Scalping is the act of removing the scalp, or a portion of the scalp, either from a dead body or another living person. The initial purpose was to provide a trophy of battle or portable proof of a combatant's prowess in war. Eventually, the act became motivated primarily for financial reasons; payment received per scalp acquired.
Scalping is often associated with frontier warfare in North America, and was practiced by Native Americans, colonists, and frontiersmen across centuries of violent conflict. Some Mexican (e.g., Sonora and Chihuahua) and American territories (e.g., Arizona) paid bounties for enemy Native American scalps. Contrary to popular belief, scalping was far from universal amongst Native Americans.
The Scythian soldier scrapes the scalp clean of flesh and softening it by rubbing between their hands, uses it thenceforth as a napkin. The Scyth is proud of these scalps and hangs them from his bridle rein; the greater the number of such napkins that a man can show, the more highly is he esteemed among them. Many make themselves cloaks by sewing a quantity of these scalps together.
Western and Eastern Europe 
Scalps were taken in wars between the Visigoths, the Franks, and the Anglo-Saxons in the 9th century, according to the writings of Abbé Emmanuel H. D. Domenech. His sources included the decalvare of the ancient Germans, the capillos et cutem detrahere of the code of the Visigoths, and the Annals of Flodoard.
In the 4th century, Ammianus Marcellinus described scalping by the Alans, a nomadic people of Iranian origin and the ancestors of the Ossetians (scalping being still remembered in Ossetian folklore).
North America 
Certain tribes of Native Americans practiced scalping, in some instances up until the end of the 19th century. According to Haines and Steckel (2000), "Probably the most dramatic skeletal example of prehistoric violence in North America comes from the Crow Creek site in central South Dakota. Archaeological excavations revealed about 486 skeletons within a fortification ditch on the periphery of the habitation area. The site represents the Initial Coalescent period and dates to about 1325. P. Willey's analysis revealed that 90% of the individuals had cut marks characteristic of scalping."
Colonial Wars 
There were six colonial wars with New England and the Iroquois Confederacy fighting New France and the Wabanaki Confederacy over a seventy-five year period, starting with King William's War in 1688. All sides scalped victims including noncombatants during this Frontier warfare. The most famous captive during this war was Hannah Duston.
Massachusetts created a scalp bounty during King William's War in July 1689. During Queen Anne's War, by 1703, the Massachusetts Bay Colony was offering $60 for each native scalp. During Father Rale's War (1722–1725), on August 8, 1722, Massachusetts put a bounty on native families. Ranger John Lovewell is known to have conducted scalp-hunting expeditions, the most famous being the Battle of Pequawket in New Hampshire.
During King George's War, in response to repeated massacres of British families by the French and their native allies, Governor of Massachusetts William Shirley reluctantly issued a bounty for the scalps of Indian men, women, and children (1744).
During Father Le Loutre's War and the French and Indian War in Nova Scotia and Acadia, French colonists offered payments to Indians for British scalps. In 1749, British Governor Edward Cornwallis offered payment to New England Rangers for Indian scalps. Both the Mi'kmaq people and the British killed combatants and non-combatants (i.e., women, children and infants). During the French and Indian War, Governor of Nova Scotia Charles Lawrence also offered a reward for male Mi'kmaq scalps in 1756.
During the French and Indian War, in June 12, 1755, Lieutenant Governor Spencer Phips of Massachusetts Bay colony was offering a bounty of £40 for a male Indian scalp, and £20 for scalps of females or of children under 12 years old. In 1756, Pennsylvania Governor Morris, in his Declaration of War against the Lenni Lenape (Delaware) people, offered "130 Pieces of Eight, for the Scalp of Every Male Indian Enemy, above the Age of Twelve Years," and "50 Pieces of Eight for the Scalp of Every Indian Woman, produced as evidence of their being killed."
Intertribal warfare 
Mark van de Logt wrote: "Although military historians tend to reserve the concept of “total war” for conflicts between modern industrial nations, the term nevertheless most closely approaches the state of affairs between the Pawnees and the Sioux and Cheyennes. ... Noncombatants were legitimate targets. Indeed, the taking of a scalp of a woman or child was considered honorable because it signified that the scalp taker had dared to enter the very heart of the enemy's territory."
American Revolution 
In the American Revolutionary War, Henry Hamilton, the British lieutenant-governor of Province of Quebec (1763-1791), was known by American Patriots as the "hair-buyer general" because they believed he encouraged and paid his Native American allies to scalp American settlers. When Hamilton was captured in the war by the colonists, he was treated as a war criminal instead of a prisoner of war because of this. However, American historians have conceded that there was no positive proof that he had ever offered rewards for scalps. It is now assumed that during the American Revolution, no British officer paid for scalps. Supposedly, General Custer (who was known for his golden hair) was not scalped after the Battle of the Little Bighorn because he was deemed "unclean" and "bad medicine" in the eyes of the Sioux.
Some scalping incidents even occurred during the American Civil War; for example, Confederate guerrillas led by Bloody Bill Anderson were well known for decorating their saddles with the scalps of Union soldiers they had killed. Archie Clement had the reputation of being Anderson’s “chief scalper”.
In 1835, the government of Mexican state Sonora put a bounty on the Apache which, over time, evolved into a payment by the government of 100 pesos for each scalp of a male 14 or more years old. In 1837 the Mexican state of Chihuahua also offered a bounty on Apache scalps, 100 pesos per warrior, 50 pesos per woman, and 25 pesos per child. Harris Worcester wrote: "The new policy attracted a diverse group of men, including Anglos, runaway slaves led by Seminole John Horse, and Indians — Kirker used Delawares and Shawnees; others, such as Terrazas, used Tarahumaras; and Seminole Chief Coacoochee led a band of his own people who had fled from Indian Territory."
