Native Sun News: Joe Medicine Crow marks 100th birthday

The following story was written and reported by Karin Eagle, Native Sun News Staff Writer. All content © Native Sun News.

Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow turns 100 years old this year. Medicine Crow is now the oldest living member of the Crow or Apsaalooke tribe in Montana. COURTESY/National Museum of American Indians/Smithsonian

WWII veteran Medicine Crow marks 100th birthday
By Karin Eagle
Native Sun News Staff Writer

CROW 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 war chief.

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, Oct. 28.

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