count coup

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A piece of 1880s ledger art depicting a Cheyenne warrior on horseback (right) counting coup with a lance on a dismounted Crow warrior

count + coup (quick, brilliant, and highly successful act) (from French coup (blow, hit, strike), ultimately from Ancient Greek κόλᾰφος (kólaphos, a buffet, a blow)).



count coup (third-person singular simple present counts coup, present participle counting coup, simple past and past participle counted coup)

  1. (intransitive, US, historical) To win prestige in battle by performing an act of bravery in the face of the enemy (such as touching him and escaping unharmed), a ritual of the Plains Indians of North America.
    • [1873, Washington Matthews, “dǐ ki”, in Grammar and Dictionary of the Language of the Hidatsa (Minnetarees, Grosventres of the Missouri). With an Introductory Sketch of the Tribe (Shea’s Library of American Linguistics; ser. 2, no. 1), New York, N.Y.: Cramoisy Press, OCLC 10418516, page 80, column 1:
      dǐ ki, v. t., to strike, to whip, to "count coup."]
    • 1876 July 29, Porte Crayon [pseudonym; David Hunter Strother], “Sitting Bull.—Autobiography of the Famous Sioux Chief.”, in Harper’s Weekly. A Journal of Civilization, volume XX, number 1022 (supplement), New York, N.Y.: Harper & Brothers, OCLC 883997577, page 627, column 2:
      Sitting Bull, on horseback, with his brother behind him, counts "coup" on the soldier, and adds a new feather to his war bonnet and variety to the color of his legging fringes.
    • 1915, Charles A[lexander] Eastman (Ohiyesa), “The Language of Feathers and Ceremonial Dress”, in Indian Scout Talks: A Guide for Boy Scouts and Camp Fire Girls, Boston, Mass.: Little, Brown, and Company, OCLC 15633862, pages 127–128:
      No Sioux may wear an eagle's tail-feather unless he has counted a coup, or stroke, upon an enemy, dead or alive.
    • 1954, David Lavender, Bent’s Fort: A Historical Account of the Adobe Empire that Shaped the Destiny of the American Southwest, Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, OCLC 835578598; Bent’s Fort, Bison Book edition, Lincoln, Neb.; London: University of Nebraska Press, March 1972, →ISBN, page 90:
      A small band of Indians had ridden onto this irresistible opportunity and had counted coup with the whites' own unguarded guns.
    • 1994, Ralph Compton, “Prologue”, in The Shawnee Trail (The Trail Drive Series; 6), New York, N.Y.: St. Martin's Paperbacks, →ISBN, page 2:
      Only a damn fool counts coup on a kill he ain't sure of. That hombre could have us under his gun this very minute.
    • 1999, Sam Blowsnake, “I Take a Trip to Nebraska”, in Paul Radin, editor, Crashing Thunder: The Autobiography of an American Indian, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan Press, →ISBN, page 153:
      I told him what I had done, how I had counted coup in a Pottawattomie, and he shook hands and said that he too had counted coup and that he was going to wear a head ornament.
    • 2002, Frank B[ird] Linderman, chapter 3, in Plenty-coups: Chief of the Crows, new edition, Lincoln, Neb.; London: University of Nebraska Press, →ISBN, page 31:
      To count coup a warrior had to strike an armed and fighting enemy with his coup-stick, quirt, or bow before otherwise harming him, or take his weapons while he was yet alive, or strike the first enemy falling in battle, no matter who killed him, [] [I]f a warrior was wounded in counting coup, the feather he wore to mark the event must be painted red to show that he bled.
    • 2006, Joseph Medicine Crow; Herman Viola, Counting Coup: Becoming a Crow Chief on the Reservation and Beyond, Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Children's Books, →ISBN, page 21:
      To a Plains Indian warrior "to count coup" meant, literally, "to touch the enemy." To count coup, a warrior might kill an enemy, injure him, struggle with him, or merely touch him.
    • 2012, Lillian Bullshows Hogan; Barbara Loeb; Mardell Hogan Plainfeather, “Memories of Youth”, in The Woman Who Loved Mankind: The Life of a Twentieth-Century Crow Elder, Lincoln, Neb.; London: University of Nebraska Press, →ISBN, page 120:
      In this sham battle, Crow men pretend to count coup on their old enemies, the Piegan.
    • 2012, GaWaNi Pony Boy, “Horse and Native American: The Relationship Begins”, in Ruth Berman, editor, Out of the Saddle: Native American Horsemanship, Irvine, Calif.: BowTie Press, →ISBN, page 28:
      The belief that a warrior could obtain some of the soul of his enemy, as well as some of his strength, courage, and energy, motivated warriors to count coup whenever the opportunity arose.

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