LUCKY GARVIN: The Indian Coup

Lucky Garvin

I heard two interesting stories the other day re: Native Americans who had been involved in the Vietnam war.

Native Americans suffered a far lower incidence of PTSD according to this narration. The reason is that no matter where or how they served, state-side or foreign country; no matter their assignment from clerk to warrior, they were welcomed back to their tribe as heroes.

There were ceremonies welcoming them home, babies to be held, youngsters were introduced to the returning GI’s with pride, and the shamen and elders performed exorcisms to cast out any demons which might have returned with the soldiers. There is a wisdom here reminding our pride and complacency to not too quickly ignore the wisdom of other cultures, and the ceremonies by which that wisdom is brought forth.

A humorous story came wrapped in the Native Americans’ admiration of ‘counting coup.’ To count coup meant to perform several feats of bravery when confronting an enemy and escape unharmed. To successfully count coup won you high honors as a warrior, and an eagle feather for your hair.

Broadly speaking, to count a coup involved four feats: 1- steal a live enemy’s weapon from him; 2- touch him with hand, bow or ‘coup lance’ [again, he has to be alive and able to fight back]; 3- lead a war party which engages the enemy, and return with no one in your party dead or injured; and 4- steal an opponent’s horse.

While in Vietnam, an American Indian had led several patrols, engaged in fire-fights, and returned his men safely back to camp. Then, one day while hunkered in the jungle, he heard the running feet of what proved to be a North Vietnamese soldier. He stuck out his foot, tripped the man, and in one move, smacked the man’s head and grabbed his rifle. He yelled at the sprawled out Vietnamese to “Get out of here!” Three out of four deeds for a coup!

But where to find a horse on the front lines? He must steal a horse to complete his coup.

One day, his unit spread out along the Ho Che Minh Trail, he heard a rustling in the head-high grasses. As he watched, the grasses parted, and out stepped… an elephant! The animal was burdened with ammunition, and on his back, guiding him, was a soon-to-be-dead enemy soldier.

When the man fell off the elephant, our hero grabbed the chain around the animal’s neck and said, “Whoa.” Well the elephant must have understood only Vietnamese since he began to run with the Indian hanging on for dear life. Finally the animal stopped, and the soldier wrapped the chain around a tree and stepped back to catch his breath. He lost his breath again when he saw three more elephants tied in tandem behind the first!

Four elephants must equal one horse! This was definitely a coup, although perhaps not what his ancestors had in mind.

After being discharged, and arriving home, he told the elders about his adventures. Did capturing four elephants count towards coup? In that there were very few – if any – elephants on the American plains, well, they couldn’t really, in good conscience, you understand, award him his eagle feather.

Drat, there’s always a fly in the venison! But at least he’ll have a story – a most unusual wartime story – to tell his grandchildren.

Sabrina’s Facebook: Southwest Virginia Wildlife Center of Roanoke

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