Posts Tagged 'War Bonnet'

Object: Feather Bonnet

Accession Number: E/1944/1/047

Object: Feather Bonnet

Culture: Cherokee (Yuchi?)

Location: North America – Southwest

Date of Origin: Unknown

Materials: Turkey Feathers, Leather Straps, Colored Yarn, Blue Wool, White String, Red Feathers, Cloth Cap

Keywords: Bravery, Feathers, War, Ceremony, Plains

E_1944_1_47

The material object for this blog post is a feather bonnet that was made by a member of the Cherokee or possibly Yuchi tribe. The feathers on the bonnet are in bad condition, some torn or falling apart. There is blue wool that wraps around each end of the feather and they are fastened to the cap with leather straps. The feathers are held upright with a white string running around the middle of the feathers. There are two red feathers flanking the sides of the bonnet, and on the front there is a multi-colored pattern in yarn, possibly to mimic bead work.

The entry in the Ethnology database says that the object is either Cherokee or Yuchi in origin, but in this blog post I focused mainly on the Cherokee culture. For the Cherokee people, it was important to use every part of the animal that they killed and incorporated parts of the animal into everything they used.[i] With turkey feathers, the Cherokees mainly used them for feather wands and in capes, but during the reservation period and the Cherokees adopting the Plains style headdress, they could easily have added feather bonnets to their list of uses for turkey feathers.

With a plains style feather bonnet, or war bonnet, the main purpose of them was for war. In order for a warrior to receive one, he had to have demonstrated his bravery in battle. In a process known as counting coup, a warrior collected a golden eagle feather that symbolized a specific deed of bravery. Once enough coup was collected, a warrior could make himself a bonnet. In some tribes, all the warriors would get together to help make the bonnet, and with every feather that was wrapped and attached to the bonnet, the warrior would relate the heroic deed of how he received the feather and pass on his story to the rest of the tribe.[ii]

War bonnets were not restricted to the battlefield. By them wearing a war bonnet during dancing, they were honoring the warriors of the tribe. This custom is still true today, especially during Armed Forces Day or Veterans Day.

The feathers also held special meaning themselves. The most prestigious feathers for bonnets were Golden Eagle feathers.[iii] With each feather signifying a specific act of bravery, a warrior would wear them proudly for the whole tribe to see. Today they would be equivalent to medals awarded by the armed forces. The feathers and other parts of the animal that adorned the bonnet was also thought to pass on the animal’s powers to the wearer. For instance, the feathers on the bonnet were thought to protect the wearer from being hit by bullets.[iv]

Feather bonnets held many functions. They are a badge of honor, showing the bravery of the warrior on the battlefield. They are a ceremonial peace used to honor warriors during dances and celebrations. And they are also a story telling device. The materials used in creating these objects mean something very personal and important to the person making it. These bonnets pass on the story and the culture of the tribe associated with them and remind us that there is meaning behind the beauty of feather bonnets.

washambrian_112566_9634254_war bonnet 3

((Brian Washam))-Written as part of the ANTH1253 2018 Spring Semester Class Project

[i] Perdue, Theda. 2005. The Cherokees, Indians of North America. Philadelphia, PA: Chelsea House Publishers.

 

[ii] Hardin, Barry. 2013. The Plains Warbonnet, Its Story and Construction. Pottsboro, TX: Crazy Crow Trading Post.

 

[iii] Klapstova, Rajchard, and Jan Prochazka. 2015. “Species Determination of the Feathers on Native American Warbonnnets and other objects from the Collections of the National Museum- Naprstek Museum.” Annals of the Naprstek Museum 36/2: 67-80.

 

[iv] Klapstova, Rajchard, and Jan Prochazka. 2015. “Species Determination of the Feathers on Native American Warbonnnets and other objects from the Collections of the National Museum- Naprstek Museum.” Annals of the Naprstek Museum 36/2: 67-80.

 

Object: Feather Headdress

E/48/8/15
United States of America
1930′-1940s
Materials: Feathers, Leather, Dye, Glass Beads

This feather headdress was worn by one time University of Oklahoma mascot Little Red, who was mascot up until the early 1970s. He was a Native American and would wear tradition tribal dress and an iconic headdress known as a war bonnet. Little Red would perform on the sidelines at football and basketball games, and he would preform war dances when the team would score a touch down.

Little Red became controversial in the minds of many in the 1960s. The ethics of using a Native American as a sports team mascot became a subject of much debate at the University and in the greater Native American community. On the surface, the discussion appeared like it was between Indians and non-Indians, but the truth of the matter was it was far more complicated than that. This debate was centered in the Native community eventually bringing many Native families into odds with each other. Families and friends couldn’t agree on whether or not Little Red was an acceptable depiction of their culture. In the end, Little Red became the first Native American mascot to be removed from a college setting.

In the late 1960s, many groups began to petition for the removal of Little Red. The National Indian Youth Council, claimed that, “Little Red serves as a symbol of the physical oppression and cultural degradation that American Indians had faced in the past.” For all of those fighting against Little Red, there seemed to be just as devoted a crowd fighting for him.

Randy Palmer, in particular, was noted as being particularly invested in saving Little Red. The Daily Oklahoma reported that Palmer went so far as to run on field at the OU – Wisconsin game in September of the 1970 season, and preformed in the capacity of Little Red to an ecstatic crowd even though the mascot had already been banned. The controversy over Little Red is still relevant today. With discussions and disputes over mascots and team names in college and professional athletics taking center stage, it is important to remember all of the cases that have come before. It is important to remember Little Red. If you would like to learn more about some of the debate surrounding the topic of Indian mascots, watch the video below from a panel discussion at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian:

Work Cited

DeSpain, Matthew S.
2013  Little Red Died for Your Sins: Playing Indian at the University of Oklahoma and the Rise and Fall of Little Red. Native Matters The Journal of Native American Studies. http://66.147.244.221/~nativema/2013/04/11/50/

[Abbey Take]


Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

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