Question about American Indians and feathers (headdresses)

I’ve been try8ing to find some info online about the role of the feather for the American Indian. I found some info on the big headdresses, but I’ve seen in movies Indians with one or two feathers sticking up in the back of a headband, was this just something they collected? Or, like the large headdresses, were they something that were awarded? If so, was it always for battle? Was their a significance to who could wear one? Two?

Any information along these lines is very appreciated.

Just to get the conversation going, and this is not an authoritive answer by any means - I was watching something on the Comanche (Southwest Plains) on the History Channel, the show claimed that a warrior earned a feather for counting coup… I seem to recall that it that they implied you got a feather for each time a warrior counted coup, and that the headdresses were made of feathers OTHER warriors had earned (they got together and had it made to honor the receiver). Then again, I also remember a ‘Survivorman’ show where the main character (Les Stroud?) said that American Indians used the single feather as a sort of a visor, the way you would use a car visor to keep the sun out of your eyes; nothing said about earning feathers. Don’t take either of those explanations as gospel, as they came from pop television shows and are filtered through my addled brain… in fact when I saw the Survivor man show, I myself was thinking of posting a similar question to yours as the explanations seem to conflict somewhat. Then again, different nations probably had different rules / traditions about feathers, so both could be correct (or wrong).

I no longer own the book, but I had a book that made the claim that with several of the plains indian tribes they were a function of a reward for certain milestones, and that they would have parts of the feathery bits trimmed or dyed and tufts of animal hair tied to them to indicate certain things [to other members of the same warrior society]

As with any information that comes from victorian vintage speudoscientists, take it with a grain of salt.

And by victorian pseudoscientist, I mean those overly inbred aristocratic/rich types who with essentially no education decide they are the top authority on a subject because they once talked to an actual live indian who may or may not have been telling the truth. More problems with woo-woo twaddle have been caused by these idiots publishing books on subjects they had romantic concepts about, like the whole “noble savage” crap.

As a point of interest (for me, anyhow) - it isn’t just any old feather, is it? I always assumed they were eagle feathers. Anyone know?

Re: the counting coup anecdote - yes, I believe they were eagle feathers.

Re: the visor anecdote, he didn’t say. To expand on what I said earlier about the ‘visor’, he wasn’t talking about the’ ‘traditional’ “feather sticking straight up” style of wearing it, rather a feather stuck almost behind the ear so it stuck out forward and to the side of the head. I am pretty sure I have seen pictures of American Indians wearing them that way, in fact. For some reason I get the feeling it was eastern or woodland nation Indians - like I said earlier, different nations undoubtably had different styles and traditions.

Here’s a site (claiming to be “for kids”) that has some useful information on indian headdresses. On the question posed in the OP, it has:

From what I remember from reading a lot about the plains indians when I was young(er), especially about the Sioux, feathers in hair was used as signs of different kinds of accomplishments for warriors. A feather might be colored red for this, and two-edged at the top for that, reminiscenting medals for soldiers, though not being the same thing of course.

Whether this was accurate or not, one should remember that America had so many very diverse cultures once, that one probably can’t answer a question like the OP regarding “American Indians”. It’s like asking, “in EuroAsia”, what was the meaning of so-and-so.

The Sioux nation as we know it, the culture I was reading about for instance, was very short lived and not typical for native American cultures, and it was also under constant threat, why warrior societys and perhaps warrior symbols like feathers, played a disproportionate part of the culture.

Hopefully someone with at greater academic knowledge or corresponding knowledge will fill us up on this.

I had an American Indian friend who was the leader of his group. He kept two eagle feathers, one symbolized his leadership and the other was a spare.

The link below, although not his group, contains the following: “The awarding of an Eagle feather to a person was and still is the most prestigious ceremony.”

Absolutely. The iconic headdress seems to be based on though those worn by Lakota Sioux, but all sorts of headdress varieties were worn by Indians. Among the variety were headgear made from porcupine quills, animal skins, and woven baskets.

Indian’s history is based on an oral tradition that loses detail as time passes, so even in the case where we would know what one feather signified, it doesn’t tell us much.

The Siouxan culture is still alive. Headdresses were a small part of this culture, and weren’t part of the spiritual rituals practiced by the Lakota that continue into modern times. Headdresses are still part of the culture. They may represent a generic symbol of Indian culture now, but it would not be the first cultural symbol to evolve in such a way.
I also recall that the two-feathered headband seen in the movies was actually used by some Indians as a simple decorative style unlikely to be worn by warriors. Also, IIRC, a Lakota with only one or two feathers would attach them to a stick instead of making a lame substitute for a headdress.

Edward S. Curtis photo of a Piegan (Blackfeet) warrior dressed in a War-bonnet and holding a feathered Coup-stick.

CMC fnord!