6 He then taught at St. Paul's School in Covington, Louisiana, and here too the game was frequently played. He described it as an excellent game to tire out boys before bedtime (some of the schools where he taught were boarding schools, as was St. Paul's), and one where, in America at least, the game was easy for him, as it required little refereeing. The game, he said, was played outside in good weather, but was often played in a gym in wintertime and in rainy weather. The game as described by Brother Ephrem was exactly like the one we played, except the flag was not in a coke bottle, but on the end of a stick that was stuck into the ground (or held upright with a frame in the gym), and the person stealing the flag took the stick and all. Brother Ephrem stated that many of the Brothers in the early days were from France, but as time went on, more American-born brothers joined, until eventually they were a majority.

One informant, responding to the newspaper article, described the game correctly, and said he played it as a child in Thibodaux (Badon 2007). The De La Salle Brothers were not in Thibodaux, but another order with French roots, the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, were there at E. D. White School. Consequently, perhaps the De La Salle Brothers were not the only ones to introduce the game to America.

I contacted Don Couvillion, Vice-President of Real Estate at Arizona State University, because his brother, Bernard Couvillion, S.C., was Superior General of this religious order in Rome. From him I acquired the names and e-mail addresses of three older Brothers of the Sacred Heart, whom I contacted. The response was better than anticipated. One brother mentioned playing the game in the 1940s while in the juniorate in the order's United States Province school in Metuchen, New Jersey (Ledet 2008). Another remembers playing the game while a student in Thibodaux (but he recalled having "jails" as a part of the game) between 1936 and 1942 (Riviere 2008).

I received a much stronger response from the Brothers of the Sacred Heart living in the Canadian Province; one brother there contacted older brothers and received several responses (Laperle 2008). One brother who entered the order in 1946 mentioned playing the game at the juniorate, the novitiate, and even at the scholasticate. Another gave a detailed description of the game. It was similar to the one we played except the flag was on a four-foot long stick placed about four feet in front of the defensive line, there were three guards, and attackers could steal the flag from the field of play. A third brother also described the game as having three guards (two near the defenders' line and one farther back), and the flag on a stick, but about six feet from the defenders line. Another went on to reminisce: "What a great question…it reminds me of many summer and autumn evenings: twenty-five to thirty or so novices and postulants running around that field behind the old novitiate, dressed in cassocks (novices, at least, with scapulars wound round their waists and creating a huge cloud of dust)." Another simply said "I only remember that we had a special ‘flag' stick set in a wooden block and the object of the game was for one team to protect the flag and the other to ‘steal' it. I can also remember stories of ‘accidents'/incidents that occurred during the chases…" Another brother said, "I think that, quite probably, the game came originally from Arthabaska" (now spelled Athabasca, near present-day Victoriaville, Quebec). This was the site of a novitiate established in 1880, and thus he suggests the game goes far back into the roots of the order. Brother Laperele (2008) explained that brothers from France originally established Arthabaska, and that he is now five generations removed from these beginnings.

A final interesting comment came from Brother Jean-Louis Dion, S.C., the archivist for the order in Rome. He said:

At the Juniorate in Arthabaska, Canada, every evening when the weather was good, it was the game of flag that was played. It is a game that is very simple to play, and that created much enthusiasm within the group. While in school, when we did not play soccer,7 we played flag. Two big stones or two school bags were put together to hold the flag [on the stick] and the boundary lines were determined and all was ready to play.

I have worked in the archives in the Generalate [in Rome] for 11 years, and unfortunately never came across references to the subject [the game of flag]. But, I am fully confident that it came from France by way of the old French brothers.

At the novitiate and at the scholasticate, this game was a bit too simple and the organizers for our recreations would promote the game of KING. It is much more complicated and has more strategies. King was inspired by armies, with its generals and marshals, prisons, and towers to take. The brothers who monitored our play told us that the game [of king] was also brought from France.8 (Dion 2008)

Other Similar Games

The oldest game that resembles steal-the-flag, and the one from which steal-the-flag probably evolved, is "prisoner's base" (sometimes called "prisoner's bars," and in French "barres"). Most books of games mention prisoner's base, and often go into great detail to describe it and catalog the rules.

