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. Continue reading

Caprock Canyon

Caprock Canyon

Caprock Canyon

If you drive through the Texas panhandle you’ll see miles of empty grasslands, feedlots that make you consider becoming a vegetarian, and small towns that look like they could have been where The Last Picture Show was filmed (actually that was Gatesville—nowhere near the panhandle). The scenery is mostly a boring monochromatic yellow interrupted only by billboards advertising free 72 oz. steaks at the Big Texan restaurant.

And then you run across the canyons. I’ve blogged about Palo Duro Canyon already.

Caprock Canyon

Caprock Canyon

It’s a stunningly beautiful erosion disaster that inspired Georgia O’Keefe to paint western landscapes. It was also the backdrop for the end of the Red River War. Canyons like Palo Duro seem have no business in the Texas panhandle. I certainly didn’t expect to find a second one. But about a hundred miles Southeast of Amarillo near the small Texas town of Quitaque (pronounced Kit-i-kway) there it is—15,314 acres of the most beautiful erosion disaster I’ve ever seen.

Caprock used to be a great place to hunt buffalo. Indigenous people killed thousands of them there starting about 10,000 years ago. That was before horses and even bows

Caprock Canyon

Caprock Canyon

and arrows. Folsom man (named for the Folsom N.M. where their lance points were first discovered) took the animals with spears and atlatls. They also stampeded them over deadfalls. The bison were just as surprised to find canyon in the middle of the grasslands as I was.

The Comanche, the Kiowa, and the Southern Cheyenne moved into the region after horses were introduced by the Spanish. They terrorized the local tribes and were pretty much running things by the time white settlers started moving through the area. The plains Indian era ended when Colonel Ranald (Bad

Caprock Canyon

Caprock Canyon

Hand) Mackenzie recruited the Tonkowa, Ute, and Deleware to help him kill off the plains Indians’ horses and leave them on foot and undersupplied just as winter was setting in. The horse slaughter took place in Palo Duro, but brass cartridges and even artillery shells have been found in several locations in Caprock.

I have to believe Colonel Bad Hand Mackenzie felt bad about killing all those Indian ponies. Ten years after the Red River War he was discharged from the army for “the general paresis of the insane.” Quanah Parker, on the other hand, became the chief of all the Comanche’s on the reservation. He went on hunting trips with

Official Texas Bison Herd

Official Texas Bison Herd

President Teddy Roosevelt and a founded of the Native American Church. While he was busy becoming one of the wealthiest Native Americans of his time, Quanah Parker had time to marry eight wives and have twenty-five children.

I gave many of the Comanche chief’s personality traits to Archie Chatto, Robert Collins and even Hashilli when I wrote Owl Dreams. I used him again in two new novels that will be coming out later this year, Magic Popsicle Sticks, and Trial Separation. I’ve also taken bits and pieces of Rand (Bad Hand)

Caprock Buffalo

Caprock Buffalo

Mackenzie’s life—his mental challenges and his physical handicap—for several of my stories. You’ll recognize them now that you know. When I’m borrowing from reality, I like to borrow from the very best.

Buffalo are grazing in the canyon again. In September of 2011, 80 descendants of the original southern plains bison herd were released in a 700 acre protected area of the canyon. No Comanche’s have been seen in he area, but I wouldn’t count them out just yet.

 

Palo Duro Canyon

Palo Duro Canyon view from the rim.

Palo Duro Canyon view from the rim.

Palo Duro Canyon got its name when a member of the Coronado expedition in 1541 looked over the edge of the second largest canyon in the North American continent and was most impressed by the scrub mesquite and juniper that grew along the walls.

“Hard Wood” sounds more dramatic in Spanish than in English but it’s a pretty conservative description for a 60 mile long, 4 mile wide, rainbow colored slash in the Texas pan handle.

 

 

On the Lighthouse trail.

On the Lighthouse trail.

Georgia O’Keefe visited the canyon may times while was a member of the art faculty of the West Texas State Normal College in the little town of Canyon Texas. She described it as “a burning seething cauldron filled with dramatic light and color.” Shortly after arriving she wrote to a friend: “Last night I couldn’t sleep till after 4 in the morning — I had been out to the canyon all afternoon – till late at night – wonderful color – I wish I could tell you how big – and with the night the colors deeper and darker … I’m so glad I’m out here – I can’t tell you how much I like it.”

That sounds more fun than “Hard Wood” doesn’t it?

On the lighthouse Trail II.

On the lighthouse Trail II.

In addition to being a place of great beauty, the canyon has historical significance. It is a sacred location to regional Native American tribes and has been continuously occupied for at least 10,000 years.

 

During the Red River Indian War Palo Duro was a refuge for the Southern Plains tribes until Tonkowa Chief Johnson showed Colonel Ranald S. McKenzie a way into the canyon. The U.S. Army ended the Red River War by killing 1,400 Indian horses. Comanche leader, Quanah Parker escaped with a small band of warriors but he was on foot and without supplies and was unable to carry on his struggle.

 

After the southern plains tribes were defeated, Charles Goodnight established the JA Ranch in the canyon. It remained in private hands until 1934 when the state of Texas bought it and turned a portion of it into a state park.