| When Joseph Medicine Crow wrote the important book, "From
the Heart of The Crow Country: The Crow Indians' Own Stories,"
he lamented, "the traditional historians and storytellers are
all gone now and I must work with their children and grandchildren,
who have been exposed to their views and recitals of the old stories."
He, of course, did not count himself among the traditional historians
and storytellers then. But, he was, and now he's gone.
Yet, because of his work not just as possibly the last
of the Plains Indians war chiefs he preserved the stories
and history of his tribe, the Crow way of life and helped communicate
across cultures. Life has left his body, but his spirit will remain,
as witnessed by his writing, words and the noble way he lived for
We've recounted plenty of his deeds, including interrupting
his doctoral studies to serve in World War II. While fighting in
the war, he completed four heroic war deeds which allowed him to
become a war chief in his tribe. And, then he began a life of peace
and understanding as he diligently and strategically preserved oral
histories, wrote about Crow culture and became a spokesperson for
understanding. We continue to be proud that a Billings Heights Middle
School will bear his name and become in his words
"a house of learning."
It's right that we mourn the loss of Medicine Crow a
great leader of all people in this state, having been awarded the
Presidential Medal of Freedom. But, it's even more important that
we focus on his legacy.
Medicine Crow demonstrated a unique ability to go between cultures
while respecting both something sorely needed in today's
world and its culture wars. As a Bureau of Indian Affairs appraiser,
he understood one world and lived in another.
"After 5 o'clock, I'd turn into an Indian," Medicine
Crow said. "I live in two worlds and enjoy them."
His tales of Apsaalooke culture helped students learn about
the Crow Indians. He not only literally rewrote the book on The
Battle of the Little Bighorn, but also was sure to include humor,
stories of its warriors and religion.
Medicine Crow broke down barriers and walls that often divided
cultures. His life was an example of living his beliefs. He attained
the highest education, worked to preserve his culture and never
forgot his place as a communicator and educator.
We are indeed saddened by the loss of life on one hand. On the
other, we were the beneficiaries of 102 years of life and wisdom.
When generations of Billings students pass through Joseph Medicine
Crow Middle School, they will learn in a place named for a man who
didn't just embody book smarts but true wisdom. He had a love of
learning because Medicine Crow knew that learning was the first
step to wisdom.
We join in mourning with his family and friends. We pass along
our condolences and our admiration for a man who earned his chief
status in war, but instead led an even better example by his peaceful
nature and wisdom.
Billings, as Medicine Crow once quipped, was getting older and
better like him. However, we have continued to get older, but are
at a loss because we no longer have him with us, in person.
But we have his words, his name and, most importantly, his deeds
to help continue to make this place better. We must honor his spirit
by becoming the kind of community he envisioned we could be.
Medicine Crow was the sole surviving Plains war chief, an honor
that was bestowed for his heroism during World War II. To earn the
honor, he had to complete four tasks, which the national newspaper
Indian Country Today outlined in a 2013
profile marking Medicine Crow's 100th birthday:
He led successful war parties behind enemy lines. He stole German
horses. He disarmed an enemy. And he engaged an enemy without killing
him a German soldier whom he overcame in hand-to-hand combat
before sparing his life.
Historian Ken Burns told Medicine Crow's story in his 2007 documentary
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