Actually, the title I’ve given this article is misleading; it should read Battles of Adobe Walls since there were, in fact, two separate battles for the old post. These were fought a decade apart in 1864 and 1874 and featured what we today might think of as a star-studded cast of characters.
If you are a Texan somewhere around the half-century mark or older, you grew up on tales of the first star, frontiersman Kit Carson, who was featured in the first Battle of Adobe Walls, about 30 miles northeast of today’s Borger, Texas. Of course, Carson was already famous as a sort of “mountain man” long before he was sent to Texas in ’64. Having played a key role in John C. Fremont’s earlier explorations of the country and having starred in Fremont’s published journal of those expeditions, the country was ready to believe that Carson could accomplish most anything.
And most anything it would certainly be if Kit Carson was able to accomplish anything at all in the way of “civilizing” the Staked Plains…a place where no one else (including Texas Rangers) had dared to venture due to the savagery of the Comanche and Kiowa who made it almost impossible for wagon trains to travel the Santa Fe Trail. The job was impossible at best and deadly at worst. However, Carson did have one advantage: a pair of mountain howitzers (cannon).
Very early on the morning of November 25, 1864, Kit Carson and his 330 (approximate) men attacked a Kiowa village consisting of 176 lodges. Those who fled the attack sounded the alarm to many, many more Indians than Carson had anticipated, and soon somewhere between 1,200 and 3,000 warriors were ready to do battle.
It was only the cannon that helped to even the odds but after a day of fighting, Carson ordered retreat. He had lost three men to the Indians 60, but he was low on ammo, and many estimate that he was outnumbered 10-1. As to who actually won the battle…well, that depends on how you spin it, with both sides claiming victory.
The actual truth (as I see it) is that for almost another decade the Comanche and Kiowa tribes retained complete control of that part of Texas. The other truth is that this battle marked the last time troops would turn and run, making the first Battle of Adobe Walls the beginning of the end for those warriors of the plains…they just didn’t know it yet.
As for the mountain man turned frontiersman, Kit Carson, this battle would be his last. He died just three years later.
A century later, a dedication marker to the first Battle of Adobe Walls was erected about fifteen miles from the actual battle site.
The Second Battle
The second Battle of Adobe Walls occurred on June 27, 1874, between the Comanche and just under thirty buffalo hunters. I suppose Chief Quanah Parker, son of Cynthia Ann Parker, and Bat Masterson would have been billed first had this been a movie.
As you know, the early 70s saw buffalo slaughtered in this country by the thousands, and by 1874, something of a tiny “town” had been established on the site of the first battle as a means of profiting off of the hunters by offering them wares, drinks, and a place to sell their hides.
To make a very long story a little shorter, in wee smalls of that morning the ridgepole that served to hold up the roof of the saloon (sod) broke. Men came from the town to help fix it, and then they went to bed…all except Billy Dixon, who was leaving early that morning anyway (Some accounts say that others were up as well.).
According to the 1914 published memories of Dixon, “There was never a more splendidly barbaric sight. In after years I was glad that I had seen it. Hundreds of warriors, the flower of the fighting men of the southwestern Plains tribes, mounted upon their finest horses, armed with guns and lances, and carrying heavy shields of thick buffalo hide, were coming like the wind.
“Over all was splashed the rich colors of red, vermillion and ochre, on the bodies of the men, on the bodies of the running horses. Scalps dangled from bridles, gorgeous war-bonnets fluttered their plumes, bright feathers dangled from the tails and manes of the horses, and the bronzed, half-naked bodies of the riders glittered with ornaments of silver and brass.
“Behind this headlong charging host stretched the Plains, on whose horizon the rising sun was lifting its morning fires. The warriors seemed to emerge from this glowing background.”
(He’s glad he had a chance to see it, and I would have never recovered from it!)
On the third day of fighting, a group of warriors rode atop a ridge about a mile away from the walls to survey the scene. Unbelievably, Billy Dixon grabbed a rifle and dropped one of them. This was the proverbial straw, and the Indians left the battle.