During the American Civil War fought between 1861 and 1865, victims and wounded people, depicted in some of the pictures, were hit mainly by other Americans in battle. Throughout those years many people were killed by native Americans who were taking advantage of the chaos of the civil war to attempt to reconquer that freedom and wealth that the colonies from Europe had taken from them and that would have completely confiscated  by the end of the century.

The local warriors had learned the ritual of the scalp removal, taken to the dead enemies, by the white colonies. Removing the scalp to dead enemies or wounded men was a popular ritual since ancient times in Eurasian cultures and the native Americans aquired it rapidly since the 18th century. Later on the scalp became a sellable product like the  Mokomokai Maori, that white men were willing to pay good money for.  In the whole country the scalp hunters started to flourish: white people and native Americans seeking scalps to remove from corpses.

Above: picture shared via Wikimedia Commons – licence CC BY-SA 3.0

In this context the story of Robert McGee unfolds. Robert, a white guy who on the 18th of July 1864 was scalped at the age of 13 and miraculously survived the accident. Robert was an orphan (he had lost his parents just a recently at the time), and was travelling on a wagon train on Santa Fe heading to New Mexico. All of a sudden the convoy was attacked by the tribe of the Brule Sioux who, guided by  Small Turtle, the head warrior,he killed all the colonies on boars including women and children and scalped them all.

When McGee was taken before Small Turtle, the man decided to kill him. He shot him on his spine and hit him with an axe and two arrows living him barely alive while the other Indians were using spears and knives on him. The man then pulled out his knives and severed a generous part of his scalp, leaving the guy on the ground to die. It is told that the Sioux warriors were used to cutting larger portions of scalp compared to the other tribes.

During the whole time of the scalping,McGee remained conscious

Despite scalping a person was some sort of condemn to death for its victim, some cases of survivors were registered. Most of them died due to skin infection and sometimes for the osteonecrosis of the skull, as in the brain could be exposed to the outside.

Robert destiny was extremely lucky

Some soldiers of the Blue Coat attended from far away the massacre, without trying to stop the warriors from killing 14 people. Once the slaughter was over, the soldiers arrived to the wagon train and discovered the macabre scene: Robert was described as a living corpse, with wounds everywhere and his brain on display. But unexpectedly, the guy survived. The soldiers took him and another survivors at Fort Larned. Robert, despite the arrows, the bullet and the scalp removed, recovered entirely while the other wounded man died because of the infections.

The picture was taken in 1890, 26 years later from that attack, when McGee started telling his story to a number of journals, becoming a little phenomenon all over the US. Many were the surgeons who tried to restore his scalp but in vain. The man became a legend, a picture used during the campaigns to justify the massacre to the native Americans.

In the history on the American colonisation another survivor was registered: Josiah Wilbarger, scalped by the Comanche Indians. He spoke of the ritual of the scalping:

“While I could not feel the pain, the removal of the scalp felt like a threatening roar or a tumult of thunders far away”.

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Matteo Rubboli

I am a publisher specialised in the digital distribution of culture and founder of the portal Vanilla Magazine. I don't wear a tie or branded clothes, I keep my hair short so I don't have to comb it. That's not my fault but just the way I've been drawn as...

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