Once in a while, we encounter unique individuals that we would probably never get another chance to meet someone like them, at least not in this lifetime. That was the case when Native American Joseph Medicine Crow fought alongside the troops when The United States joined World War II. Medicine Crow was the last war chief of the Apsáalooke or Crow People, who carried with him a proud and rich story of the Native American tradition.

Born Into a Wonderful Tradition

Joseph Medicine Crow was born on the Crow Indian Reservation near Lodge Grass, Montana, on October 27, 1913. His mother was Amy Yellowtail, from whom he gained his social status. The Crow kinship system was matrilineal, so he was considered born to his mom’s people. His father, Leo Medicine Crow, was an honored and distinguished chief who became a war chief at the early age of 22. He became his son’s inspiration, as well as a standard for aspiring warriors.

White Man Runs Him, c.1908. (Edward S. Curtis, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Joe Medicine Crow’s maternal step-grandfather, White Man Runs Him, was one of the scouts for US General George Armstrong Custer, who was also an eyewitness to the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876. As curator emeritus at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, Herman Viola said, “I always told people, when you meet Joe Medicine Crow, you’re shaking hands with the 19th century.”

A Traditional Warrior in a Modern Warfare

Joe Medicine Crow wanted to become a historian. Before, whenever a newspaper reporter would visit his grandfather to interview him about being a survivor of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, it was Joe Medicine Crow who would often serve as his interpreter. He retold White Man Runs Him’s story over and over again, correcting the factual inaccuracies and biases based on the oral tale of his grandfather.