In Loving Memory: John Wooden Legs, February 13, 1948 – April 24, 2020

Clara Caufield: Johnny Joe Woodenlegs, Cheyenne Warrior

Each year, certain thematic columns are almost required – such as Memorial Day. This year, it snuck up on me and I missed that theme last week.

But, better late than never and I want to use this opportunity to write a bit about an incredibly special friend, a true Cheyenne warrior who recently journeyed to the Next Camp: Johnny Joe Woodenlegs, Northern Cheyenne Vietnam Vet.

Certain of us are getting to the age of losing good friends right and left, many in their 60’s, 70’s, some fortunate to live beyond that. Johnny Joe was 72, a pretty good run, yet to many of us seemingly an untimely demise, mostly due to the physical ravages of Vietnam service. I write about these old friends, who were each in a unique a special blessing to the Northern Cheyenne people.

Tribute to John Wooden Legs, February 13, 1948 – April 24, 2020

A Northern Cheyenne, Johnny Joe was a direct descendant of the famous Cheyenne warrior, Wooden Legs, featured in a book which Margot Liberty wrote based on many personal interviews. That book is considered a classic regarding the Northern Cheyenne. As the story goes, the original Wooden Legs was so named because of being a phenomenal runner, able to outrun and outlast horses. They said it was because his legs were formidably strong, the strongest substance they knew at that time. But at any rate, the name – a very honored one – still lives on among the Northern Cheyenne. And of course, as the oldest son, Johnny Joe carried it.

Johnny Joe was a fine looking -indeed, a handsome man – but quite shy and quiet. His father was John Woodenlegs, Sr. our esteemed tribal President and faithful servant for many decades. An early champion of Indian education, he coined the phrase “Education is our new buffalo.” John, Sr. was extraordinarily strong in our traditions, living a “straight” life and Johnny Joe was held to that standard.

In high school, Johnny was an excellent athlete, basketball player and as his heritage dictated a star cross-country runner. His father hoped Johnny Joe might consider college, but as so many of his generation, he, upon high school graduation quickly enlisted in the Army during the height of the Vietnam conflict. His Cheyenne warrior genes were strong.

💔 In loving memory of a Cheyenne Chief, John Joe Woodenlegs. 🙏🏽. I am forever grateful for the time I had working for Uncle Johnny. Shawna L Small Josette Rose Woodenlegs Darlene WoodenLegs JoVon Johnson

Posted by Melissa Lonebear on Monday, April 27, 2020

Then, at the end of basic training, a test was required: with full gear and pack the new soldiers had to run a four-mile route in a certain time. Not only did Johnny Joe do that, but he set a record on a national basis which stood for more than thirty years. Johnny Joe never brought that up; other people dud whereupon he would look down and blush.

Of course, Johnny Joe, like anyone who served in that dreadful campaign returned a hero, his uniform sparkling with many medals. But he did not care to talk about that either. He married a high school sweetheart, started producing a family and became a successful and talented small-time contractor.

But the demons got to him. For years he struggled with the aftermath of Vietnam, by turning to the bottle. Yet, he still managed to keep working and cared for his growing family. John, Sr. never once gave up on him and swinging the Tribal President’s clout forced Johnny Joe go to treatment. 13 times!

On the last time it worked.


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