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Scalping people for cash rewards and land is a devastating idea and shocking practice, essential to how the United States became a nation, built on top of hundreds of Indigenous nations who thrived here for millennia before Europeans invaded these shores.
Bounty is a filmic testimony of the immeasurable resistance and survivance of Indigenous Peoples. The film is the cornerstone of this media ecosystem which invites us all to face stories of the incalculable loss, suffering, and unacknowledged trauma inflicted upon Indigenous People by settlers, past and present.
As settlers encroached on Ckuwaponahkik (the Dawnland) and rebranded it New England - they coveted land. So officials introduced a terrible twist to incentivize gruesome acts of violence: the government would pay settlers cash for every scalp brought to Boston and other outposts. Their reward: about $12,000 (in today’s dollars) for the scalp of a man, half that for a woman’s scalp and a bit less for a child. It was nearly as much as a soldier would earn in two years. Many bounty hunters were granted land of the people they scalped - thousands upon thousands of acres. Many scalpers founded towns named after themselves. The names are familiar today in the Dawnland: Westbrook, Maine; Shirley, Massachusetts; and Spencer, Massachusetts are just three examples.
There were at least 80 government-issued scalp bounties across the Dawnland from 1675 to 1760. At least 70 scalp bounties were issued elsewhere in the United States until 1885. The proclamations targeted specific tribes by name, occasionally marking specific tribes safe, because they were “allies” to the authorities.
A vertical photo of a table in the Massachusetts town hall
License to kill
Our research has found settlers claimed at least 144 bounties turning in no fewer than 150 human scalps in the Dawnland between 1675 and 1760. As a reward thousands of individuals and their heirs took tens of thousands of acres of land and received $2,093,000 in today’s currency from the public treasury. Each person was a soul, a child, a loved one, a future healer and community leader. We have uncovered documents showing millions of dollars (in today’s money) paid out by the government. More may be buried in colonial archives. Neither scalpers nor authorities had any way of knowing the tribal affiliation of the person whose scalp they took. For centuries bounties were a license to kill all Indigenous people.
In Upstander Project’s film Bounty, Penobscot parents and children resist erasure and commemorate survival by reading and reacting to one of the dozens of government-issued bounty proclamations that motivated colonial settlers to hunt, scalp, and murder Indigenous people.
The lives that were destroyed by scalping were tallied up in a ledger filled with digits, but these numbers represent deceased and violated mothers, fathers, two-spirits, daughters, sons, aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, cousins, children, and infants, usually rendered nameless in the historical record.
A vertical photo of a table in the Massachusetts town hall
Resistance, Remembrance, Justice
This proclamation lives on in collective memory because of Penobscot and other Wabanaki Nations and people who post it on the walls of tribal government offices as a declaration: you tried to kill us, and we are still here. We are survivors of genocide and the United States was built on our lands and on top of the bones of our ancestors. We live and thrive on these lands today and are sovereign nations with the right to self-determination, and authors of our own stories.
The bounty proclamations encouraged acts of terrorism and spread anti-Native hatred that has changed form and manifests today as: an epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls; highest rate of death at the hands of police; disproportionate rate of death from the COVID-19; highest incarceration rates in the U.S.; violations of Indigenous sovereignty by state, federal authorities, and the titans of extractive industries; the continued use of Indian mascots; and the celebration of national holidays that dishonor Native peoples.

Scalp-bounties and beheadings were only one of the tools deployed by the European colonial settlers to make this land theirs.
In spite of countless campaigns, wars, massacres, land ordinances, and extermination orders, there are over five million Indigenous peoples in the United States today who are citizens or members of more than 600 tribal nations. And while the legacy of rampant brutality is apparent, most Native people are thriving and modeling for all people in the U.S. how to live in caring communities based on mutual respect, reciprocity, and reverence for the land and all forms of life. The fact that Indigenous Peoples and societies honor history and cultural traditions is a direct outcome of centuries of resistance to settler colonialism.
"I would love for people to have an awakening about Indigenous people in America. I would love for people to not feel defensive or blamed or upset about this project. I would love for them to feel like they are just learning the whole history of America."
Maulian Bryant
We're still here, we're still practicing our culture. We're still speaking our languages. We're still very much among you, no matter how invisible we seem to be.
Dawn Neptune Adams
Dawn Neptune Adams hugs her child
"It's not that Maine's the whitest state in the nation, it's that Maine was perhaps one of the most successful at the systematic annihilation of Indigenous peoples."
Rebecca Sockbeson
A vertical photo of a table in the Massachusetts town hall
Indigenous people have been neglected. Our existence had been threatened for so many years that I feel that the more that people, the better to learn about our history and how this government had tried to just get rid of us completely.
Carmella Bear
Maulian Dana and her children view a proclamation
Learning resources and guides
the Bounty
This lesson introduces readers to the life of Raphael Lemkin and the impact of the massacre of Armenians on Lemkin’s thinking and his journey to coin the word genocide. It also traces his tireless effort to make genocide an international crime at the newly founded United Nations. The lesson examines the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, especially Article II, resistance to the convention’s ratification in the U.S. Senate, how settler colonialism can trigger genocide, and the impact of genocide on Indigenous peoples. Teachers will learn about an analytical framework that helps students discern different stages of genocide and find activities to deepen students’ comprehension of the challenge of proving intent when prosecuting genocide.
In Lesson Two readers will read about different understandings of the relationship between people and the land, acts of scalping and beheading in England, monetization of scalping by Europeans in North America, role of land dispossession in settler colonial societies, different interpretations of early deeds, influence of the Doctrine of Discovery, role of Boston-based land speculators, scalp acts and bounty rewards, and Wabanaki attempts at diplomacy in the 1640s.
Lesson three covers the period between 1675-1760, commonly known as the Anglo-Abenaki Wars. These conflicts (with the exception of the first, Pometacomet’s Resistance) were largely fought between colonial English and French forces for control of what are today northern New England and Eastern Canada. Both sides practiced divide and conquer strategies, recruiting Indigenous allies and fighters, including the Wabanaki, with promises of bounty payments and protection. Wabanaki and other Indigenous people mounted campaigns of resistance during this period against increasing settler colonial land encroachment, dispossession, punitive laws and violations of the common pot of vital resources, hunting, fishing and subsistence regions.