Prisoner's base is a very old game that at one time was widely played in Europe. One author states that it was the chief competitive game of the Middle Ages (D'Allemagne 1919: 56). It was widely played in the British Isles. Moreover, one scholar says the game (or variations of it) was played in Spain, Portugal, Greece, Yugoslavia, and Persia; he finds the first mention of it in the early 1200s. He states it was referred to in two of Shakespeare's plays, Cymbeline and Two Gentlemen of Verona, as well as mentioned by many other early authors (Brewster 1953: 57). Another writer found that prisoner's base began to die out in one area of England by 1856, about the time when the "new" game of cricket had begun to expand in popularity (Hole 1949: 61). Prisoner's base is similar to steal-the-flag in several ways (team size and the shape of the playing field are similar, and it is a chasing game), but there are major differences. Surprisingly, one 74-year-old informant near Ville Platte, Louisiana, remembers playing this game as a child. He explained the game exactly, although the name they used for the game was "Christmas" (Soileau 2007). It is astonishing that this medieval game survived in French Louisiana for so long. That raises the question of how it arrived there: did it arrive from the Maritimes with the Cajuns, did it come directly from France, or did the French who once lived along the Gulf Coast and settled on the northern fringe of Cajun country introduce it? More work will have to be done on this, and soon, as the older informants who played the game in the first half of the twentieth century are now elderly.

Although the rules vary from one author to the next, probably the best descriptions of the game are by Hindman and Smith (Hindman 1951: 73-75; Smith 1963: 255-57). Two teams line up on either side of the field, with a no-man's-land between them (there are, however, variations to this rule) (Gomme 1964: [2] 79-82; Newell 1963: 164; Sutton-Smith 1972: 197). The rules of the game called for players to go out into no-man's-land, and taunt others. An opposing team member would run to tag him, and put that person in "prison." You can only tag others who left base before you (or immediately before you, in which case you chased only one person). This made it complex, trying to determine who left their base first, and of course led to arguments. This is a disadvantage, but one advantage of this game over steal-the-flag is that if a person is tagged, he goes to a prison, and has hope of being freed to resume play in the same game.

A comparable game is called "stealing sticks." It is played on a field similar to that of steal-the-flag, but in this game, the sticks (which are to be stolen) are placed on both sides of the field, and there are prisons in which tagged players stand, and from which they may be rescued. The best description of stealing sticks is given by Boyd (1945: 9). However, the rules are spelled out in many other books (Eisenberg and Eisenberg 1956: 449; Forbush and Allen 1954: 193; Hindman 1951: 73; Hunt 1964: 182-83; Smith 1963: 214-15). Stealing sticks is like steal-the-flag, except 1) it has prisons, 2) the items to be stolen are on both sides of the field, and 3) there is no person who is guard for his team. These are major differences.

Smith (1963:214) considers stealing sticks "an improvement" on prisoner's base, while Hunt (1964: 182) says it is similar in "form and origin." If this game is a spin-off from prisoner's base, it is likewise surely true for steal-the-flag, as well as several other lesser-known games. An elaborate game with complex rules, steal-the-flag is unlikely to have sprung fully formed from a child's imagination. Indeed, it is probably safe to assume that it evolved from prisoner's base.

There is a somewhat similar game called "capture the flag" (sometimes called French and English, or steal-the-flag). In this game each side has a flag and a prison (as in stealing sticks), but it need not be played on a playground; instead it can be played over a large territory, such as a small forested area or a neighborhood. The object of this quasi-military game is for players to steal the flag belonging to the other team, and thus win the game. This game is well known, and needs no further mention here (see Eisenberg and Eisenberg 1956:449-50; Forbush and Allen 1954: 139-40; Hunt 1964: 69-70). Many books of games were examined, and none could be found that describes steal-the-flag as played in south Louisiana. The only time "steal-the-flag" is listed, it is a different game (often the above-mentioned "capture the flag"). If there is more information on this game in the English literature, it is certainly well hidden.

