Billy Dixon’s Lucky Shot


Marker at the former location of Adobe Walls

Marker at the former location of Adobe Walls

On June 27, 1874, twenty-eight men and one woman sleeping in a run down settlement called Adobe Walls learned it’s better to be lucky than to have an army on your side. Most of them were buffalo hunters, stalking bison in the Texas panhandle where they weren’t supposed to be. The Treaty of Medicine Lodge made it illegal for white men to hunt in Comanche territory, but the demand for buffalo hides was high and the animals were growing scarce.

Comanche and Kiowa warriors had driven white men out of Adobe Walls ten years prior with unrelenting attacks. The garrison had been blown up and abandoned, but the hunters were venturing back and putting increased pressure on the buffalo herds. The settlement consisted of a few crude buildings including Hanrahan’s Saloon.

Marksman Harvey Watt reproduces Billy Dixon's lucky shot with a .50-90 Sharps Rifle

Marksman Harvey Watt reproduces Billy Dixon’s lucky shot with a .50-90 Sharps Rifle

The hunters were already nervous. They’d seen Kiowa and Comanche warriors patrolling the area and knew the Indians would eventually react to their trespassing. They woke up immediately when they heard loud crack at two o’clock in the morning. It wasn’t hostile Indians. The lodge pole that held up the roof of the saloon had given way.

Since they were already awake, saloon owner Jim Hanrahan and hunter Billy Dixon decided to get an early start. It didn’t take them long to spot a large number of Comanche warriors gathering in the hills. The Indians’ element of surprise was lost. The hunters repelled the first wave of

Billy Dixon

Billy Dixon

the attack with light rifles and side arms, but when the warriors retreated, they brought out their Sharps buffalo rifles and were able to keep a second wave from getting close enough to do any harm.

The men and one woman hiding inside Adobe Walls had no way of knowing the army of Comanches (probably 500 but some estimates are as high as 1,500) were under the command of renowned warrior Quanah Parker. His friend and ally, medicine man Isa-tai (White Eagle), had promised the warriors immunity to the white man’s bullets. The Indians lost enough men in the first wave of the attack to give them serious doubts about Isa-tai’s medicine. They weren’t ready to give up, but they were likely to be more careful the second time around.

The hunters were excellent marksmen, especially Billy Dixon. He had been shooting buffalo in the area long enough to be familiar with the terrain and could estimate ranges

Billy Dixon's final resting place at Adobe Walls

Billy Dixon’s final resting place at Adobe Walls

within a few yards. Comanche didn’t usually include sieges as part of their battle plans but it looked to Billy as if that’s what they might have in mind this time. A group of warriors gathered on a ridge almost a mile away and kept watch on the settlement.

Billy Dixon had made some pretty impressive shots in the past, and the hunters urged him to, “Go on. Take the shot.” He borrowed a .50-90 Sharps rifle, adjusted the sights, and aimed at the cluster of warriors

Quanah Parker seated on the porch of the Star House

Quanah Parker seated on the porch of the Star House

rather than picking out a specific target. He fired and waited over a second before one of the Indians fell dead off of his horse. According to the stories, Billy Dixon had shot Isa-tai himself. When the Comanches saw what happened they lost their taste for Adobe Walls. Two weeks after Billy Dixon took his lucky shot U.S. army surveyors measured the distance at an unbelievable 1,538 yards—seven eights of a mile.

Just three months after Adobe Walls, while working as an army scout Dixon’s marksmanship saved the day again in the Battle of Buffalo Wallow. He used a Sharps rifle again to hold hostile Comanche and Kiowa off for three days until a cold rain put an end to the attack. He and the other survivors of the fight were awarded the Medal of Honor by Congress for gallantry in battle. When he was finished with being a scout, Billy Dixon bought Adobe Walls and lived there for the better part of his adult life. 

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