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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Gazette Opinion: Medicine Crow's Legacy Lives On In More Than His Name
by Billings Gazette
When Joseph Medicine Crow wrote the important book, "From the Heart of The Crow Country: The Crow Indians' Own Stories," he lamented, "the traditional historians and storytellers are all gone now and I must work with their children and grandchildren, who have been exposed to their views and recitals of the old stories."

He, of course, did not count himself among the traditional historians and storytellers then. But, he was, and now he's gone.

Yet, because of his work — not just as possibly the last of the Plains Indians war chiefs — he preserved the stories and history of his tribe, the Crow way of life and helped communicate across cultures. Life has left his body, but his spirit will remain, as witnessed by his writing, words and the noble way he lived for 102 years.

We've recounted plenty of his deeds, including interrupting his doctoral studies to serve in World War II. While fighting in the war, he completed four heroic war deeds which allowed him to become a war chief in his tribe. And, then he began a life of peace and understanding as he diligently and strategically preserved oral histories, wrote about Crow culture and became a spokesperson for understanding. We continue to be proud that a Billings Heights Middle School will bear his name and become — in his words — "a house of learning."

It's right that we mourn the loss of Medicine Crow — a great leader of all people in this state, having been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. But, it's even more important that we focus on his legacy.

Medicine Crow demonstrated a unique ability to go between cultures while respecting both — something sorely needed in today's world and its culture wars. As a Bureau of Indian Affairs appraiser, he understood one world and lived in another.

"After 5 o'clock, I'd turn into an Indian," Medicine Crow said. "I live in two worlds and enjoy them."

His tales of Apsaalooke culture helped students learn about the Crow Indians. He not only literally rewrote the book on The Battle of the Little Bighorn, but also was sure to include humor, stories of its warriors and religion.

Medicine Crow broke down barriers and walls that often divided cultures. His life was an example of living his beliefs. He attained the highest education, worked to preserve his culture and never forgot his place as a communicator and educator.

We are indeed saddened by the loss of life on one hand. On the other, we were the beneficiaries of 102 years of life and wisdom. When generations of Billings students pass through Joseph Medicine Crow Middle School, they will learn in a place named for a man who didn't just embody book smarts but true wisdom. He had a love of learning because Medicine Crow knew that learning was the first step to wisdom.

We join in mourning with his family and friends. We pass along our condolences and our admiration for a man who earned his chief status in war, but instead led an even better example by his peaceful nature and wisdom.

Billings, as Medicine Crow once quipped, was getting older and better like him. However, we have continued to get older, but are at a loss because we no longer have him with us, in person.

But we have his words, his name and, most importantly, his deeds to help continue to make this place better. We must honor his spirit by becoming the kind of community he envisioned we could be.

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Medicine Crow was the sole surviving Plains war chief, an honor that was bestowed for his heroism during World War II. To earn the honor, he had to complete four tasks, which the national newspaper Indian Country Today outlined in a 2013 profile marking Medicine Crow's 100th birthday:

He led successful war parties behind enemy lines. He stole German horses. He disarmed an enemy. And he engaged an enemy without killing him — a German soldier whom he overcame in hand-to-hand combat before sparing his life.

Historian Ken Burns told Medicine Crow's story in his 2007 documentary "The War."

... return to main story ...

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