Much has been written and often misunderstood about a traditional Native American “War Bonnet”. Much of this has been propagated by American Films and Television. In the “World” of such, only Tribal Chiefs were allowed to wear the often many hundreds of feathered Bonnets. This Headdress somehow established their “leadership”. In most cases however, this is incorrect. The wear of a Feather Bonnet in some form, was practiced by most Native American Tribes, with The Northern Plains Tribes being the most prolific. The use of bird feathers were used to demote bravery in battle and related heroic deeds. It also was used to identify (by color and bird type), the number of engagements a Warrior had participated in. In most cases, a Warrior would be encouraged to make a Bonnet after several great victories. By this, a Tribal Chief of 20 or more years, may have a substantial collection of such feathers. Likewise, a Great Warrior of a Tribe might as well. It would not be uncommon to see several Warriors including a Chief, go into battle with great Bonnets of many attached Feathers.
Sewn on in overlapping layers, Feathers could be painted, depending the level of courage in battle exhibited. Colored Beading was likewise used, more so out of decorative nature. Often, long Feathers “Trails” or extensions protruded from the front or back (depending on the particular Tribe). In most cases worn in Combat, the became associated with the term “War Bonnet”. They would also be worn in certain Tribal Consul and in meetings with other Tribes. In most cases, almost of these encounters had something to do with War (either ending one or declaring same). Most Tribes had specific regulations regarding bird feathers that could be used. Most chose Predatory Avians. Owl was often reserved for Tribal Medicine Practitioners (Males or Female). Of the most regulated and rate you use was The Eagle Feather. Difficult to procure, they were only allowed for use if the Warrior had accomplished some extremely “great deed” for his People. Bonnets also included weaving. A suitable headband was needed in construction. Often made of animal hide and fine bead work provided by the Wife of The Warrior or Women of The Tribe, the headband often reflected Tribal Colors or type of bead work indicative to each Tribe.