The Bounty Teacher's Guide

Scalping Outside the Dawnland

This lesson is designed for grades 6-8 and 9-12 but can be adapted for upper-elementary levels. The full lesson may take 3-4 class sessions to complete, though it can be shortened.

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 Lesson Four is not as exhaustive as our research into scalp-bounty acts in the Dawnland, we offer readers what we have and encourage other researchers to continue to dig and share their findings . There is strong evidence that Massachusetts governor, William Shirley, encouraged southern colonies to offer scalp bounties during the Sixth Anglo-Abenaki War. Laws in colonial Maryland and Virginia may have been impacted by Shirley’s intervention. [260]

This lesson contains information about scalping in the places currently called Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan, The Carolinas, Georgia, Maryland and Virginia, Kentucky, Minnesota, California, Colorado, and Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. In the southern colonies especially, farmers who had lost their land in competition with larger, more efficient plantations made profitable by enslaved people, rushed to occupy Native farmlands over the Appalachian mountain range.

In some of these states and territories, government officials issued bounty acts; in others private landowners paid men to hunt Indigenous people to clear the land and bring in their scalps for payment; and in other places, both state actors and wealthy landowners financed campaigns of ethnic cleansing that decimated Indigenous populations, especially in 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 and examine legislative and treasury records, as well as local historical society and newspaper archives, so everyone has access to a full accounting of the monetization of scalping in the United States.

A note about accessing newspaper sources that appear in this lesson: most require a paid subscription. For that reason, we do not provide URLs for many of the images that follow. Readers can check with their local library’s research services to see if they can access newspaper archives for you. We recommend America’s Historical Newspapers (1690-20th century), which can be accessed through Newsbank:  Some libraries have Indigenous newspaper publications from the 1800s to present day, which is another essential resource:

We also recommend consulting the Library of Congress’s collection, “Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers,” which provides links to available newspapers and select digitized newspaper pages:

Because of Pennsylvania’s prominence at the beginning of this lesson, more information about The Pennsylvania Gazette can be found here:

The Compelling Question to Support Inquiry

What is the relationship between the taking of the land and the taking of the scalps?

This lesson is designed for grades 6-8 and 9-12 but can be adapted for upper-elementary levels. The full lesson is
recommended to take 4-5 class sessions to complete, though it can be shortened.

Note: The Compelling Question, Desired Outcomes, Supporting Questions, Words and Terms, C3 Standards, NMAI
Knowledge 360 Essential Understandings, Useful Resources to Support Inquiry, and Things to Consider are
applicable to Lessons Two, Three, and Four.

In Lesson Four readers learn 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, scalping and mourning war practices among some Indigenous peoples, the role of land
dispossession in settler colonial societies, different interpretations of early deeds, influence of the
Doctrine of Discovery, influence of Boston-based land speculators, scalp acts and bounty rewards, and
Wabanaki attempts at diplomacy in the 1640s.

Desired Outcomes for Lesson Four

Lessons Two, Three, and Four are interrelated. In these lessons, students will examine historical evidence that may be used to make or refute the case that genocide happened and continues to happen against Native peoples in the U.S. and explore the connection between genocide and settler colonialism. The Deeper Dive sections in lesson three are designed to help teachers differentiate between essential understandings and rich additional sources and content.

Use historical documents to develop an argument that supports or refutes the claim of genocide when applied to bounty acts and proclamations;
Critically analyze settler colonial narratives about key historical events and contemporary policies of genocide
Name and describe their own place in the system of settler colonialism
explain the relationship between land dispossession and the targeting of Indigenous people through bounty acts and proclamations.

Supporting Questions

What ideas, beliefs, and structures are in place today that might help explain why bounty acts and proclamations have remained hidden for so long? Who does this serve? According to popular media portrayals of U.S. history, who scalped whom?
What ideas, beliefs, and structures would have been required by European colonial settlers to defy and resist official orders and financial incentives to scalp Indigenous peoples?
What is the long-term impact of scalp bounty proclamations on Indigenous peoples whose ancestors were targeted?
How is intent demonstrated, or not, in the wording of the bounty acts and proclamations of the seventeenth and eighteen centuries?
Do scalp acts and proclamations provide evidence of genocide? If so, what is your argument?
What is the relationship between the taking of the land and the issuance of bounty acts and proclamations by colonial and U.S. authorities?
What is the significance of the role played by those who outfitted and funded scalpers?
How would you describe the differing motivations and mindsets of scalpers?
What did you learn about U.S. history and the larger global context at the time the
scalp proclamations were issued?

