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ecoming a War Chief is perhaps one of the most prestigious acts a Native American could perform. Although different Native American tribes had different criteria for becoming a War Chief, they usually include feats of courage and honor in combat. Most of us attribute this title of War Chief as something relevant during the era when the Wild West existed, and cowboys still roamed the prairies. As it turns out, this title continued to be achieved long after cowboys disappeared, with the last War Chief would get his title in World War Two.

The Crow People

Joseph Medicine Crow was born on 27 October 1913 on the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana. From birth, many thought he was destined for greatness as he was a direct descendant of Chief Medicine Crow, a highly regarded figure in the Crow community. During his childhood, he was pushed to learn the traditions of the tribe, such as riding a horse without a saddle and hunting.

Lithograph showing the Battle of Little Bighorn by Charles Marion Russell. Chief Medicine Crow was a scout for the US General George Armstrong Custer at this battle. Source: Wikimedia Commons

As he grew up, Joseph excelled in academia, completing an Associate of Arts degree in 1936. He went on to go to university, completing a bachelor’s degree in sociology and psychology, then a masters in anthropology at the University of Southern California, becoming the first of the Crow people to receive a master’s diploma.

Before the outbreak of World War Two, Joseph was also working on a P.h.D. unfortunately, after finishing most of the work required for the degree, America entered the war against Nazi Germany. Rather than finish his degree, he went to work at the shipyard in Washington. As the war got more intense, he decided to join the armed forces in 1943.

The 4 feats of the War Chief

Young Joseph Medicine Crow

To become a Crow War Chief, you must perform four feats of ultimate bravery and fearlessness. The first feat is to touch an enemy without killing them, the second is taking an enemy’s weapon, the third is leading a successful war party, and the fourth is stealing an enemy’s horse.

Joseph would achieve two of the feats when he encountered a German as he was going around a corner. The two soldiers collided, leading to the German soldier’s rifle falling to the ground; Joseph threw his rifle away and fought the enemy soldiers with only his hands. Once he got the upper hand in the fight, Joseph put the German soldier in a chokehold, ready to kill him; this was until the soldier exclaimed, “mama.” Joseph let the enemy soldier go, keeping his weapon, achieving two of the required feats.

With two more feats to achieve, Joseph planned an ambitious raid against a German camp. He led a group of soldiers into the camp successfully, stealing 50 of their horses and riding away with his raiding party while singing a traditional Crow honor song.

This crossed off the last two feats he required, officially making Joseph Medicine Crow a War Chief of the Crow people. Since these events, no other Native American man performed all four feats within a lifetime to claim the title of War Chief making Joseph the last War Chief.


The brave War Chief died in 2016 at the age of 102 after an active life of teaching the people of America about the stories of the Native Americans, raising awareness about their struggles and history. Joseph even met up with then-President Barack Obama in 2009, who awarded the brave War chief the Presidential Medal of Freedom, officially recognizing his deeds against the Nazis in World War Two.

His master’s thesis, “The Effects of European Culture Contact upon the Economic, Social, and Religious Life of the Crow Indians,” is still widely regarded as one of the most in-depth pieces of research about the Crow people.

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