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Comanche: Legendary War Horse

Peter Miles
Delta, Colo.

Up until World War II, there was a market for horses in America in the form of U.S. Army remounts. Before mechanized transportation was put into use, which gradually and finally replaced the horse, many western ranchers supplemented or even built their business by supplying the government with cavalry horses. These were of a different type than those needed for draft purposes in the Army, especially in the American West of the 1870’s and 1880’s. In the vase frontline of the “Indian Wars”, the cavalry had need of tough, sturdy, horses that could carry troopers long distanced on poor feed and stand under small arms and artillery fire, among many other hardships and conditions contrary to equine instinct.

At the time, the Army was fighting some of the best lightly mounted cavalry the world has ever seen – Apache, Comanche, Kiowa, Sioux, and others. Not since Ghenghis Khan and his troops had the horse been used so effectively in battle. Someone, probably not in the higher levels of brass, realized that horses from the western frontier would be best suited for the troopers on the western frontier. So bands of mustangs were rounded up and sold to the Army as cavalry remounts.

Around 1868, a sorrel colt was in with a bunch of mustangs from Texas that were purchased by General Custer’s brother for the cavalry. After being broken and trained, the 6 year old gelding was assigned to Sgt. Keogh of the 7th Cavalry, Troop I. This mustang proved his worth in the western campaigns, even receiving wounds in battle. Somewhere along the way, Keogh named his mount Comanche, perhaps in honor of the enemy’s courage and strength, which Keogh was well acquainted with. Cavalry troopers and their mounts developed that special relationship which is formed between brothers-in-arms, and Keogh and Comanche were no different.

In June of 1876, after eight years on the frontier battlegrounds, Keogh, Comanche and 280 or so other troopers and their mounts followed General Custer into that most famous ambush of the war, Little Big Horn. When it was all done and over, Comanche was the only surviving member of the 7th Cavalry on the battlefield, and just barely alive. The Sioux warriors left no record as to why they left Comanche, but it is reasonable to assume that they found him too weak from his many wounds to be suitable for further use. It shows that not even the Sioux were perfect judges of horseflesh, for Comanche recovered, albeit with much care from the Army. Comanche was transported to Fort Lincoln. In a memorial service for the 7th Cavalry soldiers, he was led onto the parade grounds in full dress, with a pair of boots turned backwards in the stirrups.

General Nelson Miles issued an order, the only one of its kind in U.S. Army history, which forbade the riding of Comanche by anyone for the rest of his life. Comanche was allowed to roam free in the fort grounds, and could often be found begging for (and receiving) beer from the officer’s club, or biscuits and cookies from the officer’s wives. He always joined the mounted drills on the parade grounds, taking his place in line like the dutiful soldier he was.

Comanche died in 1891 at the age of about 29. He was mounted and put on display and is currently at the University of Kansas.

Many written accounts of the Battle of Little Bighorn are extant, and some of them will have good information on Comanche. I encourage everyone to brush up on this period of American history, and read about it to the children in their care. Comanche’s story lends itself very well to an old-fashioned story-telling session, and will no doubt remind grandpa of grandma of one of their own horse stories to pass to the young’uns. And that would b a very good thing.

“Comanche you fought hard,

Comanche you tried,

You were a good soldier,

So hold your head up high.”

-Johnny Horton


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