The warlord turned peacemaker > News > USC Dornsife

One of USC Dornsife’s most distinguished alumni, Joseph Medicine Crow was a renowned Native American historian, the last war leader of the Apsáalooke (Crow) Nation, and recipient of a Presidential Medal of Freedom. In April, USC honored him by officially naming a historic building on campus after him.

Serving as a US Army scout during World War II, Joseph Medicine Crow was rounding the corner in a small French town when he collided with a burly young German soldier. Medicine Crow, who wore war paint under his uniform and had a yellow eagle feather concealed inside his helmet, was not a big man, but he did not fire at the enemy. Instead, he disarmed the German with a kick of his boot. Throwing his own rifle aside, he overpowered the larger man in hand-to-hand combat. As Medicine Crow choked him, the German’s eyes rolled in his head and he gasped “Mama, Mama.” Telling the story several years later, Medicine Crow said the soldier’s call brought him to his senses.

“I let him go and got my rifle back and he became my prisoner,” he told his son, Ronald Medicine Crow. “We sat down, away from the shouting and fighting, and I shared a cigarette with him.”

This feat is a perfect illustration not only of Medicine Crow’s bravery, but also of his profound humanity – a quality that has earned him some of the highest accolades in the world, as well as the respect of all who met him.

A life of honors

One of USC Dornsife’s most distinguished alumni, Joseph Medicine Crow was a renowned Native American historian and writer, the last war chief of the Apsáalooke (Crow) Nation and its first member to earn a master’s degree. In 2009, President Barack Obama presented her with the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in recognition of his military service and contribution to Native American history. The previous year, he had received a bronze star and the Legion of Honor – the highest order of merit in France – for his service during the Second World War.

According to Crow tradition, a warrior must fulfill four requirements to be appointed war chief. Medicine Crow accomplished all four in World War II: leading a successful war team, hitting an enemy soldier without killing him, disarming an enemy soldier, and capturing an enemy’s horse. Indeed, among his wartime exploits, Medicine Crow is credited with capturing 50 horses from a Nazi SS camp and successfully leading a team of soldiers to blast German artillery.

He also claimed to be the first Allied soldier to land in Nazi Germany after his captain ordered him to jump over the narrow stream that marked the Siegfried Line separating the country from France – a feat he was later praised for. by General Omar Bradley, one of General Dwight Eisenhower’s trusted men.

“A jack of all trades”

Born into the Whistling Waters clan of the Crow reservation in Lodge Grass, Montana, in 1913, Medicine Crow came from a distinguished lineage: his paternal grandfather was the prominent Medicine Crow chief and his stepfather was the son of White Man Runs Him. one of George Armstrong Custer’s four personal scouts at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

Medicine Crow was raised by his grandparents, who immersed him in Crow traditions, instilling in him endurance and tribal skills.

“His grandfather Yellowtail trained him in ancient ways of warfare,” says Ronald Medicine Crow. “In winter, they would dig a hole in the ice and take a refreshing dip in the morning. Then Yellowtail told him to run a hundred yards in the snow barefoot. In the summer and fall, Dad learned hunting and tracking skills.

“My dad was raised as a farm boy, rancher, outdoorsman, hunter, cowboy, jockey and exercise boy – he was a versatile man.”

During his formative years, Joseph Medicine Crow also steeped himself in the history of his tribe. When the elders gathered at the sweat lodge, telling tales of intertribal warfare and mythological heroes, Medicine Crow, who served as their water boy, listened and made mental notes.

This early knowledge forged a lifelong love for Native American history. Widely credited as the last person to hear the tales of Battle of Little Bighorn direct participants in the 1876 conflict and a naturally gifted storyteller in his own right, Medicine Crow grew to be revered as one of his people’s most influential and skilled bearers of oral history.

After World War II, he became a tribal historian for the Apsáalooke (Crow) Tribal Council, documenting the traditions and daily life of his people in several books, including From the Heart of Crow Country: The Own Stories of the Crow Indians (Crown, 1992).

