Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Origin Of Counting Coup

According to The Flame Winter Count, the "Uncpapa kill two Rees," 1799-1800. The bow over their heads indicates that they also counted coup on the two Arikara. The Arikara were designated by their distinctive hair, or by an ear of corn.
The Origin of Counting Coup
Honor Began With Birds
By Dakota Wind
Great Plains, N.A. (TFS) – The traditional war honor of counting coup reaches back to a time before the First Nations walked upon Mak
ȟóčhe Wašté (Beautiful Country; North America). When the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ (Seven Council Fires; the Great Sioux Nation, or “Sioux”) arrived, they learned to survive by first observing nature.

When the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ learned warfare, they were prepared for the First Battle by Tȟokéya (the very First man), aided by Iŋktómi (the Spider Nation in this instance, not the legendary trickster) and Ziŋtkála (the Bird Nation).

With a heavy heart, Tȟokéya gave the first bow and arrows to men. “Misúŋkala (Little Brother/s),” said Tȟokéya, “the time to give you weapons is now and I am sorry to do so. Now, at last there is war in the hearts of animals and man.” According to Ohíyesa (The Winner; aka Dr. Charles Eastman) and his work Wigwam Evenings, Tȟokéya gave them a spear as well and showed them how to use these tools.

The late Paul Goble illustrated this scene from his "The Great Race." In the story of the first battle, the First Man threw a rock up which then came down as a wall of stone. 

Iŋktómi fashioned stone tools for arrows, spears, and knives, then scattered these things across 
Makȟóčhe Wašté for the people to find and use. They say that Iŋktómi continued to knap stone up until recent times. The high-pitched ring of stone on stone was heard by Lakȟóta men and women on Standing Rock. “Some people have heard him at work, but could never see him. I have, myself, heard him at work, chipping stones. It was a small hole south of Fort Yates where I heard him working. He went slow (chip chip). We got within a few feet of the hole, when he would stop and we could not find him then. When we went away he worked again,” said Bull Bear to Col. A. Welch in 1926.

In the First Battle, the Ziŋtkála had chosen the side of the animals. In another story, there was a Great Race around Ȟesápa (the Black Hills) between man and animal, to decide who would hunt who. Ziŋtkála stood with man, because like man, Ziŋtkála has two legs. 

A snippet of Mails illustration of a war party on the Great Plains. Each carries a coup stick.

The Očhéthi Šakówiŋ observed how Ziŋtkála defended their nests from one another and from other threats. In 1919, Siŋté Wakíŋyaŋ (Thunder Tail; Oglála) shared that all Ziŋtkála are alike in the regard they have for their young. When approached, Ziŋtkála cries out vigorously, and if the interloper still advances, only then do they fly out and give chase. “...iwíčhačupi čhíŋpi šni hé uŋ héčhapi (...they do not want their children taken, that’s why they do this),” said Siŋté Wakíŋyaŋ.

Siŋté Wakíŋyaŋ continued: “Wóeye kiŋ le othéȟike lápi: ‘Blihíč’iyapo! Ziŋtkála waŋ iyé wípȟe yuhá šni yéš čhiŋčá awíčhakikšiža,’ eyápiča na hé tóna okíčhize él opȟápi kiŋ hená líla óta waóŋtoŋyaŋpi ktA ogná škaŋpi nakúŋ t’ápi eyáš na oyáte kiŋ hé uŋ awáŋiglakapi (They have a determined saying: ‘Take courage! Birds have no weapons and yet they keep their young,’ they said. They fight determinedly and wound their many enemies, sometimes killing them to protect what is theirs).”

“Heháŋl íčhinuŋpa wóeye kiŋ: ‘Ziŋtkála owé oyásiŋ kiŋyáŋpi na okté šičápi.’ Hé uŋ oyáte kiŋ okíčhize él ziŋtkála iyéčhel škaŋpí (They have a second saying: ‘All the birds fly and strike the bad ones.’ In battle, the people are like birds).”

