Curly c. 18591923

W. B. Finch (lifedates unknown)
Albumen silver print, c. 1880

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

In the spring of 1876 Curly accepted an invitation to scout for George A. Custer and his Seventh Cavalry during their armed engagement with hostile tribes on the northern plains. His own tribe, the Crow, had previously made peace with the United States.

In late June—about a week before the United States was to celebrate its centennial—a force of Lakota and Northern Cheyenne warriors soundly defeated Custer and his command at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana. Curly was the only survivor from the main part of that fight. Two days after the battle he reached military authorities and became the first eyewitness to report details about “Custer’s last stand.”

The news shocked the nation and prompted the U.S. Army to redouble its commitment to subduing hostile tribes in the West. In the years that followed, Curly lived on the Crow reservation, serving for a time in the tribal police force.