Today Adobe Walls is a ghost town in modern day Hutchinson County. It's about 17 miles northeast of Stinnett, Texas. It 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 a post, but it was blown up by the traders three years later after repeated Indian attacks. Then in 1864, the ruins were the site of one of the largest battles ever to take place on the Great Plains.
What started as troops reacting to attacks on white settlers moving into the Southwest, turned into a retreat to safe their souls. If they hadn't run for their lives, what happen to Custer would have been just a footnote in history.
The battle, November 25, 1864, resulted in light casualties on both sides but was one of the largest engagements fought on the Great Plains. And talk about spin, the results of the battle were were called "decisive" and Carson 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.
Of course the Indians rightfully claimed victory. And it was a huge victory! It could have been a massacre of U.S. Army forces, the likes unseen until Custer and the Little Big Horn years later.
The First Battle at Adobe Walls would be the last time the Comanche and Kiowa forced American troops to actually retreat from a battlefield, and it marked the beginning of the end of the plains tribes and their way of life. The remaining free-ranging Southern Plains bands of Comanche, Cheyenne, Kiowa, and Arapaho saw the post and the buffalo hunting as a major threat to their existence.
In the Spring or 1874, the Indians held a sun dance. Comanche medicine man White Eagle promised victory, and he told the warriors that they would have immunity from the white man's bullets.
The Second Battle of Adobe Walls was fought on June 27, 1874 between 700 Comanche and a group of 28 hunters defending the settlement of Adobe Walls.
Yes, there are many different figures given for the number of Indians who took part in the attack. Some say as few as 700, and other claims of as many as 1500. It is believed that the lower figure is considered by many to be the most likely, but the number will never really be known.
On the 5th of June, 1874, James Hanrahan, who was the saloon owner at Adobe Walls, 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. The party then joined a wagon train which was enroute to "the Walls" and accompanied them, arriving just hours before the major battle took place.
There were only 28 white men present at Adobe Walls, including a young 20-year old Bat Masterson who would become a legend in his own time, William "Billy" Dixon whose famous long-distance rifle shot effectively ended the siege, and one woman who was the wife of the cook William Olds.
It had been coming for a long time!
In June 1874, ten years after the First Battle at Adobe Walls, merchants from Dodge City, Kansas, set up a large trading post about a mile from the old ruins. The 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 3 building complex quickly grew to include two stores owned by Leonard & Meyers and Charles Rath & Company, a saloon owned by James Hanrahan, a large corral, and a blacksmith shop owned by Tom Keif, all of which served the population of 200-300 buffalo hunters in the area. No, there wasn't 200 to 300 white buffalo hunters there that day.
After the first mad rush of buildings, fortification and security was pretty much forgotten as the owners, one and all, were kept busy outfitting hunters, getting wagons and harness in shape for the seasonal buffalo slaughter. Of course, cooling the men's parched throats was their mission as well.
Hunters were establishing camps in readiness for the spring hunt. But spring was unusually late, so hunters gathered at the new settlement to pass the time by gambling, target shooting, telling tall tales, and waiting for the vast herds of buffalo to start their northward migration.
Overnight, news set the buffalo hunters to ready themselves and get moving. The buffalo were coming. Small groups were sighted, forerunners of that vast herd that would eventually darken the plains. Soon, most of the hunters were gone and only merchants and a few helpers remained in Adobe Walls.
The Hunt Was Very Brief
By late June there had been talk of imminent Indian problems. And in recent weeks, hunters had actually been killed. Two buffalo skinners on Chicken Creek had been killed by the Indians.
Deserting their camps, the hunters made a dash for Adobe Walls. Even though it was hastily built, never completed, and its defense plans were almost nil - it was still better than being in the open. Talk buzzed about Indian uprisings for two other skinners had been reported killed, according to Moore, a buffalo hunter.
But now was the time to kill the buffalo, and argument, both pro and con, went on. The question was whether to pull up stakes and head back to Dodge? And really, would they make it if they did leave?
As was to be expected, the hunters refused to leave, each of them probably had already had encounters with Indians before. All agreed they should double up and take extra precautions about the Indian menace. With that decision made, they loaded and made ready.
Now you and I would think that that meant getting ready, by moving as many people and animals indoors, storing water, posting sentries and such, basically make ready for a fight?
If you're thinking that way, then I would have rather had you there instead of some of them! You see, it's said that the hunters gave way to a sort of "happy abandon" obviously not thinking they were in any real danger there.
While many slept on store floors, there were those getting to their blanket beds spread on the ground beside their wagons. Yes, outside. Others had tarried in Hanrahan's saloon until quite late. Hanrahan had done a thriving business and some of them had spread their blankets on the floor to bed for the night.
