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Eagle - The eagle was known as the "chief of all birds" to most Indians.  Like the ancients, the Indian regarded the eagle as an emblem of strength and courage.  They held the bird in great awe, in many instances were superstitious about it, and in other instances worshiped it.  The Hope thought of the eagle as the Sky God, and others considered it as what the white man termed the Thunderbird.

The eagle's extraordinary powers of vision, the great heights to which it soared in the sky, and the wild grandeur of the scenery where it made its home, as well as its length of life - all inspired the Indian.  It filled him with hope and confidence of success and victory.

Most Indians claimed the eagle was created by their Supreme Being for its beauty, as well as to provide decoration for themselves and special charms in battle.  While the bald or white headed eagle, which became the national emblem of the United States by an act of Congress in 1782, was the most widespread, the Indian preferred the golden or mountain eagle, found chiefly in the West.

Hunting the eagle was dangerous and usually was done only by highly trained men.  Those of some tribes scaled great heights and trapped the eagle in its eyrie.  But among those of the Plains tribes the usual method was to trap them from covered pits.  An eagle hunter would remain in a pit until the eagle came down to seize the bait placed at the edge of the pit.  The hunter then grabbed the eagle's legs and overpowered it.  These hunts usually were attended by solemn ceremonies.

The Pueblo Indians had eagles in captivity when Coronado first visited them.

Feathers of the golden eagle were prized as exploit feathers and for war bonnets.  A complete tail of twelve eagle feathers was worth a pony on the Plains.  White plumes with black tips were the most valuable.  Such feathers were fastened in the scalp lock and also in the manes of warriors' ponies.  They were used to decorate shields.

Some tribes allowed a man to wear an eagle feather only after he had killed someone in a fight, or, or in other tribes, when he had counted coup on a live enemy.  The number of feathers a warrior wore showed the number of times he had counted coup or had slain enemies.  Among the Chippewa a man who scalped an enemy could wear two feathers, and if he had rescued a wounded prisoner he could wear five.

Some tribes used the down, wing, and tail feathers in sacrifice.  The wings were made into fans by the Sioux and other tribes.  Eagle wing feathers were the best for feathering arrows - feathers from the same wing always being used on an arrow to give it a revolving motion.

Bones of eagles' wings were fashioned into whistles used in ceremonies, especially in the Sun Dance of the Cheyenne.  Eagle claws were valued as good luck charms.

Related Information within this Site
[ Arrow ][ Featherwork ][ Headdress ][ Musical Instruments ]
[ Sun Dance ][ Thunderbird ][ Whistle ]