Terms that Students Need to Know and Understand

Settler Colonialism

A type of colonialism in which the objective is the acquisition of indigenous territories and resources, which means the original peoples must be eliminated by whatever means necessary and replaced with colonial settlers (based in part on definitions by Dina Gilio-Whitaker and Patrick Wolfe)


To put out of possession or occupancy (definition from Merriam-Webster)


The quality or state of being faithless or disloyal (definition from Merriam-Webster)


 1 From old French, it meant “wild,” “untamed,” or “natural,” and was associated with people who lived in forests, not in towns or burgeoning cities 2 old-fashioned + offensive : a person belonging to a primitive society 3 a brutal person 4 a rude or unmannerly or uncivilized person (based in part on definition from Merriam-Webster)

Bounty Acts and Proclamations

Laws that legalized the hunting, capture, killing and scalping of Native children, women, and men for a reward of money and/or land (definition from Upstander Project)

Bounty Claims for Cash

Bounty hunters delivered captives or scalps to government officials or private landowners who paid them cash as a reward for having ethnically cleansed the land of Indigenous peoples (definition from Upstander Project)

Bounty Claims for Land

Bounty hunters delivered captives or scalps to government officials or private landowners who paid them with grants of free land as a reward for having ethnically cleansed the land of Indigenous peoples (definition from Upstander Project)

C3 Standards for College, Career and Civic Resources

The C3 Framework for Social Studies State Standards is a powerful guide to help each state strengthen instruction in the social studies by establishing fewer, clearer, and higher standards for instruction in civics, economics, geography, and history, kindergarten through high school.

D2.Civ.1.6-8. Distinguish the powers and responsibilities of citizens, political parties, interest groups, and the media in a variety of governmental and nongovernmental contexts.
D2.13.9-12. Evaluate public policies in terms of intended and unintended outcomes, and related consequences.
D2.Civ.1.9-12. Distinguish the powers and responsibilities of local, state, tribal, national, and international civic and political institutions.
D2.His.10.6-8. Detect possible limitations in the historical record based on evidence collected from different kinds of historical sources.
D2.Civ.5.9-12. Evaluate citizensʼ and institutionsʼ effectiveness in addressing social and political problems at the local, state, tribal, national, and/or international level.
D2.His.10.9-12. Detect possible limitations in various kinds of historical evidence and differing secondary interpretations.
D2.Civ.10.9-12. Analyze the impact and the appropriate roles of personal interests and perspectives on the application of civic virtues, democratic principles, constitutional rights, and human rights.
D2.His.11.6-8. Use other historical sources to infer a plausible maker, date, place of origins, and intended audience for historical sources where this information is not easily identified.
D2.Civ.12.6-8. Assess specific rules and laws (both actual and proposed) as means of addressing public problems.
D2.His.11.9-12. Critique the usefulness of historical sources for a specified historical inquiry based on their maker, date, place of origin, intended audience, and purpose.

National Museum of the American Indian—Native Knowledge 360o Essential Understandings About American Indians

The C3 Framework for Social Studies State Standards is a powerful guide to help each state strengthen instruction in the social studies by establishing fewer, clearer, and higher standards for instruction in civics, economics, geography, and history, kindergarten through high school.

American Indian Cultures
Time, Continuity, and Change
People, Places, and Environment
Individual Development and Identity
Individuals, Groups, and Institutions
Power, Authority, and Governance
Production, Distribution, and Consumption
Civic Ideal and Practices

