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Joe Medicine Crow
Joe Medicine Crow in full feathered headdress plays a drum for U.S. President Barack Obama
With President Barack Obama in 2009
Joseph Medicine Crow

(1913-10-27)October 27, 1913
Died April 3, 2016(2016-04-03) (aged 102)
Nationality American
Alma mater Linfield College
University of Southern California
Occupation Historian, war chief, anthropologist, author
Relatives Pauline Small (cousin)
White Man Runs Him (step-grandfather)
Awards Presidential Medal of Freedom (ribbon).png Presidential Medal of Freedom
Military career
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch Seal of the United States Department of War.png United States Army
Years of service 1943–1946
Rank Private
Unit 103rd Infantry Division
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Presidential Medal of Freedom
Bronze Star ribbon.svg Bronze Star
Legion Honneur Chevalier ribbon.svg Légion d'honneur

Joseph Medicine Crow (October 27, 1913 – April 3, 2016) was a war chief, author, and historian of the Crow Nation of Native Americans. His writings on Native American history and reservation culture are considered seminal works, but he is best known for his writings and lectures concerning the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876. He received the Bronze Star Medal and the Légion d'honneur for service during World War II, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.

He was the last surviving war chief of the Crow Nation and the last living Plains Indian war chief. He was a founding member of the Traditional Circle of Indian Elders and Youth.

Early life

Joseph Medicine Crow (his Crow name meant High Bird) was born in 1913 on the Crow Indian Reservation near Lodge Grass, Montana, to Amy Yellowtail and Leo Medicine Crow. Chief Medicine Crow, Leo's father, was a highly distinguished and honored chief in his own right, who at the age of 22 became a war chief. He set a standard for aspiring warriors and was his son's inspiration.

His grandfather, White Man Runs Him, was a scout for US General George Armstrong Custer and an eyewitness to the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876. Joe Medicine Crow's cousin is Pauline Small, the first woman elected to office in the Crow Tribe of Indians.


Beginning in 1929, when he was in eighth grade, Medicine Crow attended Bacone College in Muskogee, Oklahoma. He studied until he completed an Associate of Arts degree in 1936. He went on to study sociology and psychology for his bachelor's degree from Linfield College in 1938. He earned a master's degree in anthropology from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles in 1939'

He was the first member of the Crow tribe to obtain a master's degree. He began work toward a doctorate, and by 1941 had completed the required coursework. He did not complete his Ph.D., due to the United States' entry into World War II.

Medicine Crow taught at Chemawa Indian School for a year in 1941, then took a defense industry job in the shipyards of Bremerton, Washington in 1942.

World War II

Joseph Medicine Crow-High Bird - Aug 12 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom
Joseph Medicine Crow-High Bird - Aug 12 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom

After spending the latter half of 1942 working in the naval ship yards in Bremerton, Washington, Medicine Crow joined the U.S. Army in 1943. He became a scout in the 103rd Infantry Division, and fought in World War II. Whenever he went into battle, he wore his war paint (two red stripes on his arms) beneath his uniform and a sacred yellow painted eagle feather, provided by a "sundance" medicine man, beneath his helmet.

He also led a successful war party and stole fifty horses owned by the Nazi SS from a German camp singing a traditional Crow honor song as he rode off.

Medicine Crow is the last member of the Crow tribe to become a war chief. He was interviewed and appeared in the 2007 Ken Burns PBS series The War, describing his World War II service.


Medicine Crow continued to write and lecture at universities and public institutions until his death, at the age of 102, on April 3, 2016. He was in hospice care in Billings, Montana. He is survived by his only son Ron Medicine Crow, daughters Vernelle Medicine Crow and Diane Reynolds, and stepdaughter Garnet Watan.

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