War Dance

Search Fold3 for your
Native American Records
Face painting of war dancers
Figure 4
Face painting of war dancers
a. Coon
b. Lightning

In the war dance1 (R. GucuuwiGaocan, Gu, where, cuuwi, men, braves, Gaocan, dance), the men bunch around the drum and move dancing around the dance floor. They carry a tomahawk or a scalp on a stick, and wear the typical war bonnet of eagle feathers fastened to a strip of cloth. On the face is painted the characteristic mark of the dancer’s supernatural partner Coon, Fox, Lightning.2 (Fig. 4.) The women, wearing their buckskin dress, stand together, on the outside, moving slightly.

If a feather falls out of the bonnet of a dancer or off the decorations of his person, some senior with war experience has to pick up the feather and “tell an old story of some place where they had a fight and won it.3 At the end of the story everybody who has a drumstick beats once on the drum, then the dance goes on.


  1. Said by Absentee Shawnee to have been borrowed about 1888 from the Caddo they visited. The Caddo borrowed this “bunched” or “round” dance from Winnebago, say Shawnee. “The Caddo went up to the Winnebago and caught all these songs of the Winnebago scalp dance and brought them back” (Voegelin). 

  2. Tattooing, universal in the Southeast, was formerly practiced. Men tattooed themselves with birds and animals or, half the body, with zigzag lines [?to represent lightning]. Women used geometrical designs (Joutel, 349, 363). The fact that the Frenchman whom Joutel found living in a Caddoan group just like a “savage” was tattoed suggests that he had been. 

  3. In the modern iruska ceremonial of the Pawnee a dance chief says, “You dancers must be careful with the things you are wearing for if you drop anything, one of those old men will have to take it up and tell of his deeds. Then you must pay” (Murie, 627). 

MLA Source Citation:

Parsons, Elsie Clews. Notes on the Caddo, Memories of the American Anthropological Association. Supplement to American Anthropologist, Volume 43, No. 3, Part 2. 1921. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 31 January 2015. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/war-dance.htm - Last updated on Nov 30th, 2014

Topics: , ,

Contribute to the Conversation!

Our "rules" are simple. Keep the conversation on subject and mind your manners! If this is your first time posting, we do moderate comments before we let them appear... so give us a while to get to them. Once we get to know you here, we'll remove that requirement.

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Newsletter Signup

We currently provide two newsletters. Why not take both for a run?

Genealogy Update: We send out this newsletter whenever we feature a new, or significantly updated, collection or database on our website.

Circle of Nations: We send out this newsletter whenever we feature a new (or significantly updated) Native American collection or database on our website.

Once you've clicked on the Subscribe button above you'll receive an email from us requesting confirmation. You must confirm the email before you will be able to receive any newsletter.

Connect With Us!

Pin It on Pinterest


Share This

Share this post with your friends!