Adobe Walls & The Greatest Shot Ever

Monument at the site of the Adobe Walls battle
The place called Adobe Walls is located in a remote area of the Texas Panhandle. It was initially a small trading post consisting of several large tepees established in 1843 by William Bent and Ceran St. Vrain. The men hoped to introduce peaceful trade with the Comanche and Kiowa Indians who lived there.

For 3 years the post remained open in spite of the occasional Indian attacks on the supply trains which brought in trade goods. In 1846, after increasing hostile attacks against the post itself, a contingent of men, including a number of Mexican adobe makers, replaced the tepees with what they named Fort Adobe. The structure was 80 feet square with only one entrance and had walls 9 feet high and 2 feet thick. The hostile Indian attacks however continued to increase and trade with friendly Indians continued to decrease until in early 1848, the post was abandoned.

In the fall of 1848, a peace treaty was established with the Indians of the area and William Bent, accompanied by Kit Carson and 11 other men re-opened Fort Adobe. During that winter, the post was able to conduct business with several friendly Comanche tribes through a small window cut into a wall. By the spring of 1849 though, the peace treaty had been broken and the Comanche, accompanied by a large number of Apache, attacked the post and killed or stole most of the livestock. Bent had finally had enough. He blew up the post with dynamite and with his men and what few trade goods remained, retreated to less dangerous lands. The ruins became a landmark for those few white men brave enough to venture through the hostile country.

In 1864, the New Mexico Territory government wanted to stop Indian raids along the Santa Fe Trail. To accomplish this, they sent Kit Carson and 411 heavily armed men into Texas to punish the Indians who came into New Mexico along the trail from the Texas Panhandle.  After an attack on a Kiowa village which killed several braves and women, Carson and his army set up camp among the ruins of Fort Adobe. Due to the fact that only a couple of walls were still standing, the site had become known then as Adobe Walls. The next day, on November 25, the surviving braves from the Kiowa tribe which had been attacked accompanied by additional Kiowa from other bands and a large band of Comanche attacked the men camped in Adobe Walls. With over 1,000 fighters, the Indians outnumbered the white men by more than 2 to 1, but Carson and his men were able to fight off the attack as they had 2 cannon. When the sun set, the white men set fire to their camp, mounted their horses and made a run to safety. Carson's men only suffered 3 dead and 15 wounded and Indian casualties were light as well, but when the men returned to Fort Bascom in New Mexico, Carson was hailed as a hero for leading his men in the largest battle fought on the Great Plains. The encounter eventually became known as the 1st Battle of Adobe Walls.

Nine years later, buffalo hunters came to the plains of the Texas Panhandle. In the early 1800's, there was an estimated 50 - 60 million buffalo freely roaming the west. The Native Americans hunted them for food, clothing and other necessities. After the Civil War however, as the white man pushed farther and farther into the west, people back east demanded buffalo hide for coats and lap robes and buffalo tongue became a delicacy in restaurants. Tanneries paid $3.00 per hide and 25 cents per tongue. With a high-powered long range rifle, men like Buffalo Bill Cody, Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson and Wild Bill Hickock could kill as many as 250 buffalo per day and make a very good living. After skinning and cutting out the tongue, the meat was simply left to rot where the animal fell. Shooting the beasts from the windows of moving trains became a grand sport and it was not uncommon for the carcasses to be strung out beside the rails for mile after mile. As the mindless slaughter continued, the Indians watched as their main source of sustenance became more and more scarce. They reacted with more attacks on settlements, wagon trains and white travelers. The U.S. government, in turn, reacted to these hostilities with the desire to separate the Indian from white civilization by placing all Indians on reservations. To do this, the eradication of the buffalo was actively sought. 

By April 1874, several merchants from Dodge City, Kansas established a large complex very near Adobe Walls to buy and ship buffalo hides and to serve the needs of the 200 - 300 buffalo hunters in the area.  Soon afterwards, a second complex of stores was established nearby and within several months, a blacksmith shop, saloon and other stores were added. Adobe Walls was again in business and active. The remaining Indians in the area understood the post and the buffalo hunters it served were a huge threat to their continued existence.

