Remembering a legend

American Indian Museum curator emeritus Herman Viola remembers Joe Medicine Crow, legendary war chief, historian and last living link to the Battle of the Little Big Horn.


Joseph Medicine Crow, wearing feathered headdress, beats a drum while President Obama looks on.

President Barack Obama and Joseph Medicine Crow at the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom Ceremony. Photo by Pete Souza.

Joseph Medicine Crow, the last surviving war chief of the Crow tribe, died April 3 in Billings, Montana. He was 102.

Medicine Crow, or “High Bird” in the Crow language, was known for his works on Native American history, including his documentation of his tribe’s firsthand accounts of reservation life. He was also credited as the last surviving person to have heard oral accounts of the 1876 Battle of Little Bighorn, including stories from his grandmother’s brother, White Man Runs Him, who served as a scout for Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer.

“I always told people, when you meet Joe Medicine Crow, you’re shaking hands with the 19th century,” Herman Viola, curator emeritus at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, once said of Medicine Crow.

Learn more about the life of this remarkable man, the first in his tribe to earn a master’s degree, as Viola shares his memories of Medicine Crow in this interview with National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.”

Smithsonian Curator Remembers Plains Indian War Chief Joe Medicine Crow

In 2009, President Barack Obama awarded Medicine Crow the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, for his work on Native American history and wartime service for the U.S. Army during World War II.

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Posted: 11 April 2016
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