SHAKO: Native American Heritage Month

November 1, 2022 at 11:56 pm Leave a comment

THE LAST CROW WAR CHIEF.

Updates with new White House photo and more information on Medicine Crow’s life.

November 1 marks the beginning of National American Indian Heritage Month. Since a law passed by Congress in 1990, November is designated to honor American Indians/Native Americans “for their respect for natural resources and the Earth, having served with valor in our nation’s conflicts and for their many distinct and important contributions to the United States,” according to the Pentagon’s Equal Opportunity Management Institute.

(Joseph Medicine Crow Image: U.S. Defense Department)

This year’s poster for the month-long recognition is focused on the late U.S. Army Technician 5th Grade Joseph Medicine Crow, the last Crow War Chief.

How Medicine Crow earned that distinction is quite a story.

While serving as an Army scout in the 103rd Infantry Division during World War II, Medicine Crow went into battle wearing war paint under his uniform and a sacred eagle feather under his helmet, according to the University of Southern California (USC), where Medicine Crow earned a master’s degree before the war and an honorary doctorate in humane letters years later. 

Medicine Crow had to accomplish four essential tasks — traditionally insults or defiance aimed at an enemy force — to become a war chief:

* counting coup (touching an enemy without killing him)

* taking an enemy’s weapon

* leading a successful war party, without the loss of a Crow life, and

* stealing an enemy’s horse.

During a combat operation, Medicine Crow ran into a young German soldier, knocking him to the ground. Because the German lost his weapon in the collision, Medicine Crow dropped his own weapon and they fought hand-to-hand. As Medicine Crow was choking the German, the enemy soldier cried out for his mother. The 20th century Crow warrior released the German and let him go. In a later action, Medicine Crow led a successful war party and stole 50 horses from a German Nazi SS Camp. As he rode off, he sang a traditional Crow war song.

For his actions in WWII, Crow received the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, multiple service ribbons, including the Bronze Star medal, and from France, the Legion of Honor. In 2009, Medicine Crow received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, for his academic work as well as his community leadership in war and peace. At the ceremony in the East Room of the White House, President Barack Obama had a little difficulty reaching around Medicine Crow’s large traditional Crow headdress to attach the presidential medal around his neck. The President introduced him as “a good man” in the Crow language. In English, Obama said, “Dr. Medicine Crow’s life reflects not only the warrior spirit of the Crow people, but America’s highest ideals.”

Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow, the last War Chief of the Crow Nation, speaks with President Barack Obama at White House Medal of Freedom award ceremony in 2009. (White House photo by Pete Souza, via wikipedia)

“His contributions to the preservation of the culture and history of the First Americans are matched only by his importance as a role model to young Native Americans across the country,” the White House noted.

Medicine Crow was in some heady company at the 2009 awards ceremony. Other recipients of the medal that year included Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, physicist Stephen Hawking, actor Sidney Poitier, human rights and peace activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Medicine Crow was 95, the tribal historian and oldest member of the Crow Tribe when he received the Medal of Freedom. His master’s degree in anthropology from USC in 1939 represented the first postgraduate degree earned by a male from his tribe. He stayed on at USC to pursue a doctorate and had completed all his coursework when he was called to duty in World War II.

His oft-cited USC thesis was on “The Effects of European Culture Upon the Economic, Social and Religious Life of the Crow Indians.” It was truly original research and contained no references or footnotes, as there was almost no prior research on the topic, the university said. At 72, Medicine Crow wrote his first book, From the Heart of Crow Country: The Crow Indians’ Own Stories. Even in old age, he continued to lecture at universities and notable institutions like the United Nations.

Former US Army Crow Scouts at the Little Bighorn battlefield in Montana, circa 1913. (Left to right) White Man Runs Him, Hairy Moccasin, Curly and Goes Ahead. (U.S. Army photo)

In his historian’s role, Medicine Crow lectured extensively on the Battle of the Little Bighorn (Custer’s Last Stand), where his grandfather, White Man Runs Him, served as a scout for Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer’s 7th Cavalry.

The Crow people, also called the Absaroka or Apsáalookey in their language (People of the of the large-beaked bird) migrated from the Eastern woodlands to the Northern Great Plains in the early 18th century, where they adopted the lifestyle of Plains Indians, hunting bison and living in tipis in Montana and Wyoming. They were fierce warriors and renowned for their horses. During the Indian Wars they supported the U.S. military, providing scouts and protecting travelers on the Bozeman Trail. Despite their assistance, the Crow — like the other plains tribes — were forced onto a reservation, located on part of their traditional homeland in Montana.

The last member of the Crow tribe to be designated a war chief, Medicine Crow died in 2016 at the age of 102.

*** *** ***

SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress or parade uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.

Entry filed under: Army, National Security and Defense, SHAKO, Traditions, World War II. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

FRIDAY FOTO (October 28, 2022) FRIDAY FOTO (November 4, 2022)

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