The Lakota and the Plains tribes refer to the Battle of Little Big Horn as the Battle of Greasy Grass and it was the scene of an ignominious defeat for the 7th Cavalry and the Custer Battalion. But one survivor has gone down in history as the sole survivor of the Battalion; Comanche, the mount of Captain Myles Keogh.
Although Comanche’s date of birth and his breeding were uncertain Captain Keogh of the 7th Cavalry liked the 15 hand horse. In 1868, when the army was fighting the Comanche tribe in Kansas, the horse was wounded by an arrow but continued to carry Keogh in the battle. He named the horse Comanche as a tribute to his bravery.
June 25, 1876 was the day of a great defeat for the 7th Cavalry of the US Army and a great victory for the combined forces of the Northern Cheyenne, Lakota, and Arapaho tribes who were led by tribe leaders, including Crazy Horse and Chief Gall. The US 7th Cavalry, included the Custer Battalion; 700 men led by Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer. Five of the 7th Cavalry’s twelve companies were annihilated and Custer was killed.
But Comanche survived. He was badly wounded and was found two days after the battle by US soldiers. In May 1878 The Bismarck Tribune carried a story about Comanche.
“Comanche was a veteran, 21 years old, and had been with the 7th Cavalry since its organization in ’66. He was found by Sergeant DeLacey in a ravine where he had crawled, there to die and feed the crows. He was raised up and tenderly cared for. His wounds were serious, but not necessarily fatal if properly looked after….He carries seven scars from as many bullet wounds.There are four back of the foreshoulder, one through a hoof, and one on either hind leg. At Fort Abraham Lincoln, three of the balls were extricated from his body, and the last one not taken out till April ’77. Comanche is not a great horse, physically talking; he is of medium size, neatly put up and quite noble looking. He is very gentle. His color is ‘claybank’.”
Comanche was reported to have a fondness for beer and died on November 7, 1891 and they believe he was 29 years old at the time . He is one of only three horses to be given a military funeral with full military honors. The other two were Black Jack and Sergeant Reckless.
Comanche is known as being the only survivor of Little Big Horn but it is likely that other horses survived and were taken by the Native tribes. Comanche was so badly wounded that he was left behind. After his death, he was stuffed,and is still on view in a glass case at the University of Kansas. He stands patiently, in a humidity controlled glass case protected from moths and souvenir hunters. The other horses are long gone so, in a way, he is the lone survivor and the legend is true.