The Old |West..a few questions

Just watched an old western film"Winchester '73" and I got to wondering.

  1. Why did the indians scalp their slain enemies.

  2. What did they do with the scalps.

  3. Is it true they never attacked at night for fear that their spirit would be unable to find the happy hunting ground in the dark.

  4. How many rounds did the '73 hold, Jimmy Stewart seemed to fire off around a dozen or so before reloading.

  5. Why were not all the US Cavalry issued with repeating rifles as soon as they became available.
    Oh yeah I live in England which is why I ask

Right off the top of my head:

  1. As a trophy. But remember, there were (are) many different tribes of Indians, each with different customs. I think scalping was fairly rare, with only a few tribes practicing it.

  2. Hung them on a belt as an indicator of manly prowess.

  3. Dunno.

  4. Dunno

  5. Governmental inefficiency. Plus a huge pool of leftover equipment from the Civil War. However, (someone will doubtless be along to help out on this) I understand that a large number of cavalrymen were equipped with short-barrelled repeating rifles (the “Sharps”?).

  1. Because white-men paid big money for scalps
  2. Sold them to Europeans
  3. I doubt it - sounds like typical Hollywood rubbish
  4. 12

White men paid big money for scalps???

Sold them to Europeans??? y’mean the Indians hopped in a canoe and paddled across the pond:rolleyes:

That’s a common misconception. Indians scalped their enemies long before there were white men in the New World; it was part of their ceremonies – and they never integrated European practices into their ceremonies. In addition, scalping was unknown in Europe (it may have existed at one point, but by 1492, it had long died out); the first witnesses clearly had never known of such a thing.

This page discusses the beginning of bounties for scalp. The bounties did lead to much more scalping, including it being done by tribes that had no tradition of it, but it was clearly an Indian tradition that the white men took advantage of.

As Rocketeer points out, not all (and probably only a few) tribes scalped their enemies.

French traders bought them and shipped them back - maybe not as late as 1873, but I dunno since I’m not up to doing any real research at 8:30 AM.

Ok, I’m sure more than a few Americans collected them, but they were European-descended (not native). The last theory I heard speculated that prior to the invasions, native Americans did not practice scalping, they picked up the habit from the savages that invaded their land.

Someone around here will know, I’m sure, and pop in with references and etc.

I certainly won’t argue with you on that, I’m basing everything on web stuff and poor memory.
(Scalping wasn’t really “unknown” in Europe, an 11th century Earl of Wessex scalped.)
Lot of money in scalps - bounty and collectors.

1. It varied from nation to nation. Some never scalped. Some scalped as a celebration of victory. (Overcoming an opponent in personal combat–a requirement for performing scalping–was rated higher by some war societies than actually killing the enemy and there are numerous stories of persons scalped when overcome, but then recovering and living out the rest of their lives with scars on their heads.) Some scalped in an early version of what later became the Vietnam “body count.” Various European settlers did pay bounties to allied nations for bringing in scalps to prove that they had killed the mutual enemies. (Whether this practice was simply the Europeans taking advantage of a practice that already existed or whether some European with a knowledge of ancient history introduced the practice has been debated.)

2. Among the nations where they celebrated personal victory, they would have been displayed as trophies (as did a number of European-descended settlers who took up the practice). Among nations where they were simply “body count,” they were turned over to whoever was paying out the cash and I do not know what happened to those.

3. It is possible that some nations refrained from night attacks. Whether they did so out of a fear that their afterlife would suffer or whether they did this for the practical reason that night fights among large groups using projectiles are liable to be inconclusive affairs with a certain number of “friendly fire” casualties, I don’t know. Certainly, assigning superstitious motives to the enemy makes a convenient plot point in a movie. (There were, in fact, many attacks by Indians that were launched in the dark, so if any nation had a fear of night fighting, it was not a universally held belief.)

4. 12

5. The U.S. Army had a traditional faith (at the time) that a soldier who was taking the time to sight on an opponent was more effective than a soldier who was wildly firing as much ammunition as possible. Both the Infantry rifles and cavalry carbines tended (there were exceptions) to be single-shot weapons (although the Army did go to the faster-reloaded breech loading models soon after they became available). At the time, single-shot breech-loading weapons were also less subject to jamming in combat conditions.

Can’t answer to the spirit thing, but anybody who has hiked or walked through the western deserts knows full well how difficult it is, even in broad daylight, to avoid being stuck by cactus, stepping on a rattler or scorpion, or attracting the attention of a nocturnal mountain lion.

Walking through the desert in moccasins at night would not be a sensible thing, and the Indians were not stupid. :smiley:

I’d like to withdraw my answers (except for “12”) as I think others have responded with better researched info.

I should know better, I really should…

  1. The single-shot rifles were of a heavier caliber compared to the multi-shot Winchester rifles(Basically handgun calibre to allow for such a number of rounds) - therefore they offered superior accuracy and stopping power.

From the Winchester '76 onwards the trend was for larger caliber, and thus a reduced ammunition capacity and heavier rifle.