An Internet search revealed a great many sites listed under "steal the flag." They seemed to all be computer games, but then, deep into the listing, there were two sites that described the game. One site describes it as a "French-Canadian variation," and the other simply states that it is a "French game." They give it the name Drapeau. One of these sites very accurately describes the rules (gameskidsplay 2007), but the second is illogical and written by someone who obviously never played the game. For example, in the online sketch, the defensive and offensive sides are reversed (partygamecentral 2007). What they describe, however, is essentially the game as played in Louisiana.

This game as described for Canada is similar to the one played in south Louisiana, with the following differences. First, in the Canadian version there is no mention of a semi-circle around the flag. Second, the offensive player stationed in front of his team (and who can tag out defensive players) is called the "police officer." Third, the flag is placed on a broomstick, slightly pointing toward the offensive team. Fourth, the person stealing the flag takes the stick with flag, holds it high, and runs to his side of the field without wobbling the stick as he runs.9 Fifth, if the flag is stolen without the boy crossing the defensive line, the runner earns two points, as opposed to only one if he does. And finally, each team has an equal number of rounds, and the winner is the one with the most points.

Probable Origin

Since the game was played at Cathedral School in Lafayette, perhaps a clue to its origin lies there. For much of its early history this school had strong connections to France, because the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools staffed it. St. John Baptist De La Salle founded the Christian Brothers in 1680. The order developed into a community of men dedicated to being teaching brothers (no priests), who taught only poor boys who attended free or paid a nominal amount. (At this time, France had no public schools, and only the wealthy received an education.)

After early struggles, the Christian Brothers were firmly established by 1700. They became very successful, and by 1790, at the beginning of the French Revolution, they had 920 brothers and many schools. During the Revolution, however, the Brothers were expelled from France, and the institute seemed to collapse (New Catholic Encyclopedia 2003, 4: 622). A revival began in 1801 when strict rules against religious orders were relaxed. By 1820 the Brothers regained momentum, and by 1874 they had over 10,000 brothers.

From the time of Napoleon and throughout the nineteenth century, there was much tension between the French government and the Church, much of it centered on education (Moody 1978). Much has been written on the topic, so it will be covered only briefly here. Education at the time was elitist, and mostly in the hands of various teaching orders . . . of which there were many (Gibson 1989: 105-110, 118-27).10 The "Falloux Laws" of March 15, 1850, led to a reorganization of education, and eventually to a great deal of competition between state and religious schools. After the disaster of the Franco-Prussian War, which many believed was the result of a much better educational system in German-speaking lands, the French tried to develop a system that educated all youngsters, one controlled by the state rather than by the church. To this end, the government passed the "Ferry Laws" (1881-82), which created much more control over religious orders and what and how they taught (Harrigan 2001). A restrictive law against orders came into force on July 1, 1901, but the real disaster struck with the Law of July 7, 1904.

The 1904 law secularized French schools and banned education by congregations. Within a few years, 10,000 religious schools in France had closed; by 1908, all De La Salle schools were shuttered. Many of the brothers went underground, while others moved to other countries to continue their educational mission.11

It was at about this time, in the early twentieth century, that Bishop Jules B. Jeanmard asked the pastor of St. John Cathedral to establish a school for parish boys, to be staffed by the Christian Brothers. The school opened in 1919 with grades three through eight. By 1925, it was a high school with eleven grades, and that year the school received accreditation by the State Board of Education. By 1948 it had expanded to include the twelfth grade. In the late 1940s and early 1950s most of the teachers were Christian Brothers, with only a few lay teachers. For example, the 1952 faculty included twelve brothers, two lay teachers, and two lay coaches (The Tiger's Roar 1952: 7). That is no longer the case. In 1967 Cathedral High School merged with a nearby Catholic all-girls school, Mount Carmel; today it offers instruction for kindergarten through eighth grade, and no religious are on the staff.12


