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HEADDRESSES PLAINS INDIANS
Page 4 of 9

GOLDEN EAGLE FEATHER HEADDRESSES
 

The man who was permitted to wear a buffalo horn bonnet would also be entitled to wear an eagle-feathered headdress.

The regal golden-eagle-feathered headdress so closely associated with the warriors of the Plains was made in three styles: the simple headdress, the headdress with a single tail, and the headdress with a double tail.

The simple headdress was itself made in two ways. Most by far were fashioned with from twenty-eight to thirty-two eagle tail feathers placed in a circle around a skullcap base, and these flared back in a cone shape from the cap.

However, the early Blackfoot and Cheyenne chiefs sometimes made theirs in the form of a tube with the feathers standing straight up from the cap. The tail headdresses were different only in that a long tail, sometimes extending for eight feet or more, was added to the simple headdress.

Every part of the feathered headdress had a special meaning which would be understood by all of the members of a tribe.

In their view, the feathers which encircled the cap, and which radiated out from it, were not just feathers, they were--- because the great golden eagle flew so close to the sun and had so much solar power--the radiating shafts of light which brought the enlightenment of the One-Above, who dwelt in the sun, down to man.

From the center of this circle of light extended the long, gracious Sun Dance plume which constantly reminded the warrior of his thanksgiving vow and dance.

The tail of the bonnet which hung down from the cap to the ground, and along which were spaced twenty-eight to thirty tail feathers (twice that in a double tail), was the buffalo's back -- because it looked so much like the back part of a buffalo's skeleton.

The eagle's soft white breath feathers, which were tied to the base of each tail feather at the point where the quills were secured to the cap or tail, were put there as reminders to the warrior that he should ride into battle like the breath feather, swaying to and fro as if with every breeze, so that the enemy's arrows and bullets would pass by or through him without permanently harming him.

 

IN MAKING A FEATHERED BONNET...
 

In making a feathered bonnet the warrior began with a hide skullcap-in trade days a felt one-and then bent a short piece of half-inch-wide rawhide around each feather's quill, leaving an open loop to pass a thong through.

The rawhide was bound to the quill with a strip of flannel cloth, the preferred colors being red and yellow, and then a thong was stitched around the cap to secure the feathers at about one-inch intervals.

Each time the thong emerged on the surface of the cap it was passed through a rawhide loop and then down under the cap.

Holes were drilled in the feathers about six inches out from the point of the quill, and another thong was passed through the holes to aid in holding the feathers in place.

The tail feathers were attached and fixed in place in the same manner, and horsehair or breath feathers were glued to the tips of the eagle feathers with a mixture of glue and white clay.

The amazing thing is that despite their size when fully opened and extended, the feather bonnets could be folded into a roll with a diameter of eight inches or less, and then reopened to fall into perfect position. (SEE STORAGE)

Once the feathers were all in place, a quilled or beaded headband was added, as were the side pendants of ermine tails or horsehair, or ribbons or feathers, etc., and the bonnet was finished.

A warrior might make four or more bonnets during his lifetime, and each one would be a little different than the others.

 

 

The cone shape of the simple headdress was sometimes an indication of the tribe to which the owner belonged.

Looking at the bonnet from the back, if the top middle feathers angled up rather sharply and the whole circle had a wide flair to it, the owner was probably Sioux, and in the late nineteenth century perhaps a Blackfoot.

If the top middle feathers sloped back at a low angle and the whole group of feathers was formed in a tight oval shape, the owner was probably a Crow.

If the top middle feathers were absolutely flat, the owner was an Assiniboine.

If the feathers stood straight up in a cylinder form, the owner was probably Blackfoot, maybe a Cheyenne.

The Sioux, Cheyenne, and Blackfoot sometimes dyed all or a few of their bonnet feathers red. This was the sacred color, and it indicated something about the owner's accomplishments in war.

The tails of both the horned and the feathered headdresses were now and then further decorated with painted symbols, which on occasion spelled out the main events in the owner's life, or with breath feathers or hide targets placed at fifteen- to twenty-inch intervals.

The tails were often weighted at their ends with metal cartridge cases which the warrior had picked up on a battlefield.

 

NEXT-Pictures of Golden Eagle Feathers 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 ]

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