Comanche horse side profile

Comanche is located on the 4th floor of the museum, to the right of the main lobby. The informational panels which accompany the museum exhibit are currently being updated. The horse underwent restoration in 2005 and has since remained in a low-light, temperature controlled environment to protect it. More information on this unique exhibit follows.

Comanche stands in the KU Natural History Museum as a symbol of the conflict between the United States and the Native American nations of the Great Plains. In 1868, the government of the United States imposed a treaty on several northern plains tribes. The Fort Laramie Treaty established the boundaries of the Great Sioux Reservation in present-day South Dakota to be established for the tribes of the plains. As the treaty says:

“… the United States now solemnly agrees that no persons, except those herein designated and authorized so to do [...]  shall ever be permitted to pass over, settle upon, or reside in the territory described in this article." 

In 1874, however, as part of a "scientific" expedition led by Lieutenant George A. Custer, gold was discovered in the Black Hills on land lying within the Great Sioux Reservation. This discovery led hundreds and thousands of eager prospectors to enter the region. When the Indians protested this invasion of their land, and especially of their sacred grounds in the Black Hills, the U.S. government turned a deaf ear. Military forces under the command of generals Terry and Gibbon, including Custer and his 7th Cavalry, were sent to round up and "discipline" those Sioux (Oceti Sakowin), Cheyenne (Tsis tsis'tas) and other native peoples who had left the reservations in protest.

Although other battles took place, on June 25, 1876, Custer’s 7th Cavalry finally engaged a very large band of Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapahos (Hinono'eino) in the battle of the Little Bighorn. Custer and five cavalry companies separated from the remaining six companies of his force, only to be overwhelmed by native warriors.

When relief came on the following day, it was found that Custer and over 250 U.S. troops lay dead. The victorious Native Americans had withdrawn. The horse Comanche was among the few survivors of the U. S. Army. Comanche is a reminder of the violent past of our nation. Native Americans won the battle, but the Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho were eventually forced to surrender their lands. As such, they lost the war.

In the words of S. Pokagon, of the Potawatomi: the European expansion caused “… the sacrifice of our homes and of a once happy race."  Learn more in this account by Two Moons, a Cheyenne warrior and survivor of the battle. 

Comanche highlights this complex history, and preserves a piece of the past, as a physical object. The early KU Natural History Museum scientists, L. L. Dyche and C. Saunders, meticulously prepared the body of Comanche. This object is thus something that the museum keeps and preserves with great care.

About the Exhibit

  • 4th Floor

comanche alive, in profile with person on left

When Comanche died in 1891, Professor Lewis Lindsay Dyche was asked to taxidermy the horse to preserve its remains.

taxidermy structure without the hide

Dyche waived his $400 taxidermy fee in exchange for allowing KU to keep the mount, which was made of wood, wire and clay, with the skin stretched over the structure. First displayed at the 1893 world's fair. Comanche is still exhibited at the museum.

early display of Comanche in profile

In 2005, museum staff carefully restored the mount and updated the exhibit. It is now kept in a low-light, temperature controlled environment for its protection.