One of the favorite aspects of my job is connecting living descendants of Plains culture with the objects and photographs of the past. I wait for that moment when a visitor sits and ponders what he or she has just read in a label, or leaned in a little closer to the glass to see an object. I wait for that same moment when we have tribal members in our vaults looking at collections. I have had many of those moments myself. I see myself in the Crow and Yakama accoutrements left by ancestors from a different time. To my surprise, I had this same experience with a recent image I found in the collections of the McCracken Research Library. This time, I wasn’t looking at strangers but the weathered faces of three of my direct ancestors: Curly, Take A Shield, and Dora Curly.
Curly is well-known for his position as Crow scout with General George Armstrong Custer and the defeat of the 7th Cavalry at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. He scouted with White Man Runs Him, Goes Ahead, Hairy Moccasin, White Swan, and Half Yellow Face. The youngest of the Crow group, he rode for two days and found an army supply boat called the Far West in the confluence of the Bighorn and Little Bighorn Rivers. Curly used sign language, drawings, and a translator to describe Custer’s defeat. For many years, the scouts of Custer were sought out by historians for their accounts. Many objects in museum collections such as White Swan’s muslins of the battle also describe their accounts.
For my family, he was the husband of Take A Shield, and the father of Dora Curly, who married Dominic Old Elk. Their son George Curly Old Elk married Evelyn Bird In The Ground. George and Evelyn had many children which include my grandfather Daniel Conrad Old Elk. One of his sons is Devereaux Old Elk, and then there’s me. My great-great-great grandfather served as a Crow Tribal Officer and received a U.S. pension later in his life. He died of pneumonia in 1923 and is buried at the site of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. His cabin, built in 1885 at Crow Agency, Montana, as a reward for his military service sits on a lot here in Cody, Wyoming, at the Old Trail Town. Curly’s legacy lives on in his hundreds of descendants and in the admirers of western American culture.