Monument to the Indian warriors who died in the
2nd battle of Adobe Walls
On the morning of June 27, 1874, a force of 700 Comanche, Cheyenne, Kiowa, and Arapaho warriors led by Comanche Chief Quanah Parker attacked Adobe Walls. The hunters and proprietors, which numbered only 28 men at the time of the attack, took refuge in two stores and a saloon. Bat Masterson and a hunter named Billy Dixon were among the men. Although vastly outnumbered, the men's superior weapons and the stout walls they sheltered behind enabled them to hold off the Indian forces for 3 days with only 4 deaths while inflicting as many as 50 deaths to the Indians.

On the 3rd day, 15 Indian chiefs and warrior leaders met for council on the side of a hill 7/8 of a mile (1,538 yards) from the post. As they sat on their horses arguing over whether to continue the battle or abandon it, Bat Masterson knowing Billy Dixon was the best long-shot among them, jokingly pointed at the Indians and said, "Hey Billy, why don't you show us how good you are? Go ahead and take a shot at those Indians with your Sharps Big-50."
Picture taken from the approximate site where
Billy Dixon took his incredible shot. The Indian he
shot was sitting on his horse on the side of the hill
in the center left.


Billy climbed up into the small loft of the store they were in, made adjustments to the long-range finder on his Sharps, took aim and fired. The heavy recoil from the gun knocked Billy backwards and he fell through the attic trap door with several boxes and other items falling on top of him. He fell onto a table which broke apart and fortunately cushioned his fall. As for the Indians, if they noticed the white puff of smoke from the loft window, they no doubt chuckled at the stupid white man wasting powder and lead due to the impossible distance. If they were quiet, 4.1 seconds later they would have heard the distant bang of the Sharps. No doubt they were shocked when 1.2 seconds later one of the chiefs was hit and knocked from his horse. They hurriedly picked up the mortally wounded chief and rode further away and behind the hill.

Perhaps they considered it an evil omen or perhaps they just wisely decided they no longer wanted to try and fight against men who could shoot with such accuracy from so far away, but they gathered up their warriors and horses and rode away to fight another day. The 2nd Battle of Adobe Walls had concluded and Billy Dixon went down in history for making one of the most remarkable shots ever.
Billy Dixon
Today, nothing remains of Adobe Walls except a couple of small markers, monuments, and the lonely grave of Billy Dixon. Billy died of pneumonia in 1913 and was buried in Texline, Texas, but was dug up and reburied in Adobe Walls in 1929. Even the small fresh-water spring which had provided life-giving water to the Indians, buffalo hunters and traders has completely dried up and vanished. The site is in no danger of being found accidentally as you have to travel miles down a pot-holed, 2-lane black-topped road out of Spearman, Texas, a nice little town of 3,000 which itself is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, to a gravel road barely wide enough for 2 cars to pass each other as long as one  of you moves over on the side off the road, to a 1-lane dirt road usually not shown on even the most detailed maps. Don't even think about driving this if the ground is still wet from a rain. After about 15 miles of nothing but cows - no other cars, no people, no houses, you come to a gate across the road. The gate is not attached to a fence, it is just a gate across the dirt road blocking you from going further down the road. Right before you unexpectedly reach this gate are the monuments of Adobe Walls. 

The lonely grave of Billy Dixon
Stopping at the gate, to the left almost a mile away is the hill where the Indians thought they were safe but Billy proved they were not. While my friend and road trip partner Chip and I were there, a few cows were standing around and there were so many "cow pies" it seemed the ground was covered with them. The isolation and silence was complete with not even a plane overhead to break the peace. It was easy to picture in your mind how this place looked long ago as the landscape hasn't really changed for hundreds of years. As we walked around taking a few pictures, mostly taking in the surroundings, we hardly spoke and even when we did, it was in low voices as if it would be sacrilegious to break the church of silence and solitude we found ourselves in. 

After some time had passed, my buddy was off a ways from me absorbed in his own thoughts so I walked across the dirt road toward the Indian's hill in the distance. On a whim, I reached down and grasped a dry cow pie and heaved it toward that hill. For a couple of seconds it went flying through the air like a Frisbee and I wondered just how far that thing would go. But then a little gust of wind blew and the cow pie Frisbee wobbled in the air and fell. It rolled a little ways, but then bumped up against several of it's own kind and stopped. It was once again just another cow pie among thousands. Several nearby cows looked at me for a few seconds and then, losing interest, turned their heads and ambled away.