I postulate that brothers of various orders with French roots introduced the game of steal-the-flag to America. Certainly the De La Salle Christian Brothers who came to Louisiana in the early twentieth century introduced this "French" game, as did the Brothers of the Sacred Heart (who at one time or another had four schools in south Louisiana, in New Orleans, Houma, Baton Rouge, and Thibodaux). Other French orders also may have introduced the game elsewhere. It does not seem to have been played in south Louisiana religious schools that were staffed by nuns.

The game as played in south Louisiana was quite similar to that mentioned in France and Canada. The only real difference was 1) the name for the guard (chien in France and "police officer" in Canada, although two of the Canadian Brothers of the Sacred Heart specifically used the word "guards"); 2) the fact that the flag was on a stick; and 3) both stick and flag had to be carried. Other changes were only subtle variations. Apparently the rules changed a little bit in south Louisiana, where players used a Coke bottle to hold the flag, and carried only the flag. Also, the putatively "correct" name for the game, drapeau, made the trip to French Canada, but was changed in south Louisiana to steal-the-flag. Given that the game was played a long way from France, where it apparently evolved, it is understandable there would be differences. But, since the game was probably introduced relatively late, by Christian Brothers who taught the game to boys first-hand, it is not surprising that the differences are so few. If the game were really old in Louisiana, and had been handed down by young boys from one generation to the next, surely it would have evolved to be quite different. Much like genetic codes and languages, games tend to "mutate" over time if unwritten rules are used, changing to reflect the geographical, linguistic, or situational circumstances of their players. The fact that steal-the-flag in Louisiana differs so little from the games described by others in France or Canada argues for its relatively late introduction to south Louisiana, likely in the first part of the previous century.

Before its introduction to the Americas, there is a strong indication that steal-the-flag evolved from prisoner's base. One indication of this is the fact that some informants mentioned that there were prisons. For example, Pautz mentioned prisons used in the game in France, and Brother Riviere mentioned that a "jail" was used in his game, and prisons are an integral part of prisoner's base. Brother Dion explained that "king" was an advanced version of steal-the-flag, and it involved the use of prisons. Perhaps the first versions of the game had prisons, and then rules were simplified to evolve into steal-the-flag, whereupon both versions diffused from France. Two brothers in Canada also mentioned three guards, not one as in steal-the-flag. Perhaps the game of king had this feature.

Steal-the-flag was a good game, and it's a pity that it has died out. It was a fast, action-packed game, with much running and yelling from the sidelines. It would tire out young boys, and would teach them about risk-taking and fair play. Exactly when the last game was played in south Louisiana will probably never be known, but it was probably soon after the middle of the twentieth century. However, many similar older games, such as prisoner's base, also died out, and probably for the same reason--the introduction of a widespread "national" game. Like cricket's usurpation of prisoner's base in England many decades ago, it was possibly tag football that displaced steal-the-flag at Cathedral School in Lafayette. Baseball had very deep roots in south Louisiana, and seems to have existed side-by-side with steal-the-flag. Football, a relatively new introduction, was somewhat like steal-the-flag in that it was action-packed, was played on a field of about the same size, was played in the fall, and was evolving into a "national" sport. It would be only natural for boys to want to play it.

Even if resurrected, steal-the-flag will probably never again be popular. It is hard to imagine the game thriving in an era in which "everyone is a winner," no feelings can be hurt, and where all must be allowed to play, regardless of skill level.


