Joseph Medicine Crow, an acclaimed Native American historian and the last surviving war chief of Montana's Crow tribe, has died. He was 102. A member of the Whistling Water clan, Medicine Crow was raised by his grandparents in a log house near Lodge Grass, Mont. His Crow name was "High Bird," and he recalled listening as a child to stories about the Battle of Little Bighorn from those who were there, including his grandmother's brother, White Man Runs Him, a scout for Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer. During World War II, Medicine Crow earned the title of war chief after performing a series of daring deeds, including stealing horses from an enemy encampment and hand-to-hand combat with a German soldier whose life Medicine Crow ultimately spared.
In 1939, Medicine Crow became the first of his tribe to receive a master's degree, in anthropology. He served for decades as a Crow historian, cataloging his people's nomadic history by collecting firsthand accounts of pre-reservation life from fellow tribal members. 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, says Herman Viola, curator emeritus at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian. Those included tales told by four of the six Crow scouts who were at Custer's side at Little Bighorn and whom Medicine Crow knew personally. "I always told people, when you meet Joe Medicine Crow, you're shaking hands with the 19th century," Viola tells the AP. (Read more Native Americans stories.)