WWII Ground Warfare and Combat Innovations

Joe Medicine Crow

The Last Crow Nation War Chief

Counting Coup
While in Nazi-occupied Europe, Medicine Crow performed the four acts that would make him a Crow War Chief:
  • Lead a raiding party
  • Touch a live enemy in battle
  • Capture an enemy's weapon
  • Steal an enemy's horse

Updated July 2024
Posted October 2023

WWII Joe Medicine Crow
Joe Medicine Crow
The Last Crow War Chief
Joe Medicine Crow was born October 27, 1913 on the Crow Indian reservation in Montana. He was a descendant of White Man Runs Him, a scout for George Custer before the Battle of the Little BigHorn, and Medicine Crow, a tribal chief. He was taught the Crow methods of hunting, tracking, and combat. He attended college at Bacone College and received a master's degree in anthropology from USC in 1939, the first member of the Crow tribe to earn a master's degree. He was working on a doctorate degree when WWII broke out. Medicine Crow enlisted in the Army in 1943, he became a scout in the 103rd Infantry Division and was sent to Europe. Whenever Medicine Crow was in combat, he painted red stripes on his arms beneath his uniform and carried a sacred yellow-painted eagle feather in his helmet.

While in Nazi-occupied Europe, Medicine Crow performed the four acts that would make him a Crow War Chief. The traditional requirements were to lead a raiding party, touch a live enemy in battle (counting coup), capture an enemy's weapon, and steal an enemy's horse. In his duties as a scout, he performed the first three. Medicine Crow's commanding officer ordered him to lead seven men on a raid to blast a hole in the Siegfried Line with a load of TNT. Then, when Medicine Crow was on a mission in a German-held village, he literally ran into a German soldier. They got into a fistfight, with Medicine Crow choking the soldier until he cried out "mama!" He let the German live, but took his prisoner's rifle. All that was left was to take a horse.

While scouting, Medicine Crow and his men found a small farm that German officers had commandeered - a farm with a large herd of horses. In the early morning, Medicine Crow snuck past the guards and tied a rope into a Crow bridle. He mounted one of the horses, and, riding bareback, he stampeded the rest, stealing over fifty horses while singing Crow war songs.

WWII Joe Medicine Crow After the war, he returned to Crow Nation, lectured on Little Bighorn, and served as the Crow Tribal historian. Medicine Crow was awarded the Bronze Star and the French Legion of Honor Chevalier medal. In 2009, he was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Medicine Crow died on April 3, 2016 at the age of 102.

Joe Medicine Crow

WIKIPEDIAJoe Medicine Crow
October 27, 1913 – April 3, 2016
A Native American writer, historian and war chief of the Crow Nation. His writings on Native American history and reservation culture are considered seminal works, but he is best known for his writings and lectures concerning the Battle of the Little Bighorn of 1876.

Medicine Crow was a World War II veteran, serving as a scout in the 103rd Infantry Division of the US Army. He received the Bronze Star Medal and the Legion d'honneur for his service during World War II. In 2009, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama.

Medicine Crow was a founding member of the Traditional Circle of Indian Elders and Youth. He was the last war chief of the Crow Nation and the last Plains Indian war chief.

World War II
After spending the latter half of 1942 working in the naval ship yards in Bremerton, Washington, Medicine Crow joined the U.S. Army in 1943. He became a scout in the 103rd Infantry Division, and fought in World War II. Whenever he went into battle, he wore his war paint (two red stripes on his arms) beneath his uniform and a sacred yellow painted eagle feather, provided by a "sundance" medicine man, beneath his helmet.

Medicine Crow completed all four tasks required to become a war chief: touching an enemy without killing him (counting coup), taking an enemy's weapon, leading a successful war party, and stealing an enemy's horse. He touched a living enemy soldier and disarmed him after turning a corner and finding himself face to face with a young German soldier:

The collision knocked the German's weapon to the ground. Mr. Crow lowered his own weapon and the two fought hand-to-hand. In the end Mr. Crow got the best of the German, grabbing him by the neck and choking him. He was going to kill the German soldier on the spot when the man screamed out 'mama.' Mr. Crow then let him go.

He also led a successful war party and stole fifty horses owned by the Waffen SS from a German camp, singing a traditional Crow honor song as he rode off.

Medicine Crow is the last member of the Crow tribe to become a war chief.

Other Wikipedia Citings

Joe Medicine Crow Book
  • Navajo Weapon
    The Navajo Code Talkers
    November 24, 2001
    This book, by Sally McClain, was signed by several WWII veterans
  • Counting Coup
    Becoming a Crow Chief on the Reservation and Beyond
    Joe Medicine Crow gave a copy of his autobiography to President Obama when he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on August 12, 2009.