Billy Dixon & Adobe Walls Long Range Shot

About 200AM on  June 27, 1874, a thundering noise woke  the resident sleeping in Hanrahan’s Saloon/house.   The people who rose in response to the crashing sound thought it came from the ridge-pole of the building.  They believed that the main cotton wood beam supporting the roof was giving way.   If it failed,  it would dropped the heavy sod roof on their heads.  This had the residents outside in a hurry to find something to brace the building.  They soon went to Adobe Walls creek to  cut a new cottonwood pole  as a replacement. The others began removing the heavy sod from the roof.  While inspecting the roof while removing the sod it was discovered the ridge pole was completely sound.  Since then it has been suggested that this could have been a case of Divine Intervention.  A warning for the day to come.

For week prior  to June 27, the  residents of Adobe Walls had been trespassing on Kiowa and Comanche  tribal lands. Of course the reason for this was buffalo hunting.  The commercial hunters had already become aware of the growing threat from seeing mounted braves int he area.   There was no doubt the Indians were not pleased with their trespassing and hunting activities.    In response to this threat, the settlers retreated in to the shelter of Adobe Walls.

 

The settlers may have been in a bad mood after the terrifying awakening from the thought of being crushed.  They would  have been a lot more  disconcerted if they had known what was planned  for them.    Seven hundred Kiowa and Comanche warriors ( “All the Indians in the world”) planned to ride   dawn on top of the residents  of the small settlement of three main buildings, a water well and live stock pen.  The intention was to catch them before they rose from their sleep and got themselves ready for the days work.  No doubt it caught this way they would have  had no chance.

Unfortunately for the braves the population had been awakened by the mysterious  noise.    Even more unfortunate for them, when  the huge , angry and ready for blood raiding force of Indian cavalry came charging over the distant the buffalo shooters were already awake and had decided to make a early start of it.   Even worse for the braves,  by just pure dumb chance,  Billy Dixon just so happened to be looking in the  exact direction the warriors came from when came into sight.   Immediately Billy fired a shot into the air, screamed a warning of “Indians!” and raced into the saloon as the  attack was on.

Even so  at the beginning, rounds fired from the rifles of the hunters started knocking riders from horses long before  any of the Indians  could return effective fire with their bows, muzzle loaders and  Henry type lever actions as well as other weapons.  What was supposed to be a sure thing ambush turned into a formidable counter attack

Bullets and hit all around and arrows flew through the air.  The buildings were quickly  strengthened with bags of flour and grain. Everything  seen in a hundred  Hollywood western when the settlers are bracing for an attack.  They fought all day  with no water , no time to eat some not even full dressed as they all knew what would happen to them as captives of the Indians.

” In the initial fiasco, the  Indians took decimating loses in both horses and riders.  Thereafter, albeit more cautiously, they continued attacking, organizing skirmishes throughout that day and the next, looking for a weakness or a safer means of attack-they evidently found none. On the third morning, with a cool. calm and clear weather prevailing,  a “group of about fifteen Indians” convened  a war council on a bluff east of Adobe Walls Creek. According to Billy Dixon, the huddled riders were  “not far from  seven eighths of a mile”  from the settlement.  We have to note  that the distance was  later surveyed.  Mr. Dixon’s stated range held up quite well. One  number reported for that survey was 1538 yards ( 7/8 mile is 1540 yards)-no credible account claims a greater distance.”

It doesn’t take much imagination to guess that the warriors were discussing   giving up on the attack and leave with some pride intact. At that second something happened that ended to possible debate about bowing out with saving face.

Billy Dixon was already well know as a long range shooter second to none, one of the other defenders pointed at the group of braves having their war council  pointed at the group of riders and said, “Why do’t you take a crack at the with your big fifty Billy”?  Dixon knew the range well. it is suggested Billy used the same ridge for target practice in the pas. It certainly would have been in character for him as he loved shooting and long range shooting.  Billy perhaps hunted Buffalo as a job not because of the money but because it gave him the chance to do what he really loved, long range shooting.  So Billy adjusted  the rear sight on his Sharp’s  and prepared to ” give it a try.”

