Portraits of Mildred Walker and Joseph Medicine Crow Two and information about their fascinating lives are now hanging in the Gallery of Outstanding Montanans in the West Wing of the Capitol in Helena.
Ten inductees were chosen in 2016 for the gallery, but only two are initiated every biennium. The gallery was established by the Montana State Legislature in 1979 to pay homage to Treasure State citizens who “made contributions of state or national significance to their selected fields while epitomizing the unique spirit and character that defines Montana.”
The Montana Historical Society operates the program. Due to COVID-19 precautions, this year’s induction ceremony with Gov. Greg Gianforte was filmed and can be viewed on the Montana Historical Society’s Youtube page: youtube.com/user/MtHistoricalSociety
Joseph Medicine Crow was a war chief, historian, and mentor. Born in 1913 in Lodge Grass, he eventually became the first member of the Crow tribe to earn a master’s degree in 1939.
In 1943, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in Europe during World War II. In the Crow tradition, he went into battle wearing war paint beneath his uniform and a yellow eagle feather inside his helmet. He then fulfilled the four traditional acts needed to become a war chief: touching a living enemy; taking an enemy’s weapon; stealing an enemy’s horse; and leading a victorious war party.
After the war, Medicine Crow worked as a land appraiser with the Bureau of Indian Affairs for 32 years, while also serving as the Crow tribal historian and anthropologist. Eventually, he became the foremost authority on Crow history and culture. One of his greatest legacies was how he lived his life, and he encouraged Crow youths to embrace their identity, understand their ancestral heritage, and see their stories as relevant.
“I have lived in two worlds; one is a traditional Crow Indian way and at the same time I have lived like a modern American. I can mix the two, blend the two, get the best from each, and enjoy life living in both worlds,” he said. Medicine Crow died in 2016.
Mildred Walker was born in Pennsylvania in 1905, and earned a master’s degree in English. She was so enthralled with writing that she married in 1927 on the conditions she could continue her writing career, and not have to do laundry.
Her family moved to Great Falls in 1933, where they lived for 22 years. While in Montana, she wrote nine of her 13 novels, with four set in Montana. Critics praised Walker for her ability to capture ordinary human experiences and authentic environments for her characters. She showcased a modern, unromanticized version of Montana.
“Writing, to me, is one way of living and savoring life more deeply … a cup in which you can lift life to the lips and taste it – even if the cup is sometimes a battered tin one,” she said. Walker died in 1998.
For more information, contact Eve Byron, MHS public information officer, at 406/444-6843 or email@example.com
Joseph Medicine Crow, courtesy the Medicine Crow family
Mildred Walker, courtesy MHS Photograph Archives