Updated at 4:13 p.m.: Added a statement from U.S. President Barack Obama.
“Stand, my friends, Joe Medicine Crow is walking past…”
Those were the opening words of a poem by Longmire writer Craig Johnson read aloud at the World War II veterans 100th birthday celebration on October 27, 2013.
And at that celebration, the crowd stood and bestowed the tribal historian, anthropologist and educator with a thunderous applause as he walked by.
This week, all those in Indian country and in Washington, D.C. who had the chance to meet Medicine Crow are once again standing to honor the Presidential Medal of Freedom Honoree’s passing.
The last surviving war chief of the Crow Tribe walked on April 3, 2016. He was 102.
“Today, Montana lost a treasure. Joe Medicine Crow was a soldier and a scholar, but above all he was a fierce advocate for Native American families,” Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) said.
The Washington Post reported Medicine Crow was a member of the Whistling Water clan and was raised by his grandparents on the Crow Reservation. His Crow name was “High Bird.” He was born October 27, 1913 near Lodge Grass, Montana – a place he would live his entire life.
In a 2008 ICTMN article, it was reported that Medicine Crow became the first Crow citizen to earn a master’s degree. He received three honorary doctoral degrees in place of the one lost to war, and wrote authoritative accounts of Crow history and culture. He played a vital role in establishing the Plains Indian Museum at Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming.
As news spread of Medicine Crow’s passing, many reflected on his life. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said, “His legacy will forever serve as an inspiration for all Native Americans – and all Montanans.”
Part of that legacy was receiving the honor of war chief from the tribe. Bestowed upon him for completing four tasks – led successful war parties behind enemy lines; stole German horses; disarmed an enemy; and engaged an enemy without killing him.
“Medicine Crow's spirit, humility and life achievements leave a lasting imprint on Montana's history. My deepest condolences are with Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow's family and all of Crow Nation,” Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) said.
“When you spoke with Joe Medicine Crow, it was impossible not to be inspired. I know his legacy will motivate generations of Montanans to follow in his footsteps and live a life dedicated to serving others," Tester said.
“In Crow, you'd say Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow was a bacheitche – a good man. The first of his people to go to college and earn a Master's, he wore war paint beneath his uniform and an eagle feather beneath his helmet during World War II. His bravery in battle earned him the Bronze Star from America, the Legion d'honneur from France, and in 2009, I was proud to honor him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Yet I suspect his greatest honor was one he earned from his people: the title of war chief – the last Crow to hold that distinction,” President Obama said in a statement this morning. “Dr. Medicine Crow dedicated much of his life to sharing the stories of his culture and his people. And in doing so, he helped shape a fuller history of America for us all. Michelle and I honor 102 years of a life well lived, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family and the entire Crow Nation.”