Thursday, March 27, 2014

Counting Coup

I'm currently writing another historical western novel, and belong to a critique group comprised of mostly 'historical regency' authors.  You can imagine we don't speak the same language. 

 In one of my chapters, I mentioned 'counting coup' and confused the heck out of everyone.  I consider it might be an interesting topic to share here since this is the fifth week and no one else is scheduled to blog.

The Plains Indians, about which I write, were a proud people, and even in warfare, there were honors and recognition to be earned.  In fact, the more risks one took, the more honor he brought to himself and his tribe.  

'Coup', I learned comes from a french word meaning, 'blow.'  Coup was counted when a warrior was able to touch an enemy...often with a long stick aptly named a 'coup stick', or even their lance or bow.  The warrior received more honor when an opponent was not killed.  Coup was counted on women and children as well, or touching the tepee of an enemy or his horse.  'Touching' in some form was required, as killing an enemy from a distance with an arrow or bullet did nothing to garner favor.

A warrior who claimed to have counted coup was expected to describe his deed in great detail before the tribal council, and MUST have someone who witnessed the act.  If the story was found to be truthful, then the warrior was awarded a tail feather from a golden eagle...a bird admired for it's own courage and swiftness.

An array of feathers was not a uncommon sight as young men vied to add to their reputation and the ability to recount their brave deeds at various ceremonies.

To give you an idea of the great lengths the Sioux went to to recognize accomplished 'coups,' consider these examples as shown above:

1. First coup - A feather to be worn upright with a horsehair tuft at the top.
2. Wearer wounded - Upright feather dyed red.
3.  Wearer wounded but killed foes - upright feather with quilled bands (one per foe.)
4.  Wearer killed foe - Red spot on feather.
5.  Wearer cut foe's throat and took scalp - notch in feather.
6.  Wearer wounded many times - Split feather.
7.  Wearer cut foe's throat - Top of feather clipped on diagonal.
8.  Wearer counted coup four times - Serrated ages on feather.
9.  Wearer counted coup five times - Side of feather partially removed.

So, you can see, there was a lot to remember in recognizing counting coup and equally as much work put into preparing the proper feather for each claim.  

I don't know about you, but I find this sort of information so interesting.  I value the day I discovered America's Fascinating Indian Heritage as a research resource, published by Reader's Digest.  It's from this book, I've gleaned so much history about the Lakota and their rites and rituals.  Love it, but hate that I've used it so much the binding is coming apart.  *picture me frowning.*


Anita Davison said...

A fascinating post, Ginger. This is something I knew nothing about, but it explains the variety of feathers, colours and shapes they wore.

Caroline Clemmons said...

Ginger, that is an interesting post. I didn't know there were so many ways to use the term. I had thought it only meant scalping. Thanks for setting me straight.