No! Scalping was not an Indian invention.
Contrary to Hollywood, scalping has been practiced by warring people-especially whites- throughout human history. In Europe, it was documented as early as 1,053 A.D., when the Earl of Wessex, son of a Danish king, scalped his enemies. In early North America, the British, Spanish, and Dutch offered bounties for the heads of Native Americans to encourage settling the frontier, then later just scalps because heads were too cumbersome. During the Revolutionary War, Patriot and British soldiers scalped each other!
Later, white mountain men brought enemy scalps to Indian tribes they wished to trade with. Army soldiers and pioneers often scalped Indian dead for trophies. In fact, after the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864 in which 150 peaceful Cheyenne of Chief Black Kettle's camp were murdered, their scalps, other body parts and a human fetus cut from a pregnant Cheyenne woman were exhibited to the public at the Denver Apollo Theater.
Some Indian tribes did scalp enemy tribes and whites. (The Nez Perce tribe that I write about in my novel, Blood to Rubies, did not customarily scalp and mutilate.) Some rare cases survived scalping, such as Robert McGee. At 13 years old, he was scalped on the Sante Fe Trail by Brule Sioux Chief Little Turtle in 1864 while working as a railroad teamster. McGee had been previously orphaned on a wagon train going west. This photo was taken around 1890.
© 2019 NOTES FROM THE FRONTIER
Posted May 18, 2019 on Facebook