Horse book will change your views on how the west was won

Surely, every American over 18 and possibly a few younger — I have no idea how American history is taught these days — has heard of the Battle of the Little Bighorn June 25, 1876, and of the Seventh Cavalry’s golden-haired leader, Gen. George Armstrong Custer.

The massacre of Custer’s forces and their horses and of the attacking Indians with their horses — historians say Indians won the battle even though many of them also died in the carnage — has long been the subject of books, movies, paintings and TV documentaries.

Since then, Custer’s golden image has been tarnished. Graduating last in his class at West Point when he was 21, and he is reported to have been “dashing, arrogant and an impetuous warrior who lived for the charge.”

His personality in those areas intensified in coming years.

Book

This and the following amazing information, not about Custer, not about the battle, but about an incredible horse, who somehow managed to escape the slaughter of men and horses, is from a book, Mustang by Deanne Stillman, The Saga of the Wild Horse in the American West.

Those of us whose lives have been entwined with those of horses will be horrified at the cruelties and savagery of men as detailed in the pages of this book, which begins with the evolution of the horse through the many changes that brought them to the magnificent magical creatures they are now.

The book’s author likens the BLM’s persecution of today’s few wild horses left in the West to those bloody days of Cortez, Montezuma and their ilk.

Comanche

Who was Comanche? Born in 1862, he arrived at Fort Hayes, Kan., in 1868 at the height of the wars with the Plains Indians, and was lucky enough to be chosen by Capt. Myles Keogh, who loved his horses almost as much as he loved his booze. He was a drunk, according to the book.

Comanche was wounded several times, recovering from each to return to his troop and partner, but over time was ill-fated to be part of the Little Bighorn saga, along with Capt. Keogh. An account of the equine carnage as seen at Last Stand Hill states, “there were 42 dead men and 39 dead horses.”

But as the rites for the fallen men, including Capt. Keogh, were being said, “From the cottonwoods there came a valiant veteran. It was Comanche, his head hung low, blood oozing from at least seven bullet wounds, his saddle upside down and hanging from his belly.”

Miraculously, he was not killed because someone begged he be spared, and thereby hangs the rest of this amazing tale.

Drunk

Legend has it that he was hoisted in a sling, he was given a bran mash “liberally laced with whiskey” which was poured into a hat and thus Comanche developed a taste for hard liquor. After a year spent in the belly-band sling and drinking whiskey mashes every other day, Comanche became a free spirit — and a drunk.

“He happily visited the enlisted men’s canteen where on paydays he swilled buckets of beer. He begged sugar lumps, and to satisfying his appetite would kick over the garbage cans to select from the buffet. It is said he loved tramping across lawns and browsing in flower gardens and he especially liked sunflowers.”

Every year, on June 25, the regiment would remember the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Comanche would lead Troop 1, dressed in a black mourning net with saddle and riding boots reversed.

There is much, much more to this true story. See if your library has or can get the book, or buy it.

In the end, Comanche died at 29 on Nov. 7, 1891, and after a series of moves, his stuffed and mounted body rests in a glass cage at the University of Nebraska.

You will lose sleep over this thoughtful, beautifully written and researched and riveting book which will change your dream of how the west was won — not just by men, but by millions of horses.

* * *

“Wherever man has left the footprints in the long ascent from barbarism to civilization, we find the hoofprint of a horse beside it.”

– John Trotwood Moore

About the Author

A lifelong resident of the Mahoning Valley, Janie Jenkins retired in 1987 as a feature writer and columnist at the Youngstown Vindicator. In June of that same year, she started writing her column, "On My Mind" for Farm and Dairy. She loves all animals and is an accomplished equestrienne. Local history is also one of her loves, and her home, the former Southern Park Stables, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. More Stories by Janie Jenkins

2 Comments

  1. It is disappointing to read that the author has recycled the now-discredited characterisation of Comanche’s owner, Captain Myles Keogh, as being a “drunk”. Keogh’s fourteen year US military record is untarnished by any charge of drunkenness of dereliction of duty. These records still exist but, unfortunately, Ms. Stillman has taken the lazy route of using information published in a flawed early 20th century book on Custer’s 7th Cavalry as her source rather than undertaking any research herself. In my mind, this does not augur well for the rest of book.

  2. MJ Wilson says:

    Happy to hear about another horse book, there are too few of them, since the HORSE, MULE and pony put us all where we’re at, and now for many their end is at a Canadian or Mexican slaughterhouse where they face being cut up alive and slowly, see the video’s then call your reps and senators asking that they co-sponsor HR503/SB727 the Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act.
    The battle of the Greasy Grass as the Native American’s named their Battle of the Little Bighorn, was a spiritual event and was known to be on the horizon for a while, what shocked the Native American’s was the stupidity of Custer, but Custer’s stupidity was well known by his leaders back in Washington.

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