Useful Resources to Support Inquiry

James Axtell and William C. Sturtevant, “The Unkindest Cut, or Who Invented Scalping”
East West Street: On the Origins of “Genocide” and “Crimes Against Humanity,” Philippe Sands
Margaret Haig Roosevelt Sewall Ball, “Grim Commerce: Scalp Bounties and the Transformation of Trophy Taking in the Early American Northeast, 1450-1770”
Lisa Brooks, Our Beloved Kin: A New History of King Philipʼs War
“Raphael Lemkin as historian of genocide in the Americas,” Michael A. McDonnell and A. Dirk Moses
Colin G. Calloway, After King Philipʼs War: Presence and Persistence in Indian New England
Colin G. Calloway, Dawnland Encounters: Indians and Europeans in Northern New England
Brian D. Carroll, “” Savages” in the Service of Empire: Native American Soldiers in Gorhamʼs Rangers, 1744-1762”
Christine M. DeLucia, Memory Lands: King Philipʼs War and the Place of Violence in the Northeast
David L. Ghere and Alvin H. Morrison, “Sanctions for Slaughter: Peacetime Violenceon the Maine Frontier, 1749-1722” and “Searching for Justice on the Maine Frontier: Legal Concepts, Treaties, and the 1749 Wiscasset Incident”
Ralph A. Smith, “The Scalp Hunter in the Borderlands 1835-1850”
Rebecca Cardinal Sockbeson, “Cipenuk Red Hope: Weaving Policy Toward Decolonization & Beyond”
Rebecca Cardinal Sockbeson, “Honored and Thriving: The Squaw Law and Eradication of Offensive State Place-Names”
Bonnie D. Newsom and Jamie Bissonette-Lewey, “Wabanaki Resistance and Healing: An Exploration of the Contemporary Role of an Eighteenth-Century Bounty Proclamation in an Indigenous Decolonization Process”
Jean M. OʼBrien, Dispossession by Degrees: Indian Land and Identity in Natick, Massachusetts, 1650-1790
Jean M. OʼBrien, Firsting and Lasting Writing Indians Out of Existence in New England Indigenous Americas
Daniel N. Paul, We Were Not the Savages
Ian Saxine, Properties of Empire: Indians, Colonists, and Land Speculators on the New England Frontier
Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples
Rebecca Cardinal Sockbeson, “Indigenous Research Methodology: Gluskabeʼs Encounters with Epistemicide”
Gerald Robert Vizenor, Fugitive Poses: Native American Indian Scenes of Absence and Presence
Patrick Wolfe, “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native”
Henry J. Young, “Scalp Bounties in Pennsylvania”

Things to Consider

Warriors from cultures all over the world and across millennia have scalped and beheaded enemy captives and mutilated their corpses.
During the English conquest of Ireland, the English beheaded and scalped their enemies.
Eighteenth-century Englishmen were highly hair conscious, and the removal of enemy scalps was a symbolic way of rendering them impotent. For the most part, English colonial officials preferred scalping or death of Native captives over their enslavement or imprisonment, whereas the French preferred imprisonment or enslavement of captives over their scalping or death.
Europeans introduced the monetization of scalping.
Some Indigenous people in what is now referred to as North America scalped other Indigenous people before the arrival of Europeans.
In the case of Native people who scalped, scalps were sometimes displayed and exchanged to reinforce alliances. Scalping of enemies was one aspect of “mourning war practices” whereby captives were either adopted to take the place of deceased loved ones, scalped to avenge those killed, or ransomed for goods. For some Native people, scalping served the dual purpose of reinforcing the honor of triumphant warriors and preventing an enemyʼs soul from reaching
the afterworld where it could cause harm. By separating a personʼs scalp from the rest of their body, it was believed the deceased lost the power to seek revenge.
Native warriors engaged in scalping on behalf of colonial powers who paid them and sought to enlist their loyalty to make up for a shortage of soldiers in their own fighting forces.
Much scalping was done by Europeans who targeted Native peoples to eradicate them from the physical and social landscape.
Once European settlers occupied parts of North America, they spread scalping and transformed it into a way for settlers to earn money and in some cases to get land.
To fixate on scalping as evidence of genocide without highlighting the agency, resistance, and survivance of Indigenous societies as they deal with new conditions created by settler colonialism, can feed deeply held beliefs about victimhood and the disappearance of Native peoples.
Although the impact of scalping was the extermination of some Native peoples and nations (for example there used to be at least twenty Wabanaki tribal nations and today there are five), it is worth discussing whether the intent of scalping was extermination, domination, or both.

Continue to the Next Section of Lesson Four

Scalping Outside the Dawnland