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Count Coup!

Dreamed summer 1857 at age 9 by Plenty Coups [Aleek-chea-ahoosh, 'Many Achievements'], as told to Frank Linderman, 1928

FOREWORD Plenty Coups (Aleek-chea-ahoosh, meaning Many Achievements), portrait by Edward Curtis c.1908

PLENTY-COUPS (Aleek-chea-ahoosh, meaning Many Achievements) had been Chief of the Crows (Absarokees) ever since I knew anything about them. He was probably the last legitimate chieftain who had seen much of the old life of the plains Indian, and I have written his story as he told it to me so that a genuine record of his life might be preserved.

"I was born eighty snows ago this summer [1848] at the place we call The-cliff-that-has-no-pass," said Plenty-coups slowly. "It is not far from the present site of Billings. My mother's name was Otter-woman. My father was Medicine-bird. I have forgotten the name of one of my grandmothers, but I remember her man's name, my grandfather's. It was Coyote-appears. My other grandmother, a Crow woman, married a man of the Shoshone. Her name was It-might-have-happened. She was my mother's mother.'

"My grandfather, who had given me my name, had told my mother that I should live to count many coups and be old. His dream had also told him that I should be a chief. 'I name him Aleek-chea-ahoosh [Many Achievements],' he told my mother, 'because in my dream I saw him count many coups.' Of course all the people knew this, and even as a boy I felt obliged to excel my companions, to be a leader among those of my own age. I must live up to my name, you see; and now I was beginning to think of dreaming.'"


"When I was nine years old, a happening made me feel that I was a grown-up man, almost in a day.'' he said. "I had a brother. I shall not speak his name, but if there were four brave, handsome young men in our tribe my brother was one of them. I loved him dearly, and he was always an inspiration to me."

"One morning when our village was going to move, he went on the war-trail against our enemy, the Lacota [Sioux]. All that day he was in my thoughts. Even when we crossed Elk River, where usually there was satisfying excitement, I kept thinking of my brother. Rafts had to be made for the old people and children, and these, drawn by four men on good horses, had ever given me plenty to think about. But this day nothing interested me. That night I could not sleep, even when all but the wolves were sleeping. When the village was set up on the Big River [Missouri], news reached us that my brother was gone, killed by Sioux on Powder River.

"My heart fell to the ground and stayed there. I mourned with my father and mother, and alone. I cut my flesh and bled myself weak. I knew now that I must dream if I hoped to avenge my brother, and I at once began to fast in preparation, first taking a sweat-bath to cleanse my body.

"Nobody saw me leave the village. I slipped away and climbed The-buffalo's-heart, where I fasted two more days and nights, without success. I saw nothing at all and gave up to travel back to my father's lodge, where I rested.

"The fourth night, while I was asleep, a voice said to me, 'You did not go to the right mountain, Plenty-coups.' I knew then that I should sometime succeed in dreaming.

"The village was preparing to move to the Little Rockies, a good place for me, and before the women began to take down the lodges I started out alone. Besides extra moccasins, I had a good buffalo robe, and as soon as I reached the mountains I covered a sweat-lodge with the robe and again cleansed my body. I was near the Two Buttes and chose the south one, which I climbed, and there I made a bed of sweet-sage and ground- cedar. I was determined that no smell of man should be on me and burned some e-say [a root that grows in the mountains] and sweet-sage, standing in their smoke and rubbing my body with the sage.

"The day was hot; and naked I began walking about the top of the mountain crying for Helpers, but got no answer, no offer of assistance. I grew more tired as the sun began to go toward the west, and finally I went to my bed, lying down so my feet would face the rising sun when he came again. Weakened by my walking and the days of fasting, I slept, remembering only the last rays of the sun as he went to his lodge.

When I wakened, looking into the sky, I saw that The-seven-stars [the Big Dipper] had turned round The-star-that-does-not-move [North Star]. The night was westward. Morning was not far away, and wolves were howling on the plains far below me. I wondered if the village would reach the Little Rockies before night came again.

" 'Plenty-coups.'

"My name was spoken! The voice came from behind me, back of my head. My heart leaped like a deer struck by an arrow. 'Yes,' I answered, without moving.

