The Battles at Adobe Walls
By Monty Rainey
During the last half of the nineteenth century, two famous battles took place at a desolate outpost in the Texas panhandle known as Adobe Walls. The first Battle of Adobe Walls, which occurred on November 26, 1864, was of little historical consequence, other than the fact that the famous Kit Carson happened to be one of its participants.
The Comanche and Kiowa of the Southern Plains had attacked several Santa Fe wagon trains on their way to New Mexico. Determined to put a stop to these attacks, Gen. James H. Carleton, the commander of the military units of New Mexico, sent an expeditionary force led by Col. Christopher (Kit) Carson to locate the tribes in their winter campgrounds. It was the custom of the Kiowas and Comanches to make their winter camp in the Palo Duro Canyons of the southern panhandle area.
Carson departed Cimarron, NM in what was already a cold nasty winter, with some 300 soldiers including Lt. Pettis’ platoon of mountain howitzers, and a compliment of one hundred Utes and Jacarilla Apaches. Carson and his troops located the Kiowa, led by Chief To-hausen (Dohausan) , in the area of Adobe Walls.
After sacking the Kiowa village, the tide was turned and the soldiers were forced to retreat to the safety of the howitzers. Carson pushed his force to Adobe Walls, which he knew from his time as a buffalo hunter there some twenty years earlier. What Carson did not know was, within a mile of Adobe Walls was a Comanche camp of some 500 lodges and perhaps a force of as many as 5,000 Comanche. Far greater opposition that Carson had anticipated.
Sporadic attacks occurred throughout the day, but the Indians were disconcerted by the howitzers. Carson and his men were able to make a retreat during the night of the 26th and 27th. In all, Carson’s force lost 6 with twenty-five wounded. The Indian forces were estimated to have lost between 100 and 150.
Though the first battle at Adobe Walls is considered a military victory for the Calvary, it is the second battle at Adobe Walls that is the thing of legend. One hundred years earlier, Providence undoubtedly played a large part in America’s war for Independence. Now one hundred years later, on the desolate plains of the Texas panhandle, the hand of God seemed once again to intervene.
When midnight passed and in the pre-dawn hours of June 27, 1874, twenty-nine people (some accounts say twenty-eight) were in the ‘town’ of Adobe Walls. This was little more than an abandoned outpost, where enterprising businessmen had attempted to re-kindle the old town and make a dollar off the buffalo hunters. The settlement consisted of two stores, a blacksmith and a saloon.
Those present at Adobe Walls that night included James Hanrahan (the saloon owner), a twenty year old by the name of Bat Masterson, and a buffalo hunter named Billy Dixon. The only woman present was the wife of cook William Olds.
Around 2 a.m., the lodge pole, holding up the sod roof of the saloon gave way with a loud crack. The men in the saloon as well as the other inhabitants immediately set about repairing the damage. It was this act of Providence that caused the inhabitants of Adobe Walls to be wide awake when the dawn attack began.
Just a few days before, Billy Dixon had ridden into the tiny settlement and told of the death of his two friends, Dudley and Williams. He recounted to the saloon patrons how the Comanches had propped their heads up so they could see what was happening to them. He told of how their tongues and ears and been cut off, then their testicles removed and stuffed into their mouths, before finally being sliced into ribbons and dying a slow, torturous death.
Now, as the men worked to repair the damaged roof, some 700 plains Indians, mostly Cheyenne, Comanche and Kiowa, gathered nearby. The Indians were led by the Comanche Chief, Quanah Parker, the son of a captured white woman, Cynthia Ann Parker.
Since they were already awake, Billy Dixon and Jim Hanrahan decided to get an early start on the days buffalo hunting. Hanrahan sent Billy Ogg to retrieve the horses that were picketed at nearby Adobe Walls creek. Ogg saw the Indians emerge from the tree lined creek bank and ran back to the settlement to alert the others. About the time he arrived, Dixon spotted the Indians as well and fired a shot into the air.
At first, Dixon believed the Indians to be after the horses, but then realized the Indians were coming straight towards the settlement. Dixon and Ogg managed to join the several others who had sought refuge inside the walls of the saloon. Thus the surprise attack had failed. There were only two deaths in the initial attack. That of the Sadler brothers who were sleeping in their wagon. They were killed and scalped along with their dog who was killed and patch of hide cut from the animals side.
The initial attack very nearly carried the day. The buffalo hunters found themselves in a close quarter combat, where their buffalo long guns were all but useless. Miraculously, the inhabitants of Adobe Walls were able to stave off the onslaught of Plains Indians with their pistols. Once the Indians had killed all of the animals, leaving their victims helpless to escape, they withdrew. The morning’s battle had resulted in 4 dead settlers and an unknown number of Indians. The bodies of fifteen warriors were found that were too close to the buildings for the Indians to have retrieved their bodies.
The next few hours saw the battle waged with rifle fire, which was to the buffalo hunters’ advantage. The Indians had moved far enough away from the settlement to allow the nine men at Harahan’s saloon to send two men to Rath’s store to resupply their depleted ammo.
Quanah Parker’s medicine man, Esa-Tai, (literal name, coyote dung) was largely responsible for the attack. The crazed medicine man has convinced Parker of their invincibility for the attack.
The attacks were sporadic thereafter and on what is believed to have been the fourth day of siege, a small group of Indians had ventured to the edge of distant ridge to plan their next attack. Billy Dixon caught sight of them and asked Bat Masterson to hand him his Sharps 50 caliber. The inhabitants laughed at Dixon, exclaiming, “They’re a mile away!” Dixon drew down his aim, squeezed the trigger and watched Esa-Tai fall from his mount. It was this act that caused the Indians to determine they could not compete with such weapons and they withdrew from the fray.
Two weeks later, a team of US Army surveyors would determine the distance of Dixon’s famed shot to be 1,538 yards, or nine-tenths of a mile. Billy Dixon later gave up buffalo hunting and became a scout for the US Army. As a scout at the “Buffalo Wallow Fight” Dixon would earn the Congressional Medal of Honor. In 1893, he retired and built a home on the Adobe Walls site. He died there on March 9, 1913 at the age of 63.
On the fifth day, more than 100 men arrived at Adobe Walls. The Indians never returned. The main significance of this fight is that it led to the Red River War or 1874 – 75, which resulted in the final relocation of the Southern Plains Indians into reservation in what is now Oklahoma.
The Rath Trail, by Ida Ellen Rath
Ride the Wind (subtitled: The Story of Cynthia Ann Parker and the Last Days of the Comanche, by Lucia St. Clair Robson, Ballantine Books, 1982.
The Battle of Adobe Walls, 1864, C. Boone McClure, 1948
Letters of Olive K. Dixon, White Deer Land Museum, Pampa, TX.
Indian Wars of Texas, Mildred Mayhall, 1965.