Search the Lodge:

Site Map
The evolution of Lakota social and political structure from pre-contact through the present with maps of the Lakota Nation.
Traditional Lakota tales of the creation of the universe, the earth and the emergence of life and mankind within it.
Lakota traditional spiritual beliefs, rites and ceremonies, past and present
Traditional Lakota folk tales in English and Lakota.
A guide to the Lakota alphabet and pronunciation with streaming audio. An introduction to Lakota rules of grammar, verb lists and dictionaries (English & Deutsch).
Song structure of Plains music, historical diffusion of songs, dances and regalia on the Plains. Lakota songs to listen to and download.
Current events, national news clippings.
The full complete text of Treaties and U.S. Supreme Court decisions.
Šung'manitu-tanka, the Great Plains or Buffalo Wolf - The nation of wolves and their unique relationship with the Lakota.



Lakota Music and Dance



Wapaha, The War Bonnet


Feathered war bonnets (also called warbonnets or headdresses) are worn by honored Plains Indian men. In the past they were sometimes worn into battle, but most often worn for ceremonial occasions as is the case today. They are seen as items of great spiritual and magical importance. The eagle is considered by Plains tribes as the greatest and most powerful of all birds, and thus the finest bonnets are made out of its feathers.

Its beauty was considered of secondary importance; the bonnet's real value was in its supposed power to protect the wearer. The bonnet is still only to be worn on special occasions and is highly symbolic.


The bonnet had to be earned through brave deeds in battle because the feathers signified the deeds themselves. Some warriors might have obtained only two or three honor feathers in their whole lifetime, so difficult were they to earn. The bonnet was also a mark of highest respect because it could never be worn without the consent of the leaders of the tribe. A high honor, for example, was received by the warrior who was the first to touch an enemy fallen in battle (to count "coup"), for this meant the warrior was at the very front of fighting. Feathers were notched and decorated to designate an event and told individual stories such as killing, capturing an enemy's weapon and shield, and whether the deed had been done on horseback or foot.

After about ten honors had been won, the warrior went out to secure the eagle feathers with which to make his bonnet. In some tribes these had to be purchased from an individual given special permission to hunt the bird; a tail of twelve perfect feathers could bring the seller as much as a good horse. Some tribes permitted a warrior to hunt his own eagles. This was a dangerous and time-consuming mission and meant that he had to leave the tribe and travel to the high country where the bird could be found. When the destination had been reached, ceremonies were conducted to appeal to the spirits of the birds to be killed.

A chief's war bonnet is made of feathers received for good deeds to his community and is worn in high honor. Each feather would represent a good deed. A warrior's war bonnet, such as the famous war bonnet of Roman Nose, the Cheyenne warrior, was said to protect him during battle. In several instances, Roman Nose, wearing his war bonnet, rode back and forth before soldiers of the United States Army during battles of the Indian Wars and, despite being fired upon by many soldiers, was unscathed.

Chiefs and honored warriors still often wear war bonnets for ceremonial occasions.

How to Make a War bonnet



Steps

1. Prepare feathers, 28-30 imitation eagle feathers. See Imitation Eagle Feather Preparation for Warbonnets & Bustles for a detailed photo presentation of each step.


2. Fit the crown. You will need to either make or buy a felt or leather crown. The crown should be cut so that it cuts half way down your ears and just above your eyebrows. If it is intended to be worn it should also be sized to fit around your head. Cut a line going straight up one side and overlap it until it loosely fits your head and sew it together. You should be able to fit one finger between your head and the crown at any point.

3. Locate where the feathers will be attached. Measure how large the crown is around the base and divide it by the number of feathers you have. This will give you a distance that the feathers should be from one another. Starting at the middle, use half of the measurement you found to place the two center feathers, make a mark with chalk. Then place each feather around the rest of the crown using the original measurement. In the front the marks should be at least a half inch above the browband, and after the rosettes they should slant downward to a half inch above the edge of the crown. Now locate a sharp knife and cut quarter inch slits an eighth inch to either side of each mark. See Fig. 1 above.

4. Attach the feathers. Using leather thong go through the first hole in the back of the crown (from inside out) and then lace it through the first feather's loop. Take the leather back down into the next hole, essentially weaving the feathers on. Continue to the back and tie the two ends of the thong together.

5. Using waxed cord on a needle insert it through the hole in the back of the quill of the center feather of the front of the crown, then pull it around and go through the hole again, so that the cord has made a loop through the feather, continue through all the rest of the feathers, adjusting them so that they do not overlap too much or too little (see the photo below showing the bonnet in three views). Make final adjustments to each feather's position (note: Lakota war bonnets have a full broad flare, whereas the Crow tribe's bonnet sloped flatter on the head, and the Blackfoot made a bonnet in which the feathers stood straight up from the head. Look at photos of war bonnets to identify the style you'd like), then tie the ends of the waxed cord together. A drop of glue on the looped cord on each feather will set them permanently.


6. Procure a browband. Many warbonnets have a beaded or quilled browband, though not all do. You can buy already made browbands at some stores (see the links page for internet Trading Posts for craft supplies), or you can bead/quill your own.

