Scalping has long been a sensitive topic in the history of this country. The books, newspapers, magazines and films about Indians have almost always said Indians scalped their victims, but almost never did the whites scalp Indians. The opposite is true; both sides killed and scalped each other. After digging into it for my next book, “Indian Massacres in the U.S.,” I have found something much closer to the truth; both Indians and whites scalped each other, but whites got paid for it. Whites also did it to help the colonial legislature achieve their goal to exterminate all Indians and control their land in the budding United States.
Scalping was over 2,000 years old in Europe. Herodotus wrote in 440 B.C. that the Scythian soldiers scalped their dead enemies, softened them, and used them as napkins. The Scyths lived in the Black Sea area of Europe.
Scalping in England preceded the settlement of North America by at least four centuries. The Earl of Wessex, Harold Godwine, scalped his enemies as early as the 11th century, bringing the scalps back from battle to prove they were dead.
Gov. Charles Lawrence of Canada issued a resolution calling for scalping in 1756 against the Micmac and other Indians. His proclamation said:
And, we do hereby promise, by and with the consent of His Majesty’s Council, a reward of 30 pounds for every live male Indian prisoner, above the age of sixteen years, brought in alive; or for a scalp of such male Indian twenty-five pounds, and twenty-five pounds for every Indian woman or child brought in alive: Such rewards to be paid by the Officer commanding at any of His Majesty’s Forts in this Province, immediately upon receiving the Prisoners or Scalps above mentioned, according to the intent and meaning of this Proclamation.
This proclamation is still on the books. A motion in 2008 to reverse it did not pass. However, the Canadian government says it is not in effect.
Hannah Dustin, the first woman in the United States honored with a statue, was honored for scalping Indians. The statue shows her holding Indian scalps in her left hand and can be seen in Boscawen, New Hampshire.
The Dutch governor of Manhattan, Willem Kieft, offered the first bounty in North America for Indian scalps in 1641, only 21 years after the Puritans landed at Plymouth Rock. The Massachusetts Bay Colonyfirst 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. In an article for The American Historical Review, Benjamin Madley wrote in 2015, “Policymakers offered bounties for Native American heads or scalps in at least twenty-three states of their colonial, territorial, or Mexican antecedents.”
The New Hampshire legislature authorized scalping Indians in 1724, paying 100 pounds for each male scalp turned in. Women’s scalps typically brought half of what men’s scalps did, and children’s scalps brought half of women’s. But white men got paid for bringing in the scalp of a 10-year-old Indian child. As the most racist killers, Col. John Chivington, said before ordering the attack on peaceful Cheyenne on the banks of Sand Creek: “Damn any man who sympathizes with Indians. Kill and scalp all, big and little; nits make lice.”
It was better to kill an Indian child than to let him grow up and kill you.