Below: “The Death of Jane McCrea” (1804) by John Vanderlyn. McCrea’s killing and scalping in 1777 was exploited to mobilize anti-British sentiment and gave rise to a folk history surrounding that event. As a form of war-trophy taking, scalping can be compared with head-hunting or other practices involving the preservation and collection of the body parts of vanquished foes. Modern cases include the acquisition of the skulls of Japanese soldiers (text only) during WWII, the wearing of necklaces of ears (text only) in Vietnam, and “trophy photos” such as those appearing during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (see, for example, photos published in Der Spiegel).
From a Master’s Thesis by Ashley Kendell (Chico State University, 2011) titled
THE CROW CREEK MASSACRE: THE ROLE OF SEX IN NATIVE AMERICAN SCALPING PRACTICES :
Scalping is a form of trophy taking that can be found in the earliest written
records, including the fourth book of Herodotus dating to 484-425 B.C. (Reese 1940: 7).
Historical evidence of scalping extends around the globe; however, this thesis emphasizes
the custom practiced in North America. Therefore, this section discusses the oldest
historical accounts of scalping in North America and progresses through the historical
records to the most recent evidence of scalping in 19th century.
The earliest historic account of scalping in North America was recorded in the
journal of Francisco de Garay, written during his 1520 expedition to locate a sea route
from the Caribbean Sea to India (Reese 1940: 8). An account of scalping by the Indians
near Apalachicola Bay, Florida, came from Hernando de Soto’s reports written in 1540,
one of his men having been a victim (Allen et al. 1985: 24). Historic scalping was
practiced in a very limited area of North America in the eastern United States and was
also practiced by the Timucuan-speaking tribes upon the arrival of De Soto (Friederici
1907 as cited in Neumann 1940: 288). Scalping branched into the present Gulf States
territory, into both sides of the Mississippi, and spread among the Natchez, Tunican and
Caddo tribes (Friederici 1907: 428 as cited in Neumann 1940: 288). The Iroquois and the
Huron practiced the ritual in the northern regions of North America, and it was suggested
that these tribes acquired scalping from the Cherokee, Tuscarora, and Susquehannock
(Neumann 1940: 289).