Joseph Medicine Crow
Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow was born on the Crow reservation near Lodge Grass, Montana on October 27, 1913. He is a Crow historian and author. His writings on Native American history and reservation culture are considered seminal works, but he is probably best known for his writings and lectures concerning the Battle of Little Big Horn. “The worst enemies are ourselves”, he said.
Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow is a cousin to Pauline Small, the first woman elected to the Crow Tribe of Indians. His step-grandfather, White Man Runs Him, was a scout for George Armstrong Custer and an eyewitness to the battle so Medicine Crow grew up hearing stories of the momentous event.
Dr. Joe Medicine Crow is the Crow Tribal Historian. As well as being the oldest living man of the Crow tribe, he is also the last traditional Crow chief, having achieved the war deeds necessary to be declared a "chief" during World War II. He received a bachelor degree from Linfield College in 1938.Medicine Crow was the first member of the Crow tribe to obtain a master’s degree. His degree was in the field of anthropology in 1939. His Master’s thesis, “The Effects of European Culture Contact upon the Economic, Social, and Religious Life of the Crow Indians”, remains an authoritative and widely read source on Crow culture.
Medicine Crow was working towards obtaining his Doctorate degree at the University of Southern California, but his education was interrupted by World War II. Medicine Crow commented “My Uncle had other plans for me…Uncle Sam that is.” Medicine Crow was honored for leading a war party that, under fire, retrieved dynamite to use to attack German guns. He also knocked down a German soldier on a street in France and kicked his rifle away and captured horses at a farm where German officers were holed up for the night.
Also during the war, he completed the four requirements of a chief: touch a living enemy soldier; disarm an enemy; lead a successful war party; and steal an enemy's horse, during his wartime service, however, did not receive the title of chief as it was retired after that last surviving chief of the Crow Tribe of Indians, Chief Plenty Coups. The Crow Tribal council appointed him in 1948 as Tribal Historian and Anthropologist.
Dr. Joe Medicine Crow wrote the foreword to World Wisdom's children's book, All Our Relatives: Traditional Native American Thoughts about Nature. He also wrote the introduction to Native Spirit: The Sun Dance Way by Thomas Yellowtail. A noted author, 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 has authored a children’s book entitled Brave Wolf and the Thunderbird. “As a member of the Crow tribe, and as a professional researcher, I think I’m doing quite a nice job of telling the Crow Indian story in the proper ways”, he says.
He has reminisced about trying to get a part in the 1939 Errol Flynn Custer movie They Died with Their Boots On. Medicine Crow was asked to be on the writing crew and the Director asked him if he knew anything at all about Custer’s Last Stand. Medicine Crow told how his grandfather thought Custer foolish for being attacked too early, and the producer didn’t like what he had to say. Because the film was intended to build public confidence in US military troops during WWII, Medicine Crow was told “You’re fired. Get out.”
Medicine Crow went on to author the script that has been used at the reenactment of the Battle of the Little Big Horn held every summer in Hardin since 1965. “For one psychological moment, I put the white man on the side of the Indians,” he said. “I felt pretty good.” He has been interviewed and appeared in the 2007 PBS series The War, describing his World War II service.
Now well into his 90s, he remains active writing and lecturing. In 1999 he addressed the United Nations. “Ted Turner and his moneyed friends got together 3000 spiritual leaders throughout the world to give our statesmen moral support in finding peace” Joe said. The proceedings got a bit tedious for Joe so he grabbed a piece of paper and wrote “a poetic speech about peace,” which he proceeded to deliver. He received a standing ovation.
Medicine Crow received an honorary Doctorate degree at age 90 at the University of Southern California on May 16, 1999 in Los Angeles, California, where he originally received his Master’s degree 63 years ago. He is a frequent guest speaker at Little Bighorn College and the Little Big Horn Battlefield Museum and has appeared in several documentaries about the battle. He lives on the Crow Reservation in Lodge Grass, Montana.
On June 26, 2008, Dr. Medicine Crow, the grandson of one of General Custer's scouts, was honored in Garryowen, Montana, for his contributions during World War II. Dr. Joe Medicine Crow, 94, was awarded the Bronze Star and the French Legion of Honor Chevalier medal. Medicine Crow is a renowned author, Chief Warrior of the Crow Nation, tribal anthropologist and historian; he also is a nominee for the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
In war, “No one wins. Both sides lose. The Indians, so called hostiles, won the battle of the day, but lost their way of life.”