Scalps on Display at Karl May Museum

Posted By Toyacoyah Brown March 26th, 2014 Last Updated on: March 26th, 2014

It's no secret that many Europeans have been infatuated with Native American culture for quite some time. Karl May, a German novelist during the late 1800s, has been credited with creating the German fascination with all things “Wild West”. A museum dedicated to the man is now under fire for displaying Native American scalps and refusing to return them.

British newspaper The Guardian reports, the Karl May Museum in Radebeul near Dresden is in possession of 17 scalps, 3 on display, that were given to the private collection by a friend of the novelist.

Photo by Immanuel Giel, wikipedia commons

Photo by Immanuel Giel, wikipedia commons

For the last four years, activists have been calling for the return of the scalps, whose display in American museums has been illegal since 1990. Yet in spite of these requests the Karl May Museum has made no moves to return the items.

A spokesperson for the descendants of the Ojibwa tribe told The Guardian that displaying the scalps in a museum was “inappropriate and unacceptable”. “These are human remains which should be buried respectfully and should never have been taken from the tribe in the first place,” said Cecil Pavlat, a repatriation specialist working for the tribe, now more commonly known as the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.

Yet Hans Grunert, the exhibition curator at the Karl May museum said that the exhibits were “part of history”, and that “it is important to the museum that history isn't being falsified in our exhibition”. He conceded that the museum was “prepared to have a conversation” with descendants.

Members of the Chippewa tribe say they are considering staging a protest at a festival celebrating Karl May's legacy in Radebeul in May.

Read more from The Guardian.

Home » Native American Articles » Native American Culture » Scalps on Display at Karl May Museum

About Toyacoyah Brown

Toyacoyah Brown is an enrolled member of the Comanche Nation, currently living in Chicago. She received her B.A. in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma and an M.A. in Media Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. When she's not scouring the Internet for fun things to share with PowWows.com readers you can find her digging for vinyl in her local record store or curling up with a good book.

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billy wible

I reenact 1750s historys.Why would fake scalps be ok ?Natives used other body parts to like fingers and heads but that would not be ok to use fake body parts on display.I think you need to rethink what you are thinking.


I would like to have DNA done on them to see what family’s the are from. I think that is only right. may be Ancestry.com can get the DNA. And yes they need to give them back.

Billy Wible

Other body parts was war trophies to,heads,fingers and more.If Scalps offends so much why does not a replica offend?

Billy Wible

War Trophies include more than scalps.Heads,Fingers,arms,legs and more body parts.I reenact 1750s history.If scalps are so offending then why does not replica body parts offend ?

John H. Brewer

how would he like it if we came and took his scalp and put it on display for people to see…he is no better than Hitler


Return the scalps and replace with replicas. It’s the right thing to do. The museum should not continue disrespect and desecration of Indian remains. There is no honor in displaying authentic scalps – actually, it is dishonoring everyone.

uwe stolley

hello dear Pow Wow ladies and gentleman, I just see your article about scalps in Karl May museum, in fact that is not alright. I send a email to the director of museum to send them back, asked them how much it will cost to prepare duplicates, so that everybody can be satisfied, will keep you informed about my efforts, but on other hand you should be informed that the stories-movies created by K,M. are always shows the natives specially “winnetou” apache chief as the hero, together with “old shatterhand” they both always fighting-winning against the bad white people. when i was young read, as most other german childs, all books and saw all movies, gives us a good sense of natives life, also the annual show we have here in Bad segeberg, Schleswig-holstein in a very big open-air theatre, which i am visiting since many years, now already with grandchildren and we all great friends of “indians”, for the time being, best wishes and regards uwe, germany

nancy prickett

I can’t go powwow -im my 92yr moms caregiver –so your post keep me in touch–wado

Paul G

Keep watch on our site. We stream several live online! Best thing next to being there!

Juanita Romero

It makes me wonder how he feels about the items the Germans made from the skin of Jews murdered during the Holocaust. What was done to Native Americans is no different.

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