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Comanche the horse.

Comanche, Little Bighorn Survivor

Field review by the editors.

Lawrence, Kansas

Died c.1890

Pet Cemetery.

For a generation who are themselves now dead, Comanche was the most famous horse in America; a kind of equine Elvis, revered in death as much as in life.

Comanche was the only living thing that the U.S. cavalry got back from the Battle of Little Big Horn. When reinforcements arrived, Custer and all 200+ of his soldiers were dead, and all the horses that survived had been taken by the Indians -- except Comanche, who was injured. The Indians had no use for a horse that couldn't dodge a bullet, but the White Man did.

Comanche was nursed back to health and became a living symbol of Manifest Destiny. The public loved him, assuming that he had been Custer's horse (he hadn't) and that he was the Battle's only survivor (he wasn't). This was fine with the Army and the federal government, who wanted the public on their side while they killed Indians. Comanche toured the country, a favorite of parades and patriotic gatherings.

So why, when he died, did he end up in the University of Kansas Natural History Museum?

Comanche had been stabled at nearby Fort Riley. When he passed away in 1890, it was immediately assumed that he would be preserved -- and by a stroke of good fortune the best taxidermist in Kansas worked at the Museum. Comanche's meaty remains were buried with honors, then his hide was given to the Museum and stuffed. But the officers from Fort Riley -- who perhaps realized that most Indians were by now either captured or dead -- never bothered to pick him up (or to pay the taxidermy bill). So Comanche stayed. Aside from being shipped to Chicago to be displayed at the 1893 Columbian Exposition, he's been here ever since.

Comanche is still on exhibit, in a glass case, wearing in his cavalry blanket and saddle. The case used to have a brass plaque: "Sole survivor of the Battle of Little Big Horn." It was removed in the 1970s at the request of local tribes.

Also see: Faithful Steeds | Roadside Pet Cemetery

Comanche, Little Bighorn Survivor

Dyche Museum of Natural History

1345 Jayhawk Blvd., Lawrence, KS
On the University of Kansas campus, in the Dyche Museum of Natural History, at the corner of 14th St. and Jayhawk Blvd.
Tu-Sa 9 am -5 pm, Su 12-5. Closed M. (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
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