Too many chiefs, not enough Indians

Meaning

What does Too many chiefs, not enough Indians mean?

Too many chiefs, not enough Indians is an informal idiom used for situations when too many people want control to manage something, and not enough people to actually do the work.

Other versions of the proverb are “Too many captains, not enough sailors”, “Too many generals, not enough soldiers” or “Too many watchers, not enough doers”.

Origin

What's the origin of Too many chiefs, not enough Indians?

The American proverb was first used in 1947 to characterize the U.S. Army after the demobilization of a large number of soldiers following the Second World war.

It was published in print in the Nevada State Journal on February 16, 1947 saying:

“Some officers on duty at the war department say that one trouble with the peacetime army today is “too many chiefs—not enough Indians.”

Journalist Channing Cope explained in the February 19, 1947 issue of The Atlanta Constitution that the whole idea behind this idiom might derive from the fact that when people played cowboys and Indians as a child, they all wanted to be “Chief Tomahawk”.

Spread & Usage

How did Too many chiefs, not enough Indians spread?

The idiom was quite popular after its appearance and skyrocketed until 1972, but after that, it lost ground rapidly, most probably because it is considered a bit offensive and racist.

However, “Too many chiefs, not enough Indians” was a source of inspiration in the music industry, as it is the title of a single of BrantBjork, Pleasurekraft and SuperGroupers feat Postmoderndisco.

The proverb is also the band name of a Colorado-based independent rock band.

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