But one hunter, O. A. (Brick) Bond had taken advantage of the dark hours of night. Feeling safer from Indian attack than in the daytime, he was well on his way with a heavily loaded wagon of buffalo hides on that hot sultry night of June 26, 1874.
Ominous Night Sounds
There were the usual night noises, the movement of horses and mules as they roamed around in search of grass, an occasional pull on a picket rope; the calls of owls and other night birds. But in reality, like most sounds that we hear all the time, those men were used to these noises and paid little attention to them.
As said before, there was no sentinel or guard on duty to pay strict attention to any unusual noise. The decision was made to stay for the buffalo kill had seemed to give each man a false sense of security - but that would last for long.
Ever notice how strange things take place to help out a situation? At around two in the morning on June 27, 1874, the ridgepole holding up the sod roof of the saloon broke with a thunderous crack.
Around two o'clock in the morning, that loud wood snapping sound awakened the men in Hanrahan's saloon. They thought the cottonwood ridge-pole supporting the roof had snapped. Cottonwood ridge poles and branches made a framework for the roof which in turn was covered with sod.
Soon most of the men were helping to repair the damage, getting the weight of earth off from the weakened roof. Other men rushed to the creek to cut a prop for a ridgepole. Most of the camp had been partly aroused.
When the task was finished, to the East the sky was already streaked with the light of early dawn. While a number of the hunters crawled back into their blanket beds for another nap, Billy Dixon pulled his blanket from under his wagon, rolled it and pitched it into his wagon, preparatory to taking the trail.
Dixon and Hanrahan, who was leaving his bartender Shepherd in charge of his saloon, decided to get started to camp, at the earliest possible moment instead of having another few hours of sleep. Dixon had brought his riding horse inside the night before. Jim Hanrahan sent Billy Ogg to get the horses which were picketed near Adobe Walls Creek.
The Indian force was estimated to be in excess of 700 strong and led by White Eagle and by feared Comanche Chief Quanah Parker. He was half white and half Indian, the son of a captured white woman Cynthia Ann Parker. And yes, he was fearsome.
Their initial attack could have been completely successful and wiped out those in the buildings, but it wasn't. Dixon, who had seen the Indians at almost the same time, had fired a shot into the air and cried out, "Indians!" Then he too, made a mad dash for the saloon.
The arrows were flying, even as Billy Dixon pounded on the closed door for admittance. When it opened for him, Billy Ogg fell in after him, exhausted and panting for breath. He was quickly dragged inside and the door slammed shut even as the Indians swarmed up to it.
Billy Ogg said afterwards that no sooner was he well on his way, than he heard from beyond the fringe of trees lining Adobe Wall Creek, the paralyzing yell of Indians on the warpath. In an instant, hundreds of mounted Indians emerged from the trees, spread like a fan, and swooped like an eagle toward him and Adobe Walls, lashing their ponies at every jump. He took the scene in at a glance, turning even then to flee.
The warriors rode their finest horses and ponies, with scalps dangling from the bridles. Guns and lances flashed above shields of thick buffalo hide. The Indians in their plumed war bonnets, their jangling ornaments of silver and brass illuminated by the rising sun, lashed their mounts headlong toward "Dobe Walls."
Billy Ogg had not waited around to look, but instead ran for his life. And according to Andy Johnson, Ogg came running with bullets whizzing past him, yelling like hell, "Indians! Indians!" before he fell into Hanrahan's saloon where willing hands dragged him in and barred the door.
Some don't realize how the battle started. Many have this image of the battle as all taking place from a distance. While that might be true later, initially the fight was in close quarters.
And yes, while I've read some Historians say that this made the hunters' long range rifles were useless. I want to inform them of Combat Rule #1: Any gun is better than no gun!
Fact is, the Indians were in close enough to pound on the doors and windows of the buildings with their rifle butts. Those inside were fighting with pistols, as well as with Henry and Winchester lever-action rifles in .44 rimfire.
It was only after the initial Indian attack was repulsed that the hunters were able to keep the Indians at bay with their high caliber, long range, Sharps rifles. Yes, the siege was on. And frankly, it was a fight for dear life.
That early morning, June 27, 1874, twenty-eight men and one lone woman, in the ill-protected settlement of Adobe Walls, Texas, faced the stark reality of a possible fate worse than death itself.
Each thudding hoof from the creek a quarter-mile east, each hideous yell from the throats of from 700 swiftly advancing Indians, struck new terror into the hearts of the unfortunate group housed in three separate buildings unconnected from the other.
Amazing But True!
