- 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.
within this Site
][ Featherwork ][ Headdress
][ Musical Instruments ]
Dance ][ Thunderbird ][ Whistle