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The buffalo horn headdress is less well known today than the regal eagle feather bonnet, yet it held the highest position in the eyes of the Indian warriors. According to George Catlin, only a few of the highest-ranking warriors in each band were given the right to wear one by the village leaders. 2

The accuracy of this statement is supported by the small number of horned bonnets which were collected by the Whites for museums and private collections.

Furthermore, only a relative few are to be seen in old photographs in comparison to the feather style. And in each instance they are worn by eminent leaders of the tribes.

The general style of the horned bonnet was the same in all cases. There was a buffalo hide skullcap with a tail hanging from its back side, but its tail was made in two lengths. There was a short length which consisted of a buffalo hide tail-with the hair left on-reaching about to the middle of the back, and a full-length tail which hung from the bonnet to the ground.

Short-tailed horn bonnets had only a few feathers appended to their tails, and these hung flat against the cap. Most of the long-tailed models had thirty or so eagle pinion (wing) feathers-and in rare instances eagle tail feathers-placed at right angles to the tails so as to extend back or out from the tails.

Some of the horned bonnets were made with hawk or owl feathers-especially those of the holy men whose vision helpers were the hawk or the owl-and some were made with a combination of feathers taken from eagles and other birds.

The horned bonnet cap of an outstanding warrior or a medicine man might also be entirely covered with something other than buffalo hair, such as ermine or bobcat fur, although buffalo or antelope horns would still be employed."

It was also customary for a horn bonnet wearer to append items to the skullcap which marked the significant moments in his life.

Several bonnets collected by Whites had beaded turtles tied to them which contained a part of the owner's navel cord which had been placed in the turtle at birth. (SEE PICTURE)

A horn bonnet belonging to a Sioux warrior named White Bull had a piece of the bone and tail of a buffalo bull which was covered by a quilled and beaded case and tied to the cap.

Sea shells were commonly appended to the caps, as well as clusters of split and/ or whole feathers.

Also added were braided and dyed horsehair tails, quilled or beaded headbands, white ermine skins or tails and groups of buckskin or felt fringe.

All of the horned bonnets had a long plume, some twenty-four inches or so in length, extending back from the peak of the bonnet. This was the Sun Dance plume, and it explained to all who saw it that the owner had participated in one or more Sun Dances.

The Sioux warriors who owned these would believe they had the dignity, the strength, the toughness, and the stamina of a bull buffalo. It was expected that they would conduct themselves accordingly as leaders of the tribe and in raids and wars in defense of their people.

A unique design feature of the horned bonnets with long tails was the fact that the upper half of the feathers on the tail were turned one way, and the lower half were turned just the opposite. It gave them a balance in composition.



Once a warrior had been given the great privilege of wearing the horn bonnet by the band leaders, he constructed it in the following manner:

He made a skullcap of buffalo hide with the hair left on the outside.

To this he appended the tail, making it perhaps ten inches wide and from twenty-four to thirty inches long if he wanted a short tail, and five or more feet long for the full-length style.

When these were sewn together, he added the buffalo horns, placing one on each side of the skullcap. Sometimes he used the complete horn, in which case he hollowed out the center to reduce the weight. Other times he split a horn into quarters and used a much lighter piece of split horn on the bonnet.

The horns were polished, and sometimes painted with symbolic lines and colors.

Holes were drilled through the horns at the base and the horns were tied to the cap in very ingenious ways, so as to be secure, yet free enough to sway a little when the warrior moved.

Dyed tufts of horsehair were often tied to the tips of the horns, and sometimes to hold the horns in an upright position a taut buckskin thong was strung between the horn tips or angled from each horn tip to the center of the cap.

Once the horns were in place the beaded headband and other appendages were added to the cap, the feathers were put on, and the bonnet was complete.



Four of the renowned horned bonnets which were collected by Chief Joseph White Bull, the nephew of Sitting Bull, and who himself fought against General Custer in his historic last battle, are shown in color at the bottoms of the pages of this article.


NEXT-Pictures of  Horned Headdresses

PAGES IN THIS ARTICLE Introduction~Four Types ] [ Horned Headdresses ] Pictures of Horned Headdresses ] Golden Eagle Feather Headresses ] Pictures of Golden Eagle Feather Headdresses ] Hat~Cap~Roach ] Animal's Skin Headresses ] Headdress Storage ] Conclusion~Footnotes ]


SIOUX WARRIOR WITH BUFFALO HORNS ~ The buffalo horn bonnet is one of several collected by Chief Joseph White Bull, nephew of the renowned Sitting Bull. It is assumed they were acquired during the reservation period shortly after the famous Custer battle in 1876.

Joseph White Bull, a Miniconjou Sioux, participated in the battle, and later claimed to be the one who actually inflicted the fatal shot upon Custer-a claim supported by the authority Stanley Vestal in 1934, and also by James H. Howard in a recent book entitled
The Warrior Who Killed Custer.

This bonnet fur is bobcat. It has an eagle's head mounted on top, plus a quilled ring and many dyed eagle breath feathers. The side and horn feathers are hawk. The long plume at the back reveals that the wearer has made his renowned Sun Dance one or more times. ~ Thomas E. Mails

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