Badass of the Week: Joe Medicine Crow

Joe Medicine Crow with Obama.

"War Chief of the Crow Indians" isn't a title that's just randomly thrown around to any jackass who happens to own a gigantic, awesome-looking headdress and a really awesome traditional-style wooden bow made out of the bark of dead Treants.

You don't become a war chief just because you're the oldest dude in the tribe, or the most badass hunter, or the only guy in your zip code capable of bench-pressing an automobile. It's an ancient, prestigious honorific bestowed only upon the bravest, the strongest and the most hard-core ass kickers around, and the only way to attain this hallowed title is by proving yourself in combat and unlocking the four achievements the Crow believed to be the most insanely difficult things a warrior can attempt in battle:

  • Leading a successful war party on a raid
  • Capturing an enemy's weapon
  • Touching an enemy without killing him
  • Stealing an enemy's horse

None of this s--- is easy, and pretty much all of it requires you put your life on the line by voluntarily bringing yourself face to face with at least one warrior who is presumably in the process of actively trying to rip you limb from limb with a bowie knife and then splatter your corpse across the countryside with a well-placed headbutt. It's like the Crow Indians' way of making sure they don't have any suck-ass weaklings leading their tribe into combat.


At 102 years old, Joseph Medicine Crow-High Bird was the last surviving war chief of the Crow Indians when he died in 2016. He was a hard-core, fearless, neck-snapping warrior who has accomplished all of these tremendous feats of bravery in combat and has proven himself a step above the majority of humanity on the "badassitude" scale.

And he did it in World War II.

Medicine Crow medal

Joe Medicine Crow was born on a reservation near Lodge Grass, Montana, in 1913. Raised in the illustrious warrior tradition of the Crow, this dude had some pretty hard-core badasses to look up to as a young man. His step-grandfather had been a scout for Custer at the infamous Battle of Little Bighorn (the Crow had a generations-long blood feud with the Lakota Sioux), and his paternal grandfather was a dude named Chief Medicine Crow, who was like the Michael Jordan of Crow war heroes.

So, naturally, young Joseph was drilled into a tough warrior capable of handling himself in any situation. The majority of this young warrior's childhood was spent undergoing hardcore Spartan-style feats of strength, piledriving buffalo, riding horses bareback, swimming through mighty rivers, punching things and running barefoot through snow-covered plains uphill both ways.

He was taught to control his fear in the face of imminent peril, learned to hunt dangerous animals by himself and trained his body to survive prolonged exposure to extreme temperatures.

He was also taught the war history of his tribe, and in addition to honing his body to the ultimate wilderness survival machine, he also became the first member of his tribe to graduate with an advanced college degree, receiving his master's degree in anthropology from USC in 1939.

Medicine Crow was in the process of working on his Ph.D. when the United States entered World War II. Never one to back down from the opportunity to put his powers of mass destruction to good use, Crow enlisted as a scout in the 103rd Infantry and was sent to the beaches of Normandy to wreak havoc on the forces of European fascism.

Despite serving in a war dominated by automatic weapons, heavy artillery, and gigantic tanks armed with 88mm cannons, Medicine Crow held on to the time-honored practices of his tribe. He always wore bright red war paint into combat, and he strapped a sacred yellow-painted eagle feather to his helmet for good luck.

He also counted the four coups required to distinguish himself as a Crow war chief, which is no small task when one of those tasks involves stealing a horse from the enemy.

Medicine Crow War Party

As an infantry scout, you probably don't get too many opportunities to lead a group of men into combat, but Pvt. Medicine Crow got the opportunity to do just that in snow-covered battlefields of Western France while the Allies made their push from Paris toward Berlin.

The border to Germany was a heavily fortified wall of impenetrable machine gun bunkers, tank traps, trenches, moats and artillery positions known as the Siegfried Line, which was basically like a functional, not-worthless version of France's Maginot Line.

Well, during one particularly nasty portion of the battle for the Rhine, Medicine Crow's commanding officer ordered the Native American warrior to take a team of seven soldiers and lead them across an field of barbed wire, bullets and artillery fire, grab some dynamite from an American position that had been utterly annihilated and then assault the German bunkers and blow them up with TNT. This was basically a suicide mission, but, according to Medicine Crow, when he got the mission, his commanding officer's exact words were, "If anyone can do this, it's probably you."

