A Presidential Medal Of Freedom Recipient, Dr. Medicine Crow was the Crow Tribal Historian and the oldest living member of the Crow tribe.
GARRYOWEN, Mont., April 4, 2016 — “I am heartbroken to share the news that Chief Joseph Medicine Crow has passed away,” said Chris Kortlander, Director of The Custer Battlefield Museum and longtime friend of the noted historian. “Dr. Medicine Crow was a contributing board member to our museum and the last living person with direct oral history from a Custer battle participant; his grandfather was White Man Runs Him, Custer’s favorite scout. He was a brave, strong, wise man; a loving husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather and friend. He will be missed by so many.”
Dr. Medicine Crow was the Crow Tribal Historian and the oldest living member of the Crow tribe. He was the first member of the tribe to obtain a Master’s degree, and his doctoral thesis continues to be the most widely read reference work on Crow history and culture. Dr. Medicine Crow is perhaps best known for his writings and lectures concerning the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
Medicine Crow’s heroic deeds during WWII earned him a Bronze Star as well as the title of Crow War Chief – the last Plains Indian to have achieved this status. In 2008, the French government recognized Medicine Crow’s WWII service to France with the National Order of the Legion of Honor.
For his military deeds, his “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,” Dr. Joe Medicine Crow was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor, in 2009.
In addition to his many achievements, Dr. Medicine Crow was a much beloved member of the community, offering his time and energy in countless ways to support and promote his tribal family. He served for many years as Master of Ceremonies for the annual Crow Fair in Crow Agency, and for the All American Indian Days and Miss Indian America Pageant in Sheridan, Wyoming. He may be best remembered by the general public for having written the original script for the Battle of the Little Big Horn Re-Enactment, an annual outdoor historical event.
In 2006, when Medicine Crow was awarded the Montana State Governor’s Tourism Award, he told the story of the genesis for writing that script. In 1942, while working on his Master’s degree at the University of Southern California, he applied as an extra at Paramount Studios in Hollywood to work on the motion picture “They Died With Their Boots On,” starring Errol Flynn. The director asked Medicine Crow if he knew anything about the Indians; he responded “I think I do. I am a full blooded Crow Indian from Crow Agency Montana.”
The director then asked, “Do you know anything about Custer’s Battle?” Medicine Crow responded, “I sure do, the battlefield is in my backyard. My Grandfather was White Man Runs Him, General Custer’s last scout.” Medicine Crow went on to tell the assembled crowd, “The director asked me what I knew about Custer. I told him the oral history that my grandfather told me; that Custer was a fool and rushed into battle and didn’t wait for the other military divisions to arrive. Then look what happened to Custer. The director asked me if I really believed that Custer was a fool. I told him yes I think he was a fool, Custer was killed, wasn’t he? The director fired me on the spot.”
Medicine Crow told the crowd that he turned around, pointed his finger at the director and told him, “You Hollywood directors are geeks and don’t really want to know the real story, you just want to make this movie your way. Someday I will write my own script of how Custer really met his demise.”
Dr. Medicine Crow is survived by his daughter Diane Reynolds, his son Ronnie Medicine Crow, and many grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Said Kortlander, “While we mourn the loss of a brilliant and well-loved man, we also celebrate his remarkable life and hope that it serves as an example to young people around the world to celebrate their heritage and work hard to make their dreams come true.”