HoWhen the small force led by General George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn was completely decimated by a surprise attack led by a combination of Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho Native Americans, it was a miracle anyone on the side of the U.S. Army made it away from the battlefield still breathing. It was even more of a miracle that Comanche the horse managed to survive the encounter. He was a mixed-breed within the 7th Cavalry that day in June, 1876.
He was purchased by the army in 1868, eight years before the battle took place. Immediately, he was ridden to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, and he subsequently took part in a battle with the Comanche tribe of the Great Plains (part of eastern New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas). During that battle, he was struck by an arrow in the hindquarters (also known as horse-butt). Even after he was struck, he rode with his owner, Captain Myles Keogh, into battle. Thereafter he was known as Comanche. Although he would continue the habit of racking up the number of injuries in battle, he would continue to tough it out.
When Captain Keogh and Comanche rode together into the Battle of the Little Bighorn, the entire detachment was slaughtered. Comanche was not discovered for a full two days after the battle had culminated with the destruction of Custer’s forces, and he was very badly hurt–but alive. The U.S. Army rewarded his bravery by nursing him back to health and retiring him from service.
Because the army so respected the survival of Comanche and the subsequent recovery, Colonel Samuel D. Sturgis issued the order in April 1878 that his health and wellbeing be kept in high esteem for as long as possible. Within the order were specifications that he never be ridden or allowed to work–he was retired in the full sense of the word.
Comanche became a symbol from then on until his death at the age of about 29 in 1891. During special ceremonies to honor the special circumstances, reporters were sent to formally interview the horse. It was acknowledged that he answered in a typical horse-like way: he stamped and tossed about.
He was also eventually granted the honorary title of “Second Commanding Officer” of the cavalry from which he had ridden. When he died, he was granted a full military funeral. To this day, he is only the third horse to be granted such an honor. His treatment is a reminder of the sacrifice not only of our men and women, but the animals who have served also. We remember and respect them all. On top of that, we also respect the superstitions they help pass down.