I have had a fascination lately with researching the stories of famous old war horses! After telling the story of Mare Sergeant Reckless last week, it’s time to travel back further through history. Destination? The Battle of Little Bighorn.

While this particular fight is quite infamous, not everyone may know the story of Comanche, a survivor of the battle. Let’s take a look at this incredible horse’s back story and journey.

“Most likely, Comanche was born around 1862, on what was once called the Great Horse Desert of Texas, a vast region that was home to hundreds of thousands of mustangs.  Comanche bore the markings of the early Spanish horses – the bay or claybank horse (though often inexplicably referred to as dun or buckskin in many accounts) had the tell-tale black dorsal stripe down his back which today can still be seen on some wild horses in the high deserts of Nevada, Oregon, Wyoming, Utah, and Montana.  He also had a small white star on his forehead.  He was an odd-looking horse, with a big head and thick neck that were out of proportion for his body, and he had legs that seemed slightly too short; possibly he was the most misshapen of the foals born that year although there certainly could have been others.” – Deanne Stillman.

Comanche was sold to the army at a young age, and quickly shipped off to Kansas. When he arrived, he was purchased by George Armstrong Custer’s brother.

On June 25th, 1876, Comanche was rode in the Battle of Little Bighorn by Captain Myles Keogh. The entire detachment perished. Comanche disappeared for a couple of days after the battle, but was soon found injured and weak. Thankfully, the injuries to Comanche were not fatal, and he became one of the few survivors.

Fun fact, depending on what historians you talk to, some believe Comanche was actually the only true survivor of the tragic Little Bighorn battle.

It took quite some time for Comanche to recover from his injuries, but he eventually was able to lead a quiet life in retirement once healed.

Colonel Samuel D. Sturgis issued the following humane order, regarding Comanche:

“Headquarters Seventh United States Cavalry, Fort A. Lincoln, D. T., April 10th, 1878. General Orders No. 7.

“(1.) The horse known as ‘Comanche,’ being the only living representative of the bloody tragedy of the Little Bighorn, June 25th, 1876, his kind treatment and comfort shall be a matter of special pride and solicitude on the part of every member of the Seventh Cavalry to the end that his life be preserved to the utmost limit. Wounded and scarred as he is, his very existence speaks in terms more eloquent than words, of the desperate struggle against overwhelming numbers of the hopeless conflict and the heroic manner in which all went down on that fatal day.
“(2.) The commanding officer of Company I will see that a special and comfortable stable is fitted up for him, and he will not be ridden by any person whatsoever, under any circumstances, nor will he be put to any kind of work.
“(3.) Hereafter, upon all occasions of ceremony of mounted regimental formation, saddled, bridled, and draped in mourning, and led by a mounted trooper of Company I, will be paraded with the regiment.
“By command of Col. Sturgis, E. A. Garlington, First Lieutenant and Adjutant, Seventh Cavalry.”

Comanche passed away in 1890, one of only two horses, the other being Sergeant Reckless, to receive full military honors. We thank you for your service, Comanche!

If you’re interested in learning more about horses from the Wild West era, purchase Deanne Stillman’s book Mustang.