“Do not be like the horses or the mule,
which have no understanding” Psalm 37:9
The University of Kansas Natural History Museum, Lawrence, Kansas, is, at least temporarily, the final hitching post for Comanche, a horse who, for decades, may have been America’s most revered and certainly was most recognized steed, despite being dead.
What fresh troops discovered once the dust settled at the scene of the famous 1876 Battle of the Little Big Horn was 200 of Custer’s men dead, and one horse, Comanche, still alive, a fourteen-year-old buckskin gelding injured and therefore not hustled off after the battle as so many others were by the conquering tribes.
I’m not sure anyone ever thought of disposing of the injured animal—perhaps not. Whether or not he could ever run again, Comanche was simply too stark a symbol. So he was taken to
Riley, where he died, and was lovingly
stuffed by the best taxidermist in Kansas,
an employee of the museum where Comanche still (after a fashion) stands.
Thousands filed past him (his upright remains anyway) at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Rumor had it that Comanche was General George Armstrong Custer’s own mount (not true). Custer’s favorite horse, Vic, either died on the hill where Custer himself did, or else was snatched up by the conquering foe. Among Native Americans, legend has it that a Santee Sioux named Grey Earth Track ended up with Vic, a thoroughbred, after the battle.
Should you care to visit Comanche, you’ll find him enclosed in glass and wearing his cavalry blanket and saddle. In the century which has passed since the Columbian Exposition, visitors have dwindled to a trickle, I suppose. So it goes with legends. The case once had a brass plaque proclaiming “Sole survivor of the Battle of Little Big Horn.” In the Sixties it was, quite thoughtfully, removed at the request of Native Americans.
That Comanche is still standing is understandable, given his legendary status—Custer’s own mount, and the only thing living at Little Big Horn. He remains, I’d say, a symbol of the rough-hewn history of the American West, and he is what he was—a horse. For more than a century, no animal was as significant to life on the
Great Plains as the
horse—to the Sioux, to the cavalry, to the settlers.
King David had no idea that the horse would be as important to American culture as it was, historically. Warring tribes he knew, but he had no notion of Sitting Bull or
South Dakota. Maybe we shouldn’t indict him for so
unequally yoking the horse and mule in verse nine. To old-timers who remember farming pre-John
Deere, horses still hold special favor, after all.
I’m missing the point, of course. Verse nine isn’t about horses; it’s about us, and animals, and what separates us—human understanding. We’ve got it, and they don’t, despite our nostalgia, our tributes, and two or three centuries of
What makes us human—among other things—is understanding, the ability to think through our own actions. What’s at stake is wisdom, not horse sense. We’ve got to use it, but what the verse suggests is that too often we don’t.
Custer didn’t. But he’s not the only one. All too often, neither do we.
And that’s the point exactly.