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The Second Battle of Adobe Walls was fought on June 27, 1874, between Comanche forces and a group of twenty-eight U.S. bison hunters defending the settlement of Adobe Walls, Texas, in what is now Hutchinson County, Texas. "Adobe Walls was scarcely more than a lone island in the vast sea of the Plains, a solitary refuge uncharted and practically unknown.":225
Adobe Walls settlement
Adobe Walls was the name of a trading post in the Texas Panhandle, just north of the Canadian River. In 1845, an Adobe fort was built there to house the post, but it was blown up by the traders three years later after repeated Indian attacks. In 1864, the ruins were the site of one of the largest battles ever to take place on the Great Plains. Colonel Christopher "Kit" Carson led 335 soldiers from New Mexico and 72 Ute and Jicarilla Apache scouts against a force of more than one thousand Comanche, Kiowa, and Plains Apache. The Indian army forced Carson to retreat, though he was acclaimed as a hero for successfully striking a blow against the Indians and for leading his men out of the trap with minimal casualties. This is known as the First Battle of Adobe Walls.
After the "enormous slaughter" of the buffalo in the north during 1872 and 1873, the hunters moved south and west "into the good buffalo country, somewhere on the Canadian...in hostile Indian country".:145 and 153 In June 1874 (ten years after the first battle), a group of enterprising businessmen had set up two stores near the ruins of the old trading post in an effort to rekindle the town of Adobe Walls. The complex quickly grew to include a store and corral (Leonard & Meyers), a sod saloon owned by James Hanrahan, a blacksmith shop (Tom O' Keefe), and sod store used to purchase buffalo hides (Rath & Wright, operated by Langton):176 and 178 all of which served the population of 200-300 buffalo hunters in the area. By late June, "two hunters had been killed by Indians twenty-five miles down river, on Chicken Creek" and two more hunters killed in a camp on "a tributary of the Salt Fork of Red River" north of present-day Clarendon.:186 "The story of the Indian depredations had spread to all the hunting camps, and a large crowd had gathered in from the surrounding country" at the "Walls".:192–193
Native American alliance
The remaining free-ranging Southern Plains bands (Comanche, Cheyenne, Kiowa, and Arapaho) perceived the post and the buffalo hunting as a major threat to their existence. That spring, the Indians held a sun dance. Comanche medicine man Isa-tai promised victory and immunity from bullets to warriors who took the fight to the enemy.:210 There are many different figures given for the number of Indians who took part in the attack, with good estimates of as few as 230-300, and other claims of as many as 1500. The lower figure is considered by many to be the most likely, but the number will never be known.
Battle and siege
On June 5, 1874, Hanrahan and his party of hunters departed Dodge City for Adobe Walls and on the 7th, at Sharp's Creek, seventy-five miles southwest of Dodge, the party encountered a band of Cheyenne Indians who ran off all of their cattle stock. The party then joined a wagon train which was en route to the Walls and accompanied them, arriving just hours before the major battle took place. Some 28 men were then present at Adobe Walls, including James Hanrahan (the saloon owner), a 20-year old Bat Masterson, William "Billy" Dixon (whose famous long-distance rifle shot effectively ended the siege), and one woman, the wife of cook William Olds.:200
At two in the morning on June 27, 1874, the ridgepole holding up the sod roof of the saloon made a loud cracking sound, although two men nearby thought it sounded like "the report of a rifle".:201 and 241 According to some sources, Hanrahan awoke the camp by firing a gun, then telling the others the sound had come from the ridgepole. The reason for his action was that he knew about the attack in advance, but did not tell anyone, afraid that men would leave the camp, hurting Hanrahan's business.
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 swept across the plains, intent on erasing the populace of Adobe Walls. In Dixon's words:
There was never a more splendidly barbaric sight. In after years I was glad that I had seen it. Hundreds of warriors, the flower of the fighting men of the southwestern Plains tribes, mounted upon their finest horses, armed with guns and lances, and carrying heavy shields of thick buffalo hide, were coming like the wind. Over all was splashed the rich colors of red, vermillion and ochre, on the bodies of the men, on the bodies of the running horses. Scalps dangled from bridles, gorgeous war-bonnets fluttered their plumes, bright feathers dangled from the tails and manes of the horses, and the bronzed, halfnaked bodies of the riders glittered with ornaments of silver and brass. Behind this headlong charging host stretched the Plains, on whose horizon the rising sun was lifting its morning fires. The warriors seemed to emerge from this glowing background.:205
The Indian force was estimated to be in excess of 700 strong.:208 and led by Isa-tai and by Comanche Chief Quanah Parker, son of a captured white woman, Cynthia Ann Parker. Their 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 high caliber, long range, Sharps rifles. Nine were located in Hanrahan's Saloon, including Bat Masterson and Billy Dixon, eleven in Myer's & Leonard's Store, and seven in Rath & Wright's Store.:207
The hunters suffered four fatalities, three on the first day: the two Shadler brothers asleep in a wagon:208 failed to survive the initial onslaught, and Billy Tyler who was shot through the lungs as he entered the doorway of a building while retreating from the stockade.:212 On the fifth day, William Olds accidentally shot himself in the head while descending a ladder at Rath's store.:235 A search following the initial battle turned up the bodies of 15 Indian warriors killed so close to the buildings that their bodies could not be retrieved by their fellows.
