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NWC News Desk

Last living Plains Indian war chief speaks Saturday, Nov. 20, at NWC Buffalo Feast

Posted November 2, 2009

POWELL, Wyo. - The last living Plains Indian war chief will share his story during the annual Native Ways Buffalo Feast Friday, Nov. 20, in the Rendezvous Lounge of the DeWitt Student Center at Northwest College in Powell.

"An Evening with Dr. Joe Medicine Crow" will treat listeners to a Native American dinner and then the recollections of the last person alive who received direct oral testimony from a participant in the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

The 97-year-old Joseph Medicine Crow-High Bird was born near Lodge Grass, Mont. He is an enrolled member of the Crow Nation of Native Americans and the last member of his tribe to become a war chief.

Medicine Crow grew up listening to his step-grandfather's stories about his job as a scout for George Armstrong Custer and one of the most famous battles in America's early history. Medicine Crow became a scout himself in the 103rd Infantry Division during World War II. Carrying on the tradition of his ancestors, he wore war paint beneath his uniform and a sacred eagle feather under his helmet when he went into battle.

During his military service, Medicine Crow completed all four tasks to become a Crow war chief, including 1) touching a living enemy soldier, 2) disarming an enemy, 3) leading a successful war party and 4) stealing an enemy horse. Medicine Crow actually stole 50 Nazi SS horses from a battalion of German officers in a midnight raid and sang a traditional Crow honor song as he rode off with them.

After the war, he returned to college and became the first of his tribe to earn a master's degree. His 1939 master's thesis written at the University of Southern California, "The Effects of European Culture Contact upon the Economic, Social and Religious Life of the Crow Indians," has become one of the most widely cited documents concerning Crow culture. This and his books and other writings on Native American history and reservation culture are considered seminal works.

Earlier this year Medicine Crow received from President Barack Obama the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States. He added that to his earlier Congressional Gold Medal, Bronze Star and Legion d'honneur, the highest decoration given in France.

Medicine Crow still maintains a busy writing and lecture schedule. He's in demand at colleges and other institutions, including the United Nations.

The Native Ways student club at Northwest College asked Medicine Crow to be the featured speaker at its buffalo feast, an event the club sponsors annually to celebrate Native American Heritage Month.

The dinner begins at 6 p.m. and features buffalo, mashed red potatoes and gravy, squash, seasoned green beans, Bannock bread and berry soup, freshly baked bread, mixed greens, pumpkin cake and beverages.

Advance reservations are required by Tuesday, Nov. 17.  Tickets are $14, and $7 for Northwest College students and children age 12 and under. 

For reservations and more information, e-mail Mary Baumann, NWC multicultural program coordinator, or call (307) 754-6138 or toll-free (307) 560-4692, ext. 6138.