All About Guns Hard Nosed Folks Both Good & Bad

Men in History: Billy Dixon by Kim Foster

William “Billy” Dixon was born in West Virginia on September 25, 1850. Soon after, his parents moved west to Missouri. Due to unknown circumstances, he was orphaned at age 12. He worked as a woodcutter and various other odd jobs along the Missouri river. Quickly garnering a reputation as a skilled marksman and woodsman and like many footloose young men of his time, he drifted into buffalo hunting. Shortly before June 27, 1874, Dixon arrived at the Adobe Walls outpost.

The Adobe Walls settlement began life in 1845 as a trading post in the Texas Panhandle, just north of the Canadian River, not far from the present day town of Stinton. As the name implies, adobe blocks were the main building material. Due to repeated Indian attacks, it was abandoned 3 years later. The first battle of Adobe Walls happened in November 1864 and involved the legendary Kit Carson. Then, a Colonel in charge of an Army Expeditionary Force. Carson was conducting an operation labeled as a punitive action against several plains Indian tribes and choose the Adobe Walls site as a defendable base camp. But that’s another story.

In the spring of 1874, with buffalo hunting in full swing in the panhandle, the partnership of Charlie Myers and Fred Leonard re-opened the Adobe Walls settlement and other merchants quickly followed. Improvements to the site included a 200′ x 300′ hide yard with 8′ high stockade-type fence enclosure and three buildings comprising a mess hall, store and stable. These buildings were made of cottonwood logs set on end in the ground and chinked with mud, a common building practice at the time.

Reportedly, there were 28 men and 1 woman ( Mrs. Bill Olds, restaurant proprietress) at Adobe Walls on the morning of June 27, ‘74. At dawn, a combined force of Comanche, Cheyenne, and Kiowa warriors attacked the camp. At the time, their numbers were estimated in excess of 700 strong, however, historians claim 400 or less is a more accurate figure based on population densities at the time and the unlikeliness that multiple tribes and clans numbering 700 would be able to align themselves under one leader for a coordinated attack. That the Indians were lead by Comanche Chief Quanah Parker, son of a captured white woman, {Cynthia Ann Parker}is not debated. Chief Parker, angry at broken treaties and the continued loss of his buffalo, was determined to destroy the populace of Adobe Walls. The initial attack almost carried the day. The Indian’s rush was successful. They were in close enough to attempt to breach the doors of the buildings with their rifle butts and by backing their horses into the doors. Due to the building materials and construction, they were unable to make entry on any of the structures. The fight was in such close quarters the hunters’ long range rifles were almost useless. They were fighting with pistols and Henry and Winchester lever-action rifles. Mostly in .44 rimfire. When the Indians attack momentum failed, they retreated to an area out of rifle range and made camp to decide on a new plan and hash out some tribal business. One of the Indian leaders was a shaman whose name, Isatai, translates into Coyote Poop. Reportedly, Shaman Poop had convinced the warriors that his medicine was so strong it would keep bullets from injuring them. That turned out not to be the case and several of the braves who had just lost friends and relatives in the attack were understandably angry with Mr. Poop They registered their displeasure by chasing him around the impromptu camp and pelting the nefarious shaman with sticks and stones. Always the optimist, Poop was able to convince his compatriots that he could do better and their attention returned to the Walls. The fight had now degenerated into a sniping match in which the Indians were literally out gunned. This continued for 3 days. At this point, the hunters had suffered four fatalities, one being Mr. Bill Olds, who was accidentally shot by his wife.

The third day after the initial attack, some Indians rode out on a knoll or butte, some distance away to survey the situation. At the behest of another hunter, 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, and cleanly dropped a warrior from atop his horse. This apparently so discouraged the already stymied Indians, they decamped and gave up the fight. Two weeks later a team of US Army surveyors, under the command of Nelson Miles measured the distance of the shot at 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’

However, Billy and his shot were carried into infamy. There is much contention as to the actual distance. A Texas surveyor measured the range in 1924 and determined it was 1,028 yards. What evidence he used to reach that figure is unknown. It is also a mystery exactly how Nelson Miles arrived at his conclusion, because there is no high ground at 1500 yards and no official notation of the distance. Today, nothing is left of the settlement. There are 2 buttes in the vicinity. One at 600 and the other at 1200. Historians tentatively agree that the distance was in the 1200 range. Another factor that muddies the water is the rifle itself. Billy was using a borrowed gun because his Sharps had been lost in a creek-crossing while en route to the Walls.

A 1200 yard kill with a borrowed rifle. Wow!

(Modern reproduction shown below)

Although this is the incident for which he is most known, it is not his only place in history. Shortly after the Walls battle, Billy became an Army scout, reportedly with an endorsement from Nelson Miles stating “that young man can shoot!” That same year, Dixon was part of an army dispatch detail consisting of another scout, Amos Chapman, and four troopers. They were ambushed by a large combined band of Kiowa and Comanches. They managed to fight their way to a buffalo wallow in what is present day Hemphill County Texas. 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 Congressional Medal of Honor (for Gallantry in Battle).

Billy Dixon is one of only a handful of civilians to ever be awarded the CMH.

In 1883, Dixon returned to civilian life and built a home near the Adobe Walls site. He was postmaster there for 20 years and also was the first sheriff of the newly-formed Hutchinson Co. He married and had 7 children. In 1906 the family moved to Oklahoma. In 1913 Billy died of pneumonia. He was 63. His body was later re-interred at Adobe Walls.

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