Counting Coup: Becoming a Crow Chief on the Reservation and Beyond

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Picture a Crow Indian elder, his wizened eyes catching yours in the ancient flicker of firelight. His mesmerizing stories span the ages, from Custer to World War II to the 21st Century. He is the last traditional chief of his people. He is over 90 years old. Now picture that same man lecturing at colleges nationwide, and addressing the United Nations on the subject of peace.

National Geographic presents the amazing life story of Joseph Medicine Crow, the man who begins life as ...

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Picture a Crow Indian elder, his wizened eyes catching yours in the ancient flicker of firelight. His mesmerizing stories span the ages, from Custer to World War II to the 21st Century. He is the last traditional chief of his people. He is over 90 years old. Now picture that same man lecturing at colleges nationwide, and addressing the United Nations on the subject of peace.

National Geographic presents the amazing life story of Joseph Medicine Crow, the man who begins life as Winter Man. Trained as a warrior by his grandfather, Yellowtail, he bathes in icy rivers and endures the ceremony of "counting coup"—facing fierce combat with an enemy Sioux boy.

An operation at the local hospital brings the young Crow face-to-face with his worst fears: a Sioux, a ghost, and a white man. He excels at the white man's school and is raised in the Baptist faith. He translates the stories of the elder chiefs, becoming the link to the ancient traditions of the pre-reservation generation. His own dramatic and funny stories span both ages, and the ancient Crow legends are passed on in the storytelling tradition.

Joseph Medicine Crow's doctorate degree was interrupted by the call to arms of World War II. On the battlefields of Germany he earned the ancient status of War Chief by completing the four war deeds required of the Crow warrior.

In 1948 the Crow Tribal Council appointed Joseph Medicine Crow (now called High Bird) their Tribal Historian and Anthropologist.

Counting Coup is a vibrant adventure narrative, bringing Native American history and culture alive for young readers. Joseph Medicine Crow's story illuminates the challenges faced by the Crow people as hurricanes of change raged through America. His epic story and its lessons are an essential legacy for us all.

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Editorial Reviews

This fascinating account of life on a Crow reservation is told by a Crow chief and tribal anthropologist. The author was born in 1913 on the Crow reservation in Eastern Montana and trained as a Crow warrior, but he also enjoyed a carefree childhood full of games and Crow lore. It ended abruptly when he was sent to a Baptist mission school and forced by white teachers to shed his tribal identity. Yet he was a bright student who quickly learned to balance life in both worlds and ended up the first male member of the Crow tribe to graduate from college. Inducted into the army in 1942, he served his country overseas during World War II. Because of his bravery in battle, he became a Crow war chief upon his return to the reservation. After the war, he earned a Master's Degree in anthropology and was appointed tribal anthropologist, allowing him to document the quickly vanishing Crow cultural legacy. This primary account of life as a Crow warrior is invaluable to students learning about Native American culture and history. Joseph Medicine Crow tells his story in an absorbing, humorous style borrowed from the tradition of Crow storytelling. It would be an excellent addition to middle school history curriculums as it brings the past to life in a way that textbooks often fail to do. The colorful photos included in the text heighten the immediacy of the narrative. The book is highly recommended for both public and school libraries. VOYA CODES: 4Q 2P M J (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2006, National Geographic, 128p.; Photos., Ages 11 to 15.
—Jan Chapman
Children's Literature
In the old tribal days, a Crow warrior had to perform four different kinds of difficult war deeds, or "coups," in order to become a chief. In this lively memoir, Joseph Medicine Crow, official tribal historian and last traditional Crow chief, recounts his life from his birth in 1913 to his return from World War II in 1946, when he was honored as a chief for the four brave deeds, or coups, that he performed while fighting in Germany. Using touches of both humor and poignancy, the author describes his connections to his large and varied extended family that lived on the Crow Reservation in Montana. The scope of his memoir is especially wide and rich. Through his re-telling of some of his elder's stories, the reader vicariously experiences a good deal of Crow and Plains Indian history and culture. Stories about Crow's great-uncle, White Man Runs Him (the longest lived of the Crow scouts at the Battle of the Little Bighorn), were especially popular among both Crow Indians and other ethnic groups. Some of the other topics presented in this sixteen chapter memoir include adapting to both local elementary school, as well as boarding school at the high school and college level; his childish fear of Sioux Indians and white men; horseracing; stories and beliefs about legendary little people; and his time in the army during World War II. This well-written and inspiring memoir can be enjoyed by a wide audience. It would make a good read-aloud, as well as an appealing and useful book for Native American units and individual browsing. An introduction on the warrior tradition is included. 2006, National Geographic, Ages 9 up.
—Gisela Jernigan, Ph.D.
School Library Journal
Gr 6 Up-In this fascinating autobiography, the chief shares the events in his life, from his birth in 1914, to his training to be a Crow warrior when he was six or seven, to his World War II experiences. He tells his story with an elder's humor. Reminiscing about his first hospital visit to have his adenoids removed, he shares his fear of whites, of Sioux, and of ghosts. Experiences from Baptist, public, and boarding schools show the prejudices that he encountered. Four pages of color and black-and-white photos show his family and the Crow reservation in Montana. Using large print and short chapters, this informative yet entertaining read just might inspire children to interview their elders and write their stories.-Marlette Grant-Jackson, Humboldt State University, Arcata, CA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780792253914
  • Publisher: National Geographic Society
  • Publication date: 2/14/2006
  • Pages: 128
  • Sales rank: 583,633
  • Product dimensions: 5.58 (w) x 8.68 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Meet the Author

Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow lives in Lodge Grass, MT. He is the last traditional chief of the Crow tribe. His anthropology master's thesis, "The Effects of European Culture Contact Upon the Economic, Social, and Religious Life of the Crow Indians," and his book From the Heart of Crow Country: The Crow Indians' Own Story remains one of the most widely read resources on Crow culture today.

Dr. Herman J. Viola is a curator emeritus at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. His research specialties include the American Indian, the Civil War, and the exploration of the American West. He has authored numerous books for adults on these topics, including Exploring the West, After Columbus, Warrior Artists, and Little Bighorn Remembered: the Untold Indian Story of Custer's Last Stand. Viola's books for young people include the middle school social studies textbook Why We Remember and Facing the Lion: Growing Up Maasai on the African Savanna, which he co-authored with Joseph Lekuton. Dr. Viola lives with his wife Susan in Falls Church, VA, and Bozman, MD.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 28, 2013

              Living on the reservation is very hard, no food, no

              Living on the reservation is very hard, no food, no water, and almost no space to roam around. The memoir Counting Coup by
     Joseph Medicine Crow was about Joseph and all of the challenges he went through to become a war chief.  First Joseph Medicine
     Crow writes about when he was a little boy and how he would spend time with different relatives.  One of his grandfathers would
     always train him to be a warrior during the winter.  Then Joseph got old and went into school and he was never good at it. Then he
    went to college and was the first person out of the Crow nation to graduate college.  Then he talks about how he went into World War ll.
      I enjoyed this book because it had many stories about adventures and stories that the Crows have.  I recommend this book for mostly
    teenage boys and under.  I think they will like the adventures that he faced through out his life.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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