It is said that only 14 of the men knew how to shoot and fight Indians, as the others were teamsters, bartenders, and cooks. I say, it probably didn't matter if they had experience Indians fighting or not -- fact is they were getting all the lesson they ever needed to learn in regards to Indian fighting.
With the strength that people exert in desperate emergencies, I believe that they quickly made ready to fight. And yes, it is said that those who couldn't use guns, they barricaded the doors and the small port hole windows. They stopped the Indians from pushing their way in.
The besieged were not only unprepared for an attack, but they were also divided into three groups with only about 15 guns that could be used. Yes, the strange truth is that they only had 14 to 15 guns!
I can't find out if this means they only had 15 guns total counting rifles, pistols, and shotguns, or if they only had 15 buffalo rifles. But in either case, the odds didn't look good.
Of the three buildings, Hanrahan's saloon was fortified more quickly because the men were fully awake when the attack came. In Hanrahan's Saloon was James Hanrahan, Bat Masterson, Mike Welch, Shepherd, Hiram Watson, Billie Ogg, James McKinley, "Bermuda" Carlisle, and the famed Billy Dixon.
At Charles Rath's store, there were the fewest defenders. And yes, the danger would have been greater had the Indians known there was a white woman in the building. In Rath's store was James Langton manager, George Eddy, Thomas O'Keefe, William Olds and his wife, Sam Smith, and Andy Johnson.
At the Leonard & Meyers store, were Fred Leonard, James Campbell, Edward Trevor, Frank Brown, Harry Armitage, "Dutch Henry," Billy Tyler, Old Man Keeler, Mike McCabe, Henry Lease, and "Frenchy."
Myers was not there and had probably gone back to Dodge. It was probably because Leonard & Meyers did have another store there to manage as well.
At once every building was surrounded, and while bullets plunked into the sod of the walls and arrows whizzed against the planking of the doors every pane of glass was shattered. The besieged hunters became the hunted as they barricaded the doors and windows even as they fought, firing, and flanking the doors and windows with sacks of flour and grain.
Adobe buildings with sod roofs can't be burned, otherwise the Indians would have probably set the buildings aflame and burned the men alive. All that livelong day, short of water, without time to eat, men fought for their own lives and those of their comrades.
They fought with the desperation of men who know the fate of being an Indian captive was worth than death it self.
Many in their bare feet, clad only in their drawers and undershirts, no time to dress, they fought for their lives. They fought while the Indians dashed boldly up to port holes and fired, while they charged three abreast and backed their horses against the outside of the heavy doors in an effort to break them down.
White Eagle, their medicine man, the man that coaxed the tribe into this battle had learned the habits of the hunters. He knew how they slept with open doors and beside their wagons on the ground, and he had promised the Indians an easy victory. When his wife and daughters were killed during Major Chivington's raid, he had vowed vengeance on all white men.
Chief Quanah Parker led the Comanches; Lone Wolf, the Kiowas; Stone Calf and White Shield, the Cheyennes.
The Indians had planned to attack the Tonkawa Indians, but White Eagle pushed Quanah Parker to instead attack the white hunters at Adobe Walls. This pleased the Indians' fancy and they believed White Eagle had good medicine.
Now Indian warriors were testing White Eagle's medicine. But they were fighting men who were also fighters in their own right. Yes indeed, the men in Adobe Walls showed courage in that fight.
Andy Johnson was one of them who told about it later. He said at one point he grabbed a six-shooter from a table and stuck it out a port hole and shot every shell. Later, he said he was so scared that he didn't know what he shot at.
When his tension eased, he helped by barricading doors and providing water for fighting men. As the day grew hotter, parched mouths were in need of water. Yet no one dared go to the well for it -- it was outside the store. And yes, there be Indians out there.
Always used to doing things, Andy Johnson came up with the idea of a well inside the store and he started digging in a sandy spot. He dug on a slope to a depth of six feet and struck water. Allowing a very short time for it to settle, he ladled drinks to the thirsty men, then set a table above his well so no one would tumble into it.
He had dug the well on a slope and could walk down to the water. The ground was loose and sandy, making the task an easy one but the water he struck was a Godsend to weary thirsty fighting men.
At noon, while bullets rain down on them, James Hanrahan and Billy Dixon ran from the saloon to Rath's store for more ammunition. As said before, any gun is better than no gun when someone is trying to kill you. And in this case, every gun was needed.
Billy Dixon had one he could not use. The case of ammunition that he had bought for it was still in Rath's store - which of course made the gun worthless until he could get the ammunition. Because of the woman in their midst and the few defenders present, Billy Dixon remained while James Hanrahan went back to his saloon.
