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Curtis Eriksmoen, Published June 02 2012

Did You Know: Custer commanded European refugees

Under Col. George Custer’s command at the Battle of the Little Big Horn were a number of refugees who fled Europe to avoid prosecution or

retaliation. The most notorious was Carlo di Rudio (Charles DeRudio), who threw a bomb at a French royal procession in an effort to assassinate Napoleon III in 1858.

DeRudio was captured and sentenced to be executed, but his life was spared when Empress Eugenie intervened. He was then exiled for life to the penal institution at Devil’s Island, where he escaped and eventually ended up as an officer with Custer’s 7th Cavalry.

Another exile was Jeremiah Finley, who participated in the Irish Republican Brotherhood, which was active in rebellion around his hometown of Tipperary. When his cousin was killed, he sought revenge and killed the alleged perpetrator. Fearing retaliation, Finley fled to England and joined the British Army.

Finley was sent to Canada in 1860. When his service requirement was over, he mustered out of the army. While in Canada, he fell in love with Ellen Boyer and they got married in December 1862. In 1867, they moved to Chicago. Finley couldn’t find work, so he enlisted in the U.S. Army, was assigned to Company C of the 7th Cavalry and sent to Fort Dodge, Kan., where he came under the command of Custer.

Finley left Fort Dodge in October 1869, and for the next 16 months was stationed at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; Fort Wallace, Colo.; and Fort Harker, Kan. In March 1871, he accompanied Custer to North Carolina, where he helped oversee Reconstruction in that part of the South.

In spring 1872, Col. David S. Stanley, at Fort Rice, received word that he was to provide escort for a team of Northern Pacific surveyors led by Thomas Rosser, as they pushed west into Indian territory in Montana. Finley and most of the 7th Cavalry traveled to Fort Rice to join Stanley’s expedition in July. When Company C reached the Yellowstone River, they helped Capt. Frederick Benteen establish a supply depot. Finley and his company stayed until Sept. 10, and then returned to Fort Rice.

On July 2, 1874, Company C joined Custer, who was assigned to explore the Black Hills. On Oct. 9, 1875, Company C was transferred to Fort Abraham Lincoln and, soon after, placed under the command of Capt. Thomas Custer, the colonel’s brother. While stationed at Fort Lincoln, Custer quickly became aware of Finley’s skill as a tailor and requested that he make him a buckskin jacket. The coat became the colonel’s favorite.

On May 17, 1876, Finley and other members of the 7th Cavalry mounted up to pursue Sitting Bull and other Sioux and drive them back to the reservation. Ellen Finley was pregnant with their third child.

On the morning of June 25, Custer’s regiment stumbled upon an Indian encampment, and he ordered his regiment split into three groups. Company C was ordered to support a skirmish line to defend against Indians coming from Deep Coulee and Greasy Grass Ridge. This line was on a ridge that faced Deep Coulee. It was on this ridge that Finley’s body was later found riddled with a dozen arrows. In his honor, this place is now called “Finley’s Ridge.”

Five months after Finley was killed, Ellen gave birth to Jeremiah Jr. She later married John Donahgue of Company K, and they moved to Oberon, N.D. A number of Finley’s descendents remained in North Dakota, and I am indebted to a great grandson, Randy Finley of Fargo, for much of the information in this article.


“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your suggestions for columns, comments or corrections to the Eriksmoens at: cjeriksmoen@cableone.net.