Counting coup then, can be taken by way of touching the enemy with one’s own hand, with a stick, quirt, lance, bow, staff, or even a rifle. The 
Očhéthi Šakówiŋ call this honor: Tȟóka Kté ("Strike/Kill an enemy"). The coup stick is called Čhaŋwápaha. Recounting these deeds is called WaktóglakA. The victory dance is a Waktégli Wačhípi. 

The 1715-1716 entry on the Baptiste Good Winter Count recalls the enemy astride a horse entering camp who stabbed a boy near the lodge. 

The Baptiste Good Winter Count (Sičháŋǧu; aka Brulé) recalls a curious development in warfare. In the entry for 1714-1715 a warrior astride a horse, carrying a pine lance, came to attack, but killed nothing. According to Dr. Corbusier’s notes, this mounted attack was the first of its kind experienced by the Sičháŋǧu. The rider certainly didn’t come to joust. He came to collect war honor, not to kill. 

Red Dragonfly counts coup on the enemy with a bow.

The Rosebud Winter Count (Sičháŋǧu) mentions coup a few times, the earliest of which will be shared here. In 1774-1775, a man named Red Dragonfly counted coup using a bow on a Crow Indian. A winter count entry was selected because it was outstanding. Counting coup was bold and daring, and young men were expected to be so as well. Not every war party went to count coup. In fact, some had coup counted on them, and the unlucky returned in humiliation. There was something exceptional about this particular deed that needed to be remembered. 

An entry from the Long Soldier Winter Count. The two men return with scalps on their coup sticks. A copy is available to view at the Sitting Bull College Library in Fort Yates, ND.

The Long Soldier Winter Count (Húŋkpápȟa) mentions coup in the entry for 1816-1817, "2 Sioux killed 2 Crows and scalped them and blackened their own faces for gladness and came home [sic]."

For the Húŋkpapȟa, there are four coups: first coup is for the one who struck the enemy first, alive or dead, second coup is for the one who struck second, third coup for third strike, and fourth coup for fourth strike. A coup must be substantiated by an eyewitness. 

Mails illustrated this image of the scalp (the first coup) on this horse. Get yourself a copy of the profusely illustrated Mystic Warriors of The Plains.

According to Matȟó Watȟákpe (John Grass), first coup is designated by an eagle tail feather with the quill painted red, bound in red cloth, or embroidered with quillwork. A first coup feather may be colored or notched to include second, third, or fourth coup. A rider would designate first coup with a horse tail affixed beneath the horse’s bridle bit. Other methods of showing one’s first coup included attached a streamer of horsehair to the tip of an eagle feather, or a small tuft of plumage was carefully glued to the tip of the feather.

Second, third, and fourth coup would be evidenced by stripes, perhaps on a shirt, leggings, or even painted on a horse when riding to meet the enemy.

Living narrative of the coup designations survives today in lekší (uncle) Wilbur Flying By.  "Amongst our Hunkpapa relatives the first to count coup wore a center eagle tail feather straight up. [The] second to count coup wore an eagle feather to the right. [The] third to count coup wore an eagle feather to the left, and the fourth to count coup wore a buzzard feather."

The coup stick might have the crown (the scalp) of an enemy attached to it. The swirl, or crown, of hair represented the soul to the Lakȟóta. Taking the crown, or scalping the enemy meant taking the soul of the enemy.

Counting coup wasn’t limited to touching just the enemy. Sometimes a warrior made a run through an enemy village, on his pass through, he might reach out and touch a painted lodge, stealing the other’s medicine and take it home with him to put on his lodge. 

Another illustration by Mails. This coup stick resembles the one described by Mr. Leo Caddotte of Wakpala, SD to Col. Welch. 