That's not exactly a phrase that inspires tremendous confidence, but Joe Medicine Crow didn't give a s---. He charged out, evaded an endless rain of fireballs, shrapnel and misery, grabbed the TNT from a supply crate while tracer rounds zipped past his head, and then charged toward some German machine gun nests while carrying an armload of ultra-high explosives.

He somehow reached the wall in one piece and blasted a hole in the Siegfried Line so the infantry could advance. Medicine Crow received a Bronze Star for this action, and his squad did not lose a single man in the battle. I'd call that a win.

Medicine Crow Skywalker

Shortly after moving through the Siegfried Line (I read in one source that Medicine Crow was photographed leading the charge and leaping through the breach he'd created in the wall, thus making him the first American soldier to set foot on German soil, though I wasn't able to verify this fact or locate the photo), the 103rd was ordered to capture a nearby town that was being staunchly defended by the enemy.

While the main elements of the 103rd moved into the well-defended main street of the village, Medicine Crow's scouts were ordered to flank around through a back alley and get behind the German fortifications. Well, as this was going down, Medicine Crow got separated from his unit, and while he was in the process of sprinting through some German family's backyard a random Nazi stepped out from behind the wall with his rifle at the ready.

Medicine Crow didn't see this dude until the last second, and ended up running right into the guy, like the Juggernaut from the X-Men.

The two guys smashed helmet to helmet in a maneuver that would probably have netted Medicine Crow a 15-yard penalty in the NFL, and the force of the running mega Indian flying headbutt sent that Nazi (and his rifle) sprawling across the lawn.

Medicine Crow, however, still had his rifle firmly wedged in his kung fu grip.

Medicine Crow Batman

Medicine Crow now found himself standing rifle to face with an unarmed German soldier, but gunning down an unarmed man wasn't this guy's style. He was much more of an "honorable combat" sort of badass, and he wasn't about to let this Nazi feel the sweet release of death without getting a nice red, white and blue knuckle sandwich or two beforehand.

So Medicine Crow threw down his rifle and hit him in the face, Batman style.

The two guys started going at it, and at one point, the Nazi almost flipped the tables and pinned Medicine Crow, but the Native American warrior freaked out, grabbed the German dude by the throat and started squeezing. Just as he was ready to choke the life out of his enemy, the German, sensing imminent death, started calling out for his mother.

That kind of put the kibosh on Medicine Crow's kill buzz. So he let the guy live, taking the German (and his rifle) as a prisoner of war and knocking out two war chief prerequisites with one well-placed face punch.

Medicine Crow grand theft horse

Of all the s--- on this borderline-impossible list, this is the one that seems like it would trip up the most people these days. But in early 1945, Medicine Crow stole 50 horses from a group of German officers.

The story starts with Medicine Crow and his men on a scouting mission deep behind enemy lines. While surveying the landscape for enemy troop movements, Medicine Crow's small team of recon experts just happened to come across a small farm where some senior members of the German officer staff were holed up -- along with a group of awesome thoroughbred race horses.

So, naturally, Medicine Crow had to steal them.

In the early hours of the morning, Medicine Crow, dressed in his U.S. Army uniform, snuck past the sleeping guards armed only with a rope and his Colt 1911 .45-caliber service pistol. He found the best horse in the group, tied the rope into a makeshift bridle, mounted the horse bareback and then gave a super loud Crow war cry as he tried to herd as many horses out of the corral as possible before the Nazis started firing bullets at him.

Hauling ass through the German countryside in the dead of night, Medicine Crow sang a Crow war song while German officers ran outside in their underwear taking potshots at him with their Lugers.

In the last days of the war, Medicine Crow helped liberate a concentration camp in Poland (he and his commanding officer drove a jeep through the front gates, and the SS guards immediately dropped their stuff and ran away without a fight) before finally heading home to his tribe in Montana. When the Crow elders heard about his through-the-roof Gamerscore, they made Joe an official war chief in the Tribe -- a post he now holds by himself.

He was also made a knight in the French Legion of Honor, received three honorary Ph.D.s, authored nearly a dozen books on military history, stayed married to the same woman for more than 60 years and has been the official historian for his tribe for the last 50 years.

In August 2009, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom -- the highest honor awarded to American civilians -- for his combined military service and all the work he has done to help improve the lives of the people of the Crow people. The 95-year-old Medicine Crow led the ceremonial dance after the ceremony.


Billings Gazette

Joe Medicine Crow



Nabokov, Peter. Native American Testimony. Penguin, 1999.

Robinson, Gary and Phil Lucas. From Warriors to Soldiers. iUniverse, 2010.

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