Throughout history humans have enjoyed kicking a ball or something like a ball in the great outdoors. On the American Frontier, pioneer families, many of whom who had hogs, had the custom of taking the airtight bladder membrane from butchered pigs, inflating it and tying it up to be batted and kicked around outside. It was primarily kids who would play a game outdoors with bladder membranes using their feet and hands to keep the “ball” in the air and try to get it passed their opponent. The diaries of settlers in Nebraska and beyond often mentioned a parent blowing up a pig bladder for the kids to play with after the hog butchering event was completed. It was said in 1870, that a four-year old knew what a pig’s bladder was, and what fun it could be! The enjoyment of an inflated pig bladder by children on the frontier was also chronicled in the Laura Ingalls Wilder book: Little House in the Big Woods. Here’s the page in the book.
Now, I’m sure this sounds pretty gross to you, but not if you were a Pioneer kid. Pig bladder balls, which may have been somewhat balloon-like, offered a great outdoor activity for the homestead children!
Remember there were no commercial toys, sporting goods, radios, movies, recordings — let alone TVs — and entertainment was most often homemade. Also, the pioneers never wasted anything that they raised, hunted or harvested, so the pig bladder membrane used as a ball fit perfectly into their lifestyle!
A native of Gretna, NE, a graduate of Gretna High School and Bellevue University, Greg Wagner currently serves as the Communications and Marketing Specialist and Manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission's Service Center in Omaha. On a weekly basis, Wagner can be heard on a number of radio stations, seen on local television in Omaha, and on social media channels, creatively conveying natural resource conservation messages as well as promoting outdoor activities and destinations in Nebraska. Wagner, whose career at Game and Parks began in 1979, walks, talks, lives, breathes and blogs about Nebraska’s outdoors. He grew up in rural Gretna, building forts in the woods, hunting, fishing, collecting leaves, and generally thriving on constant outdoor activity. One of the primary goals of his blog is to get people, especially young ones, to have fun and spend time outside!