1. This, in my opinion, would lead to many more arguments about whether someone was tagged or not.

2. Two individuals who attended the same school as I, and were there from 1955 to 1959, remembered playing the game. One had only a sketchy memory of it, but the other described the game exactly as I have done in this paper. They recall occasionally playing the game in the gym on rainy days, something I do not remember (Janelle, 2009; Hebert, 2009). No one from the 1960s has so far come forward to say they played the game at this school.

3. One must be careful about terminology, as there are other groups called "Christian Brothers" with educational missions that have roots in France. The most important of these is the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, established in Lyon, France, in 1821. Examples of two others are the Brothers of Christian Instruction of Ploermel, and the Brothers of Christian Instruction of St. Gabriel (New Catholic Encyclopedia 2003. 2: 630-34). There is also an Irish brotherhood, the "Congregation of Christian Brothers," sometimes called the "Christian Brothers" or "Irish Christian Brothers," and they too have an educational mission. Unfortunately, the reputation of this band of Brothers was badly tarnished with proven charges of pedophilia ("Sexual abuse scandal" 2009).

4. The game is always called drapeau in French, but oddly enough in Louisiana the word drapeau is used to mean "diaper." Perhaps this is why the French name for the game did not make the trip to Louisiana.

5. Unfortunately, Brother Ephrem died at age 87 on August 12, 2008.

6. He stated that the only difference between boys from Nicaragua and those from southern Louisiana was that the former were notoriously quarrelsome. So much so in fact, that he had to constantly referee, and they would even argue with him.

7. He calls this game "ballon (coups de pied)," and I believe this to be soccer, and not American football.

8. My translation, with the help of Brother Laperle.

9. Having to carry a stick, and hold it high and steady, would put the runner at a disadvantage, and make it easier to tag him, as opposed to having to carry only a handkerchief.

10. As an example, Gibson states that in the first eighty years of the nineteenth century, "nearly 400 successful new female orders were established, and some 200,000 women entered the religious life." Most of these were teaching orders, and by 1878 there were 135,000 nuns in France (and that does not include Alsace and Lorraine). The growth of male religions orders during this time was not as impressive (Gibson 1989: 104-09).

11. The French government did not strictly enforce the law, and the religious orders found ways around it. Individuals or corporations acting for the brothers purchased many of the old schools. Brothers who remained in France quit wearing religious garb and reopened their schools as laymen, all the while maintaining many aspects of their religious life (living together in community, praying together, observing poverty, not marrying, continuing obedience to superiors, and the like). Brothers in France to this day are called "Mister," and not "Brother" (Riviere 2008). Brother Riviere's comments on the clandestine religious life, and the reopening of schools, were confirmed in publications (Atkin 1991: 149-65; Curtis 1995: 478-98).

12. Like most religious orders, they have fallen on hard times. Within the Santa Fe-New Orleans Province (including Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana) the average age was 60 in 2007 (Bradshaw 2007c), and by early 2009 there were only 67 brothers left in the province (Christian Brothers 2009). Worldwide there were 16,000 brothers in 1965, but by 2000 this number had dropped to just over 6000, and less than half remained in educational ministry (New Catholic Encyclopedia 2003. 4: 622).


Atkin, Nicholas. 1991. The Politics of Legality: The Religious Orders in France, 1901-45. In Religion, Society and Politics in France since 1789, eds. Frank Tallett and Nicholas Atkin. London: Hambledon Press.

Badon, Houston. 2007. Phone interview with author, 27 April.

Bland, Karina. 2007. Schools Tag Out Contact Games. Arizona Republic. 12 February.

Boyd, Neva. 1945. Handbook of Games. Chicago: H.T. FitzSimmons.

Bradshaw, Jim. 2007a. Do You Remember Schoolyard Game Steal the Flag? Lafayette Daily Advertiser. 25 March.

_____. 2007b. Flag Game Remembered by Locals. Lafayette Daily Advertiser. 30 March.

_____ 2007c. E-mail message to author. 19 March.

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This article was first published in the 2009 Louisiana Folklore Miscellany. Malcolm Comeaux is a cultural geographer at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona.