Comanche

I’m going to dispel popular two misconceptions about Comanche up front. He was not General Custer's horse, nor was he was the only surviving cavalry horse at the battle of the Little Bighorn. Several others who survived the battle were confiscated by the Indians. Many of the surviving horse’s value to the Indians was not as great as many believe. The cavalry horses diet was much different the plains Indian horse diet, which was primarily the plains grasses. The cavalry horses often wasted away on the grass diet only (maybe I should be on it for a while!).

There can be no doubt that Comanche is the most famous horse in western history. His date of birth is not known. He was bought by the U.S. Army in 1868 in St. Louis, and sent to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He was a 15 hand bay gelding, thought to be part mustang and part Morgan. Captain Myles Keogh bought him for $90 to use as his personal mount. Captain Keogh usually rode his horse Paddy on marches, while Comanche followed with the other extra horses. Comanche was the horse Captain Keogh rode into battle, being fresh because he was only mounted before the fighting began.

Comanche was wounded by either arrow or bullet in several battles prior to the Little Big Horn. Each time the gallant steed soldiered on during the battles and was treated after the fighting had ceased. Comanche was a quick healer. Captain Keogh was very proud of his brave horse who continued to go into battle despite sustaining so many wounds.

On June 25, 1876, General Custer led the 7th Cavalry into battle at the Little Big Horn River. Captain Keogh rode Comanche into the battle known as Custer's Last Stand. They were fighting the Sioux, Cheyenne, and other tribes, who obtained their most famous victory over the US Army. Seriously wounded for the fourth time, Comanche was found two days after the battle, standing beside the body of Captain Keogh and the others in his command. Comanche was found with many wounds, very weak and barely able to stand. Comanche was shipped by the steamer, Far West, in a sling to Fort Lincoln to recover.

Comanche received the honorary title of Second Commanding Officer and was retired from further service. Comanche was officially retired and it was ordered that no one would ever ride him again. His only duties were to be lead in the front of official parades occasionally, by being led with Cavalry riding boots being reversed in the saddle stirrups honoring the fallen Cavalrymen. Comanche was allowed the run of the post grounds, becoming a favorite to all. Allegedly he acquired a taste for beer due to all of the toasts made to his heroism and valor in battle.

When Comanche died of colic on November 7, 1891 it is believed he was twenty nine years old. He was one of only two horses in United States history to receive full military honors at death. Lewis Dyche, a well-known Kansas taxidermist mounted Comanche and the gallant horse was exhibited at the Worlds Fair in Chicago in 1893. Comanche currently resides at Kansas University , where he was recently renovated and is on display.

In April 1878 Colonel Samuel D. Sturgis issued the following order:

Headquarters Seventh United States Cavalry, Fort A. Lincoln, D. T., April 10th, 1878. General Orders No. 7.

 (1.) The horse known as 'Comanche,' being the only living representative of the bloody tragedy of the Little Big Horn, June 25th, 1876, his kind treatment and comfort shall be a matter of special pride and solicitude on the part of every member of the Seventh Cavalry to the end that his life be preserved to the utmost limit. Wounded and scarred as he is, his very existence speaks in terms more eloquent than words, of the desperate struggle against overwhelming numbers of the hopeless conflict and the heroic manner in which all went down on that fatal day.

 (2.) The commanding officer of Company I will see that a special and comfortable stable is fitted up for him, and he will not be ridden by any person whatsoever, under any circumstances, nor will he be put to any kind of work.

 (3.) Hereafter, upon all occasions of ceremony of mounted regimental formation, 'Comanche,' saddled, bridled, and draped in mourning, and led by a mounted trooper of Company I, will be paraded with the regiment.

By command of Col. Sturgis, E. A. Garlington, First Lieutenant and Adjutant, Seventh Cavalry.

I visited Comanche at Dyche Hall in July 2009. You can read about it here.

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