"By noon the Indians had ceased charging, and had stationed themselves in groups in different places, maintaining a more or less steady fire all day on the buildings", by 2 PM the Indians rode out of range at the foot of the hills, and by 4 PM the besieged started venturing out from the buildings to gather relics and bury the Shadlers.:213, 219, 221 and 227 The Indians stayed in the distance while deciding how to handle the situation, effectively laying siege to Adobe Walls.
During the second day, the besieged buried or dragged away the dead horses to "prevent the evil smell from reaching the buildings.".:230 George Bellfield's outfit made it to the Walls as did Jim and Bob Cator, while Henry Lease volunteered to ride to Dodge City, Kansas, while two hunters visited the surrounding camps to warn them "the Indians were on the war path".:231 and 233
On the third day after the initial attack, fifteen Indian warriors rode out on a bluff nearly a mile away to survey the situation. At the behest of one of the hunters, William "Billy" Dixon, already renowned as a crack shot, took aim with a "Big Fifty" Sharps (it was either a .50-70 or -90, probably the latter) he had borrowed from Hanrahan, and cleanly dropped a warrior from atop his horse. "I was admittedly a good marksman, yet this was what might be called a 'scratch' shot.":233 This shot apparently so discouraged the Indians they decamped and gave up the fight.
More hunters came in on the third and subsequent days so that by the sixth day, the garrison amounted to about 100 men.:234 Those in the camp might have experienced it like a siege, although sieges were not part of Comanche warfare or battle strategy. Nevertheless, Indians were close by during the days after the initial attack. Quanah was wounded,:240 which might have taken the edge off the attack, as was always the case with Comanches when the war chief fell in battle. The Indians retired soon afterward. "The Indians probably came to the conclusion that if they remained long enough, charged often enough and got close enough, all of them would be killed, as they were unable to dislodge us from the buildings.":239 Casualty reports vary, and are not known with any great accuracy, although most agree that fewer than 30 total deaths would be a close number.
Within a week of the fight, twenty-five men, including Hanharan, Masterson and Dixon, headed to Dodge, only to learn upon arrival that a relief party of forty men under Tom Nixon had already headed south to bring back "Mrs. Olds and the greater part of the men".:244 and 247
By August, a troop of cavalry under Lt. Frank D. Baldwin, with Masterson and Dixon as scouts, made it to Adobe Walls, where a dozen men were still holed up.:247 "Some mischevious fellow had stuck an Indian's skull on each post of the corral gate.":248 The killing had not ended however, as one civilian was lanced by Indians while looking for wild plums along the Canadian River.:249 The next day, the soldiers and remaining men left Adobe Wells, heading south to join General Nelson A. Miles' main command on Cantonement Creek.:250 The Indians later "burned the place to the ground.":251
Billy Dixon's lucky shot
Controversy prevails over the exact range of the shot; although Baker and Harrison set it at about one thousand yards, a post-battle survey by a team of US Army surveyors, under the command of Nelson A. Miles, measured the distance of the shot: 1,538 yards, or nine-tenths 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 archaeologists 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 Adobe Walls. At the time, Sharps did not use designations like .50-90 ("Big Fifty" Sharps). Instead, Sharps designated cartridges by bore size and case length. Technically, the "Big Fifty" was known as the .50 Sharps 2-1/2 Inch. Depending on the bullet used the case could be loaded as any of what was later designated .50-90, .50-100 or .50-110. The .50-90 loading used the heaviest bullet and gave the best performance at relatively short ranges out to about 100 yards. The two heavier loads used relatively lighter bullets and gave better performance at extended ranges. This makes it more likely that Billy Dixon's shot was made with a .50 Sharps 2-1/2 Inch case loaded to .50-110 specification. In Sharps' nomenclature the .50-70 was first known as the .50 Sharps 1-3/4 Inch and later as the .50 Sharps 2 Inch, and was sometimes referred to as the "Little Fifty."
Buffalo hunting ended in that region of the country "just as the Indians had planned".:241 The result of Adobe Walls was a crushing spiritual defeat for the Indians, though it was seen as a military victory. It also prompted the U.S. military to take its final actions to crush the Indians once and for all. Within the year, the long war between whites and Indians in Texas would reach its conclusion.
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. During the Buffalo Wallow Fight, with accurate rifle fire, they 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 Medal of Honor.
This fight is historically significant because it led to the Red River War of 1874–75, resulting in the final relocation of the Southern Plains Indians to reservations in what is now Oklahoma. A monument was erected in 1924 on the site of Adobe Walls by the Panhandle-Plains Historical Society.
There is an exhibit of the 1874 battle in the Hutchinson County Historical Museum in Borger.
- Rupert N. Richardson, "The Comanche Indians at the Adobe Walls Fight", Panhandle-Plains Historical Review 4 (1931).
- G. Derek West, "The Battle of Adobe Walls", Panhandle-Plains Historical Review 36 (1963).
- T. Lindsay Baker and Billy R. Harrison, Adobe Walls: The History and Archaeology of the 1874 Trading Post College Station: Texas A&M University Press (April 4, 1986), trade paperback, 452 pages, ISBN 978-1-58544-176-1
- Little, Edward Campbell (January 1908). "The Battle of Adobe Walls". pp. 75–85. http://books.google.com/books?id=C_oaAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA75. Retrieved 2009-07-08.
- The Battle of Adobe Walls, Texas State Library]
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