An old photograph depicts an Indian burial scaffold with a dead horse in the foreground. Was that normal?

Ask the Marshall – Indian Burial

An old photograph depicts an Indian burial scaffold with a dead horse in the foreground. Was that normal?

Gareth McNair-Lewis
Bryantown, Maryland

The burial of men in a tree or scaffold was a common practice among the Plains Indians. They built burial scaffolds that were usually 10 feet long, about four feet wide and seven feet or eight feet high. The body was supported on a log platform held up by four forked-end poles firmly planted in the ground. This type of open-air burial kept the bodies from being desecrated by wild animals.

The body was usually wrapped in a blanket and stitched so that it would “waste away in the wind.” Family members also placed the deceased person’s possessions, such as weapons, on the scaffold. The man’s horse would be slain and left near the scaffold.

Burial scaffolds were reserved for men only. The bodies of women and children were left in the brush.

William E. Hook’s 1884 photograph of an Indian burial scaffold inspired reader Gareth McNair-Lewis’s question. – Courtesy Gareth McNair-Lewis –
William E. Hook’s 1884 photograph of an Indian burial scaffold inspired reader Gareth McNair-Lewis’s question.
– Courtesy Gareth McNair-Lewis –

Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official state historian and the vice president of the Wild West History Association.  His latest book is Arizona’s Outlaws and Lawmen; History Press, 2015.

If you have a question, write: Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or e-mail him at marshall.trimble@scottsdalecc.edu

What do you think?

Marshall Trimble

Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian and the Wild West History Association’s vice president. His latest book is 2018’s Arizona Oddities: A Land of Anomalies and Tamales. Send your question, with your city/state of residence, to marshall.trimble@scottsdalecc.edu or Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327.