“COMANCHE” CABINET CARD – ICONIC INDIAN WAR IMAGE
OF CAPT. KEOGH’S HORSE – SURVIVOR OF THE LITTLE BIG HORN
BATTLE: This D.F. Barry image of Captain Myles
Keogh’s horse, “Comanche” being held by Private Gustave
Korn, is one of the most iconic images of a veteran of
the ill-fated 7TH U.S. Cavalry Regiment who
survived the Battle of the Little Big Horn.
Comanche, best known for being the sole survivor of
Custer's immediate command who died with him on Last
Stand Hill, was in fact one of many of the soldiers’
horses that survived that day. The warriors took those
mounts which either survived unscathed or those with
injuries which were not fatal, leaving a number of
severely wounded horses on the battlefield. It is
reported that when Lt. Nelson and his detachment
arrived, they found a number of wounded horses in
addition to Comanche, and Nelson ordered the soldiers to
shoot them. What set Comanche apart and saved him from
the same fate was the strong friendship that existed
between Nelson and Keogh, and the common knowledge among
the command that Keogh held the horse in such high
Comanche is believed to have been purchased by the U.S.
Army in 1868 in St. Louis, Missouri. Sent to Fort
Leavenworth, Kansas, the horse came to the attention of
Captain Myles Keogh of the 7TH Cavalry who
purchased him for his personal mount. Keogh apparently
favored the horse for campaigning as legend holds that
the horse sustained several wounds. Reportedly, in 1868
the horse was struck by an arrow during an engagement
with the Comanche in Kansas, but despite the wounding,
he carried Keogh through the fight and Keogh
subsequently named his mount “Comanche”.
Keogh rode Comanche from the shadows of relative
historical obscurity onto the front page of the annuals
of the American West as they surged along the banks of
the Little Big Horn River on June 25, 1876. While the
fate of all of the soldiers and officers who followed
Custer that day was sealed, many of their steadfast
mounts survived the battle to be captured by the Lakota
and Cheyenne as trophies of their victory. Comanche was
abandoned on the field likely due to the belief he would
soon succumb to the several wounds he had sustained
during the fight. The relief column discovered
Comanche, still very much alive, a few days after the
battle and after having his wounds treated, he was
loaded on the steamship Far West along with wounded
soldiers from the Reno-Benteen column and transported to
Fort Lincoln. Comanche was cared for during his lengthy
convalescence by Keogh’s orderly, Gustave Korn.
Comanche’s survival and his connection to Keogh - one of
the most flamboyant and well liked officers among those
lost on the Little Big Horn – created an aura of
celebrity around the horse, and his elevation as an
honored mascot for the wounded regiment was very
natural. His status was guaranteed for life when
Colonel Samuel D. Sturgis, Commanding Officer of the 7TH
issued the following order:
“Headquarters Seventh United States Cavalry, Fort A.
Lincoln, D. T., April 10th,
General Orders No. 7.
horse known as 'Comanche,' 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. Wounded and scarred as he is,
his very existence speaks in terms
eloquent than words, of the desperate struggle against
numbers of the hopeless conflict and the heroic manner
in which all went
on that fatal day.
commanding officer of Company I will see that a special
is fitted up for him, and he will not be ridden by any
under any circumstances, nor will he be put to any kind
Hereafter, upon all occasions of ceremony of mounted
'Comanche,' saddled, bridled, and draped in mourning,
and led by a mounted
trooper of Company I, will be paraded with the regiment.
command of Col. Sturgis,
Garlington, First Lieutenant and Adjutant, Seventh
This unique order attracted the attention of a reporter
for the Bismarck Tribune who set out for Ft.
Abraham Lincoln to interview Comanche. He "asked the
usual questions which his subject acknowledged with a
toss of his head, a stamp of his foot and a flourish of
his beautiful tail."
As reported, his official keeper, the farrier John
Rivers of Company I – commanded by Keogh at the Little
Big Horn - saved "Comanche's reputation" by answering
more fully. The reporter’s story published in the May
10, 1878 edition of the Bismarck Tribune included the
Comanche was a veteran, 21 years old, and had been with
the 7th Cavalry since its Organization in '66.... He was
found by Sergeant [Milton J.] DeLacey [Co. I] 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…three of the balls were extracted from his body and
the last one was not taken out until April '77.
Comanche is not a great horse, physically talking; he is
of medium size, neatly put up, but quite noble looking.
He is very gentle. His color is 'claybank'. He would
make a handsome carriage horse... "
In June 1879, Comanche transferred to Fort Meade, South
Dakota with the 7TH in June of 1879, and then
to Ft. Riley, Kansas when the regiment moved again.
Through the years he became something of pet,
occasionally leading parades, and periodically indulged
in a fondness for beer he had acquired.
Comanche died of colic on November 7, 1891, believed to
be 29 years old at the time. He is one of only two
horses in United States history to be given a military
funeral with full military honors, the other was Black
His remains were not buried, instead Comanche was sent
to the best taxidermist in Kansas; Lewis Lindsay Dyche
at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. When the
taxidermy bill of $400 went unpaid, Dyche offered to
waive the fee if he could keep Comanche, which is how
the beloved horse came to be displayed to this day in a
climate controlled case at the university's Museum of
Natural History - Dyche Hall.
In this image, Comanche’s lead is being held by Sgt.
Gustave Korn (1852-1890), identified through history as
Comanche’s caretaker. Private Korn was serving as
Keogh’s orderly at the Little Big Horn as Custer’s
column moved towards what would become known as Last
Stand Hill. At some point, Korn’s horse bolted and,
after regaining control of his mount, he joined the
Reno-Benteen group and thus survived the battle. Korn
cared for Comanche for the next 14 years at Fort Lincoln
and Fort Meade. Sergeant Korn was killed at the Battle
of Wounded Knee in 1890. Regimental lore suggests
Comanche pined for his absent comrade when Korn failed
to return from Wounded Knee, losing his will to live and
dying less than a year later.
One of his earlier well known images, this particular
cabinet card was printed by Barry, not by one of the
other photography studios which marketed images of
Comanche. This image is the earlier style printing of
this famous photograph, including both Comanche and
Korn. Later printings of the photograph by Barry were
cropped and oriented vertically to show just Comanche,
and the cards bear Barry’s later West Superior,
Wisconsin address on the reverse. Those later printings
are considered by collectors to be far less desirable,
and hence not as valuable as this early printing.
This cabinet card, measuring 6 ½” by 4 ¼”, is legibly
backmarked with the advertising callout of the D.F.
Barry Studio in Bismarck, North Dakota. The cabinet
card is in excellent condition with no damage or fading
to the image and the card is in full form with no damage
to the edges.
This is a very historical image, taken when the
survivors of that fateful day on the Little Big Horn
were still front page news and certainly were
celebrities in their own right – more so in the case of
Comanche who became a talisman and a source of pride and
comfort as the regiment rebuilt itself. In excellent
condition, this cabinet card will be a significant
addition to your Indian War collection.