By Russell Graves
Today, nothing remains but a few small monuments to what once was. No old buildings, no grand interpretive center, no fanfare. Just a quiet prairie that sits on the north side of the Canadian River and flanked by high mesas to the east and west. In the grass that quakes in quiet syncopation with the rhythm of the High Plains breezes, lies a battle site that was pivotal to the two principal parties involved in the skirmish.
As nondescript places go, the Adobe Walls battle site in Hutchison County is about as low-key as they come. However, to stand in a spot of historical significance and to walk on the same dirt that historical figures like Bat Masterson and Billy Dixon once walked, borders on surreal.
The second and most significant battle of Adobe Walls took place on June 27, 1874. By the time of the final and pivotal battle, the outpost was in existence for nearly 30 years and had seen its share of troubles before. Only three years after the original adobe buildings were built, traders destroyed the buildings and moved on after repeated Indian attacks. Twenty years later, Kit Carson led 300 volunteers in an indecisive battle against Plains Indian Tribes in one of the largest battles ever on the Great Plains.
Following the Civil War and the opening of the western frontier, buffalo hunters were dispatched to the Great Plains and quickly devastated bison herds in their northern ranges. In violation of the Treaty of Medicine Lodge, hide hunters soon trickled south into Texas and enterprising businessmen set up two stores near the original Adobe Walls trading post in an effort to revive the town. Soon more business followed and the conglomeration of supply stores, hide buyers, a blacksmith, and saloon, and a restaurant served 200 or so buffalo hunters who roamed the area.
In the early morning of June 27th a ridgepole holding up the saloon’s sod roof broke and the subsequent crack woke many of the men. Therefore, most of the men in the outpost were wide awake when a force of 700 Comanche, Cheyenne, and Kiowa warriors rode up in thwarted surprise attack. Led by Quanah Parker, the Indian force attacked the outpost but only 28 men at Adobe Walls were able to fight off the attack.
On the second day, fifteen warriors rode on top of a nearby bluff to assess the battle situation and with a single shot from a 50-caliber Sharps rifle, Billy Dixon shot one of the warriors from his horse. While historic lore claims the shot was 7/8ths of a mile long, some doubt that distance claiming that while it was a long shot, it wasn’t quite that far. Either way, the shot dismayed the Indian force and they broke off the fight.
The attack prompted the United States Army to initiate the Red River War – a campaign that lasted into 1875 and forced the Native American tribes from Texas and onto the reservations in Oklahoma.
Standing here in the grass and contemplating the events of those fateful days 137 years ago, I am amazed how how the events that precipitated on just a couple of acres of ground, effectively shaped the paths of two civilizations.