Getting back to the truck, I quietly asked Chip if he was ready to head back. "Yeah, I'm ready," he answered just as quietly. I opened a new package of wet wipes, cleaned my hands and started the engine. It was probably the loudest noise those cows had heard in a good many days. We pulled a U-turn and headed back the way we had come. A cloud of dust followed us as we drove down that dirt road, but there were only cows to see it.

Fake Jesse or Real Jesse?

Death photo of Jesse James or Charley Bigelow?
According to a lot of seemingly knowledgeable people, Jesse James the outlaw did not die at the hands of Bob Ford in St. Joseph, Missouri on April 3, 1882. Often referred to as "America's Robin Hood," the rumors and stories that it was all staged for Jesse to escape his past and begin a new life are still being debated today. So where do these folks believe he lived out his life? In the small Texas town of Granbury.

Most know the story of how Jesse supposedly died. While at his home in Missouri, Bob Ford and his brother came to visit their friend Jesse. Unbeknownst to Jesse though, the Fords had entered into an agreement with the governor to kill Jesse for a pardon of their crimes and the reward money. Jesse removed his gun belt and turning his back to his "friends," stepped up on a chair to straighten a picture hanging on the wall. Bob quickly drew his revolver and shot the unarmed Jesse in the head and then ran from the house.

Members of Jesse's family, his friends, former members of Quantrill's Guerrillas, the doctor who prepared the body for burial, and a few citizens who had recently been robbed by Jesse all identified the body as Jesse James.  But if his death was staged, would the tight-knit James family members say it wasn't really Jesse laying there in that coffin? Would members of Quantrill's Guerrillas, men who had taken an oath to protect each other, men who had ridden with Jesse and had suffered together and fought side-by-side in some of the most ferocious, bloody, in-close and hand-to-hand battles fought during America's most in-humane war, turn on one of their brothers? The doctor who examined the body told Jesse's son that he knew it wasn't really Jesse because he had examined him 6 months earlier and found he had cataracts in his eyes. The body buried as Jesse did not have any eye problems. 

What about the citizens who had recently been robbed by Jesse? In the area at this time was a man by the name of Charley Bigelow who looked so much like Jesse James that even Jesse said "he could be my twin." Bigelow was supposedly an undercover detective for the Pinkerton Agency, but was actually committing robberies of travelers and small stores. Trying to throw off the law, he often would say, "You've just been robbed by Jesse James!" before riding off. Before fingerprints or DNA was even dreamed about, a mistaken identity is totally understandable

Many researchers claim it was Bigelow who was laid to rest under the tombstone engraved with the name Jesse James. Within weeks, Bob Ford was granted his pardon by the governor and the reward money? Well, the story has always been told that the governor got the majority of that $10,000 and Ford had to be grateful just to have gotten his pardon.

Headstone in Granbury for J. Frank Dalton or 
Jesse James? Writing at the bottom of the 
stone states, "Supposedly killed in 1882"
The story goes that friends and family members helped Jesse escape to South America until the news of his death became widely known and accepted in America. At that point, he came back and changing names as often as he changed his underwear, safely lived a law-abiding life mostly in Oklahoma and Texas. For a short time, he served as a sheriff in Oklahoma Territory and even as a Texas Ranger. In old age, he finally took the name J. Frank Dalton which is the name he died with. Why J. Frank Dalton? Dalton was his mother's maiden name and Frank was his beloved brother. The "J" was, of course, for Jesse.

   Jesse, or "J. Frank Dalton," began telling stories shortly before his death, of the exploits he had undertaken in his younger days. In many of these stories he included facts that only someone who had actually been there would know. When he died, the undertaker who performed the autopsy confirmed that J. Frank Dalton had the exact same wounds in the exact same places as Jesse James was known to have. He also confirmed that Mr. Dalton had suffered for years from failing eyesight due to cataracts.

Visitors to his grave often leave small tokens, mostly
coins, bullets, and whiskey.

Could Jesse have pulled off one of the greatest hoaxes in American history by faking his own death? Is the real Jesse James buried in an unremarkable grave in little Granbury, Texas? According to some historians and J. Frank Dalton's headstone, perhaps he did.