I’ve always been fascinated by Native American history – it was one of the reasons I came to write The Blooding – and so when I spotted a headline in the newspapers yesterday, my interest peaked.
It concerned the obituary of one Joe Medicine Crow, World War Two veteran and the last surviving Plains Indian war chief who had just died aged 102.
Raised by his grandparents into the Crow tribe’s Whistling Water clan, in a log house in a rural area of the Crow reservation near Lodge Grass, Montana, Joe, whose Crow name was 'High Bird', recalled listening as a child to stories about the Battle of the Little Big Horn from those who were there, including his grandmother's brother, 'White Man Runs Him' who was a scout for US military commander General George Armstrong Custer, who lost his life in the battle.
In 1939, Joe was the first of his tribe to get a master's degree, in anthropology, and he later helped catalogue his people's history through oral testimony.
Joe served gallantly in World War Two, joining the army in 1943 and becoming a scout in the 103rd Infantry Division. He earned the title of war chief to his tribe by accomplishing four specific tasks of valour: touching an enemy without killing him (known as counting coup), taking an enemy's weapon, leading a successful war party and stealing an enemy's horse.
Famously, whenever he went into battle, he wore his war paint beneath his uniform and a sacred eagle feather beneath his helmet.
In 2009. President Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The White House said at the time:
"His contributions to the preservation of the culture and history of the First Americans are matched only by his importance as a role model to young Native Americans across the country,"
A fitting tribute to a remarkable individual.
And if you're wondering about 'Bacheitche'; in Crow it means ‘a good man’.
By all accounts he was, and then some...