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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 17, 2003 - Issue 87


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Medicine Crow to Receive Honorary Degree from USC

by Jeremy Russell Billings Gazette Staff
credits: John Warner Billings Gazette-Medicine Crow sits in front of an 1892 painting that once hung on the wall of a pub in London called Custer's Last Stand.

John Warner Billings Gazette-Medicine Crow sits in front of an 1892 painting that once hung on the wall of a pub in London called Custer's Last Stand.Crow Tribal Historian Joe Medicine Crow, 90, will finally receive the anthropology Ph.D. that he would have earned six decades ago if world events hadn't intervened.

Next Friday, he will join the University of Southern California 2003 graduating class for an honorary doctorate.

Medicine Crow said that by 1941, he had completed all the courses in USC's Department of Anthropology and was writing a dissertation on "cultural transition of a tribe to the mainstream society" when his graduate studies were interrupted by World War II.

"I had an uncle who had other plans for me," Medicine Crow said. "Uncle Sam."

He spent the next few years trooping through Europe and fighting as an infantryman in the 103rd (or "Cactus") Division, he said.

When the war began, he had expected that his seven years of higher education would mean a job pushing paper, but troops were being killed so rapidly at that time they "turned many bookkeepers into soldiers," he said.

It was only when he had returned from the war and was recounting his deeds to tribal elders that he realized that he had completed the four actions necessary to be declared a war chief by his tribe: touch a fallen enemy with a coup stick, take an enemy's weapon without killing him, capture a prized horse or horses and bring back warriors and war deeds.

"I'd be at the wrong place at the wrong time, and I'd complete these deeds," he said.

In Medicine Crow's case, the coup stick was a gun that was knocked from his hands during a struggle with an enemy soldier whom he disarmed, but left alive, thereby completing two deeds in one action. He later crawled through mud and gunfire to retrieve dynamite to detonate an installation of the German artillery known as "Big Berthas."

And, through sheer random luck, he happened to capture several horses from a group of deserting S.S. officers near the end of the war.

"This would never happened except this particular time and this particular place," he said of the horse capture. "Just to look at the horses made me feel good."

Having earned his war chief title, Medicine Crow tried to return to USC to complete his studies but found that the department had been closed for the war effort and would not be reactivated for a time.

"I came back to (Montana) and got married and got a job and decided to stick around here," he said. The years passed and eventually he forgot all about his unfinished degree.

It wasn't until last year that a USC-trained architect visited the region, met Medicine Crow and put the wheels in motion for the honorary degree.

However, only another USC Ph.D. can nominate someone for the honorary doctorate that Medicine Crow will be receiving next week.

"I met Joe Medicine Crow years ago, through my adoptive son, Christopher Kortlander, who is the director of the Custer Battlefield Museum," Couch wrote. "Given (Medicine Crow's) outstanding achievements and lifelong dedication to the study and preservation of Native American history, and given the fact that work on his doctorate degree was permanently put on hold so the he could take up arms and fight for his country overseas, I feel it is safe to say that Mr. Medicine Crow's doctorate degree is well deserved and long overdue."

As well as serving as the tribal historian for the Crow for the last 60 years, Medicine Crow assisted in the founding of the Little Bighorn Museum and his words have also been inscribed on a Peace Memorial monument at the Custer Battlefield Museum.

He will be a speaker this summer at the unveiling of the new "Peace Through Unity" Indian Memorial Monument at the Little Bighorn Battlefield, the first national Indian monument in the United States.

Medicine Crow's grandfather, White Man Runs Him, was a Crow scout at the Battle of Little Bighorn.

Next week's visit to USC will be his first in 15 years. The last visit was for a conference, but Medicine Crow said he sneaked away to watch a football game during one of the sessions.

"Incidentally, I've seen some real good football games at USC," he added.

As he did in a similar ceremony at Rocky Mountain College in 2002, Medicine Crow said he plans to wear his war bonnet to the graduation ceremony. He will tell the assembled: "I left the reservation wearing my war bonnet in search of good deeds and honors, and it has come to pass."

As the Crow Flies

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