The last Plains Indian war chief still fights for his home, his people and their way of life

By Steven Law

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, Dec. 6 2012 1:12 p.m. MST

Somehow Medicine Crow and all six men safely crossed no man’s land and reached the French Maginot Line, where they procured seven boxes of dynamite from the French. Medicine Crow then led his men back through the same no man’s land, this time each one carried a 50-pound box of dynamite. Again the Americans threw smoke shells to provide cover, and again the Germans, suspecting something was happening in there, lobbed mortars into it. All seven men made it back safely.

Medicine Crow didn’t realize it at the time, but he had just accomplished his first war deed: leading a successful war party and bringing back everyone safely. The dynamite was later used to blow up German pillboxes and guns after the Americans seized the Siegfried Line.

Medicine Crow accomplished his second and third war deeds two months later, in March 1944, when he played an integral role in capturing a German village.

While the main American force attacked the German-occupied village from the front, Medicine Crow’s assignment as scout was to sneak into the town from the rear and assess the position of the German troops and artillery. Medicine Crow entered the rear of the village without being noticed, he wrote later.

While sneaking through the village, Medicine Crow came face to face with a German soldier. The German soldier started to raise his rifle, but, says Medicine Crow, “my reactions were a bit quicker than his. I hit him under the chin with the butt of my rifle and knocked him down, sending his rifle flying. He reached for his rifle but I kicked it out of the way.”

The disarmed German soldier was at Medicine Crow’s mercy. “All I had to do was pull the trigger,” says Medicine Crow. But in order to maintain his secret presence in the rear of the village, Medicine Crow laid down his rifle and “tore into him.”

The German soldier, who was quite a bit larger than Medicine Crow, soon had him down on the ground, but Medicine Crow, who had been in dozens of playground fights during his public school days, knew just what to do. Medicine Crow rolled him over and grabbed him by the throat. “I was ready to kill him,” he later wrote.

“Then his last words were ‘Mama! Mama,’ ” says Medicine Crow. “That word, ‘Mama’ opened my ears, and I let him go.”

Medicine Crow and the German soldier had kicked up quite a ruckus during their fight, and Medicine Crow escaped through the rear of the village before more Germans came to investigate the noise.

Fighting the German soldier counted for two Crow war deeds. The first was knocking down an enemy, the second was disarming an enemy, which he did when he knocked the rifle out of his hands.

And still, Medicine Crow didn’t think of his accomplishments as war deeds. The war deed days were too long past, Medicine Crow says. “It didn’t even cross my mind that what I had done had been a war deed.” But he did view it as a brave deed that would have made his war chief grandfathers proud.

Medicine Crow didn’t accomplish his fourth war deed — capturing an enemy’s horse — until near the end of the war. Among the Crow this was the most respected of the four war deeds. “Even though I wasn’t thinking about counting coup, I had been looking for a chance to capture a horse,” Medicine Crow says. “To me that was the best thing I could do to prove I was worthy of my ancestors.”

Toward the end of the war, Medicine Crow’s unit started following a group of about 50 of Hitler’s SS officers who were on horseback. About midnight, Medicine Crow recalls, the SS officers took over a farmhouse and left their horses in a pasture outside. “We surrounded the small village, and the farmhouse, and we were going to attack early in the morning,” says Medicine Crow. “I was sitting there with the C.O. and finally towards morning I said, ‘Captain, I have an idea. If you give me five minutes, before jump-off, I’ll stampede their horses.’ ” His commanding officer agreed that it was a good idea.

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