COMANCHE - 1ST ARMY / 7TH CAVALRY
By Jim Heitmeyer
Comanche was tough,
fearless, handsome and hardcore - as well as the most famous survivor of the
Battle of the Little Bighorn. In truth ... Comanche was not the only horse that
survived ... Accounts from warriors at the Little Bighorn say some 7th Cavalry
horses also survived and were taken by tribal warriors after the battle.
Comanche, was badly wounded and had been left at the battlefield, giving rise to
the "Lone Survivor" myth.
The most celebrated survivor
of the 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn was a small bay horse with a very big
military service record. Comanche, 925 Lbs. And a 15 hands tall gelding of
Mustang and Morgan breeding, ran with a wild horse band that was rounded up and
sold to the U.S. Cavalry in Saint Louis in April 1868.
The gelding, about 6 years
old at the time, was shipped to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where Captain Myles
Walter Keough of the 7th Cavalry took a liking to him. He was a good looking
horse, and instead of being kept with the regular cavalry, Captain, Myles Keogh,
bought him for $90 to use as his personal mount. He normally rode his horse
Paddy on marches, Comanche following with the other extra horses. Comanche was
the horse Captain Keogh rode into battle, the horse being fresh because he was
only mounted at the last moment before the fighting began. He was a war horse.
Keough, born 1840 in County
Carlow, Ireland, was a decorated veteran of Papal service in Italy when he
immigrated to New York in 1862.
He served with the Union
forces from Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville to Gettysburg without injury,
earning numerous honors for bravery. The brown horse with a small white star on
his forehead earned his name "Comanche" during a battle in Autumn 1868 when
Keough's unit fought Comanche warriors.
Comanche took an arrow in
his hind quarters but unflinchingly carried Captain Keough through the fight; he
did the same in a battle in 1870, during which he was wounded in the leg, and in
another battle in 1871, despite being wounded in the shoulder.
Elsewhere in 1871 General
Randall Mackenzie and his black buffalo soldiers fight the for two years on the
Plains. Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer who notably graduated last in his
class of 34 at West Point, had served in the Civil War, one of the youngest
generals in the union Army at 23.
On June 25, 1876, his luck
in battles failed him when he led the 7th Cavalry into the valley of the Little
Bighorn River against a vast numbered force he underestimated: about 2,000 Teton
Sioux, Arapaho and Northern and Southern Cheyenne warriors. Among the 268 men of
the regiment who perished that bloody day were Custer and Keough.
Two days after the fight,
After the Battle of the Little Big Horn, the soldiers walked among the bloating,
decaying bodies of their fallen comrades, all was still. As the cavalrymen bowed
their heads in silent prayer before beginning the odious task of burying the
dead, the silence was abruptly broken by the faint whinny of a horse. As the men
looked up and searched the broken terrain with weary, tearful eyes, down by the
river a horse was struggling to get to its feet ... It was Comanche, the
favorite mount of Capt. Myles Keogh, who had valiantly rallied the men of "I"
Company right up to the end, when they were overwhelmed by the charge of
warriors under Crazy Horse and Gall.
The horse was on its haunches,
seemingly too weak to move any further. Comanche was found in a thicket with
seven arrows in his body and his coat was matted with dried blood and soil along
with Keough's body, surrounded by men from his company. CPT Nowlan ordered the
men to get water for the horse from the river. Several other troopers coaxed the
horse onto its feet and led it away. The farrier field dressed the wounds. Badly
wounded, Comanche marched with the command to the junction of the Little Bighorn
and Bighorn Rivers, and was loaded aboard the steamer "Far West" with the battle
casualties, heading home to Fort Lincoln ... 950 miles away. It was officially
declared that no one would ever ride Comanche again.
He received the honorary title
of Second Commanding Officer of the 7th Cavalry, and his job after that was to
appear in ceremonial parades occasionally draped in black with riding boots
reversed. The rest of the time, he was allowed to wander loose throughout the
post and gardens. He eventually developed a strong taste for beer.
Sgt. Gustav Korn, formerly
Capt. Keough's orderly, cared for Comanche until 1890, when Korn was killed at
the Battle of Wounded Knee, the final conflict of the Indian Plains Wars. By
that time, the regiment had been moved to Fort Riley.
Comanche passed away there a
year later on November 7, 1891, of colic ... Some say he died from grief at age
29. At the request of the 7th Cavalry, his body was stuffed and mounted for
$400.00. After Comanche was exhibited at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, he
was donated to the University of Kansas, where he can be seen today in a
humidity controlled case at the university's Museum of Natural History in Dyche
Hall in Lawrence, Kansas.
Comanche was stabled at Fort
Riley when he died, Comanche was sent to the best taxidermist in Kansas; Lewis
Lindsay Dyche at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. When the taxidermy bill
of $400 went unpaid, Dyche offered to waive the fee if he could keep Comanche,
which is how the beloved horse came to be at the Kansas University.
Comanche continues to live on
in many books including 1935 hard cover first edition Comanche: The Sole
Survivor of all the Forces in Custer's last stand, the Battle of the Little
Bighorn by Barron Brown.
Continue with Indian Wars - Traditional Horse Cavalry
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jim Heitmeyer was born in Phoenix, Arizona and raised in
Paradise Valley. Jim joined the United States Marine Corps and completed his
service to our country. Jim later joined the Oklahoma Army National Guards 745
Military Police Company. Jim served during the Just Cause war in Panama and
Operations Desert Shield & Desert Storm. Jim Heitmeyer attained the rank of
Jim Hietmeyer is a retired lieutenant from the Oklahoma
County Sheriff's Office (Oklahoma). After his retirement from the Oklahoma
County Sheriffs Office he worked as a police officer for the Arcadia Police
Department from 2001 through 2004. During his career, he worked as a jailer,
deputy sheriff, CLEET instructor, American Red Cross Instructor, and biohazards
instructor. He is the author of two books under the pen name of Jim Daly:
Lockdown Madness and Behind Steel Doors.
Continue with Indian Wars - Traditional Horse Cavalry