War bonnet

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For other uses, see Warbonnet (disambiguation).
"Feathered bonnet" redirects here. For the Scottish military headdress, see Feather bonnet.
Muscogee war bonnet

Feathered war bonnets (also called warbonnets or headdresses) are worn by honored Plains Indian men. In the past they were sometimes worn into battle, today they are worn primarily for ceremonial occasions. They are seen as items of great spiritual and magical importance.[1][2] The eagle is considered by Plains tribes as the greatest and most powerful of all birds, and thus the finest bonnets are made out of its feathers.

Its beauty was considered of secondary importance; the bonnet's real value was in its supposed power to protect the wearer. Warriors wore the headdress in the belief that the power of the feathers would help them avoid injury. The feathers were commonly secured by capturing young eagles from nests and plucking their tail feathers when they reached maturity. This could be done three times before the feathers did not grow back. This method would allow the collection of as many as thirty six feathers. If care was taken in not disturbing the nest, this method could be repeated yearly. [3]

In the collection of the Children's Museum of Indianapolis

The bonnet had to be earned through brave deeds in battle because the feathers signified the deeds themselves. Some warriors might have obtained only two or three honor feathers in their whole lifetime, so difficult were they to earn. The bonnet was also a mark of highest respect because it could never be worn without the consent of the leaders of the tribe. A high honor, for example, was received by the warrior who was the first to touch an enemy fallen in battle, for this meant the warrior was at the very front of fighting. Feathers were notched and decorated to designate an event and told individual stories such as killing, capturing an enemy's weapon and shield, and whether the deed had been done on horseback or foot.[citation needed]

After about ten honors had been won, the warrior went out to secure the eagle feathers with which to make his bonnet. In some tribes these had to be purchased from an individual given special permission to hunt the bird; a tail of twelve perfect feathers could bring the seller as much as a good horse. Some tribes permitted a warrior to hunt his own eagles. This was a dangerous and time-consuming mission and meant that he had to leave the tribe and travel to the high country where the bird could be found. When the destination had been reached, ceremonies were conducted to appeal to the spirits of the birds to be killed.[citation needed]

A chief's war bonnet is made of feathers received for good deeds to his community and is worn in high honor. Each feather would represent a good deed. A warrior's war bonnet, such as the famous war bonnet of Roman Nose, the Cheyenne warrior, was said to protect him during battle. In several instances, Roman Nose, wearing his war bonnet, rode back and forth before soldiers of the United States Army during battles of the Indian Wars and, despite being fired upon by many soldiers, was unscathed.[2][dubious ]


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Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Life of George Bent: Written From His Letters, by George E. Hyde, edited by Savoie Lottinville, University of Oklahoma Press (1968), hardcover, 390 pages; trade paperback, 280 pages (March 1983), pages 207, 213, 214, 221, 239, 240, 303. ISBN 0-8061-1577-7, ISBN 978-0-8061-1577-1.
  2. ^ a b The Battle of Beecher Island and the Indian War of 1867–1869, by John H. Monnett, University Press of Colorado (1992), pages 46 to 48. ISBN 0-87081-347-1.
  3. ^ Grinnell, George Bird (2008). The Cheyenne Indians: Their History and Lifeways. World Wisdom, Inc. p. 209. 

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