During this period, no fewer than 66 official scalp bounty acts/proclamations were issued by the colonial governments of Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Nova Scotia, resulting in at least 62 claims for payment. More than 250 Native victims (including scalps and cap-tives claimed) resulted in bounty payments to hundreds of scalpers. At least £7,750 was paid out of the public treasury (and thousands of acres of land granted) for killing or capturing Wabanaki children, women, and men. This monetization of murder provides clear and undeniable evidence of centrally organized acts of land dispossession and genocide, which
Scalping spread from the Dawnland to other parts of the North American continent, before and after the American Revolution. While our research into scalp bounty acts in this lesson is not as extensive as in relation to the Dawnland, we offer readers what we have and encourage other researchers to continue to dig and discover more than we have. This lessons contains information about scalping in Pennsylvania, New York, The Carolinas, Maryland and Virginia, Kentucky, Minnesota, California, Colorado, and Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. In some of these states and territories, government officials issued bounty acts; in others private landowners paid others to hunt Indigenous people to clear the land and bring in scalps for payment; and in other places, both state actors and wealthy landowners financed campaigns of ethnic cleansing that decimated Indigenous populations, especially in places like California. We found considerable information about scalping in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, California, and Colorado and hope others will be moved to consult Tribal Historic Preservation Officers, as well as examine legislative and treasury records, and local historical society and newspaper archives so everyone has access to a full accounting of the monetization of scalping in the United States.

The Bounty Teacher’s Guide, authored by Dr. Mishy Lesser, supports educators, students, and the general public who want to deepen their understanding of the issues raised in the documentary film Bounty.

Read the guide
Read the guide
Bounty was filmed at the Old State House in Boston, Massachusetts on the unceded territory of the Massachusett people and their neighbors the Wampanoag and Nipmuc Nations. We offer our gratitude to these nations, Penobscot Nation and all Wabanaki Nations and their ancestors past, present and future.
Co-Director's Statement:
The Phip’s Proclamation hung on the walls of Penobscot Nation tribal offices as proof of genocide and survival. My first reaction was of the “Holy S$#!” variety followed by, well, of course this happened and of course I never learned about it in my dominant culture schooling. In our filming of Dawnland hearing more about the proclamation in presentations by Wabanaki REACH I witnessed I was far from alone in my ignorance, shock, and horror at this declaration of genocide in pen and ink. Co-director Ben Pender-Cudlip and I wanted to incorporate this story of how the English hunted and scalped Penobscot people for money into the film. In part because the litany of horrors perpetrated against Wabanaki people by invaders is so extensive, and in part due to the question of how and whether to tell this story visually, the Phips Proclamation didn’t end up in the film.

8 years later I believe perhaps this was how it was supposed to be. In screenings and Upstander Project teacher workshops featuring First Light and Dawnland, we would teach about the Phip’s proclamation and teachers in Maine and beyond were often horrified. We would ask people to raise their hands if they knew of the proclamation. Typically one or two hands would go up belonging to Wabanaki people and those who had attended REACH workshops. Our own learning journey is apparent to me now in Lesson 12 of the Dawnland Teacher’s Guide, which shares the tip of the iceberg of this history. This journey is what led us to the idea of making Bounty. The story feels too important and too essential to the history of this land and the myriad crises we face today. The hunting and terrorizing of Wabanaki people can be linked directly to why we still see so much disregard for Native people by those from the dominant culture. This is why we believe the Bounty Teacher’s Guide should be required reading for teachers in the Dawnland so that all of us understand this history. As Wabanaki and other Indigenous Peoples know, European invaders scalped and terrorized Native people to take their land and that was just one tool they employed repeatedly to perpetrate genocide.

My colleague Mishy Lesser, while digging deeper, noticed the document was signed in the “Council-Chamber” in Boston’s Old State House. She discovered that there was no mention of this history in the building visited annually by thousands of Freedom Trail tourists who learn of American revolutionaries fighting for their freedom.

Ben had the idea of asking Penobscot families to read the hideous proclamation for a film as a declaration that, “we are still here.” Our experience with Dawnland taught us that we needed to ask Penobscot families if they thought this was even a good idea and whether they would participate and make the film together as collaborators. Maulian Bryant, Dawn Neptune Adams, and Tim Shay and Shiwa Noh and their children Carmella Bear, Layla Bear, Kaden Neptune Adams, and Charlie Shay said yes and I am forever grateful. Mishy said, what about filming in the Old State House? And the rest is history…. Or at least we hope that it will be after being erased from the history books for centuries.

- Bounty Co-Director Adam Mazo
Watch it Again

Introducing Bounty


Bounty Film


After Watching Bounty


Authoring Our Stories


Reclaiming Space


The Story of Margaret Moxa


How Maine Became So White