At two o'clock in the afternoon, the Indians showed more caution and moved out to what they saw as beyond the range of the buffalo rifles.
Though the Indians rode out of range and camped in the distance while deciding how to handle the situation, they effectively laid siege to Adobe Walls. Some reports indicate they were taunting the Adobe Walls defenders, but at the distance involved it seems unlikely.
If they were closer, they were an excellent target for an expert marksman as the buffalo hunters all were. While the Idians did keep firing from a distance, their distance was the first break the hunters had for a minute's rest.
Though rounds were still coming in from everywhere, at four o'clock the men of Adobe Walls began to venture out to see how others fared. They found that three men lay dead, scalped and mutilated.
The hunters suffered three fatalities. They were the Shadler brothers, both asleep in a wagon failed to survive the initial onslaught, and Billy Tyler who was almost within Leonard & Myers store when he was shot through the lungs as he paused in the doorway of a building to take a shot.
All twenty-eight of the Shadler Brothers' oxen were dead. A count numbered fifty-six horses dead, and all the others were run off. The Indians had tried to slash the ropes that tied the horses to Rath's wagon, but a gray mare that was notorious for her ornery temper and vicious kicking would not let the Indians approach her - so all were shot.
A search following the initial battle turned up the bodies of 13 Indian warriors killed so close to the buildings that their bodies could not be retrieved by their tribes. The other dead Indians were carried away. Yes, during the Indian Wars, it was common knowledge that Indians strive valiantly to carry away their dead and wounded.
The buffalo hunters would have their revenge for those who were scalped by the Indians. The enraged hunters grabbed up axes, then sharpened 13 stakes in the Myer's stockade wall and jammed an Indian head on each, facing east, eyes staring and mouths gaping.
They made a gruesome joke of what they did by saying that "any live Indian who cared to look could see that, although the Indians took scalps, hunters took heads."
Then the weary fighters sought rest. Yes, they really believed the myth that Indians seldom attack at night. They really believed that Indians preferred early dawn.
About nine o'clock that night they heard a rider approaching and called, "Who are you?"
And the reply, "What do you want?"
Recognizing the voice, one of the hunters called out, "That you, Brick?"
"Yes," was the answer back.
"Well, get in here quick. The Indians are thicker than hell," one hunter said.
Brick Bond had left with a heavy load of hides the night before the fight and the wagon had mired down in the sand.
Brick went on to explain, "I couldn't get them out, so I got on my saddle horse and came back to the Walls."
How he ever came through was a mystery that Bond and others could not figure out until at a much later date. Much later Bond had talked with Little Robe, a Cheyenne Chief, who was well liked by the hunters. "Why didn't you kill me? Didn't you see me?" he asked.
The chief's answer made Brick Bond glad he had been a friend to white man and Indian alike, "Indian no want to kill you."
The Indians, who White Eagle had been urged into the fight had conducted a desultory siege for two days up to that point made no other attacks. On the second day, a party of Indians appeared on a shelf on the side of a bluff more than three-fourths of a mile away, about fifteen in number.
Shortly afterwards two Indians ran quickly out on foot and upon reaching the place where the downed Indian lay, seized the body and scurried to cover.
The distance carefully measured afterwards, was 1,200 yards, but some say it was more than 1,500 yards. It's no wonder the shot is still spoken of with awe among good marksmen and Billy Dixon had considered it one from scratch.
Controversy prevails over the exact range of Billy Dixon's 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 to be 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".
White Eagle just happen to be the target for the longest shot on record. He fell from his horse and was later dragged away by other warriors. It's said that this shot apparently so discouraged the Indians that they broke camp and gave up the fight.
Of course by that afternoon, George Bellfield and his men who came in on the dead run would have probably argued the point. You see, while most reports say that the Indians did not attempt another assault after Billy Dixon's famous long range shot, one report states that while other hunters rode in just as hurriedly that Indians formed in the shelter of the trees along the creek and then charged again.
Supposedly the Indians circled the settlement but kept low behind the necks and shoulders of their horses, all the while pouring lead and shooting arrows into the buildings. Whether this happened or not is up for grabs. It seems that every other report agrees that the Billy Dixon shot pretty much broke the spirit of those wanting to take on those in the camp and ended things.
It seems, from everything that I've read, after on that second day the siege was fairly random gunfire by die-hard warriors at best. When darkness of night set in on the second night, the men prepared to bury their dead. They dug a grave 60 feet or so north of Myers & Leonard's store.
They wrapped the Shadler brothers, Ike and "Shorty" in blankets and laid them side by side in the grave. Then Billy Tyler, blanket-wrapped, was carried from the store and laid beside the two brothers.
