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Scalping of Josiah Wilbarger

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Omar al Hashim View Drop Down

Joined: 03 Jul 2009
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    Posted: 15 Nov 2009 at 01:34

Scalping of Josiah Wilbarger

From comic books, novels and movies we have learned that Indians scalped their victims and collected their trophies. This was a manifestation of their cruelty and many times this argument has been used to justify atrocities that caused loss of many lives. But is this image entirely true?

Scalping is removing the skin of the head. This is no lethal act, and there are many examples of people who have lived for years after being scalped. Of course, that is not easy. Without the skin, infections are a risk. Besides, the bone in the cranium could rotten.

The practice of scalping may have occurred on the American continent before the arrival of the Europeans. However, there has not been found archaeological evidences of scalping in very early ages. There have been skulls found with marks on the head bone, but whether they were caused by scalping is not yet proven.

In Europe, scalping has been a known way of trophy hunting for ages. The Greek historian, Herodotus, says that the Scythians, a nomad tribe from modern Kazakhstan and Ukraine, had a habit of removing the hair of their victims. These grizzly trophies were used as napkins or even cloaks. When the British invaded Ireland in the 11th century, the Earl of Wessex paid a reward for every Irish scalp they received. The reason for this was to encourage the Brits to slaughter Irishmen.

The early European immigrants soon taught the Indians the ways of scalping. The Dutch settlers are believed to be the first. Later, both British and French followed this example. The different tribes had different reasons for adopting the practice of scalping. The Iroquois did it to show the British they would behave the same way as them if they were attacked. Soon, scalping became important for the government to prevent their settlers from turning criminal, and to encourage them to kill Indians. On the frontier, many of the white inhabitants were runaways and criminals; and they did not hesitate to kill Indians in order to claim the prize for a scalp. Still, the entire white population did not consist of such humans. Missionaries, priests, pilgrims and other honest Europeans did not approve of this practice. Therefore, the British government blamed the Indians for the scalping, since no proper Englishman would do such terrible things.

Prizes changed rapidly. In 1703, the Massachusetts offices would pay 12 pounds per trophy. Twenty years later, the prize had increased to 100 pounds. Though white settlers killed numerous Indians because of this, they also killed fellow Europeans. If only the hair was black, no one was able to tell whether it was an Indian’s hair or a European’s hair. Also, the French practiced scalping and an entire tribe on Newfoundland was eradicated because of this. 

Edited by Knights - 19 Nov 2009 at 22:59
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