Joe Medicine Crow, the last surviving Plains Indian war chief, died Sunday at age 102. He was a renowned historian for Montana’s Crow Tribe and lived the majority of his life on the Crow reservation near Lodge Grass, Montana.
Medicine Crow is most famous for wearing war paint during his service in World War II. In 2009, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama.
“Today, Lisa and I join Montanans to pay respect and celebrate the rich life of Dr. Joe Medicine Crow,” Montana Governor Steve Bullock said in a statement Sunday afternoon. “Joe was a Crow War Chief, veteran, elder, historian, author, and educator. His legacy will forever serve as an inspiration for all Native Americans — and all Montanans.”
Dr. Joe Medicine Crow's legacy will forever serve as an inspiration for all Native Americans – and all Montanans https://t.co/fylrMyODkx
— Steve Bullock (@GovernorBullock) April 3, 2016
As previously reported by the Inquisitr, Medicine Crow was born October 7, 1913, in a small home outside Lodge Grass and always considered Montana his home. His grandfather, Yellowtail, raised the young man in the Crow warrior tradition. He was put through grueling physical tests, including running barefoot in snow to toughen his feet and swimming in frozen rivers to fortify his spirit.
While growing up, Medicine Crow would hear tales of the Battle of Little Big Horn from people who were actually there. His great uncle, White Man Runs Him, served as a scout for George Armstrong Custer.
“At that time, my grandparents were our teachers,” Medicine Crow said in a 2006 interview.
As reported by the Washington Post, the Native American became the tribe’s war chief for his heroism in World War II. To earn the title, he led several effective raids behind enemy lines and successfully fought hand-to-hand against a German soldier, but did not kill him. He also he stole German horses and disarmed an enemy.
In 1946, Medicine Crow told tribal elders of his deeds during the war, but did not realize they meant anything. Nonetheless, based on those acts of bravery, they told him he qualified for the war chief title and it was granted to him.
Prior to the war, Medicine Crow became the first member of the Crow Tribe to earn a master’s degree. Later in life, he became a historian and spent much time traveling and sharing his extensive knowledge of the Little Bighorn battle.
In 1939, Medicine Crow got involved in a movie production about the battle called They Died With Their Boots On. He was assigned to do script-writing for the project.
However, he got fired for blaming General Custer for making mistakes that led to the death of all the American soldiers. Medicine Crow also told the movie’s producer that the film was historically inaccurate. He re-wrote his own account of the battle in 1964 and his script is still used in reenactments of the battle today.
Dr. Joe Medicine Crow had also worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs as a land appraiser. He spent a lot of time acting as a representative between the Crow and the white world, as well as translating for fellow tribe members during interviews with the media. Additionally, he was assigned as the tribe’s anthropologist.
“The government tried their best to transform (Crow) people into the ways of the white man. Yeah, they tried, all right. But we had what you might call cultural persistence.”
His son, Ronald Medicine Crow, said many younger people were inspired by his father’s achievements and considered him a role model. Many Native Americans went on to get a higher education because of the accomplishments of Joe Medicine Crow.
Montana Senator Jon Tester, who nominated Medicine Crow for the Medal of Freedom, spoke highly of the chief’s legacy.
“Today, Montana lost a treasure. Joe Medicine Crow was a soldier and a scholar, but above all was a fierce advocate for Native American families. When you spoke with Joe Medicine Crow, it was impossible not to be inspired. I know his legacy will motivate generations of Montanans to follow in his footsteps and live a life dedicated to serving other.”
Currently, there are two middle schools under construction and will be named in his honor — one of which is set to open in August.
Sunday morning, Big Horn County coroner Terry Bullis announced that Dr. Joe Medicine Crow died in a Billings, Montana, hospice facility. Funeral services and a tribute are currently being planned.
[Photo by AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite]