LAWRENCE, Kan. - A large part of the recent "Celebration of the Horse" in Commemoration of the 125th anniversary of the Battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana was a fund-raiser to help preserve its most famous 'survivor' in a display at the University of Kansas.
Various accounts from warriors who fought at the battle show that other 7th Cavalry horses survived and were taken by various tribal warriors after the battle. Comanche was considered too badly wounded and was left on the battlefield, giving rise to the myth of the "lone survivor."
The Natural History Museum at the university is the final resting place of the famed horse, the stuff of legends for horse lovers for more than 100 years. Myth and fact have become entangled to the point of making his real story difficult to unwind.
It is known that the Army bought the 15-hand, bay gelding in Saint Louis, Mo., in 1868 and shipped on to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
Capt. Myles Keogh reportedly paid $90 to use the horse his own personal mount shortly thereafter. The gelding was known as a warhorse and generally was allowed to trail along with other extra horses was mounted and used only during battle.
Wounded several times in battle, the horse was named 'Comanche' because of his bravery and ability to continue to fight after being wounded.
It wasn't until two days after the Battle of the Little Bighorn, that Comanche, seriously wounded was found. The weakened horse was taken by steamboat to Fort Abraham Lincoln in North Dakota, reportedly supported by a sling.
After recovering from the wounds, Comanche was officially retired, never to be ridden again. However two wives or daughters of officers at the fort reportedly rode the war hero until his popularity became difficult to manage and the post commander put a stop to it.
Myth has it that Comanche developed quite a taste for beer in his golden years.
When the horse was 17, he traveled with the lead horses to Fort Meade in the Black Hills, but remained unridden. By 1888 the 7th Cavalry was ordered back to Fort Riley, Kan.
On Dec. 29, 1890, Gustave Korn, the soldier who had nursed the old horse back to health and cared for him in the years following the Battle of the Little Bighorn was killed during the Battle of Wounded Knee.
There are some accounts that say Comanche actually accompanied the regiment into battle, but many scholars doubt it because of his advanced age.
Whatever the truth may be, accounts show the horse appeared to lose his spark for life when Korn did not return to Fort Riley. He began to fail and died of colic Nov. 7, 1891, at the age of 29.
He was taken to taxidermist Lewis Lindsay Dyche and stuffed and mounted. Officers of Fort Riley later donated Comanche to Dyche and the university.
The old warhorse once again went on the road, displayed at various locations including the 1893 Chicago Exposition, but the Natural History Museum finally got him back.
For many years Comanche was mounted just inside the doors of the museum and visitors were allowed to touch him, some even plucking hairs from his mane and tail. As he began to deteriorate, there were plans to move him to a new museum to be built in Hardin, Mont. However in 1946 the university refused to give back the famous horse and several years later he was placed in a humidity-free case.
Comanche now stands in his glass case, an innocent participant in the Cavalry bid to terminate the Plains Indians' way of life.