070 Indian Customs – Cutting of Long Hair Box 23 BIA CA Sacramento Area Coded Records 1910-1958 064-070

Department of the Interior

To: The Superintendent, Greenville School, California.


 This Office desires to call your attention to a few customs among the Indians which, it is believed, should be modified or discontinued.

 The wearing of long hair by the male population of your agency is not in keeping with the advancement they are making, or will soon be expected to make, in civilization. The wearing of short hair ny [sic] the males will be a great step in advance and will certainly hasten their progress towards civilization. The returned male student far too frequently goes back to the reservation and falls into the old custom of 1etting his hair grow long. He also paints profusely and adopts all the o1d habits and customs which his education in our industrial schools has tried to eradicate. The fault does not lie so much with the schools as with the conditions found on the reservations. These conditions are very often due to the policy of the Government toward the Indian and are often perpetuated by the superintendent’s not caring to take the initiative in fastening any new policy on his administration of the affairs of the agency.

On many of the reservations the Indians of both sexes paint, claiming that it keeps the skin warm in winter and cool in summer; but instead, this paint melts when the Indian perspires and runs down into the eyes. The use of this paint leads to many diseases of the eyes among those Indians who paint. Persons who have given consider able thought and investigation to the subject are satisfied that this custom causes the majority of the cases of blindness among the Indians of the United States.

 You are therefore directed to induce your male Indians to cut their hair, and both sexes to stop painting. With some of the Indians this will be an easy matter; with others it will require considerable tact and perseverance on the part of yourself and your employees to successfully carry out these instructions. With your Indian employees and those Indians who draw rations and supplies it should be an easy matter as a non-compliance with this order may be made a reason for discharge or for withholding rations and supplies. Many may be induced to comply with the order voluntarily, especially the returned student. The returned students who do not comply voluntarily should be dealt with summarily. Employment, supplies, etc., should be with drawn until they do comply and if they become obstreperous about the matter a short confinement in the guard-house at hard labor, with shorn locks, should furnish a cure. Certainly all the younger men should wear short hair, and it is believed that by tact, perseverance, firmness, and withdrawl of supplies the superintendent can induce all to comply with this order.

 The wearing of citizen’s clothing, instead of the Indian costume and blanket, should be encouraged.

Indian dances and so-called Indian feasts should be prohibited.  In many cases these dances and feasts are simply subterfuges to cover degrading acts and to disguise immoral purposes. You are directed to use your best efforts in the suppression of these evils.

Very respectfully,

WH Jones, Commissioner [of the Office of Indian Affairs]

Document in Same File


To wear hair, or not to wear hair:
That is the question:
Whether ‘tis better to be led
Like a sheep to the shearer’s,
Or take up a pair of scissors
Of one’s own accord,
And by, the cutting end it?
Long hair; blankets;
A profusion of paint and feathers:
These are truly the outward signs
0f that inward craving
For savage immortality.
Not to be shorn; perchance then
Not to draw ANNUITIES:
Ay, there’s the rub; for in
That drawing of the coin of the realm
what comfort may come must give us pause:
There’s the respect that makes savagery
Of so long life For who would bear
The whips and scorns of work,
The sun’s hot rays,
Winter’s chilling blasts.
The pangs, of despised hunger:
Charities delay;
The insolence of lookers—on,
And the spurns that patient
Lo of the pale—face takes,
When he himself might their quietus make
With a sharp shears!

- 0. H. L.