Thursday, July 25, 2013

Spotlight on History--Comanche, the 7th Cavalry war horse.

Well I was going through my music collection today when I hit upon the song by Johnny Horton entitled "Comanche the Brave Horse. It's always been a hauntingly powerful song, and as I listened to it, I decided to do a bit of digging. Is this a true story? Who was this horse?

Well I found out. Comanche was real and he served this country with pride and distinction before and after the epic slaughter of his command at Little Big Horn. Here he is:
Comanche was a 15 hand bay gelding, thought to be part mustang and part Morgan. He was bought by the U.S. Army in 1868 in St. Louis, and sent to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. 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.

Captain Keogh was in Custer's 7th Cavalry. In the fall of 1868, his unit fought the Comanche tribe in Kansas. During the battle, the horse was wounded, but the Captain did not know that and continued to fight from his back until the battle was over. Afterward, he discovered an arrow broken off in the horse's hindquarters. The wound was treated and after the horse recovered, he had earned the name Comanche for his bravery in continuing to carry his master despite his own pain.

In 1870 during a battle again against the Comanche tribe, the horse was wounded in the leg. He was lame for over a month this time, but recovered. Then, in 1871, Comanche was wounded in battle once more, this time in his shoulder, and once again, he recovered quickly. The cavalry was very proud of this brave horse who continued to go into battle despite being wounded so many times.

In 1876, Captain Keogh rode Comanche into the valley of the Little Big Horn and the battle known as Custer's Last Stand. This time they were fighting the Soux and Cheyenne tribes, and it was the last great battle for the Native Americans. They defeated the 7th cavalry and killed every soldier. The only member of the 7th cavalry left alive after the battle was Comanche.

Comanche was found two days after the battle with many wounds, and was very weak and barely able to stand. He was taken in a steam boat to Fort Lincoln, where he was so weak he had to be supported by a sling. He was nursed back to health, once again recovering from his battle wounds.

Comanche was officially retired and it was ordered that no one would ever ride him again. He was called "the Second Commanding Officer" of the 7th Cavalry. His only duties were to be lead in the front of official parades occasionally. It is said he developed a fondness for beer in his later years, and was such a pet at the fort that he was often indulged in this habit. He lived to the age of 29, and when he died his body was mounted and put on display at the University of Kansas, where it stands to this day.

And for those who want to hear the song--and for those who never have--here you go:


  1. Whoa... Maj. Reno was part of the 7th Calvary (Custer split his command to attack the Indians, something that generals say you never do when you don't know the size or disposition of the enemy forces) and his 200 or so man section survived the battle. So did Capt. Frederick Bentee's battalion of about 200.

    See Custer's whole command was NOT destroyed. Custer had about 700 men, even a few Gatling's he left behind. Only 240+ died.

  2. Great story, great horse - thanks!

  3. IIRC, it was only the section that Custer was commanding that was wiped out. The other two either had high ground and were able to mount a successful defense, or were too far away to engage (not 100% sure on the distance bit). Custer was an arrogant idiot, though, in that he a) divided his forces, b) seriously underestimated his foes, and c) refused to use the Gatling guns.

    Johnny Horton is one of my favorite "oldies" singers!

  4. Thanks for the history!

  5. Thank you for that. I have an agreement with horses, I don't ride them, and they don't bite me, but I love their spirit and strength (there's a couple of wild horse oil paintings around the Range).

    My cousin Liz was and is, very much into horses, even now, owning a small ranch with land up in the foothills of the Sierras in the middle of no where, she has several and works part time, both in construction and as a Ferrior (and yes Murphy, she is also single, beautiful, and a great cook, the only other female member of our whole clan but it's too far for me to play matchmaker).

    She taught me what little I know about horses (which was enough to know I'm better on a four wheeler) but also I learned deeply the respect such steads deserve. Thank you for highlighting that.

  6. Disclaimer: I'm not pretending to be an expert on the battle, folks...just posting about the horse and cut-pasting from the cited source.

  7. Anonymous8:50 AM

    Great story and song

  8. @Murphy: LOL No worries! I've learned, though, that if you happen to mention "history" (even just the word "history"), someone will eventually come along to argue whatever fact or story you posted. Which will attract other "historians"...its sorta like tossing a raw steak into the ocean while your kids are swimming. Eventually they're going to see more oceanic denizens than they ever wanted to see...with pretty much the same results.

  9. Anonymous9:50 AM

    I flashed on the 'National Guard @ The Little Big Horn' episode of Twilight Zone.
    I was raised on television.

    And I agree with Brigid about horses.


  10. Cool! I have seen the stuffed Comanche many times. I grew up near KU and have been to Dyche Museum more times than I can count!

    Poor Comanche got almost ruined one year when the roof leaked, and I have met the guy who did the restoration on him.

  11. Anonymous10:19 PM

    I wanted to send you this.
    I think of this goofy song when I hear the name Custer.
    You do not have to publish this.Rick


  12. Comanche was a 15 hand bay gelding...

    Ya gotta admit, to serve as nobly as Comanche did after that humiliation takes a lot of dedication/patriotism, doesn't it?

  13. Anonymous12:10 PM

    Good horse. Good story, thanks!
    I wonder if he was gaited, the way he is standing suggests it; if not, a practical reason (aside from him presumably being fairly sane) to have only been used during battle is that straight shoulder. A trot like a jackhammer.