Scalping

“Scalping is generally, but falsely, supposed to be a peculiarly American practice. The Abbe Em. Domenech (‘Seven Years’ Residence in the Great Deserts of North America,’ chap, xxxix.) quotes the decalvare of the ancient Germans, the capillos et cutem detrahere of the code of the Visigoths, and the annals of Elude, which prove that the ‘Anglo-Saxons’ and the Franks still scalped about A.D. 879. And as the modern American practice is traceable to Europe and Asia, so it may be found in Africa, where aught of ferocity is rarely wanting. . . .

“Scalp-taking is a solemn rite. In the good old times braves scrupulously awaited the wounded man’s death before they ‘raised his hair;’ in the laxity of modern days, however, this humane custom is too often disregarded. Properly speaking, the trophy should be taken after fair fight with a hostile warrior; this also is now neglected. ‘When the Indian sees his enemy fall he draws his scalp-knife—the modern is of iron, formerly it was of flint, obsidian, or other hard stone—and twisting the scalp-lock, which is left long for that purpose, and boastfully braided or decorated with some gaudy ribbon or with the war-eagle’s plume, round his left hand, makes with the right two semicircular incisions, with and against the sun, about the part to be removed. The skin is next loosened with the knife-point, if there be time to spare and if there be much scalp to be taken. The operator then sits on the ground, places his feet against the subject’s shoulders by way of leverage, and, holding the scalp-lock with both hands, he applies a strain which soon brings off the spoils with a sound which, I am told, is not unlike ‘flop.’ Without the long lock it would be difficult to remove the scalp; prudent white travelers, therefore, are careful, before setting out through an Indian country, to ‘shingle off’ their hair as closely as possible; the Indian, moreover, hardly cares for a half-fledged scalp. To judge from the long love-locks affected by the hunter and mountaineer, he seems to think lightly of this precaution; to hold it, in fact, a point of honor that the savage should have a fair chance. A few cunning men have surprised their adversaries with wigs. The operation of scalping must be exceedingly painful; the sufferer turns, wriggles, and ‘squirms’ upon the ground like a scotched snake. It is supposed to induce brain fever; many instances, however, are known of men and even women recovering from it, as the former do from a more dreadful infliction in Abyssinia and Galla-land; cases are of course rare, as a disabling wound is generally inflicted before the bloodier work is done.”