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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 sergeant (E5).

 

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

 

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