“Billy Dixon was a renowned rifle shot. Not only did he employ his marksmanship skills in making a living, but he also practiced the sport of long range target shooting, in lieu of any other significant vices. Further, he had the best equipment then available and that, I must add, was equipment that would rival some of our best today. Keep in mind that some of the long range target records set in the 1870s and 1880s stood for  generations, e.g., a 1000 yard group measuring 8.6″ fired in 1886. Mr. Dixon was not handicapped by lack of equipment. In competent hands, given a good estimate of the range and calm conditions, Billy Dixon’s 50-90 Sharp’s  was a formidable long range combination. Also he very likely handloaded, using the best powder then available and due care in all aspects of handloading.”

After  dialing in his fine adjustable rear peep sight, Billy took careful and likely make final adjustments for any “wind, bullet rotation, alignment of the planets , that itch behind his neck and any other  effects he might have thought significant”.  He then touched the fine adjusted set trigger. He admitted  his target was “the group of riders” He never claimed he had any one of the braves as his single target.

assuming similarly shaped pointed bullets, 1538 yard time of flight is practically identical -about 5.3 seconds. If his bullet was of the lighter Sharps fifty caliber type( approximately 500 grains) muzzle velocity  would have been about 1350 fps. For the ( more likely) heavier type( perhaps 700 grains) muzzle velocity would have been about 1100fps. At 7/8 of a mile the lighter bullet would have delivered about 535 foot pounds of energy: the heavier bullet about 845 foot pounds of energy.  Meanwhile, if any of the Indians were watching, they would have noticed a cloud of smoke in the yard in front of the main house. It is easy to imagine their mirth at the thought of some foolish White Eyes wasting powder and the lead. Then, an eternal 4.1 seconds later, if they were quiet, they would have heard the distant rumble of a big fifty Sharps rifle”.

Around 1.2 seconds after that  distant sound reached them some impossible event happens.  One of the Chiefs is smacked by the bullet as he falls from his horse.   This stunning event is obviously a sign of bad medicine so they quickly decide they  have better things to do then continuing to charge straight down Billy Dixon’s gun sights.

Billy believed he had killed the rider. The Indian accounts claim the lucky bullet hit the unlucky rider in the elbow breaking his arm.  No matter, the bullet did it’s job and ended the battle.

After the battle Billy went on to have a colorful  life.   Even receiving the Medal of Honor for his part in the Buffalo Wallow Fight.  Later making his home with his wife near Adobe Walls  and lived their until his death.

Billy’s own more honest account of the battle and shot as known to us only because of his wife who knew her husband’s  life story was worthy of recording and nagged him into dictating it to her, Though he died before it was finished.  Billy did not brag , self promote of talk much about his long shot.  Though one of the men in the Adobe Walls fight did. Bat  Masterson was among the defenders and he later  exaggerated the story and made it into  the typical old west yarn, no doubt promoting his own part in it  while he was at it.

 

 

Quotes from Precision Shooting at 1,000 Yards

M. L. McPherson – Replicating Billy Dixon’s Legendary Long-Shot( Part1)

 

 

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4 thoughts on “Billy Dixon & Adobe Walls Long Range Shot

  1. Always amazes me what they were able to pull off back then. One always has this image in their mind of a musket with minute of (fat) man when they imagine the 1800s but as you mentioned they really did have some plenty good equipment.

  2. Most of the BPCR’s are capable of 2 minute groups, or smaller. The better ones, fed with carefully constructed ammo, probably can pull off groups of 1 MOA.

    Now, the thing about Dixon’s shot is this: The single most critical aspect of his shot was getting his range estimation correct. By the time that big ol’ lead slug had worked its way downrange, it was coming down at a ferociously steep angle. Estimate the range incorrectly, and the bullet either lands on the far side of the target, or lands short of the target.

  3. Too bad Billy and his “rifle” were not present @ the Alamo…if there had been a few “Billy’s” and some accurate Sharps there, perhaps the battle might have lasted a bit longer…especially if [they] had been skilled enough to put Santa Ana down…always nice to ponder the “What if’s”

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