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Comanche - A battle survivor

April 14, 2013
Sue Eckhoff - Grundy County Heritage Museum , Reinbeck Courier

Comanche was a mixed breed horse, who survived General George Armstrong Custer's battle of the Little Big Horn. In fact, Comanche was the only thing that the U.S. Cavalry got back from the battle. When reinforcements arrived at the battlefield, Custer and all 200 of his detachment of soldiers of the 7th Cavalry were dead, and all of the horses that had survived were taken by the Indians, except Comanche who had been badly injured. Soldiers had found Comanche injured, left behind by the Indians who had no use for a horse that could not dodge a bullet, but the white man did.

Comanche was nursed back to health after being transported to Fort Lincoln. His recovery was slow, but in recovery he became a living symbol of manifest destiny. The public loved him, assuming he had been Custer's horse (he hadn't, rather Captain Keogh rode him into battle), that he was the battle's only survivor; (he wasn't, although Custer's detachment was completely wiped out, there were other survivors in other detachments). These beliefs were fine with the army and with the federal government, who wanted the public on their side while they killed Indians. Comanche toured the country, a favorite of parades and patriotic gatherings.

In 1878 Comanche was retired. Colonel Samuel Sturgis issued an order which stated in part:

That Comanche, being the only living representative of the detachment at Little Big Horn, his kind treatment and comfort shall be a matter of special pride on the part of the seventh cavalry to the end that his life be preserved to the utmost limit. Wounded and scarred his existence speaks of the desperate struggle against overwhelming numbers of the hopeless conflict on that fatal day.

That the commanding officer of company I will see that a special and comfortable stable be fitted for him and that he not be ridden by any person whatsoever, nor will he be put to any kind of work.

Upon all occasions of ceremony, Comanche shall be saddled, bridled, and draped in mourning and led by a mounted trooper of company I.

Comanche was kept like a prince until 1887 when he was taken to Fort Riley, Kansas. He died of colic on November 7, 1891. He is one of only two horses to be buried with full military honors. His remains were sent to the University of Kansas and preserved, where he can still be seen today in the University's Natural History Museum.



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