Scalping is a brutal form of torture and murder practiced throughout history and by no means a Native American invention. The technique by which a person was scalped depended on how the scalper was taught. Among the Native Americans it varied from tribe to tribe. Each had its own method, but other factors were in play as well. Shape of the scalp. Size and purpose. How did the victim wear his or her hair?
Individuals chosen for scalping were usually dead or dying, and some survivors have actually described the process as relatively painless, even though the methodology seems to make a lack of pain impossible. Two semicircular cuts are made on either side of the scalp, and then the skin is torn away by grasping at the hair. Ironically, Native Americans acquired more precise instruments that were eventually called “scalping knives” from the European settlers themselves.
Is it possible to survive a scalping?
Believe it or not some people did survive after receiving prompt medical attention. The treatments for such a wound are mostly obscure, but the idea behind any such surgery is obvious. In order to stand a good chance of survival, a person must be allowed to regrow their lost skin. It is thought that the slow process must have included the puncturing of the diploe, a layer of spongy bone between the inner and outer layers of the skull. This allowed blood to blow, and new spots of skin to slowly regenerate the layer of lost dermis.
Was custer scalped?
Perhaps he was, but perhaps not. The Native Americans who killed him had no idea that anyone of note was heading the army of men. They would not have recognized him even if they had known he was there, even though many stories seem to say otherwise. Custer’s body was found with two fatal wounds–bullets to the head and heart.
When the slaughtered men who fought under Custer were discovered by General Terry a full two days later, most bore mutilations. The majority were stripped and scalped. Lieutenant Edward S. Godfrey said that an arrow had been forced up the shaft of Custer’s penis. Whether or not this is true is of course up for scholarly debate!
Custer’s body and that of his brother were buried shallowly there on the battlefield. They were rediscovered a year later. Their bones had been scavenged and scattered by animals.