Tag: Native American Headdress

Geronimo Reclaimed: The Iconography of the War Bonnet by Samantha Smyt

headdressWhen it comes to items that have been exalted to the status of American icon, the Liberty Bell has few equals.

So, what? Thinking about the idea of ‘iconic’, by my definition, the object needed to be something that evoked emotion, came with a legend, and represented a key part of America. Or as Jill Ogline says in regards to the Liberty Bell: “From its earliest days of notoriety, the value and importance of the Liberty Bell have derived less from documented historical usage than from the way in which the object has been mythologized and remembered.”

Allow me to present to you a piece of Native American iconography: Geronimo’s Headdress (or War bonnet).

Geronimo, the Apache chief, was born in 1829 in Arizona and served a spiritual leader for his tribe. In 1870, he and his fellow Chiricahua Apaches were forced from their ancestral homelands to a reservation. In a series of campaigns against the Anglo-Americans, who had caused the migration, Geronimo proved a worthy adversary, often embarrassing the colonizers by evading imprisonment. His reputation and mythic status became a hot topic in expanding America. Stories emerged of how he valiantly led his tribe against the settlers, leading to the creation of the saying ‘GERONIMO!’ as a call of courage and bravery. (Indian Country). He was finally captured by General Nelson in 1886. As an attendee at the “Last Pow Wow” for the remaining Native American chiefs, Geronimo wore his eagle-feather headdress. He would remain in captivity as a POW until his death in 1909; after which, his war bonnet fell into the private holding of the Deming family in Oklahoma (History.com).

It seemed the headdress was lost from public viewing at this point.

LO-RES-FEA-GERONIMO-Geronimo_IV-e1308165379777That was until 1999, when an anonymous tipster informed the FBI of the headdress’ emergence on EBay with a million dollar asking price as the FBI’s website confirms. The war bonnet’s story was confirmed by the Deming heir who now held the piece as his own. Both the owner and his broker confirmed that they were aware of federal punishment that came with the selling of eagle feathers. After contacting the USFWS, who positively identified the golden-eagle feathered bonnet, the FBI went forward with an undercover sale to acquire the bonnet and charge Deming with violating the Bald Eagle Protection Act, the Migratory Bird Protection Act, and the Lacey Acts (FBI.gov). The USFWS came into possession of the war bonnet following this and they, in turn, handed the war bonnet over to the Indian Country preservation society. It now remains with the Indian Country artifacts as a treasured piece of history and culture.

Like the Liberty Bell, the war bonnet represents a divisive America. As Gary Nash points out, the bell became an international icon through it usage by abolitionists in the poem “The Liberty Bell” (The Bell Becomes an Icon, 38). Geronimo’s war bonnet also represents an America that has its issues with divisions. However, like the Bell, the war bonnet sits a significant cultural resource that can be used to educate future generations about the darker parts of America’s past.

It also has some degree of reproducibility and the imagery of the war bonnet has been utilized by many companies such as: Indian motorcycle, Victoria’s Secret, and various other fashion houses.

Interestingly enough, both items share another similarity: Philadelphia. The Liberty Bell, of course, is housed in the Liberty Bell Center. But, Geronimo’s headdress’ fate was sealed at the federal courts in the City of Brotherly Love as well (FBI.gov).





Nash, Gary. “Chapter 2: The Bell Becomes an Icon” The Liberty Bell.

Ogline, Jill. “’Creating Dissonance for the Visitor’: The Heart of the Liberty Bell Controversy”. The Public Historian, vol. 26, no. 3 (Summer 2004), pp. 49-58.