Joe Medicine Crow, last link to Battle of Little Bighorn, 'walks on' at age 102

Joe Medicine Crow © Jim Young
Tributes have poured in for Joseph Medicine Crow, sole surviving war chief of the Montana Crow tribe and the last link to “Custer’s Last Stand” at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, who has "walked on" at aged 102.

The renowned Native American historian became famous for wearing war paint under his uniform while fighting in the Second World War.

He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in acknowledgment of his bravery, by Barack Obama in 2009.  

“CrowJoe”, as he was affectionately known to his friends and family, was the first member of his tribe to receive a master’s degree followed by a PhD.

He was a decorated war veteran and managed to earn his title as a chief by upholding his tribe's traditions.

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By custom, to be granted the title of war chief in the Crow tribe, a warrior had to earn it by commanding a war party, entering a camp during the night, and stealing a horse from the enemy.

If that wasn’t hard enough, he also had to touch the first enemy he saw without killing him.

Medicine Crow did just that, becoming the last member of his tribe to meet all the requirements. With a yellow eagle feather tucked into his helmet, he fought with a German soldier, but spared his life, and then set off 50 horses from a Nazi stable, singing a traditional Crow song as he left the area.

In his book, Counting Coup, he said: “Warfare was our highest art, but Plains Indian warfare was not about killing. It was about intelligence, leadership and honor.”

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Medicine Crow was also the final link to the Battle of the Little Bighorn, or what the Lakota Sioux call Battle of the Greasy Grass, a major battle from the Great Sioux War of 1876, when US troops ethnically cleansed Native American lands to seize gold from the area.

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"I always told people, when you meet Joe Medicine Crow, you're shaking hands with the 19th century," Smithsonian curator emeritus Herman Viola told the Associated Press.

"With his prodigious memory, Medicine Crow could accurately recall decades later the names, dates and exploits from the oral history he was exposed to as a child, Viola said. Those included tales told by four of the six Crow scouts who were at Custer's side at Little Bighorn and who Medicine Crow knew personally," added AP.

One of those scouts was his step-grandfather White Man Runs Him.

Aho, High Bird.