Perseverance pays

Unable to speak English as a young child, Medicine Crow’s formal education got off to a rocky start when he struggled to pronounce “excuse me” to his teacher’s satisfaction after suffering a hiccup on the first day. She made him put on a dunce cap and sent him to the sandpit to play with wooden blocks. This treatment continued through her first two years of school.

From eighth grade through his first two years in college, Medicine Crow attended Bacone College in Oklahoma, becoming a star pitcher on the baseball team and excelling at the javelin throw. He became an accomplished musician, learning to play six instruments: saxophone, clarinet, flute, piano, accordion and Indian hand drum.

In high school, he also began to study seriously, competing with a friend for top grades.

“That’s how he went from the sandbox with a dunce cap to an A student and the honor roll,” says Ronald Medicine Crow.

Joseph Medicine Crow continued his studies at Linfield College in Oregon before arriving at USC Dornsife in 1938 on a scholarship. He obtained his master’s degree in anthropology with a archeology minor in 1939. His thesis, “The Effects of European Cultural Contact on the Economic, Social, and Religious Life of the Crow Indians”, is considered the seminal scientific work on the subject.

By the early 1940s, Medicine Crow had completed courses for a doctorate at USC Dornsife, but determined to serve his country, he joined the United States Army in 1942. USC awarded him an honorary Doctor of Letters in 2003 – one of four honorary doctorates. doctorates he received during his lifetime.

Upon returning from World War II, Medicine Crow began a successful career as a land assessor for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. There, he put his archeology training at USC to good use, surveying the land to ensure that no sacred burial sites or artifacts were disturbed by development.

chief of peace

Saddened by the anti-Native American discrimination he witnessed, he came up with the idea of ​​creating a Miss Indian America pageant to help promote unity between whites and Indians. Held during All-American Indian Days — an annual celebration of Native American culture and another Medicine Crow initiative to foster positive relationships — the contest was a success. “It changed the climate, and very quickly we were more than welcome to come to town and do business,” says Ronald Medicine Crow.

Joseph Medicine Crow showed a lifelong commitment to education, teaching in the Department of Crow Studies at Little Big Horn College in Montana. A college in Billings, Montana is named after him.

And in 2000, the warlord – who was also a devout Baptist who taught a men’s Sunday school class – performed the opening song for the United Nations summit conference for spiritual and religious leaders.

Ronald Medicine Crow says his father was deeply influenced by Christianity and did his best to live a good life and be a role model for young and old.

“My father said, ‘I live in two worlds: the Indian world and the white world. There is a middle line that connects these two worlds together. … I walk that line and take what is good of both.

“Dad was a humanitarian who loved everyone, even his enemies, he was a dignified man, but a humble man. He held no grudges. He was forgiving and positive. And people loved him for that.

A pioneer and a model

Medicine Crow died on April 2, 2016, at the age of 102. State officials attended his funeral, and tributes poured in from around the world, including from Obama.

The tributes continued even after Medicine Crow’s death.

This year, on April 16, USC honored USC alumnus Dornsife by officially naming a historic building on campus after him. The Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow Center for International and Public Affairs is located in the heart of USC’s University Park campus, its tower topped by one of the university’s most visible and recognizable landmarks – the stylized globe. The center houses many of USC Dornsife’s departments, including Anthropology, the history of art, political science and international relations. A scholarship program for Native Americans will also be established in his name.

In his speech at the nomination ceremony, USC Dornsife Dean Amber D. Miller paid tribute to Medicine Crow, describing him as “a bridge builder.”

“He connected new generations to the stories of their past, helped communities overcome intolerance towards Indigenous peoples, and found ways to connect the cultural traditions of the Crow people with the opportunities of modern society,” he said. she declared.

“Joe Medicine Crow was also known to be a generous mentor – he was patient, encouraging and willing to invest in others. Most importantly, he showed how to live his actions. —SB


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