I saw a show the other day where the protagonist donned a particularly excessive and gauche war bonnet. It was silly and culturally wrong, but it reminded me of home.
A Crow War Bonnet
Cultures can change their rules, Lord knows, but the last man entitled to wear a War Bonnet of the Plains Indians. under the classical rules died this spring. Joe Medicine Crow was born a year before Uncle Milt in Lodge Grass. I wish Milt were still alive so I could ask him about Mr. Medicine Crow. That was a small world and Dad’s generation knew a great many of the old Crow and Cheyenne.
Mr. Medicine Crow completed the four tasks required to be a war chief while wearing war paint and with an eagle feather under his helmet:
He Counted Coup. Unarmed he touched an armed enemy.
Also he disarmed and defeated the man in unarmed combat in that encounter and took his weapon.
He led a war party that succeeded.
Finally, he led a party that stole the horses of his enemy. They took something like fifty horses from an SS group.
For this he was acclaimed war chief and had the honor of wearing a war bonnet. The last requirement is the deal breaker. There aren’t horses around much to be stolen. I am amazed Mr. Medicine Crow found a herd of horses in wartime. That is the sign of providence. It is about time the Crow change that requirement. They’ve only had horses for three or four centuries. Whatever, I am not a member of the tribe. This fall a new school was opened and named for him. It is too bad he did not live to see it open.
Generally in movies and television Indians are pictured incorrectly. The war bonnet, as pictured, is characteristic of the Plains Indians and the Crow tribe especially. The Cheyenne version is similarly constructed but is visually much different. Crow and Cheyenne are usually not even played by Indians. [If you object to the term ‘Indian’ you have made my point; the tribes around here often refer to themselves as such. What is it to them? English is not their language. It is like a person of German descent demanding he be called ‘Deutch.’ Fair enough, but his brother likely calls himself ‘German.’ I generally refer to the tribes by name as Aani, or Apsaroka, or such.] As a child of this area ‘the Romance of the West’ leaves me cold. Romance is an emotion for something far away and misty. I know Crow, Cheyenne, Gros Ventre, and Blackfeet. To me they are people. They are not exemplars for good or evil as a group. They are not mystically more spiritual than you or I. They are not all drunks. [There was more public drinking among the Germans with whom I was raised.] They do not look alike. They are neighbors and friends and enemies.
In this spirit I honor Joe Medicine Crow. A good Man. Bacheitche