When most people think of Indian headdresses, they think of the full eagle-feathered war bonnet. This is the type of headdress seen in movies, and it is the best-known type of Indian headdress. The Sioux were probably one of the first tribes to use these headpieces. The Native American headdress was worn only by the most powerful and influential members of the tribe.
Commonly used feathers came from crows, hawks, and eagles. In many Native American cultures, the golden eagle feather was a mark of an honored warrior. The eagle was considered a messenger from God. Young Indian boys had to prove they were brave enough to be worthy of wearing an eagle feather in their hair. An eagle feather was never given to a boy, but had to be earned. An eagle had to be trapped and a single feather removed without harming the bird.
An Indian warrior earned a feather for each courageous act he accomplished. The more brave acts he completed, the more feathers he earned. Each feather had special meaning to the warrior, and binding feathers together into an Indian headdress was particularly meaningful. The more feathers in a headdress, the braver the warrior was.
There are many different styles of headdresses, and tribes could often be identified by the shape or color of their distinctive headdress. Different types of feathers were symbolic of different virtues. All Indian headdresses could be considered works of art. A headdress was deeply meaningful to the wearer, and was an extension of his beliefs. Native Americans believed that a person acquired the powers of an animal or bird by taking part of it to wear or carry. Wearing a headdress made of eagle feathers was believed to be a way to gather wisdom and duplicate the power and strength of the eagle.