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“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 esteem.       

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,

           1878. General Orders No. 7.          

           (1.) The 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

                  more eloquent than words, of the desperate struggle against overwhelming

                  numbers of the hopeless conflict and the heroic manner in which all went

                  down on that fatal day. 

           (2.) The commanding officer of Company I will see that a special and comfortable

                stable is fitted up for him, and he will not be ridden by any person whatsoever,

                  under any circumstances, nor will he be put to any kind of work. 

            (3.) Hereafter, upon all occasions of ceremony of mounted regimental formation,

                  'Comanche,' saddled, bridled, and draped in mourning, and led by a mounted

                   trooper of Company I, will be paraded with the regiment.

             By command of Col. Sturgis,

             E. A. Garlington, First Lieutenant and Adjutant, Seventh Cavalry."  

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 following:   

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 Jack.   

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.  (0207)  $950 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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