South Dakota, Lakota Sioux
Eagle feather bonnet, about 1925, tanned deer
hide, eagle feathers, glass beads, horsehair, ermine,
Museum purchase. Conservation funded by The Alliance
of The Speed Art Museum, 1999 1937.68.1
The eagle-feather bonnet was a magnificent headdress
worn by Plains warriors and leaders in battle. The Lakota
considered the eagle the greatest and most powerful
of all birds and believed that the feathers held protective
powers that could prevent men from being hit by arrows.
The bonnet had to be earned through acts of bravery
in war because the feathers represented the deeds themselves.
The feathers were so difficult to earn that a warrior
might obtain only two or three in a lifetime. Each feather
was notched and decorated to tell the story of how it
was earned. To wear the bonnet was considered a mark
of the highest respect because it could only be worn
with the permission of the tribe’s leaders.
After tribes were settled on reservations men who distinguished
themselves continued to wear the bonnet to represent
their achievements and to remind people of their histories.