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Medicine Crow

Joe Medicine Crow’s life and work
This site includes Joe Medicine Crow’s biography, photos, online articles, slideshows, links, and more.
Joe Medicine Crow
Joe  Medicine Crow
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Biography of Joe Medicine Crow

Dr. Joe Medicine Crow (1913-2016) was the Crow Tribal Historian and a revered elder of the Crow tribe. In 1939, he was the first member of the Crow tribe to obtain a master’s degree. His Master’s thesis, “The Effects of European Culture Contact upon the Economic, Social, and Religious Life of the Crow Indians”, remains the most widely read source on Crow culture. He received honorary doctoral degrees from the University of Southern California and Rocky Mountain College.

Medicine Crow was the last traditional Plains war chief, having achieved the war deeds necessary to be declared a "chief" during World War II. He served in Europe, and earned the Bronze Star, a US Forces individual military decoration for acts of bravery or merit, or for meritorious service. Medicine Crow was also honored for his service to France during World War II when he received the National Order of the Legion of Honor from the French government on June 25, 2008. 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 (sparing his life), and captured fifty SS horses at a farm where German officers were staying. Joe Medicine Crow was nominated for the Congressional Gold Medal. Interviews with Dr. Medicince Crow were included in the 2007 Ken Burns PBS series "The War." In those interviews, he describes some of his World War II experiences.

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, America's highest civilian honor, on August 12, 2009. For more on his war deeds, see the “Online Resources” section below.

Additional honors include the naming of a U.S. Veterans Administration clinic in Billings, Montana, and a building at the University of Southern California after Dr. Medicine Crow.

Dr. Medicine Crow was a guest speaker at Little Bighorn College, the Custer Battlefield Museum, and several other colleges throughout the nation. Also an author, his books include, A Handbook of Crow Indian Laws and Treaties, and From the Heart of the Crow Country. He lived on the Crow Reservation in Lodge Grass, Montana, until his death on April 3, 2016.

Dr. Medicine Crow's contributions to World Wisdom books include:

Books/DVDs containing the work of Joe Medicine Crow

Dr. Joe Medicine Crow has contributed the following to World Wisdom projects:

Joe Medicine Crow’s Writings Online
 TitleSourceAuthor 1Author 2SubjectWW HTMLWW PDFExternal Link
In this foreword to Paul Goble's book Earth Made New: Plains Indian Stories of Creation, renowned Crow elder and tribal historian Dr. Joe Medicine Crow adds the Crow story of creation (centered on Old Man Coyote) to enrichen Goble's presentation. Medicine Crow then provides the setting for how such tales were transmitted from elders to the young in earlier times. He concludes by praising the care and authenticity that went into this book and by remarking that there is great value in such books that preserve traditional wisdom for generations who no longer receive it as they did in earlier times.
Foreword by Joe Medicine Crow to "Earth Made New: Plains Indian Stories of Creation" by Paul GobleEarth Made New: Plains Indian Stories of Creation (World Wisdom 2009)Medicine Crow, Joe American Indian, Children’s Books, Tradition
Introduction to Native Spirit: The Sun Dance WayNative Spirit: The Sun Dance WayMedicine Crow, Joe American Indian
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Quotes on Joe Medicine Crow

"Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow, the last living Plains Indian war chief, is the author of seminal works in Native American history and culture. He is the last person alive to have received direct oral testimony from a participant in the Battle of the Little Bighorn: his grandfather was a scout for General George Armstrong Custer. A veteran of World War II, Medicine Crow accomplished during the war all of the four tasks required to become a 'war chief,' including stealing fifty Nazi SS horses from a German camp. Medicine Crow was the first member of his tribe to attend college, receiving his master’s degree in anthropology in 1939, and continues to lecture at universities and notable institutions like the United Nations. His contributions to the preservation of the culture and history of the First Americans are matched only by his importance as a role model to young Native Americans across the country."
The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, taken from a press release announcing the naming of Dr. Medicine Crow, along with 15 others, as recipients of the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Photographs of Joe Medicine Crow

Joe Medicine Crow (in blue sweater) singing at the sacred drum during the Crow Sun Dance in the Wolf Mountains, MT, July 17, 2009.


Grand entry of the Whistling Waters clan of the Crow tribe at a pow-wow in Lodge Grass, MT, July 4, 1991. From left are Thomas Yellowtail, Joe Medicine Crow and Michael Fitzgerald.


a photograph of Joe Medicine Crow's grandfather,
Chief Medicine Crow, taken by Edward S. Curtis

Slideshows on Joe Medicine Crow

Online Resources about Joe Medicine Crow

Joe Medicine Crow will be honored posthumously by the University of Southern California in the spring of 2022 with a building being named after him. Chief Medicine Crow attended USC on a scholarship for his master’s degree in anthropology, which he received in 1939. An excellent story about the upcoming honor also includes some highlights of his accomplishments during his time at USC, during his World War II service, and during his long career as a scholar, advocate, historian, and tribal leader. Click here to read the story in an article by Paul Hamby in the Nov 26, 2021 edition of the Billings Gazette. The article also has some very good photos of Chief Medicine Crow.
Joe Medicine Crow’s battlefield exploits have been repeated in many media stories. His remarkable accomplishment in stealing a herd of horses from German officers is told, mostly in his own words, in “The Art of Capturing Horses”. It was published in American Indian Magazine (Fall 2016 / Vol. 17 No. 3), in an article by Herman Viola.
You can view the segment online about Joe Medicine Crow’s deeds in WWII that later led to his designation as a war chief. It was a part of the Ken Burns series “The War,” and is available on the PBS website. Dr. Medicine Crow is filmed telling much of the story himself.
There is a Wikipedia page on Joe Medicine Crow, which is both well organized and has some additional links and information.
Another interesting page is the White House press release naming the 2009 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Dr. Joe Medicine Crow is among the sixteen distinguished recipients of that year's Medal, and there is a good paragraph in the release summarizing his achievements.
An informative obituary by Matthew Brown was written for the Associated Press after Dr. Medicine Crow's passing. Click here to read more about the life and achievements of Chief Joe Medicine Crow.

Excerpts from or videos of  Joe Medicine Crow

View video interviews with Dr. Joe Medicine Crow on the World Wisdom YouTube channel in a new tab or window. There is a playlist, “Joe Medicine Crow (1913–2016), Tribal Historian of the Crow,” with a number of discussions on his life, experiences, tribal and Native history, and more.

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