In literature, theatre, and cinema 
The act of scalping featured prominently in some Westerns such as the 1966 Burt Reynolds spaghetti western Navajo Joe and the 1990 film Dances with Wolves. The Cormac McCarthy novel Blood Meridian is about a group of mercenaries making a living off Indian scalps and references the activity extensively, and in Karl May's novels the character Sam Hawkins had been scalped by Indian warriors and survived. The first work in the Lonesome Dove series, Dead Man's Walk, features a scalping, as does James Carlos Blake's In the Rogue Blood. Likewise, George Macdonald Fraser's antihero, Harry Flashman, observes scalping and is himself partially scalped in Flashman and the Redskins. Titus Bass, the protagonist of Terry Johnston’s nine historical novels about the Rocky Mountain fur trade, survives being scalped. Even the children's novel Peter and Wendy by J.M. Barrie features a description of a "Redskin" scalper.
Stories that are not strictly Westerns but feature Native American characters or themes also deal with the practice. For example, the 1992 film The Last of the Mohicans based on the novel by James Fenimore Cooper shows many acts of scalping throughout the film. In the 1994 film Legends of the Fall Tristan Ludlow (Brad Pitt) scalps many German soldiers in the First World War resulting in his discharge from army service.
The horror genre uses scalping as a violent and sensationalistic act, the most notorious depiction being a sequence in the 1981 slasher film Maniac, featuring shockingly realistic makeup effects by Tom Savini. Later examples include the 2002 film Deathwatch where Pte. Thomas Quinn (Andy Serkis) wears a vest made from German scalps and is seen scalping an executed prisoner in one scene; the 2009 World War II film Inglourious Basterds where American irregulars collect scalps of killed Wehrmacht servicemen, with orders from their commanding officer Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) to collect 100 scalps each as a debit for serving under him; the 2007 film Saw IV where a woman named Brenda is put into a scalping chair torture device; and the video game Gun where the player is able to scalp dying enemies after purchasing a special scalping knife. The 2010 film Piranha 3D depicts a woman being extensively scalped (complete with her facial skin also being removed) when her hair is caught in a motorboat propeller; this scene won the "Most Memorable Mutilation" trophy at the 2011 Scream Awards.
Image gallery 
Scalped corpse of buffalo hunter Ralph Morrison found after an 1868 encounter with Cheyennes near Fort Dodge, Kansas.
Modocs scalping and torturing prisoners, published in May 1873
The remains of dead Crow Indians killed and scalped by Sioux c. 1874
Survivor Robert McGee was scalped as a child in 1864 by Sioux Chief Little Turtle —photo c. 1890.
1864 photo of Californian Seth Kinman displaying an Indian scalp (front left). He collected "Indian artifacts" including scalps.
Native American Big Mouth Spring with decorated scalp lock on right shoulder. 1910 photograph by Edward S. Curtis.
See also 
- William Brandon and Keith Rosenberg, Native American specialists, The American Heritage Book of Indians (1961).
- World of the American Indian, by Jules B. Billard, National Geographic Society; First Printing edition (1974), Washington, D.C.[page needed]
- Scott, George Ryley (2003). History of Torture Throughout the Ages. Kessinger Publishing. p. 211. ISBN 0-7661-4063-6.
- Alfred D. Godley, trans., Heroditus, History, Vol. 4, Cambridge, MA; Harvard University Press, 1963.
- Donald J. Ortner, Identification of pathological conditions in human skeletal remains, p. 166. Academic Press, 2003.
- Henry Field, Contributions to the anthropology of the Caucasus, Volume 48, p. 45. The Peabody Museum, 1953.
- Friedrich Otto Hertz, Amelia Sarah Levetus, W. Entz. Race and civilization. K. Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., ltd., 1928.
- Hall Steckel, Richard; R. Haines, Michael (2000). A population history of North America. Cambridge University Press. p. 68. ISBN 0-521-49666-7.
- Grenier. 2005. p.39
- MacLellan. Louisbourg. Appendix: Scalping ; John Grenier. The first way of war: American war making on the frontier, 1607-1814 Cambridge University Press. 2005.
- John Grenier. First Way of War. p. 39
- Scalping, Torture, and Mutilation by Indians
- William Williamson. The History of the State of Maine.Vol 2. pp. 117-118
- A particular history of the five years French and Indian War in New England ... By Samuel Gardner Drake, William Shirley. p. 134]
- John Grenier. The Far Reaches of Empire: War in Nova Scotia, 1710-1760. Oklahoma University Press.2008
- British Scalp Proclamation: 1756
- Chronology of American Indian History By Liz Sonnebor, p. 88
- Mark van de Logt (2012). "War Party in Blue: Pawnee Scouts in the U.S. Army". University of Oklahoma Press. p.35. ISBN 0806184396
- Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online: Henry Hamilton
- Kelsey pg. 303
- Northern Cheyenne break vow of silence,Independent Record, Helena
- Zwonitzer, Mark. People & Events—William "Bloody Bill" Anderson. PBS
- James L. Haley (1981). "Apaches: A History and Culture Portrait". University of Oklahoma Press. p.51. ISBN 0806129786
- Donald Emmet Worcester (1985). "Pioneer Trails West". Caxton Press. p.93. 8ISBN 0870043048
- Kelsey, Isabel, Joseph Brant 1743–1807 Man of Two Worlds, 1984, ISBN 0-8156-0182-4
- Axtell, James. "Scalps and Scalping" from Encyclopedia of North American Indians
- Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online: Henry Hamilton
- Grenier, John. The Far Reaches of Empire. War in Nova Scotia, 1710-1760. Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 2008.
- Grenier, John. The First Way of War: American War Making on the Frontier. Cambridge University Press. 2005