Scalping Practices

The origins and practices of scalping in the United States and how the native Americans and Europeans affected one another in the practice has been highly debated and discussed. It is undeniable that scalping was present prior to Columbian contact through accounts of previous explorers and archeological findings of skulls which exhibit circular cuts on the scalp. When introduced to scalping by the Native Americans horror and distaste is the commonly accounted reaction of Europeans. Although primary sources show examples of white settlers embracing and encouraging the practices more often than propagating against it.

This pathfinders purpose is to locate information that can help identify how and why the Native Americans and European Settlers practiced the art of scalping, and how they influenced one another's use of the art. How did their pre existing religious, moral, and social beliefs affect the progression of scalping? After contact how did their clashing views affect progression ? How much do we know of the Native Americans scalping rituals pre Columbian invasion ?

Primary Sources

Parker, Ely Samuel. "Ely Samuel Parker scrapbooks: Vol 9." (1828-1895): 1-81: Available from The Newberry Library, Digital Collections and Archives, Medford, MA. Accessed November 30, 2014.

         Ely Samuel Parkers' records are mostly newspaper clippings from the 1700's concerning Native American ways of life. His scrapbook includes information on scalping, archeology, handiwork, relics, and legends. The very wide variety of newspaper articles offers firsthand accounts from soldiers and anthropologists and their interactions with Natives. Some articles present Natives in a positive light while most are derogatory.

"Boston, November 5." The Pennsylvania Gazette, November 15, 1744. America's Historical Newspapers . Accessed April 10,2014.

         This is a clipping from a newspaper article published in 1744 stating that the general court offered citizens a bounty for the scalps of Indian males, females and children. The males were worth 100 pounds a scalp , women and children's were worth 50 and additional five pound would be given for a live Indian.

Adair, James " The history of the American Indians; particularly those nations adjoining to the Missisippi East and West Florida, Georgia, South and North Carolina, and Virginia" Edward and Charles Dilly, 1775. Accessed April 15, 2014.

         James Adair traveled around the US studying the Native Americans. He lived with a number of tribes observing their habits and customs. He also observes the work of former historians. An excellent source of information on a number of tribes forms of government, conduct in war, and kinds of punishment. I found this source through the "Adam Matthew Primary Sources for Teaching and Research." It is categorized as a "rare book."

Secondary Sources

Axtell, James. "The Unkindest Cut, or Who Invented Scalping." The William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser. Vol. 37, No. 3 (July 1980); 451-472. Accessed April 20, 2014. JSTOR.

         I found this source through the bibliography of "Scalps and Scalping" in the Encyclopedia of North American Indians. Axtell presents a number of preconceived notions and ideas about Native Americans and the white population in the early Americas. He then dispels any untruths about the origins of scalping. He also gives a good background to the white and Indian traditions.

Drimmer, Frederick. Captured by the Indians: 15 firsthand accounts, 1750-1870. New York: Dover, 1997.

         These firsthand accounts give the reader a very good feel for what it was like to live at this time and the way the white settlers viewed the Indians. The Indians are often presented in a negative light though at times they are depicted as being courageous and merciful. Even in these circumstances, where the settlers recognize that some Indians are kind and peaceful, they still intend to kill such individuals due to an "us or them" mindset.

Goodrich, Thomas. Scalp Dance : Indian Warfare on the High Plains, 1865-1879. Mechanicsburg, Pa: Stackpole Books, 1997.

         Mostly compiled from firsthand accounts Scalp Dance focuses on the brutal acts inflicted upon the whites by the Natives. Goodrich gives little to no analysis of the events that transpired . The reader encounters both white military leaders and Native war chiefs such as Sitting Bull and George Crook.


Hoxie, Frederick E. "Scalps and Scalping." In Encyclopedia of North American Indians. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co. 1996.

         This piece briefly describes the commonly believed myths and origins of scalping and where they are incorrect. It discusses some of the different ways in which tribes scalped (the differing sizes and places in which they would begin their incisions). They comment on the different customs which were specific to tribes in certain geographical regions.

"Scalping." In Dictionary of American history . Ed. 3 ed. New York: Scribner, 2003.

         This article presents archaeological evidence of cut marks on the skull, proving that scalping was present in the US prior to 1492. He notes some of the many political and military leaders which encouraged Natives to scalp. It is pointed out that some tribes such as the Apache believed the act of scalping to be disgusting.

Starkey, Armstrong. European and Native American Warfare, 1675-1815. London: UCL Press, 1998.

         Starkey's agenda is to relay the evolution in warfare practices presented by the white settlers and Native Americans over a period of years. He examines the Europeans invasion, King Philips war and the defeat of the Indians in the northwest. He presents the Indians and Europeans as being allies almost as often as they are enemies.