COMANCHE AND HIS CAPTAIN
THE WARHORSE AND THE SOLDIER OF FORTUNE
By Janet Barrett
Against the fury of the Civil War and the challenges of securing the frontier, the intertwined stories of the tough mustang, Comanche, and the courageous soldier of fortune, Captain Myles Keogh, move toward a climax that spells the end for one and a beginning for the other.
Keogh was one of the many Irishmen whose profession was soldiering but who would not fight under the English flag. They took their talents elsewhere, Keogh coming to America to fight for the Union in the Civil War. Through more than 80 battles he showed skill and bravery, as he served top commanders and was praised by many more.
By war’s end Keogh looked to the U.S. as his home, and he signed on with the newly formed Seventh Cavalry. At Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, sizing up a shipment of mustangs just in from Indian Territory, he saw the mount he wanted. Was it the bold, unflappable quality he would come to know so well? Whatever the reason, Keogh took the unusual step of buying Comanche with his own money. They rode together for the next eight years, a partnership that took them to the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
No one survived that fight, not one of the 210 men under General Custer’s command. But the Indians remembered Keogh as the bravest man they had ever seen. He was killed as he crouched under Comanche’s front legs, firing his final shots. In death he continued to hold his horse’s reins. The Indians left them be, Comanche standing alone on a battlefield covered with the dead.
It was 1876, our country’s 100th anniversary, grand July 4thcelebrations about to begin. The Little Bighorn massacre sent shock waves across the country. Yet, people took comfort in knowing that the brave Comanche had survived. The soldiers brought him back to Fort Abraham Lincoln, tended his wounds and nursed him back to health. He became the most famous horse in the nation, honorary Second Commanding Officer of the Seventh Cavalry, always a beloved and revered member of the regiment. At the end of his long life his remains were preserved, thereafter housed at the Natural History Museum of the University of Kansas. There, visited by millions over more than a century, Comanche still stands as a bold, resilient symbol for America.
Janet Barrett remembers her father first telling her about Comanche when she was about eight years old, a simple story then about a horse that survived a battle. With the success of They Called Her Reckless, about the warhorse, Reckless, and her fellow Marines in the Korean War, Barrett knew it was time to go back to that earlier era and tell the whole story of the horse that brought fame to himself and his rider, and a renewed sense of pride to the U.S. Seventh Cavalry.