The Battle of Adobe Walls

The following story comes from the book "Ride the Wind", subtitle: The Story of Cynthia Ann Parker and the Last Days of the Comanche, by Lucia St. Clair Robson, Ballantine Books, New York, 1982, Page 580-585.

This book is the best book available on the story of the Comanches living on the Staked Plains. They lived on the very ground that Pampa was built. This book is must reading for anyone interested in the early history of this area.

Billy Dixon was staggering with exhaustion when he entered Jim Hanrahan's saloon at the tiny settlement of Adobe Walls. Like the other three buildings, the place was made of double rows of posts set upright in the ground and then filled in with packed dirt. Even at that hour of the morning there were men drinking at the splintery bar made mostly of packing crates.

"I need a drink, Jim."

"You look it, Dixon."

"Dudley and Williams are dead. God, are they dead."

"What happened?" William Barclay Masterson was a fastidious dresser, a dapper young man. He looked out of place among the grimy faces in the saloon.

"Injuns. They propped their heads up." Billy Dixon downed the glass of whiskey in a long swallow and coughed.

"What do you mean?" asked Hanrahan, leaning over the counter.

"The Comanches propped Dudley and Williams' heads up so they could see what was happening to them."

"I don't think I want to hear this,'' someone mumbled.

"The Injuns cut off their tongues and ears and stuffed their balls in their mouths. Williams had a stake driven through his belly. They were both sliced into neat ribbons." With his knife Dixon demonstrated the pattern of the cuts in the air. Then he tapped his glass on the bar for a refill.

"Where were their bites?" asked Hanrahan as he poured. Most of the men carried home-made fifty-caliber catridges emptied of powder and filled with cyanide. "Bites," they called them. A man would no more be without one than without his extra keg of water. When Indians attacked and there was no escape or defense, a hunter could always bite the bullet.

"I don't know where their bites were. Jesus! Another drink, huh, Jim?" Dixon turned to the men around him. "Anybody got a gun for sale? I lost mine in the river. The Indians were after me. Lost a wagonload of hides and all my supplies too."

"There must be something to all the rumors about Indians," said Masterson. "Think I'll see to my own weapons."

"Hey, Bat, how about selling me that extra round-barreled forty-four of yours.'' Dixon and Masterson were the two youngest men in the camp, and more than a cut above the average. They didn't associate much with the others, choosing each other's company instead.

The men at the camp spent an uneasy week. Buffalo hunters and their crews of skinners drifted in to take shelter. And they brought word of more killings. Antelope Jack and Blue Billy had been found in pieces.

On Saturday, June 27, 1874, twenty-six men had thrown their bedrolls down in the two stores and the saloon. The only woman in camp was Mrs. Olds, who helped her husband run the restaurant in one of the stores. The horses were locked in a corral made of heavy, sharpened pickets.

On a ridge overlooking Adobe Walls, Quanah and his pony were poised against the predawn sky. The dark gray clouds overhead looked like rippled slate formed on an ancient streambed, but they were beginning to break apart. The sky would be clear soon.

If his mother could have seen her son and his pony, she would have been startled. Painted for war, they looked like Wanderer and Night. Naduah would have had to come much closer to notice that Quanah's face was fuller than his father's. His eyes were deep gray rather than black. And the lids drooped over them, giving him a sleepy, sensual look that was accented by his broad cheekbones and wide, full mouth. From the front he looked like a warrior of the People. But in profile his nose sloped like his mother's rather than arching like his father's.

His upper body was bare. Beaver oil glistened on the muscles of his back and shoulders and chest. The elborate tassels on the ends of his red breechclout reached below his knees when he stood. The wide edges of his leggings and the tops of his moccasins were crusted with intricate beading. Two tiny stuffed birds dangled from his pierced ears. His thick braids were wrapped in silky otter fur. An eagle feather hung from his scalplock.

Slowly, forms became visible behind him. There were men from the Quahadi, the Yamparika, and the Kotsoteka as well as Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Kiowa. The warriors from each band and tribe were led by their own chiefs. Coyote Dung rode off to one side. He was naked except for his rifle and lance. He had covered himself and his horse with ochre paint, and he wore sage in his hair. He said he needed no other covering. His medicine would protect him.

Quanah almost believed him. Coyote Dung had predicted that there would be fire in the sky as a sign that the Great Spirit would help them. And the fire had appeared, a glowing ball with a long streamer, like smoke, that moved imperceptibly across the black sky. It hung there still, advancing a little each night. Coggia's comet was unusually brilliant. The nebulous, hazy region around its nucleus had sharply defined layers visible to the naked eye, it was an awesome sight.

This raid couldn't fail. Even if Coyote Dung's medicine wasn't as powerful as he and his followers claimed, there were seven hundred picked warriors, the finest of four tribes. And Quanah had planned the raid well. There were only twenty-five to fifty men in the camp. Asleep.

He felt excitement stir deep inside him, below his stomach. Soon they would ride screaming through the flowers of the hillside and kill the hunters in their beds. They would teach the white eyes a lesson and drive them from the plains. None would dare venture back after this defeat. The black bugler, a deserter from the cavalry, held his horn ready to sound the charge.