7. Attach the browband. Find the center point of your crown and working from the center out sew the browband on, with a needle at the top and a needle at the bottom, going every half inch at a time.


8. Make and attach the rosettes and side drops. Side drops were traditionally made of ermine tails, but for the sake of cost, this is unreasonable. The best way to simulate ermine tails is to cut half inch to one inch thick strips out of white rabbit fur. The strips should be between 12 and 15 inches long depending on the size of the fur. Attach leather loops and felt patches to the side drops in the same way you did the feathers. The side drops are usually placed right above the ears, or at the edge of the browband. Simply sew them on using heavy cord and running it through the loops. Rosettes can be beaded, made of large buttons, or simply a mirror. There are many different style of rosettes and it is simply up to you to chose one. The rosette is attached usually by straps on the back surface covering up where the side drops are attached.

9. An additional feather, the major plume, can be attached independently to the top center of the crown cap. You can strip the feather vanes from the quill and decorate it with different colored fluffs. This plume identifies you as the owner. See the middle photo below.


Your war bonnet is now ready to wear!



How to Make a Double-Trailer War bonnet

Some of the famous warriors of the plains earned more coup feathers than were required for a full-sized headress. These warriors were allowed to make and wear a warbonnet having either a single or double row of eagle feathers hanging down the back.

Originally these bonnets were only knee length, but when the Indian started to ride horses, the tails were extended to the wearer's heels.


Steps

1. Prepare feathers, about 90 imitation eagle feathers. See Imitation Eagle Feather Preparation for Warbonnets & Bustles for a detailed photo presentation of each step.

2. Fit the crown. You will need to either make or buy a felt or leather crown. The crown should be cut so that it cuts half way down your ears and just above your eyebrows. If it is intended to be worn it should also be sized to fit around your head. Cut a line going straight up one side and overlap it until it loosely fits your head and sew it together. You should be able to fit one finger between your head and the crown at any point.

3. Sew an 9" by 72" strip of leather, felt, or trade cloth to the crown for a trailer. If you use felt or cloth, you can bind the edges with ribbon.

4. Locate where the feathers will be attached. Measure how large the crown is around the base and divide it by the number of feathers you have. This will give you a distance that the feathers should be from one another. Starting at the middle, use half of the measurement you found to place the two center feathers, make a mark with chalk. Then place each feather around the rest of the crown using the original measurement continuing In two rows, one along each side of the trailer about 1/2" from the edge, In the front the marks should be at least a half inch above the browband, and after the rosettes they should slant downward to three quarters of an inch above the edge of the crown. Now locate a sharp knife and cut quarter inch slits an eighth inch to either side of each mark. See the illustration above.

5. Attach the feathers. Start at the top with the largest feather and graduate them in size as you work toward the bottom. Using a leather thong go through the first hole in the back of the crown (from inside out) and then lace it through the first feather's loop. Take the leather back down into the next hole, essentially weaving the feathers on. Continue to the back and tie the two ends of the thong together on the crown. For the trailor, use two leather thongs, attach a thong on each side of the back of the crown and attach the feathers to the trailer in the same manner ending witn a knot in each side's thong. See Figs. 8, 9 and 10 above.

6. Using waxed cord on a needle insert it through the hole in the back of the quill of the center feather of the front of the crown, then pull it around and go through the hole again, so that the cord has made a loop through the feather, continue through all the rest of the feathers, adjusting them so that they do not overlap too much or too little, continuing down through each feather on the trailer. Make final adjustments to each feather's position (note: Look at photos of war bonnets to identify the style you'd like), then tie a knot in the cord on the final feathers. A drop of glue on the looped cord on each feather will set them permanently. There should be three left unsecured at the back of the crown. Using the waxed cord, insert it through the hole in the middle crown feather then through each feather on the left and right side of these final feathers connecting them to the crown feathers to complete the circle of crown feathers and ending in a knot on the last feathers. See Figs. 11 and 12 above.

7. Procure a browband. Many warbonnets have a beaded or quilled browband, though not all do. You can buy already made browbands at some stores (see the links page for internet Trading Posts for craft supplies), or you can bead/quill your own.

8. Attach the browband. Find the center point of your crown and working from the center out sew the browband on, with a needle at the top and a needle at the bottom, going every half inch at a time.

9. Make and attach the rosettes and side drops. Side drops were traditionally made of ermine tails, but for the sake of cost, this is unreasonable. The best way to simulate ermine tails is to cut half inch to one inch thick strips out of white rabbit fur. The strips should be between 12 and 15 inches long depending on the size of the fur. Attach leather loops and felt patches to the side drops in the same way you did the feathers. The side drops are usually placed right above the ears, or at the edge of the browband. Simply sew them on using heavy cord and running it through the loops. Rosettes can be beaded, made of large buttons, or simply a mirror. There are many different style of rosettes and it is simply up to you to chose one. The rosette is attached usually by straps on the back surface covering up where the side drops are attached.

10. An additional feather, the major plume, can be attached independently to the top center of the crown cap. You can strip the feather vanes from the quill and decorate it with different colored fluffs. This plume identifies you as the owner. See the middle photo of the standard war bonnet above.


Your war bonnet is now ready to wear!




Back to the Lodge