Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow was trained in the old warrior traditions, which he took with him into WWII
The last Crow war chief entered the log-cabin trading post at the edge of the Little Bighorn Battlefield just after noon on a Sunday, supported by his son on his left and a cane held firmly in his right hand.
Often, at tribal events such as powwows, he’ll swing his cane overhead in celebration. But on this October afternoon, with wind sweeping across the stretch of southern Montana that’s home to the Crows, the cane simply supported the centenarian — Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow in English or High Bird, his traditional name, in Crow.
“I was fortunate when I was growing up,” he said, after a lunch of stew, frybread and pie at the trading post’s cafe. “The Crow Indians were still retaining the culture, and they felt it was their duty to teach me to carry on the tribal heritage.”
In turn, he’s made it his duty to document and share it.
On Monday, Medicine Crow — tribal historian, storyteller, decorated World War II veteran, first in his tribe to attain a master’s degree, last to achieve the status of traditional Crow war chief and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom — turns 102. As he described in a recent letter to a longtime friend and colleague, “On Oct. 27, I will have seen 102 snows.”
And yet he still feels “young and strong.” The eldest in a tribe of more than 10,000 members whose communities are scattered across nearly 3,600 square miles of plains and mountains, he is perhaps as much beloved for his hold on history as he is for his humor.
The secret to reaching 102: Longevity is in Medicine Crow’s DNA. His great-grandmother, grandmother, mother, uncle and others all lived past 100.
When asked, he considers what it means to live well and how to live long, and some of his theories are simple — so simple, he smiles. Go to sleep early, sleep eight hours, eat breakfast, keep busy working, eat generous and healthy helpings at meals.
Long ago, he also stopped drinking alcohol, which his son said had been prevalent in his life after returning from the war. “One thing that happened to me, I got married to a good Christian woman,” Medicine Crow said. “She just prayed, and that worked. So I quit drinking, I quit running around. I started living a good, clean wholesome life.”
His son suggests that doing so added years to his father’s life. The elder Medicine Crow lives alone now, with family nearby checking on him daily.
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