"'They want you, Plenty-coups. I have been sent to fetch you," said the voice yet behind me, back of my head.

"'I am ready.' I answered, and stood up, my head clear and light as air.

"The night had grown darker, and I felt rather than saw some Person go by me on my right side. I could not tell what Person it was, but thought he beckoned me.

" 'I am coming.' I said, but the Person made no answer and slipped away in a queer light that told me where he was. I followed over the same places I had traveled in the afternoon, not once feeling my feet touch a stone. They touched nothing at all where the way was rough, and without moccasins I walked in the Person's tracks as though the mountain were as smooth as the plains. My body was naked, and the winds cool and very pleasant, but I looked to see which way I was traveling. The stars told me that I was going east, and I could see that I was following the Person downhill. I could not actually see him, but I knew I was on his trail by the queer light ahead. His feet stirred no stone, nothing on the way, made no sound of walking, nor did mine.

"A coyote yelped on my right, and then another answered on my left. A little farther on I heard many coyotes yelping in a circle around us, and as we traveled they moved their circle along with us, as though they were all going to the same place as we. When the coyotes ahead stopped on a flat and sat down to yelp together, the ones behind closed in to make their circle smaller, all yelping loudly, as though they wished to tell the Person something. I knew now that our destination was not far off.

"The Person stopped, and I saw a lodge by his side. It seemed to rise up out of the ground. I saw that he came to it at its back, that it faced east, and that the Person reached its door by going around it to the right. But I did not know him, even when he coughed to let someone inside the lodge know he was there. He spoke no word to me but lifted the lodge door and stepped inside. 'Come, Plenty-coups,' he said gently. And I too stepped into the lodge.

"There was no fire burning, and yet there was light in the lodge. I saw that it was filled with Persons I did not know. There were four rows of them in half-circles, two rows on each side of the center, and each Person was an old warrior. I could tell this by their faces and bearing. They had been counting coup. I knew this because before each, sticking in the ground, was a white coup-stick bearing the breath-feathers of a war-eagle. Some, however, used no stick at all, but only heavy first-feathers whose quills were strong enough to stick in the ground. These first-feathers were very fine, the handsomest I had ever seen, and I could not count them, they were so many.

" 'Why have you brought this young man into our lodge? We do not want him. He is not our kind and therefore has no place among us.' The words came from the south side, and my heart began to fall down.

"I looked to see what Persons sat on the south side, and my eyes made me afraid. They were the Winds, the Bad Storms, the Thunders, the Moons and many Stars, all powerful, and each of them braver and much stronger than men."

" 'Come, Plenty-coups, and sit with us.' This voice was kind. It came from the north side.

" 'Sit,' said the Person who had brought me there, and then he was gone. I saw him no more.

"They, on the north side of the lodge, made a place for me. It was third from the head on the left, and I sat down there. The two parties of Persons were separated at the door, which faced the east, and again in the west, which was the head of the lodge, so that the Spirit-trail from east to west was open, if any wished to travel that way. On neither side were the Persons the same as I. All were different, but I knew now that they had rights in the world, as I had, that Ah-badt-dadt-deah had created them, as He had me and other men. Nobody there told me this, but I felt it in the lodge as I felt the presence of the Persons. I knew that to live on the world I must concede that those Persons across the lodge who had not wished me to sit with them had work to do, and that I could not prevent them from doing it. I felt a little afraid but was glad I was there.

"'Take these, Plenty-coups.' The Person at the head of the lodge on the north side handed me several beautiful first-feathers of a war-eagle.

"I looked into his eyes. He was a Dwarf-person, chief of the Little-people who live in the Medicine-rock, which you can almost see from here, and who made the stone arrow points. I now saw that all on my side were the same as he, that all were Dwarfs not tall as my knee."

[The Dwarfs or Little-people are legendary beings, supposed to possess great physical strength. In the story of "Lost Boy.'' a Crow saw one of the Dwarfs shoulder a full-grown bull elk and walk with it on his shoulder. They dwell in Medicine-rock, near Pryor, Montana. The Little-people made the stone arrow heads, the Crows believe.

