The Hero of Adobe Walls

Billy Dixon’s controversial 1,538-yard shot fired in June of 1874 is legend among those who study the firearms of the Old West and aficionados of blackpowder metallic cartridge guns and cartridges.
On a hot day in June 1874 in the North Texas Panhandle (about 150 miles south of Dodge City, Kansas), Billy Dixon made a confirmed 0.8-mile-long shot on a raider two days after a skirmish that has since been known as the Second Battle of Adobe Walls. He used a single-shot Sharps Model 1874 rifle chambered for either the .50-70 or .50-90 blackpowder metallic cartridge (historians are unsure which). A few months later, Dixon was awarded the Medal of Honor for his service as an Army scout in the lesser-known Buffalo Wallow Fight, during which he, another Army scout, and four troopers were attacked and wounded by a band of Comanche and Kiowa warriors but held them at bay and survived the fight.

Dixon was born on September 25, 1850, in Ohio County of what is now West Virginia. After his parents died, he was sent to live with an uncle in Missouri. A year later Dixon heard the call of the West and ran away. He worked his way throughout the West as a teamster and buffalo hunter. From 1871 to 1874, he honed his shooting skills and became adept at using the single-shot Sharps rifle. He favored .44- and .50-caliber Sharps Model 1874 rifles, but he made the shot that made him famous with a borrowed rifle.

The Battle

On June 26, 1874, 28 buffalo hunters and settlers, including Billy Dixon, held off hundreds of Cheyenne, Kiowa, and Comanche warriors. The hunters and settlers had congregated near a small settlement that had sprung up around James Hanrahan’s saloon, Myers & Leonard’s store, and Thomas O’Keefe’s blacksmith shop. Some adobe ruins were located nearby, so the settlement was known as Adobe Walls. The hunters and settlers held off an estimated 700 attackers throughout the day, and by about 4 p.m., the battle was essentially over. Three settlers had been killed.

The Shot

Two days after the battle, a party of 15 raiders rode out on a bluff about a mile away from the settlement. Some of the hunters saw them and urged Billy to try the .50-caliber Sharps rifle on the group. He did, and to everyone’s amazement, one of the Indians fell off his horse and his compadres dragged him to safety. The distance was later surveyed to be 1,538 yards (0.8 mile). Dixon dismissed it as a “scratch” shot.

Several hunters witnessed the shot, but others said it was impossible and did not happen. Dixon never made much of it and gave it less than a paragraph when dictating his life story to his wife in later years.

Was the disputed shot possible? In 1992 Mike Venturino (working as Shooting Times’s shooting editor) used a Sharps Model 1874 in .50-90 to recreate the shot and proved that the rifle would need to be elevated just 4.5 to 5 degrees.

As for Dixon, he became an Army scout in August 1874 (retiring in 1883); filed a claim for land near Adobe Walls; and made a living as a rancher, farmer, and storekeeper. After his children reached school age, he sold his Adobe Walls home and moved. However, his body was returned and buried at Adobe walls after he died of pneumonia in 1913.

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