One year ago, on April 3 2016, Joseph Medicine Crow died at age 102. He was the last Plains Indians war chief. But he was also, through his grandfather, the last direct oral witness about the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876.
Medicine crow was a very special person, a symbol for all Native Americans.
Born on October 27, 1913 near Lodge Grass, Montana, Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow was the last living person with a direct oral history from a participant of the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876. During this battle, U.S. General Custer and 263 of his men died in a “Last Stand” against the Plains Indians.
Joseph Medicine Crow’s grandfather, White Man Runs Him, was a scout with General Custer and died in 1925 when Medicine Crow was 11 years old.
Dr. Medicine Crow’s grandparents lived before the United States Government sent Indians to reservations in 1884. His father was a friend of Chief Plenty Coups and had advised Plenty Coups to go to the nation’s capital to present the Indians’ cases for preserving their ancestral land.
Medicine Crow was the first one of his tribe to earn a Master’s Degree. He attended the University of Southern California and earned his degree in 1939. He was awarded an honorary doctorate in 2003.
Medicine Crow was the last traditional Plains war chief, having achieved the 4 war deeds necessary to be declared a “chief” during World War II:
- Touch or strike the first enemy fallen, whether alive or dead
- Wrestle a weapon away from an enemy warrior
- Enter an enemy camp at night and steal a horse
- Command a war party successfully
He served in Europe, and earned the Bronze Star, a US Forces individual military decoration for acts of bravery. Medicine Crow also received the Legion of Honor from the French government on June 25, 2008 for his service to France during World War II. He was recognized for leading a war party that, under fire, retrieved dynamite to use to attack German guns. He also overcame a German soldier in hand-to-hand combat on a street in France and captured fifty SS horses at a farm where German officers were staying. Joe Medicine Crow was nominated for the Congressional Gold Medal.
For his war deeds and “contributions to the preservation of the culture and history of the First Americans” and his “importance as a role model to young Native Americans across the country,” and other services to America, Joe Medicine Crow received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama on August 12, 2009.
Dr. Medicine Crow was a guest speaker at Little Bighorn College, the Custer Battlefield Museum, and several other colleges throughout the nation. He was also an author. He lived on the Crow Reservation in Lodge Grass, Montana, until his death on April 3, 2016.