War bonnet

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"Feathered bonnet" redirects here. For the Scottish military headdress, see Feather bonnet.
"Warbonnet" redirects here. For the locomotive livery, see Warbonnet (paint scheme).
Muscogee war bonnet

Feathered war bonnets (also called warbonnets or headdresses) are worn by Plains Indian men who have earned a place of great respect in their tribe. In the past they were sometimes worn into battle, but today they are worn primarily for ceremonial occasions. They are seen as items of great spiritual and political importance.[1][2] The eagle is considered by most Plains tribes as the greatest and most powerful of all birds, and thus Plains-style bonnets are usually made out of eagle feathers.

In the United States, eagles are protected birds under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, and only enrolled members of a Native American tribe may legally possess them.

The feathers are in some cases secured by capturing young eagles from nests and plucking their tail feathers when they reach 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

Each feather in an honored person's possession has to be earned through acts of courage and honour on behalf of the tribe, or gifted to them in gratitude for their work. When enough honours are collected, a relative may make the feathers into a headdress or other item of regalia, as the headdress is usually only worn by the chosen political and spiritual leaders of the tribe. The deeds that bring honour may include acts of valour in battle, political gains, or other things that help the community survive and prosper. Some warriors might be awarded only two or three honour feathers in their whole lifetime, so difficult are they to earn. The headdress is also a mark of highest respect because it should never be worn without the consent of the leaders of the tribe. Historically, a high honour was received by the warrior who was the first to touch an enemy in battle and escape unscathed, for this meant the warrior was courageous and at the very front lines of the battle.

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 an accomplishment. A warrior's war bonnet, such as the famous war bonnet of Roman Nose, the Cheyenne warrior, was said to protect him during battle. Legend has it that 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]

The wearing of such headdresses by those who have not earned them, especially by non-Natives as fashion or costume, is offensive to many native peoples and often cited as an example of cultural appropriation.[4][5][6]

See also[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. 
  4. ^ Houska, Tara. [http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2015/04/16/houska-i- didnt-know-doesnt-cut-it-anymore-160051 "'I Didn't Know' Doesn't Cut It Anymore"] Check |url= scheme (help). Indian Country Today Media Network. Retrieved April 20, 2015.  On imitation Native headdresses as "the embodiment of cultural appropriation. ...donning a highly sacred piece of Native culture like a fashion accessory."
  5. ^ Keene, Adrienne (April 27, 2010) "But Why Can’t I Wear a Hipster Headdress?" at Native Appropriations – Examining Representations of Indigenous Peoples.
  6. ^ Ehrlich, Brenna (June 4, 2014) "Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Wear A Native American Headdress" for MTV News.

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