Counting Coup

Counting Coup (blow, stroke). The French-Canadian term adopted to designate the formal token or signal of victory in battle, as used among the Plains tribes.

Coups are usually “counted,” as it was termed that is, credit of victory was taken, for three brave deeds, viz, killing an enemy, scalping an enemy, or being first to strike an enemy either alive or dead. Each one of these entitled a man to rank as a warrior and to recount the exploit in public; but to be first to touch the enemy was regarded as the bravest deed of all, as it implied close approach during battle. Among the Cheyenne it was even a point of bravado for a single warrior to rush in among the enemy and strike one with quirt or gun before attempting to fire, thus doubly risking his own life. Three different coups might thus be counted by as many different persons upon the body of the same enemy, and in a few  tribes 4 were allowed. The stealing of a horse from a hostile camp also carried the right to count coup. The stroke (coup) might be made with whatever was most convenient, even with the naked hand, the simple touch scoring the victory. In ceremonial parades and functions an ornamented quirt or rod was sometimes carried and used as a coup stick. The warrior who could strike a tipi of the enemy in a charge upon a home camp thus counted coup upon it and was entitled to reproduce its particular design upon the next new tipi which he made for his own use and to perpetuate the pattern in his family. In this way he was said to “capture” the tipi. Warriors who had made coups of distinguished bravery, such as striking an enemy within his own tipi or behind a breastwork, were selected to preside over the dedication of a new tipi. The noted Sioux chief Red Cloud stated in 1891 that he had counted coup 80 times. See War and War discipline.

Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906.

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