Who began the practice of “scalping” in U.S. history?

Jerry Anderson   August 4, 2016   Comments Off on Who began the practice of “scalping” in U.S. history?

One of the myths of American history is that “scalping” was a vicious and brutal practice invented by Native Americans to terrorize early settlers. This is not true, because scalping predated by nearly 2000 years of world history the arrival of Europeans in the New World. Actually, it was an old EUROPEAN tradition brought to the New World and used in an attempt to rid the continent of the Native American presence. Early Dutch and English settlers were offered a monetary reward for the killing of Native Americans. But how could one prove that one had killed a Native American unless you brought the body to a government official?  This was a very difficult thing to do, roads and travel being slow, tedious and primitive at the time.


Early colonial “roads” were, at best, no more than paths through the wilderness connecting areas of settlement.








It was decided that the scalp of a Native American, a very identifiable part of their appearance, would suffice to claim the “scalp bounty” offered to any white person who killed a Native American. The practice so enraged the native tribes of early America that they retaliated in kind against white settlers with much ferocity and, over time, it was forgotten that the Europeans were the ones who had begun the practice in the first place. It became a stereotype in the propaganda war against the native inhabitants of the continent, proving to generations of white settlers and homesteaders  the cruelty and sub-human behavior of a people who deserved extermination.


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White scalping victim on the American Great Plains, post Civil War. Scalping was used as proof that Native Americans were sub-human and deserved extermination. Conveniently forgotten was the fact that white/European settlers had introduced the practice to North America in the 17th century.










During the struggle between the French and British for control of North America (1600s to 1763) each side actually paid their Indian allies to attack the settlers of the enemy and bring back their scalps. A “scalp bounty” was paid for all scalps (men, women, children, young and old) delivered as evidence of a life taken. White Europeans, then, encouraged the practice of scalping for monetary gain. Later, the dehumanizing propaganda of the 19th century convinced public opinion in the United States that this practice was proof of the need to eliminate Native Americans from western lands. Americans had forgotten their own history and the role they had played in creating the practice in the first place. It should also be noted that the British paid a “scalp bounty” to their Indian allies for attacking American settlers on the edges of the frontier during the American Revolution. They used scalping as weapon of terror.


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British officer accepting the scalp of a “rebel” during the War for Independence. The British paid their Indian allies a “scalp bounty” for each rebel scalp they presented.









Done for now.