The day was getting lighter. Quanah could now clearly see the four square, solid buildings nestled at the bottom of the high valley. They looked tiny there. Yet the Canadian River was far below even that, its sinuous course outlined in willows, cottonwoods, chinaberries, and hackberries below the bluff that defined the valley. Beyond the river was a magnificent view of layers of dark blue hills sweeping to a pale, blue-gray horizon. Birds began to sing in the tall grass. It would be a perfect day to fight.

From his position Quanah didn't see the spots of light shining from the small windows of Hanrahan's saloon. Nor could he see that the men inside weren't asleep. The crack of a ridge pole, strained to the breaking point under the tons of dry dirt that roofed the saloon, had awakened the men inside. For two hours they had labored to replace it. While the warriors prepared to attack, the white men were lined up at the bar having a drink at Hanrahan's expense .

Billy Dixon and Bat Masterson walked out into the clear, crisp morning air. They were relieving themselves, trying to spell their names in the dust, when Billy detected a slight movement at the top of the hill. Masterson saw him tense.

"What is it?" he asked.

"I don't know."

The two of them were backing toward the saloon, searching the crests of the hills around them, when the bugle sounded. As if a sorcerer had waved his wand, the ridges sprouted Indians. Each man was painted in wild patterns of ochre, red, and black, or white and yellow. The ponies were also decorated with streamers and feathers and paint. The warriors flowed down the flowercovered hillside, their war cries blending into one loud yodeling call that filled the valley. They looked as though they were pouring out of the rising sun itself. And they were bathed in its golden light.

Dixon and Masterson sprinted for the saloon door. They pounded on it as the bullets began kicking dust over their shoes. The door opened a crack, and they tumbled inside. Billy braced the barrel of his Sharps forty-four on a window ledge and began methodically picking off the riders before they even came close enough to use their own weapons. Other hunters, not dressed yet, were loading their rifles from belts of ammunition slung over their scratchy long wool underwear.

"Whooee!" Dixon couldn't contain his exuberance. He turned to grin at his friend. "Isn't this something? There must be a thousand of them. I'm glad I got to see it. Wish I had my Big Fifty, though."

"Dixon, you're a crazed lunatic." Masterson crouched against the wooden wall. He fed cartridges into his Remington with trembling fingers.

In a fury Quanah assaulted the door of the saloon, backing his pony into it in an attempt to batter it down. As the white men knocked mud from the chinks in the logs and began shooting through the openings, the crossfire became murderous. Quanah retreated to a safer distance and joined the riders circling the buildings. He hung from the far side of his pony and fired from under the horse's neck. But a truly safe distance was far beyond the range of Quanah's rifle.

The booming of the buffalo guns began drowning out the popping of the attackers' smaller weapons. The hunters themselves could recognize the sound of each one's Big Fifty by the way its owner chose to load it. The fourteen-pound Sharps could land a heavy, homemade cartridge, overloaded with one hundred and ten grains of powder, farther and more accurately than any gun made. And while most of the men in the camp knew little besides drinking and gambling, swearing and whoring, and perhaps horse stealing, they did know how to shoot.

As the hours went by and the day heated up, it became obvious that Coyote Dung's holy war wasn't going well. Many men had fallen, and their bodies had to be rescued for later burial. Quanah's pony was shot from under him, and as he took cover behind a rotting buffalo carcass, he was hit in the back by a ricocheting bullet. It wasn't a serious wound, but it paralyzed his shoulder and arm for hours. And it seemed to mean that one of his own men had tried to kill him.

The war party withdrew to a ridge high above the camp to find out who had fired on him. They didn't worry about the hunters escaping. There wasn't an animal left alive in the corral. When every man swore he hadn't fired the shot, the leaders were faced with the conclusion that the white men could fire unseen from behind.

A low muttering began against Coyote Dung, who still sat aloof on his pony. Then, as though the gods were playing with them, a stray bullet hit Coyote Dung's horse and dropped him where he stood. After that, no one had the nerve to attack the camp directly. For the rest of that day and into the next they laid siege to it from the cover of wagons and piles of hides, bushes and the corral fence.

Finally, disillusioned warriors began drifting away, defeated bv the hunters' marksmanship and the range of their guns. Coyote Dung had found another horse and stood at bay on the ridge. He glared at the angry leaders who surrounded him. Quanah watched stonily as one of them, brandishing his quirt, advanced on the medicine man.

"It's not my fault the attack failed," shouted Coyote Dung. "A Cheyenne killed a skunk before the fight. He destroyed my medicine." He backed his horse away from the threatening men.

That may not be the only skunk who dies. Quanah turned his pony. He would return to the Staked Plains. There was no more he could do here.

In the buildings below them, the hunters began to relax. The acrid stench of gunpowder was clearing and someone had brought water from the well. The saloon still stunk of unwashed bodies, made even more pungent by fear, but the men were used to that.

"Bat, hand me your Sharps," said Dixon.

"What are you going to do? They've withdrawn."

"I can see some of them on that ridge over yonder."

"You're loco, Dixon. You can't hit them. They're a mile away.''

"You wanna bet?"

"Hell, yes." Masterson held out his natty black bowler, and men dropped money into it.

Dixon squinted into his sight and took careful aim.

Quanah saw the tiny puff of smoke from the saloon window and saw the man with the quirt fall before hearing the rifle's faint boom. That ended the fight. Warriors scattered, totally defeated by a gun that could hit a man at a distance of a mile.

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Last Update: 04/26/96
Web Author: David White