Sometimes a man would gather his honors, his feathers, and had he accumulated enough, created a wápaha, a kind of banner or staff, sometimes adorned with cloth. Other banners or staves, were long and crooked on one end, and wrapped in otter fur. The feathers were arranged to adorn either wápaha.

An esteemed warrior might even invite his kȟolákičhiyapi, his brothers-in-arms or society, to his wife’s lodge for a meal. Then they would recount the stories of each feather earned, then the man might make a wapȟáha, a warbonnet or headdress.

The honor of the coup could also be gifted to another. This honor can be the one feather or more, a warshirt, a staff, or even a headdress. When this honor was gifted, it was also accompanied by a song and a feast.

The most important symbol of the leader, according to the Hunkpapa, was the staff. 

In 1941, Col. Welch was visiting Húŋkpápȟa friends at Wakpála, SD on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation. Welch inquired about the significance of the wičhápȟaha ógle (the warshirt), the wápaha, and the wapȟáha. The Húŋkpápȟa told Welch the most important symbol of the itȟáŋčhaŋ (chief), was the wápaha. Specifically, the kind of staff that was crooked. They detailed to Welch a staff that was squared and painted white on two sides and red on the others. High Reach said that the white represented purity of purpose, and the red symbolized honor. A blue band was painted at the halfway point of this staff, which stood for the everlasting sky above. The feathers hung down on one side of the staff and a five-pointed star hung from the crook. 

Conflict wasn’t about taking life, but securing personal honor and demonstrating courage. Warfare, according to Ohíyesa, “... was held to develop the quality of manliness and its motive was chivalric or patriotic, but never the desire for territorial aggrandizement or the overthrow of a brother nation.”

Good read. McGinnis bucks the trend of historians and begins his timeline at 1738, and the typical year that most historians say the horse arrived on the nothern Great Plains, which is typically said to be at "about 1750."  

Lakȟóta military strategy was carefully planned to avoid unnecessary risks.

In 1879, a young Lt. William Philo Clark was stationed in Dakota Territory. There he was charged with learning the Plains Indian sign language. Clark recorded the sign for counting coup as: hold the left hand, back to left and outwards, in front of the body, index finger extended and pointing to front and right, others [remaining fingers] and thumb closed; bring right hand, back to front, just in rear of left [hand] and lower, index finger extended, pointed downwards and to the left, right index finger under left, other fingers and thumb closed; raise right hand, and turn it by wrist action so that end of right index strikes sharply against [the] side of the left as it passes.

The Očhéthi Šakówiŋ learned to survive by observing nature. Especially Ziŋtkála (the bird nation). Ziŋtkála built nests at certain times of the year, and defended their young and their m
akȟóčhe (country; territory) when needed. Ziŋtkála even help each other sometimes; the meadowlark never reminds the prairie chicken of the time they defended their ground nests from a common foe. Ziŋtkála doesn't disparage the ways of other Ziŋtkála. When the seasons change, each respects its time and calling. 

Eastman, Charles A., Dr., and Elaine Goodale Eastman. Wigwam Evenings: 27 Sioux Folktales. Dover ed. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc., 2000.

Welch, A. B., Col. "Life on The Plains in The 1800's." Welch Dakota Papers. November 2, 2011. Accessed January 5, 2017.

Stars, Ivan, Peter Irin Shell, and Eugene Buechel. Lakota Tales And Texts. Edited by Paul Manhart. Pine Ridge, SD: Red Cloud Lakota Language and Cultural Center, 1978.

Lakota Winter Counts Online. March 3, 2005. Accessed January 12, 2017.

Flying By, Wilbur. Interview by Charles I. Walker. Lakota Traditions. Wakpala, SD, 2001.

The Year The Stars Fell: Lakota Winter Counts At The Smithsonian. Edited by Candace S. Greene and Russell Thornton. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2007.

Clark, W. P. The Indian Sign Language. First ed. Lincoln: U of Nebraska, 1982.

Mails, Thomas E. The Mystic Warriors of the Plains. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1972.

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