While rough men offered silent prayers, the earth was smoothed above their common grave. Besides the burial of the dead, because of the terrible heat, it was necessary to remove the Indians who were killed and still lay in the sun, the horses, mules, and oxen, all that had met death at the hands of the Indians.
There were as yet, no horses to haul them away, but pioneer ingenuity found a way. The hunters shifted dead horses and oxen onto buffalo hides, then tied ropes at the corners and dragged them far enough from the buildings so the stench was not so noticeable.
It was slow and disagreeable work, so when they counted twelve horses between Rath's and Hanrahan's, the hunters dug a big hole in the ground, heaved the animals into it, and shoveled the loose sand above them.
The slain Indians, left behind to rot on the ground, were dragged away on the improvised buffalo hide conveyance. There was a lot of talk going on between those there. The number one issue was what to do?
James Langton was not only worried about keeping his help alive but about the stock of goods as well, the thousands of buffalo hides ricked outside the store. He wanted badly to get word to his partners who would send help at once. The upshot was he offered $200 to any man who would carry a message through to Dodge City.
Henry Lease, a seasoned buffalo hunter stepped forward. "The Indians are all around us," he said. "I will ride to Dodge City for help."
George Bellfield, hunter and ex-soldier, came to stand beside Henry Lease. "You take my horse, Henry, he rides good."
All the horses that belonged to James Langton and other business men, as well as those of the hunters, had either been killed or driven away during the first day's fighting.
George Bellfield's offer was to be expected for any man in those early days would come forward with whatever was needed, especially in the face of danger.
William Olds was in the look-out when the call came and he yelled, "There the red devils come again?"
He started to climb down the ladder and in his excitement, caught the trigger of his gun on a rung of the ladder. It exploded and the bullet tore the top of his head off and he crumpled in death at the foot of the ladder. Mrs. Olds had dashed over to him, but she was only in time to see her husband fall from the ladder and crumple at her feet.
When the darkness of evening descended, the hunters buried William Olds on a little knoll about sixty feet southeast of Rath's store. It's said that men who would have fought for this man's wife to save her from the clutches of the Indians, yet they did not know how to comfort her. It was their darkest hour.
What weapons were used by the defenders at Adobe Walls?
Forensic archaeologists have discovered several Richards' Colt conversions, some Smith & Wesson Americans, and at least one Colt .45 pistol which was then very new on the frontier. There were also numerous rifles in different calibers including .50-70, .50-90, .44-77, .44-40, and at least one .45-70 which was also very new at the time.
At the time, Sharps did not use designations like .50-90 which was known as the "Big Fifty" Sharps. Instead, Sharps designated cartridges by bore size and case length. Technically, the "Big Fifty" was simply 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."
This was all that the defenders -- numbering only 28 white men and one woman - used against a force of 700 Plains Indian warriors.
As For White Eagle?
Comanche medicine man White Eagle promised "victory and immunity from bullets to warriors who took the fight to the enemy." No, that's not a smart way of thinking.
However, White Eagle's prophecy proved to be a sick illusion. The hunter's superior weapons enabled them to fend off the attackers. Many Indians were killed and many others, including Chief Quanah Parker, were wounded. The Indians being forced to retreat is a real big deal.
In terms of an attack, both their initial attempt to over-run the settlement and their four-day siege failed. The Indian withdraw was seen as a disgrace. Because of this, the Second Battle of Adobe Walls was more so a crushing spiritual defeat for the Indians.
After the first killed as a result of the element of surprise, the white defenders held the natives at bay throughout the several days of the battle. Revolvers and buffalo rifles proved White Eagle's prophecy false. And after a legendary long shot by Billy Dixon in which a warrior was knocked from his horse at a distance variously given as from 1028 to 1538 yards, the braves lost heart.
Whatever the distance of the amazing shot, it was enough to convince Quanah Parker to take his men home. White Eagle himself was wounded, then later beaten by his own braves. He was discredited by his tribe, and he was renamed Isa-Tai. But to learn about that, you have to read the Indian perspective of the Battle of Adobe Walls.
The Frontier Battalion
As a result of the Second Battle of Adobe Walls, Texas reformed its famous Frontier Battalion of Texas Rangers. Governor Richard Coke and the Texas Legislature responded to the situation on the frontier by providing for a Texas force to augment the U.S. Army.
The Frontier Battalion was composed of six companies of Texas Rangers. Coke received numerous letters from constituents offering to raise companies to fight the Indians. And of course, after the Second Battle of Adobe Walls, like that of other "emergencies" in American History, like say the Bombing of Pearl Harbor or the 9/11 Terrorist Attack, volunteers step forward.