A Song for the Horse Nation Spotlight: Counting Coup

Source: blog.nmai.si.edu (National Museum of the American Indian)

The museum’s staff is busy this week putting the final touches on A Song for the Horse Nation, an exhibition opening this Saturday that traces the horse’s influence on American Indian tribes from the 1500s — when horses were first introduced to the Western Hemisphere — to the present day.

In the meantime, we thought we’d give you a sneak preview of the more than 122 objects, paintings and historic photographs in the exhibition. Today, we’re highlighting an object known as a “coup stick.”


Piikuni (Blackfeet) coup stick, late 19th century (NMAI 14/9565)

In the buffalo days of the mid-1800s, one way a Plains warrior demonstrated his bravery was by “counting coup,” that is, galloping up to an enemy and touching him, sometimes with a special stick made for that very purpose, instead of killing him. Coup sticks were also carried in ceremonial dances, during which warriors related stories of their courage and daring.

The rawhide horses attached to this coup stick represent the horses its owner rode in battle, and the hair locks are scalp replicas, made by attaching hair from a horse’s tail to a piece of cloth or rawhide and painting it red. Similarly, the hair on many warrior shirts is frequently taken from cherished horses because to carry a lock of hair was to hold some of the power from its source.

SOURCE: Song for the Horse Nation: Horses in Native American Cultures. ISBN-10: 1-55591-112-9 (softcover). The book is available for purchase online from the NMAI bookshop: http://www.nmai.si.edu/subpage.cfm?subpage=shop&second=books&third=SongHorse


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Filed under A Song for the Horse Nation, Art, National Museum of the American Indian

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