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11 famous horses from history

By: Jaymi Heimbuch on Aug. 26, 2016, 2:10 p.m.
Comanche was the only survivor of the Custer Massacre, 1876

Photo: John C. H. Grabill/Library of Congress

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You know whose hooves were not made into inkwells, despite being an equine war hero? Comanche's. This bay gelding was of mustang stock and was part of the U.S. Cavalry.

Comanche is often cited as the only survivor of the Battle of Little Big Horn. (Technically, roughly 100 other horses survived but were captured by the victors.) The mount of Captain Myles Keogh, Comanche was seriously wounded in the battle, including seven bullet wounds, and members of the Army found him in a ravine two days later. He was collected and cared for, and he soon recovered from his wounds.

This wasn't the first time the stoic horse had to tough out injuries. Indeed, his toughness is what earned him his name. During a battle against the Comanche in 1868, he was shot by an arrow in the rump and yet continued on with Keogh on his back. After that day, he was named "Comanche" as a way to honor his bravery and steadfastness. He was wounded some 12 times during battles, including those injuries sustained during his final battle at Little Big Horn.

After Comanche was retired in 1878, Colonel Samuel D. Sturgis issued an order stating that the horse, "being the only living representative of the bloody tragedy of the Little Big Horn, 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." The order included that Comanche would have a comfortable stable, that he'd never be ridden again or have to work under any circumstances. Comanche was allowed to wander the parade grounds at his leisure, became a favorite pet of the soldiers at Fort Riley, and apparently enjoyed his fair share of beer. Not a bad retirement for a war horse.

When he died at the age of about 29 in 1891, he was given a military funeral with full military honors, one of only two horses in the United States to be honored in such a way. His remains were preserved, and he can be seen on display at the University of Kansas Natural History Museum.