The History of Adobe Walls

East of the Santa Fe trail, west of the Llano Estacado and south of the Canadian River, lie the ruins of an ancient Spanish trading post, the name of which was long ago forgotten. Because of its only visible remains, during the nineteenth century the site was known as Adobe Walls. It also just happened to lie quite near the migration path of the Great Central Herd of buffalo; today we’d say it sits in the panhandle of North Texas, about 150 miles southwest of Dodge City, Kansas.

There were two ‘battles’ at Adobe Walls, the first occurring on November 25th, 1864 with none other than Kit Carson in attendance, but it was the second which contained ‘the stuff of legends’.

After the decimation of the buffalo herd in Kansas, the hunters moved south and west to continue practicing their profession. In June of 1874, a group of enterprising businessmen had set up two stores, a blacksmithy, and a saloon near the ruins of the old trading post in an effort to rekindle the ‘town’ of Adobe Walls and make a dollar off the hunters.

By late June there had been talk of imminent Indian problems and, in recent weeks, hunters had actually been killed. Some 28 or 29 persons were present at Adobe Walls, including James Hanrahan the saloon owner, a 20-year old Bat Masterson, Billy Dixon {of whose famous long-distance rifle shot, more below}, California Joe {according to a somewhat unreliable account of California Joe Milner’s life, or he may have been at the first battle of Adobe Walls}, and one woman, the wife of cook William Olds. At two in the morning on June 27th, 1874, the ridgepole holding up the sod roof of the saloon broke with a loud crack. Everyone in the saloon and several other men from the ‘town’ immediately set to repair the damage. Thus most of the inhabitants were already wide awake and up and about when, at dawn, a combined force of Comanche, Cheyenne, and Kiowa warriors {estimated in excess of 700 strong and led by Comanche Chief Quanah Parker, son of a captured white woman, Cynthia Ann Parker} swept across the plains, intent on erasing the populace of Adobe Walls.

The initial attack almost carried the day; the Indians were in close enough to pound on the doors and windows of the buildings with their rifle butts. The fight was in such close quarters the hunters’ long range rifles were useless. They were fighting with pistols and Henry and Winchester lever-action rifles in .44 rimfire. After the initial attack was repulsed, the hunters were able to keep the Indians at bay with their Sharps rifles.

A search following the initial battle turned up the bodies of 15 warriors killed so close to the buildings that their bodies could not be retrieved by their fellows. The Indians rode out of range and camped in the distance while deciding how to handle the situation, effectively laying siege to Adobe Walls. The hunters suffered four fatalities: two brothers asleep in a wagon failed to survive the initial onslaught, Billy Tyler was shot through the lungs as he paused in the doorway of a building to take a shot, and Mrs. Bill Olds accidentally shot her husband in the head as she handed a reloaded rifle up to him {the bullet entering under his chin and exiting out the top of his head}.

The second day after the initial attack, fifteen warriors rode out on a bluff nearly a mile away to survey the situation. Some reports indicate they were taunting the Adobe Walls defenders but, at the distance involved, it seems unlikely. At the behest of one of the hunters, Billy Dixon, already renowned as a crack shot, took aim with a ‘Big Fifty’ Sharps {it was either a .50&endash;70 or &endash;90, probably the latter} he’d borrowed from Hanrahan, and cleanly dropped a warrior from atop his horse. This apparently so discouraged the Indians they decamped and gave up the fight.

Two weeks later a team of US Army surveyors, under the command of Nelson A. Miles, measured the distance of the shot: 1,538 yards, or ninetenths of a mile. For the rest of his life, Billy Dixon never claimed the shot was anything other than a lucky one; his memoirs do not devote even a full paragraph to ‘the shot’.

Forensic archeologists have discovered several Richards’ Colt conversions, some Smith & Wesson Americans, and at least one Colt .45 {then new on the frontier} pistol, along with numerous rifles {in calibers .50-70, .50-90, .44-77, .44 Henry Flat, and at least one .45-70, also very new} were in use at AdobeWalls.

Billy Dixon quit buffalo hunting and, the following August, became an army scout. In September, just three months after Adobe Walls, an army dispatch detail consisting of Billy Dixon, another scout {Amos Chapman}, and four troopers from the 6th Cavalry were surrounded and besieged by a large combined band of Kiowas and Comanches. They holed up in a buffalo wallow and, with accurate rifle fire, held off the Indians for an entire day. An extremely cold rainstorm that night discouraged the Indians, and they broke off the fight; every man in the detail was wounded and one trooper killed. For this action Billy Dixon, along with the other survivors of ‘The Buffalo Wallow Fight’, were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. In 1893 Billy Dixon left the army, filing homestead papers on the Adobe Walls site. He built a home and died there, aged 63, on March 9th, 1913.

This history of Adobe Walls was researched by Coyote Creek Mike, member 18 and former Range Master of the Faultline Shootist Society, San Jose, California The above history currently resides at



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April 2018