How to Become a Crow War Chief during World War II

The legendary Chief Joe Medicine Crow was the last Crow War Chief and a true western hero.  Joe Medicine Crow was born on the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana, his maternal step grandfather was a scout for Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn, and his grandfather was the famous Crow Chief Medicine Crow.

Joe Medicine Crow was studying for his PhD in Anthropology when war broke out.  At first he worked in the naval shipyards in Bremerton, Washington.  Then, in 1943 he enlisted in the US Army, becoming a scout in the 103rd Infantry Division. The 103rd took part in the invasion of Marseilles, eventually driving the Germans out of Southern France, then advancing across the Siegfried Line and invading Germany.

According to Crow tradition, there were four things a Crow warrior had to do to become a war chief.

1. Lead a victorious war party

When crossing the Siegfried Line in 1945, Joe Medicine Crow was ordered to take seven men and assault a pair of heavily fortified German bunkers.  The team climbed across dense fields of barbed wire while avoiding machine gun and mortar fire.  They were then able to destroy the bunkers with TNT, completing the mission with no losses. 

2. Touch an enemy without killing him 3. Take an enemy’s weapon

While assaulting a fortified German town, Joe Medicine Crow became separated from his unit.  When turning across the corner of street, he collided directly into a German soldier, knocking the soldier’s rifle to the ground. Rather than shoot the unarmed man, Joe Medicine Crow set down his own rifle, instead intending to take the German in an old fashioned bout of fisticuffs.  Both men fought hand to hand, until eventually Joe Medicine Crow got a choke hold on him.  He spared the German soldier when he started crying out for his mother.  Rather than kill him, Joe Medicine Crow allowed him to live, taking his weapon and taking the soldier prisoner.

4. Steal an enemy’s horse

While on a scouting mission behind enemy lines, Joe Medicine Crow came upon a large farming estate owned by a group of SS officers.  On the estate, the officers bred horses.  In the early morning, Joe Medicine Crow crept past several guards and infiltrated the farm.  He quickly and quietly bridled up a horse and corralled up as many other horses as possible, leading an Old West style stampede while shouting Crow war cries and war songs as German soldiers shot at him.  He returned to base with 50 captured enemy horses.

After World War II Joe Medicine Crow completed his studies, becoming the Crow tribal historian, anthropologist, and tribal spokesperson.  Throughout his life he spoke at several different colleges and universities, at the Little Bighorn Battlefield, and at the United Nations. He has also written several books on Crow and Native American history. He was awarded honorary doctorate degrees from Rocky Mountain College, the University of Southern California, and Bacone College.  In 2008 he was awarded the Bronze Star for valor in battle and the French Legion of Honor.  In 2009 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Pres. Barack Obama.

On April 3rd, 2016, at the age of 102, Chief Joe Medicine Crow mounted his horse for the last time, and quietly rode off into the sunset.

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