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Course & Subject Guides

Edward S. Curtis and The North American Indian, Spring-Summer 2018: Upshaw

This library guide is an overview of the Archives & Special Collection exhibit on Edward S. Curtis and The North American Indian.

Upshaw of the Apsaroke banner

Upshaw - Apsaroke

Photogravure of Upshaw of the Apsaroke

Upshaw - Apsaroke, 1905

An educated Apsaroke, son of Crazy Pend d’Oreille (see Volume IV, page 18).  Upshaw has assisted the author in his field-work, collecting material treating of the northern plains tribes.  

Print caption by Edward S. Curtis, The North American Indian, Portfolio IV, Plate no. 139, 1909.

Curtis device

Of Such Inestimable Value

Alexander B. Upshaw, son of an Apsaroke chief, was educated at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, graduating in 1897.  After resigning his teaching position in Genoa, Nebraska, Upshaw returned to the Apsaroke-Crow Reservation in Montana, and worked as a translator and tribal advocate.  In 1905, Upshaw began his collaboration with Edward S. Curtis as an interpreter and investigator, providing Curtis with remarkable and unfettered access to the Northern Plains tribes.  Their investigations included an expedition to the site of the Battle of the Little Bighorn with surviving Crow and Sioux eye-witnesses, resulting in a dramatically different scholarly analysis of the battle from the approved American narrative.  The conclusion of their inquiry was omitted from Volume IV due to political pressure.  Alexander B. Upshaw died under questionable circumstances in a jail cell in Billings, Montana.  His death, attributed to alcohol and pneumonia,  was reported in the Billings Gazette, on Friday, October 22, 1909, with the headline:  “Educated Crow Dies in Jail:  Alexander Upshaw, High in Council of Crow Nation, Found Dead Yesterday Morning.”  Curtis memorialized Upshaw in the introduction to Volume VII:     

…It is with profound sorrow that the author announces the death, in the autumn of 1909, of Mr. A. B. Upshaw, his Crow interpreter and informant, whose assistance in collecting the material for Volumes III, IV, and V was of such inestimable value… 

Edward S. Curtis, The North American Indian, Text VII, xii, 1911.

Curtis device

A Note on the Apsaroke

The Apsaroke

In stature and in vigor the Apsároke, or Crows, excelled all other tribes of the Rocky Mountain region, and were surpassed by none in bravery and in devotion to the supernatural forces that gave them strength against their enemies….

The Apsaroke were and are the proudest of Indians, and although comparatively few (they now number only one thousand seven hundred and eighty-seven, and are constantly decreasing), they rarely allied themselves with other tribes for purposes of defence.  For probably two and a half centuries they were the enemy of every tribe that came within striking distance, and for a goodly part of this time they were virtually surrounded by hostile bands with a common hatred against this mountain tribe that likened itself to a pack of wolves.  The swarming thousands of the western Sioux, aided by the Cheyenne and Arapaho, tried to force them westward.  The powerful Blackfeet invaded their territory from the north and northwest, Flatheads and Nez Percés were worthy foes from the west, and the wily Shoshoni pressed in from the south; yet the Apsaroke were ever ready to repel invasion from whatever direction it might come…

The country which the Apsaroke ranged and claimed as their own was an extensive one for so small a tribe.  In area it may be compared, east and west, to the distance from Boston to Buffalo, and north to south, from Montreal to Washington---certainly a vast region to be dominated by a tribe never numbering more than fifteen hundred warriors.  The borders of their range were, roughly, a line extending from the mouth of the Yellowstone southward through the Black Hills, thence westward to the crest of the Wind River mountains, north-westward through the Yellowstone Park to the site of Helena, thence to the junction of the Musselshell and the Missouri, and down the latter stream to the mouth of the Yellowstone.  This region is the veritable Eden of the Northwest.  With beautiful broad valleys and abundant wooded streams, no part of the country was more favorable for buffalo, while its wild forested mountains made it almost unequalled for elk and other highland game…

Edward S. Curtis, The North American Indian, Text IV, 3-4, 1909.


Banner of photos of the Apsaroke people