Surviving a Scalping

Robert McGee scalped

Scalpings on the frontier were legendary, often thought of in terms of Indians scalping Europeans.  While that certainly did happen, they didn’t have exclusive right to scalping.  Frontiersmen did it too, as did Scythians and European tribes such as the Alans.  In fact, the Massachusetts Bay Colony paid a $60 bounty for each Indian scalp.  They weren’t alone either.  In 1756 the British Scalp Proclamation was issued, and is, amazingly, still on the books today, although in the Nova Scotia government has states that it is no longer in effect.

As gruesome and final as scalping was, some people did survive scalpings.

Kentuckian Robinson was scalped in the Ohio Valley Indian Wars and wore a scarf around his head.

Robert McGee, pictured above, was scalped by the Brule Sioux.

Josiah Wilbarger was scalped by Comanche and said that the entire thing was relatively painless, the removing of the scalp sounded like the ominour roar and peal of distant thunder.

Robert Thompson attempted to have his scalp reattached, and then made a living showing his scalped head, his scalp and telling the story.

Robert Thompson scalped

In the fall of 1755, in Tulpehocken, Pennsylvania, the entire Kobel family was massacred and scalped, probably by the Iroquois, but possibly the Mohawk.  Two children who survived, one a female of 11 years of age.

Claiborne Osborn, scalped in 1841 by the Comanche in Texas, died in 1899.

Mary Louisa Gagnier was scalped in 1827 by the Ho-Chunk, at the age of 2.  As she was being prepared for burial, it was realized that she was still breathing.  She survived, married, had children and grandchildren, and told the story

Louisa always wore a cap to cover the back of her scalped head.

Mary Gagner scalped cropped


About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
This entry was posted in Brule, Comanche, Ho-Chunk, Iroquois, Mohawk, Sioux. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Surviving a Scalping

  1. Maura Garcia says:

    Thank you for column. You often have wonderful articles with hard-to-find information. However, in regards to the scalping survivor article I had some objections. Since as many, if not more, scalping victims were Native people, where are the stories of Native survivors? Were there none? Where are the stories of the northeastern nations hunted down for their scalps like so many deer? While scalping in general seems awful to me, I would like to see a more balanced picture. Featuring only non-Native victims feeds into the “Colonizer as victim, Indigenous peoples as attacking savages” stereotype. Native people, and especially Native youth, do not need to hear any more of that same old, erroneous and one-sided story.

    • Charlie Sommers says:

      I’m kind of late with this reply but it seems to me that the reason you don’t hear many stories of scalping survivors among Native Americans is simply because, having no written language, they recorded very little history compared to European settlers. I don’t think the omission is any kind of racial or cultural slur.

  2. summer says:


  3. Pam Thompson says:

    it’s hard to imagine any normal human scalping a baby :/

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