Wednesday, 17 March 2010


I've been lying abed with a bug - must've breathed some plague cloud - but amid general weirdness a word surfaced that pestered me so much I had to get up to Google it.

I remember from childhood a cowboy comic where an Indian character shouted "Onhey!" as he attacked. If I ever recalled it, I just assumed it was made up. To my surprise, it turns out to be authentic (or at least sourceable to period accounts). It turns up in a number of accounts of the Battle of Little Big Horn, as in that reportedly told by White Bull to Stanley Vestal:

White Bull said, “I saw a mounted soldier waver in his saddle. I quirted my pony and raced up to strike him and count the first coup on this enemy. Before I could reach him, he fell dying from his saddle. I reined up my pony, jumped down and struck the body with my quirt. I yelled, ‘Onhey! I have overcome this one.’ I took the man’s revolver and cartridge belt.
- The man who killed Custer ("To Stanley Vestal, the old Sioux warrior White Bull describes the day when he counted his greatest coup", American Heritage Magazine, February 1957, Volume 8, Issue 2

Another account, Vestal's book about Jim Bridger, makes the context even clearer: that it's one of a set of standard expressions used by the Sioux when counting coup or in real attacks.

Mr. Frank Zahn, the Upper Missouri Interpreter, states that the Sioux, in punishing a member of their own tribe, used the same expressions as when counting coup upon an enemy. The man who first struck shouted "Onhey." The second to strike shouted "Okihewakte"—I kill him second." The third, "Iyamini-wakte —I kill him third." The fourth warrior shouted in like manner in his turn.
- Jim Bridger, Mountain Man, 1946 (Internet Archive jimbridgermounta001190mbp)

It all sounds plausible enough for closure for the moment, though both of these sources come via Stanley Vestal; it'd be nice to see independent confirmation. I don't know what language it would be; "Sioux" covers three main languages (Lakota, Western Dakota and Easten Dakota) with multiple dialects.
- Ray


  1. I'm more partial to the Navajo since I have had some experience working in the hospital at
    Tuba City

    BTW (off subject) I hope you have seen this video on
    The End of the Publishing Industry
    . Be sure and watch it all the way through.

  2. More on this later (I can think of a couple of analogues in poetry). Common story, isn't it; various ads have featured (uncredited) effects and visual devices from art film and similar, such as the Honda Accord Cog commercial and Fischli & Weiss's Der Lauf der Dinge; the Ariston On and On ad and Zbigniew Rybczynski's Tango, and so on. I'm all for homage - I've done it myself - but only when the original is in clear view.