Thu, 04/14/2016 - 11:28am admin
War Chief Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow laid to rest at 102
By Levi C. Flinn, Big Horn County News
“Pvt. Medicine Crow,” General Quinn of the U.S. Army called out during roll call. ”Pvt. Joe Medicine Crow.”
He called out again: “Pvt. Joseph Medicine Crow.”
“Sir!” a voice answered. “Pvt. Medicine Crow has gone to Heaven to serve the supreme commander.”
Hundreds of people gathered in Crow Agency last Wednesday to mourn the death and celebrate the life of Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow – war chief, author, historian and anthropologist – who died Sunday, April 3 at the age of 102.
Joseph was the first Crow to attain a master’s degree and the last to hold the acclaimed title of war chief. Even beyond his death, he managed to make history by being the first veteran laid to rest in the Apsaalooke Veterans Park.
“In Crow, you’d say Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow was abacheitche – a good man,” President Barack Obama stated in a press release. “Michelle [Obama] and I honor 102 years of a life well lived, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family and the entire Crow Nation.”
Government officials – tribal and state – attended the ceremony and sent their respects. Gov. Steve Bullock and Crow Chairman Darrin Old Coyote – along with delegates representing Sen. Jon Tester, Rep. Ryan Zinke and Sen. Steve Daines – presented words of acknowledgement.
“We must honor his legacy and carry on with what Joe stood for, which was the Crow people,” Old Coyote said. “He was a great man in two worlds. He was not only a great man in mainstream society, but also in the Crow way.”
Bullock ordered that flags fly at half-mast across the State of Montana on Wednesday in honor of Joseph.
“It’s no coincidence that the wind is blowing so hard today,” Bullock said. “When we see all those flags lowered for an American hero, let’s remember all that Joe fought for.”
The flags flying over the state capital in Helena that day were given to the Medicine Crow Middle School in Billings.
“In our language, there is no word for goodbye,” said Rev. Carson Yellowtail. “There is no word for goodbye, because there is no end to life. We believe that we pass from this world into another world so there is no ‘goodbye,’ only ‘see you later until we see you again,’ and that’s what Joe believed.”
A ‘humble and gracious man’
Ronald Medicine Crow, Joseph’s son said the ceremony was “awesome, as far as funerals go.”
“We put it all together with help from the chairman,” he continued. “That was very helpful to put everything in proper order, plus what we felt was important to us to relate to Dad’s life.”
Although Ronald’s father was widely known and famed for his accomplishments, the family wants to remain modest.
“It’s something that we’re very proud of and we’re humbled at the same time,” Ronald said. “We just don’t want to be boastful about it, because Dad was a very humble and gracious man.”
In a recent interview, Ronald mentioned four traits that make an honorable man.
“Honor comes to him by the life you live,” he said. “Honor comes to him by the prayers you make, honor comes to him by the sacrifices you make and honor comes to him by the accomplishments you achieve in your lifetime.
“With these four traits,” he continued, “you become an honorable man.
“And he did. He became one of our last chiefs, a war chief as well as a peace chief.”
Education and war
Joseph was born Oct. 27, 1913 on the Crow Indian Reservation near Lodge Grass to Leo Medicine Crow and Amy Yellowtail.
“When I was born, there were no doctors or nurses around with their instruments, just a medicine woman who specialized in child delivery,” he states in his book, Counting Coup. “With incense of burning cedar and the singing of sacred songs, I came into the world.”
He graduated from Linfield College in Oregon, and in 1939 received his master’s degree in anthropology from the University of Southern Carolina. His thesis was, “The effects of European culture contacts upon the economic, social and religious life of the Crow Indians.”
After graduating, Joseph worked at a Native American school in Oregon until the attack on Pearl Harbor and the declaration of war.
He joined the Army in 1943, becoming a scout in the 103rd Infantry Division. Whenever he went into battle, he wore his war paint beneath his uniform and placed a sacred eagle feather beneath his helmet.
Plains Indians won the honor of war chief by counting coup, or performing acts of bravery in battle. While serving in the Army, Joseph completed all four tasks required to become war chief: touching an enemy without killing him, taking an enemy’s weapon, leading a successful war party and stealing an enemy’s horse.
He completed these tasks while fighting against the Germans during World War II.
Medicine Crow recounted his stories to filmmaker Ken Burns for the documentary “The War.” One time, he encountered a German soldier while scouting an alley.
“I swung my rifle to knock his rifle off his hands,” he told Burns. “All I had to do was pull the trigger.”
Instead, Joseph dropped his rifle and began combat with the soldier. After a fight, he gripped the soldier’s neck.
“I was ready to kill him,” he said, “and then the German yelled “Mama.” That word, “Mama,” opened my ears. I let him go.”
In a separate incident, he stole 40-50 horses from a battalion of German SS officers, singing a traditional Crow honor song as he rode off.
Between two worlds
After serving in the Army, he returned to Crow Agency and, in 1948, he was appointed tribal historian and anthropologist.
On June 25, 2008, Medicine Crow received two military decorations: the Bronze Star – for his service in the US Army – and the French Legion of Honor Chevalier medal.
Medicine Crow also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama on Aug. 12, 2009 – the highest civilian medal awarded in the United States.
Also a respected author, he published several books including: Crow Migration Story, Medicine Crow, Handbook of the Crow Indians Law and Treaties, Crow Indian Buffalo Jump Techniques, From the Heart of Crow Country and Brave Wolf and the Thunderbird.
“There is a middle line that joins two worlds together,” he said in Linfield Magazine. “I walk that line and take the best from each and avoid the worst. I’ve lived a good, well-balanced way of life. I encourage my grandchildren and young Crow Indians to do the same and they will be happy.”