Comanche, the horse that famously survived — reportedly with 20 bullet wounds — the battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876, is 150 years old. But what exactly his equine legacy should be so many years later is still being debated.
A commemorative event in Kansas University’s Dyche Hall on Thursday acknowledged all sides. Historians spoke about how the beloved horse came to KU, how he was heavily restored in 2005 and how the community so fascinated by him should process its interest with reverence for the lives lost at Little Bighorn and other battles.
Bill Sharp, author of “The Dashing Kansan,” a biography of Lewis Lindsay Dyche, described how the horse came to the university — and how the government frequently asked for him back.
“But to make a series of stories short,” he said, “a deal’s a deal.”
Dyche, a natural historian present at the university’s founding, was the one to stuff and preserve Comanche. Well, he said, the proper term is “mount.” Dyche was a student of the pre-eminent taxidermist at the time, William Hornaday, who worked to create exhibitions that were more natural and life-like.
Sharp admitted his speciality wasn’t interpreting history or even knowing much of Comanche’s storied life other than the battle and, later, a cushy war horse existence at Fort Riley. But he did have some ideas about the horse’s place in history.
“Comanche represents a spectacular setback in manifest destiny,” he said.
Bruce Scherting, a curator at the museum, then gave a breakdown of the extensive conservation project undertaken — what he called “Comanche’s extreme makeover.”
Nearly 100 people attended, a turnout higher than expected by the student advisory board that arranged it, group president Katie Sparks said.
Former board member Chris Edmonds said that the community engagement of the museum with Comanche and other events was “to be admired.”
Leonard Krishtalka, director of the biodiversity institute housed in the museum, closed the evening with a talk accompanied by paintings done by George Catlin and was more philosophical about Custer’s Last Stand and KU’s curious, if convoluted, ties.
“Comanche represents something much more than a historical event but a desire to pacify the plans for European occupation,” he said. “But history can and should be faced.”