Curly Joins His Comrades

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Today in History, May 23, 1923:

Ashishishe, son of Strong Bear and and Strikes by the Side of the Water, husband to Bird Woman and later Takes a Shield, is laid to rest at the National Cemetery of the Bighorn Battlefield in Montana, alongside the members of Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer’s 7th Cavalry who had died there on June 25, 1876.

He was known by his US Army contemporaries as Curly. Curly was a Crow Indian serving the US Army as a scout with the 7th Cavalry leading up to the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

Just before the battle began, as was customary, Custer released his Native American scouts. Curly rode off with the others, stopping on a hill about a mile away, he watched the battle through field glasses.

When it became obvious that the 7th would be defeated, Curly rode for two days until he met an Army supply boat at the confluence of the Big and Little Big Horn rivers, and made his report.

Curly told of how the 7th fought for hours, until they had expended all of their ammunition; by Curly’s estimation taking approximately 600 Sioux warriors with them. Hailed as a hero for being the “lone survivor”, although reporters attempting to glorify his actions used poetic license to say that he was actually in the battle and escaped by pretending to be one of the Sioux allies, Curly’s original and later accounts were that he “did nothing wonderful.” Some reporters “quoted” Curly as saying that he had been in the battle, which angered some of the Sioux that were. But in many accounts Curly repeated that he was not, and that he “did nothing wonderful.”

He served in the Crow Police and given a military pension only three years before his death from pneumonia. I find his story interesting as an example of why we must remember all of the components of the times when viewing history. Is Curly a traitor to his people because he served the US Army against other Indians? I found while researching this that at that time the Sioux and the Crow were dire enemies, so the Crow allied with the Army (the enemy of my enemy is my friend). Did he “desert” the 7th Cavalry? No. It was customary not to keep the Indian scouts in the midst of battle; his leaving was expected of him.

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