May 2013 Artifact of the Month
Lakota Sioux Headdress
Plains, Lakota Sioux
Materials: linen, wool, eagle feathers, leather, horse hair, silk ribbon, glass beads, and fur
This war bonnet style headdress is the best known style of Native American headdress as it was stereotypically depicted in Western movies and television shows as the "traditional" style. However, it was actually not very commonly worn. Only a handful of tribes donned such headdresses, including the Sioux, Crow, Blackfeet, Cheyenne, and Plains Cree. Our newly donated headdress is from the Lakota Sioux and is a "trailer" war bonnet because of the long trail of eagle feathers running down the back. A thick beaded band with a triangular pattern of brightly colored glass beads runs across the forehead, while silk ribbons and strips of fur hang down from the sides of the head piece. Each large eagle feather has red-dyed horse hair at its tip, and the feather shafts are wrapped in red wool.
Headdresses of this kind were only worn by men - either chiefs or warriors - during ceremonies and formal occasions. Something that is also widely unknown about headdresses is that they were only made by men, usually friends of the chief or warrior it honors. Feathers were typically earned through acts of bravery and wearing such a full headdress would have been a symbol of great honor and respect within the tribe.