Joe Medicine Crow

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Joe Medicine Crow
An old man in full feathered headdress.
In 2009, accepting the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama.
Born Joseph Medicine Crow
(1913-10-27) October 27, 1913 (age 102)
Near Lodge Grass, Montana, United States
Nationality American, Crow Nation
Alma mater Linfield College
University of Southern California
Occupation Tribal historian, anthropologist, author
Relatives White Man Runs Him (step-grandfather)
Awards Presidential Medal of Freedom (ribbon).png Presidential Medal of Freedom
Military career
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch  United States Army
Years of service 1943–1946
Rank Private
Unit 103rd Infantry Division
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Bronze Star ribbon.svg Bronze Star
Legion Honneur Chevalier ribbon.svg Légion d'honneur

Joseph Medicine Crow-High Bird (born October 27, 1913) is a Crow historian and author. He is also an enrolled member of the Crow Nation of Native Americans. His writings on Native American history and reservation culture are considered seminal works, but he is best known for his writings and lectures concerning the Battle of the Little Bighorn. He is a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Bronze Star Medal, and the Légion d'honneur. During World War II, he became the last war chief of the Crow Tribe, and is, as of 2013, the last living Plains Indian war chief. He is a founding member of the Traditional Circle of Indian Elders & Youth. He turned 100 in October 2013.[1]

World War II and becoming the last war chief of the Crow Tribe[edit]

Medicine Crow joined the Army in 1943, becoming a scout in the 103rd Infantry Division and fought in World War II. Whenever he went into battle, he wore his war paint beneath his uniform and a sacred eagle feather beneath his helmet.[2] Medicine Crow completed all four tasks required to become a war chief: Touching an enemy without killing him, taking an enemy's weapon, leading a successful war party and stealing an enemy's horse.

He touched a living enemy soldier and disarmed an enemy when he turned a corner and found himself face to face with a young German soldier:

He also led a successful war party and stole an enemy horse, making a midnight raid to steal the horses from a battalion of German officers (as he rode off, he sang a traditional Crow honor song.) He is the last member of the Crow tribe to become a war chief.[2] Of his story, documentarian Ken Burns said, "The story of Joseph Medicine Crow is something I've wanted to tell for 20 years."[3] Medicine Crow was interviewed and appeared in the 2007 Ken Burns PBS series The War, describing his World War II service.

Tribal Spokesman[edit]

After serving in the Army, he returned to the Crow Agency. In 1948, he was appointed tribal historian and anthropologist. Now a centenarian, he remains active writing and lecturing. In 1999, he addressed the United Nations. He is a frequent guest speaker at Little Big Horn College and the Little Big Horn Battlefield Museum, and has appeared in several documentaries about the battle. He wrote a script "that has been used at the reenactment of the Battle of Little Big Horn held every summer in Hardin since 1965."[4]

His books have included Crow Migration Story, Medicine Crow, the Handbook of the Crow Indians Law and Treaties, Crow Indian Buffalo Jump Techniques, and From the Heart of Crow Country. He also authored a children’s book entitled Brave Wolf and the Thunderbird.


He began his studies at Bacone College in Muskogee, Oklahoma in 1928 and received a bachelor's degree from Linfield College in 1938. He attended the University of Southern California, earning a master's degree in anthropology in 1939. He was the first member of the Crow tribe to obtain a master's degree.[5] His thesis, The Effects of European Culture Contact upon the Economic, Social, and Religious Life of the Crow Indians, has become one of the most widely cited documents concerning Crow culture. He received an honorary doctorate from Rocky Mountain College in 1999. He received an honorary doctorate at the University of Southern California in 2003 and an honorary docorate at Bacone College in 2010, where he has been an ambassador and commencement speaker for over 50 years.[6]


On June 25, 2008 he received two military decorations, the Bronze Star and the Légion d'honneur.[7] On July 17, 2008 Senators Max Baucus, Jon Tester, and Mike Enzi introduced a bill to award him the Congressional Gold Medal; however, the bill did not garner the required sponsorship of two-thirds of the Senate to move forward Congressional Gold Medal legislation.[8]

His book Counting Coup: Becoming a Crow Chief on the Reservation and Beyond, written about his life, was chosen by the National Council for the Social Studies as a "Notable Tradebook for Young People" in 2007.[9]

Medicine Crow received the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the United States' highest civilian honor) from President Barack Obama on August 12, 2009.[10]




External links[edit]