Agency, MT A living legend among the Great Plains
tribes marks one of the greatest milestones in life.
An author, historian and a highly decorated military serviceman,
Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow has tried to tie the past to the present.
Born on October 27, 1913, Medicine Crow, a member of the Crow
(Apsaalooke) tribe in Montana has come far from his humble reservation
beginnings. Turning one hundred years old this year, Medicine Crow
is now the oldest living member of his tribe.
After joining the Army during World War II, he served in the
103rd Infantry Division. He has claimed to have worn his tribes
traditional war paint beneath his uniform with an eagle feather
pinned beneath his helmet.
In a 2007 PBS series titled "The War," Medicine Crow told documentary
producer Ken Burns what happened when he turned a corner and found
himself face-to-face with a German soldier: "The collision
knocked the German's weapon to the ground. I lowered my own weapon
and we fought hand-to-hand. In the end, I was able to get the best
of the German, grabbing him by the neck and choking him," remembered
Medicine Crow "He screamed out 'Momma' so I let him go."
After his service in WWII, Medicine Crow was recognized for
having completed all four tasks required to become an Apsaalooke
war chief, including having touched a living enemy soldier; disarmed
an enemy; led a successful war party; stole an enemy horse. He is
the last member of the Apsaalooke tribe to become a traditional
Medicine Crow remembers stealing those enemy horses: "In World
War II, I managed to have captured fifty head of horses. These were
not ordinary horses. They belonged to SS officers, you know? During
the last days of the war over there, there was a lot of confusion,
so a bunch of these SS officers got on their horses and took off.
They were heading back to Germany. And here's that old sneaky old
Crow Indian now following them, watching them. So they camped for
the night. I sneak in there and took all their fifty head of horses,
left them on foot. So I got on one, looked around there and I even
sang a Crow victory song all by myself. Crows do that when they
think they're all by themselves, they do things like that. So I
sang a victory song."
Medicine Crow is the recipient of the Bronze Star and the Chevalier
Légion d'honneur, awarded on June 25, 2008. On August 12,
2009, Medicine Crow, at the age of 95, was awarded the Presidential
Medal of Freedom by President Obama. The Medal of Freedom is the
highest civilian award in the country.
Upon hearing he was selected to receive the award, Medicine
Crow said, "I am humbled and honored to join the ranks of the renowned
citizens who have received this medal over the last 62 years."
Medicine Crow went on to become a noted historian and author.
His writings on Native American history and reservation culture
are seen as important literary works, but he is probably best known
for his writings and lectures concerning the Battle of the Little
Bighorn. When he returned to Crow Agency in 1948, he was appointed
tribal historian and anthropologist.
As the step-grandson of White Man Runs Him, a scout for Gen.
George Armstrong Custer, Medicine Crow grew up listening to stories
of the most famous battle of the American West. White Man Runs Him
was an eyewitness to the Battle of the Little Bighorn. He was eleven
years old when his grandfather died in 1925. Medicine Crow is the
last living person with a direct oral history from a participant
of the Battle of Little Bighorn He is the first member of his tribe
to attended college, receiving a bachelor's degree from Linfield
College in 1938. He went on to receive a master's degree in anthropology
from the University of Southern California (USC) in 1939. His Master's
Thesis was titled "The Effects of European Culture Contact upon
the Economic, Social and Religious Life of the Crow Indians."
Medicine Crow holds two honorary doctorate degrees, one from
Rocky Mountain College in 1999, and the second from the University
of Southern California (USC) in 2003.
He is a guest speaker at Little Bighorn College, the Custer
Battlefield Museum, and several other colleges throughout the nation.
Also an author, his books include, A Handbook of Crow Indian Laws
and Treaties, and From the Heart of the Crow Country.
A ceremony celebrating Medicine Crow's birthday was held in
the Apsaalooke Events Center in Crow Agency, Montana on Monday,