[All the Indian tribes of the Northwestern plains with whom I am acquainted possess legends that deal with the makers of the stone arrow points which are scattered so plentifully over North America. These legends, together with the knowledge that identical stone arrow points are found in Europe, led me, long ago, to the belief that our plains Indians neither made nor used them, that some other people made them. Careful inquiry among very old Indians, beginning in 1886, has not discovered a single tribesman who had ever heard of his own people making stone arrow points. These old men have told me that before the white man came their arrow points were of bone.]

"'Stick one of your feathers in the ground before you and count coup,' said the Dwarf-chief.

"I hesitated. I had never yet counted coup, and here in this lodge with old warriors was no place to lie.

"'Count coup!' commanded the Dwarf-chief .

"I stuck a first-feather into the ground before me, fearing a dispute.

" 'That,' said the Dwarf-chief, 'is the rider of the white horse! I first struck him with my coup-stick, and then, while he was unharmed and fighting, I took his bow from him.'

"The Thunders, who sat at the head of the lodge on the south side, said, "Nothing can be better than that.'

"'Stick another feather before you, Plenty-coups,' said the Dwarf-chief.

"I stuck another first-feather in the ground, wondering what the Dwarf-chief would say for it. But this time I was not afraid.

"'That,' he said, 'is the rider of the black horse. I first struck him with my bow. Then, while he was armed with a knife and fighting me, I took his bow from him, also his shield.'' Enough!' said the Persons on the south side. 'No Person can do better than that!'

"'Let us leave off counting coups. We are glad you have admitted this young man to our lodge,' said the Bad Storms, 'and we think you should give him something to take back with him, some strong medicine that will help him.'

Plenty-coups had been speaking rapidly, his hands following his spoken words with signs, acting parts, while his facial expressions gave tremendous emphasis to his story. He was perspiring and stopped to brush his face with his hand.

"I had not spoken," he went on, "and could not understand why the Dwarf-chief had ordered me to stick the feathers, nor why he had counted coups in my name before such powerful Persons.

"'He will be a Chief,' said the Dwarf-chief. 'I can give him nothing. He already possesses the power to become great if he will use it. Let him cultivate his senses, let him use the powers which Ah-badt-dadt-deah has given him, and he will go far. The difference between men grows out of the use, or non-use, of what was given them by Ah-badt-dadt-deah in the first place.'

"Then he said to me, 'Plenty-coups, we, the Dwarfs, the Little-people, have adopted you and will be your Helpers throughout your life on this world. We have no medicine-bundle to give you. They are cumbersome things at best and are often in a warrior's way. Instead, we will offer you advice. Listen!

" 'In you, as in all men, are natural powers. You have a will. Learn to use it. Make it work for you. Sharpen your senses as you sharpen your knife. Remember the wolf smells better than you do because he has learned to depend on his nose. It tells him every secret the winds carry because he uses it all the time, makes it work for him. We can give you nothing. You already possess everything necessary to become great. Use your powers. Make them work for you, and you will become a Chief.'

"When I wakened, I was perspiring. Looking into the early morning sky that was growing light in the north, I went over it all in my mind. I saw and understood that whatever I accomplished must be by my own efforts, that I must myself do the things I wished to do. And I knew I could accomplish them if I used the powers that Ah-badt-dadt-deah had given me. I had a will and I would use it, make it work for me, as the Dwarf-chief had advised. I became very happy, lying there looking up into the sky. My heart began to sing like a bird, and I went back to the village, needing no man to tell me the meaning of my dream. I took a sweat-bath and rested in my father's lodge. I knew myself now."

Here the old Chief, as though struck with remorse, turned his head aside and whispered, "O Little-people, you who have been my good Helpers through a long life, forgive me if I have done wrong in telling this to Sign-talker. I believed I was doing right. Be kind. I shall see you very soon and explain all."


His first two coups against enemies were precisely as predicted in the dream. But his dreams went on emphasizing adaptiveness and self-transformation (an even more forceful example: Buffalo Person), making Plenty Coups a peacetime leader for the Crow people well into the 20th century.

--Chris Wayan

SOURCE:'s online text of "Plenty Coups, Chief Of The Crows" (p.33-44)

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