Frank Fools Crow has been a medicine man for 63 years, ever since he saw a vision on Bear Butte near his South Dakota home. For 47 years he has also served as a chief of the Oglala Sioux, Crazy Horse’s old tribe.
As a medicine man, Fools Crow has, according to friends, cured staph infections, ended gallbladder problems, healed wounds overnight and administered ancient birth control potions to men—all using roots, herbs and the cooperation of the spirits. Among some younger members of the tribe, interest in the medicine man’s religion is increasing dramatically.
For most of his life Fools Crow has quietly practiced medicine and raised horses, cows and chickens—as well as a daughter. Yet he has known drama and notoriety. As a young man he traveled with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West shows, learning to be at ease before audiences. He performed in September 1975 in front of an impressive one, opening the U.S. Senate with a prayer in his native Lakota language.
That recognition followed by two years the chief’s role in the confrontation at Wounded Knee. The senior leader inside the besieged reservation, Fools Crow was an American Indian Movement ally and a spokesman for the more traditional-minded Sioux. “I hate violence,” he said then. “But when you are repressed it is almost impossible not to rise up and take things into your own hands.” When the siege ended, federal negotiators and seven Sioux elders met on Fools Crow’s property to discuss reforms. The next year he traveled to St. Paul for the trial of AIM leaders Dennis Banks and Russell Means. Both had taken part in the sun dance ceremony under Fools Crow’s spiritual and medical supervision. Part of the rite calls for the medicine man to pierce each dancer’s chest or back muscles and insert a wooden stick which is attached by rawhide strips to a tree. The Indians then dance—a slow, reverent step to the beating of a drum—until they rip themselves free, leaving a bloody wound.
At this year’s sun dance, Fools Crow told his people he would soon be going to the Great Spirit. But at 86 he had lost little of his feistiness. Asked by a Sioux family to smoke a peace pipe, he complied—not at a campfire but in his station wagon. He explained to a reporter that he had cut his arms and forehead in a flesh sacrifice before the sun dance, but that after treatment with a potion, the wounds had healed instantaneously. He pointed to his forehead as proof and, speaking through his interpreter, Fools Crow demanded $75 for the interview he had given. The request was refused, and the chief ended the conversation by grabbing the reporter’s notes and stalking off.