Joe Medicine Crow was a soldier, warrior, teacher and historian. He was also the last Crow to be given the title of War Chief. War Chief is a title given to someone who completes four crucial tasks: touch an enemy in battle without killing him, take away an enemy’s weapon, steal an enemy’s horse and lead a successful war party.
Joe Medicine Crow was born on the Crow Reservation in Montana. His great inspirations were his father and maternal grand-father. His father was also a war chief and his maternal grand-father was a scout for George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn.
At a time when few Native Americans were able to attend college, Medicine Crow got a bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology, and a master’s degree in anthropology.
In 1941, he got his PhD and left for World War II. And it was during World War II that Joe Medicine Crow was able to complete the four tasks necessary to become a War Chief.
First came the successful war party. Private Medicine Crow led a group of men to attack a German bunker. He succeeded and didn’t lose anyone.
On another occasion, Medicine Crow wrestled with a German soldier and was about to strangle him when the soldier called for his mother and Medicine Crow let him go, taking his weapon. That was three out of the four tasks down. But where could he have got an enemy’s horse during World War II? Surely, that’s impossible.
Not for Joe Medicine Crow. In 1942, he managed to steal 50 horses from a group of SS officers.
One day, Medicine Crow’s group came across a farm where the German officers were hiding with their horses. During the night, Medicine Crow quietly walked past the sleeping guard, chose the best horse among the group and rode him bareback away from the farm, taking as many of the horses as he could with him. And while he did this, he sang a Crow victory song.
After the war, he returned to the reservation and became the tribe’s historian and anthropologist. He wrote many books and was given many awards during his lifetime, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009. He died in 2016 at the age of 102.
- Tribal Business Journal: The Last War Chief, Robin A. Ladue, PhD, http://tribalbusinessjournal.com/news/last-war-chief/
- Military.Com: Badass of the Week: Joe Medicine Crow, Ben Thompson, https://www.military.com/army-birthday/badass-of-the-week-joe-medicine-crow.html
- The National Museum of the American Indian: A Crow Warrior vs. The Nazis, https://blog.nmai.si.edu/main/2011/11/american-indian-heritage-storycorps-2011-joe-medicine-crow-remembers-fighting-the-nazis.html <- here you can listen to Joe Medicine Crow talk about the horse stealing