Apache and Comanche Indians were both popular with scalp hunters. One bounty hunter in 1847 claimed 487 Apache scalps, according to Madley’s article. John Glanton, an outlaw who made a fortune scalping Indians in Mexico, was caught turning in scalps and ran back to the U.S. before he was caught.
In addition, archaeologists have found skeletons at Native American burial sites that have injuries consistent with a scalping injury, but the injuries actually had time to heal, which suggests that the victim actually survived the scalping. After all, dead men don’t heal.
In other words, the scalping technique came from the American Indians, the idea of taking a piece of a dead enemy’s body as a war prize was well known to Indians and Europeans alike, and the idea of paying bounties for dead body parts came from the Europeans.
Scalping was not in itself fatal, though it was most commonly inflicted on the gravely wounded or the dead. The earliest instruments used in scalping were stone knives crafted of flint, chert, or obsidian, or other materials like reeds or oyster shells that could be worked to carry an edge equal to the task.
Josiah Wilbarger was set upon by Comanche Indians about four miles east of modern Austin, Texas. He was shot with arrows and scalped and left for dead, but the man survived 11 more years. In fact he only died after hitting his head on a low beam in his home, cracking his skull and exposing his brain.
The Massachusetts Bay Colony first offered $60 per Indian scalp in 1703. The English and the French introduced scalping to Indians. The governors of the colonies instituted scalping as a way for one Indian tribe to help them eliminate another tribe, and to have colonists eliminate as many Indians as possible.
Indian giver derives from the alleged practise of American Indians of taking back gifts from white settlers. It is more likely that the settlers wrongly interpreted the Indians’ loans to them as gifts. “An Indian gift is a proverbial expression, signifying a present for which an equivalent return is expected.”
The patient recovered from the scalping. The scalped head, according to Robertson, “cures very slowly” and the average recovery period was two years. Remarkably, Robertson reported that hair would even grow back, although not as thickly, on the new scalp.
Eastern tribes such as the Creeks and Cherokees were known to have incorporated scalping into their activities, but it appears to have been most common among the Plains Indians. Cherokees took only enough lives and scalps to account for the number of slain Cherokees.
But the last battle between Native Americans and U.S. Army forces — and the last fight documented in Anton Treuer’s (Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe) The Indian Wars: Battles, Bloodshed, and the Fight for Freedom on the American Frontier (National Geographic, 2017) — would not occur until 26 years later on January 9, 1918,
Where did the practice of scalping begin? As every schoolchild knows, Indians took scalps from their enemies and held dances and ceremonies over them. Some in recent years have claimed that the white man, in fact, introduced scalp lifting to the New World.
Some reports indicated two survived being scalped alive. Bearing this in mind, McGee claimed he was scalped personally by Little Turtle. While face down in the dirt, McGee suffered multiple arrow wounds, a pistol shot to the back (perhaps by his own pistol) and a tomahawk wound.
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