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A common game, called also draughts, played on a board of sixty-four squares of alternate colors, usually white and black. Two persons play, each having twelve counters or pieces distinguished by their color from those of his adversary. Success in the game consists in capturing all the pieces of an adversary, or in so hemming them in that they can not be moved. — Webster, 1882

Checkers seem to be all the rage this winter in these parts. — De Smet Leader, February 26, 1887

noteIn By the Shores of Silver Lake (Chapter 16, “Winter Days”), Pa made a checker board one stormy day in the Surveyors’ House. In the book, it says that Pa brought a “wide, square board” in by the stove and marked it off in little squares inside a plain border. So. How big was this checker board of Pa’s?

In the By the Shores of Silver Lake manuscript, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote that the board was two feet square. Pa left a plain border and then marked the board in squares with a pencil. In both manuscript and published version, the checkers were “small squares of wood.” Half of these playing pieces were burned black on the stove. Half of the squares on the board were burned black with the poker.

In the manuscript, Pa tells Laura that they would play often enough for her to learn the game. I always wanted to make my own checker board, and now I know how big Pa made the one in SSL! I can’t imagine anyone not knowing the rules of checkers these days, but I looked them up anyway:

Checkers. The object of the game is to capture and remove all your opponent’s checkers or otherwise render him incapable of moving.

The board is marked in 64 squares, 8×8, alternating light and dark squares. When facing the board, a dark square is always on the corner at your left hand, a light square at your right. There are 24 checkers (also called “men”): 12 dark and 12 light.

Arrange the 12 dark checkers on the dark squares in the three horizontal rows nearest you while your opponent does the same with the light checkers in the dark squares at the opposite side of the board. Checkers can rest or move only on dark squares. Moves are made forward diagonally one square at a time. Black (dark) moves first.

Captures are made by jumping over your opponent’s checkers onto a free square. You may make a series of captures in one move. If you fail to make a possible jump, you lose the checker that failed to jump.

When a checker reaches a square in the opponent’s read (king’s) row, it becomes a king and is crowned by placing a captured checker of the same color on top of it. A king can move backward as well as forward.

Checkers and boards have been found in ancient tombs in Egypt, dated to 3000 BC, and the first manual of instructions was published in 1547. In the United Kingdom, the game was called Draughts, as used in the Webster’s Dictionary definition above. Different countries often had slightly different rules for checkers. Hinged checker boards have been around since the 16th century. In 1847, the first world championship of checkers was awarded. Benjamin Franklin, Edgar Allan Poe, and the men sitting around in Fuller’s Hardware all enjoyed a good game of checkers.


checkers (SSL 16, 21; TLW 23, 26, 29; THGY 10; PG)
     checker board (SSL 16; PG)