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Adobe Walls

Source: The Handbook of Texas Online



Adobe Walls was the name given several trading posts and later a ranching community located seventeen miles northeast of Stinnett and just north of the Canadian River in what is now northeastern Hutchinson County. The first trading post in the area seems to have been established in early 1843 by representatives of the trading firm of Bent, St. Vrain and Company, which hoped to trade with the Comanches and Kiowas.

These Indians avoided Bent's Fort, the company's main headquarters on the upper Arkansas River near La Junta, Colorado, because enemies, the Cheyennes and Arapahoes, lived in the area. The new satellite post was situated on a stream that became known as Bent's (now Bent) Creek. Company traders worked originally from tepees and later from log structures. Probably no real fort was built on the site before 1846. Sometime after September 1845 William Bent and Ceran St. Vrain, chief partners in the firm, arrived with Mexican adobe makers to replace the log establishment with Fort Adobe, a structure eighty feet square, with nine-foot walls and only one entrance.

Occupation of Fort Adobe was sporadic, and by 1848 Indian hostility had resulted in its closure. That fall a momentary peace was effected, and Bent sought to reopen the post by sending Christopher (Kit) Carson, Lucien Maxwell, and five other employees to the Canadian. Resistance from the Jicarilla Apaches, however, forced Carson's group to cache the trade goods and buffalo robes they had acquired and return to Bent's Fort.

Soon after, several Comanches persuaded Bent to make another try at resuming trade at Fort Adobe. A thirteen-man party, led by R. W. (Dick) Wootton, encountered restive Comanches at the fort and finally conducted trade through a window cut in the wall. In the spring of 1849, in a last concerted effort to revive the post, Bent accompanied several ox-drawn wagons to the Canadian. After part of his stock was killed by Indians, he blew up the fort's interior with gunpowder and abandoned the Panhandle trade to the Comancheros.

The adobe ruins thus became a familiar landmark to both Indians and Comancheros and to any white man who dared to venture into the heart of Comanchería. In November 1864 Carson, now a colonel of volunteers, used the walls of Fort Adobe to rest his 300 men and their horses after sacking a Kiowa village during a campaign against the tribes of the southern Plains. The group withstood several Indian attacks at the fort before withdrawing (see

In March 1874 merchants from Dodge City, Kansas, following the buffalo hunters south into the Texas Panhandle, established a large complex, called the Myers and Leonard Store, about a mile north of the Fort Adobe ruins. This business, which included a corral and restaurant, was joined in April 1874 by a second store operated by Charles Rath and Company. Shortly afterward James N. Hanrahan and Rath opened a saloon, and Tom O'Keefe started a blacksmith shop. By the end of spring, 200 to 300 buffalo hunters roamed the area, and trade at Adobe Walls boomed. After an Indian uprising called the second battle of Adobe Walls (June 1874) both merchants and hunters abandoned the site.

In the early 1880s James M. Coburn established his Turkey Track Ranch headquarters near the old battle site and persuaded William (Billy) Dixon, a scout and survivor of the 1874 battle, to homestead several sections nearby. Dixon built his house at the ruins of Fort Adobe. In August 1887 a post office was established at the Dixon homestead, where Dixon and S. G. Carter also operated a ranch-supply store. Dixon served as postmaster until 1901, when he was elected the county's first sheriff. He resigned shortly afterward and about 1902 moved to Plemons.

A school was also established; after the first building burned in 1920, school was conducted on the second floor of Dixon's old home until a new structure could be built. Although the Dodge City Times advertised Adobe Walls as "a fine settlement with some twenty families," there never was a real community in the area except for the ranchers and their employees and families. The post office remained in operation until October 1921. From 1940 until 1970 Adobe Walls was listed in the Texas Almanac as having a population of fifteen. In 1987 a few scattered ranch dwellings marked the area.

During the 1920s several local and state projects were launched to mark the battle site at Adobe Walls and make it more accessible. In 1923 the Panhandle-Plains Historical Society acquired a six-acre tract that contained the remains of the 1874 trading post. The society conducted major archeological excavations at this site in the 1970s. In 1978 the complex was added to the National Register of Historic Places and recognized as a Texas state archeological landmark.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: T. Lindsay Baker and Billy R. Harrison, Adobe Walls: The History and Archaeology of the 1874 Trading Post (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1986). T. Lindsay Baker, Ghost Towns of Texas (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1986). George Bird Grinnell, "Bent's Old Fort and Its Builders," Collections of the Kansas State Historical Society, 1919-1922 15 (1923). Arthur Hecht, comp., Postal History in the Texas Panhandle (Canyon, Texas: Panhandle-Plains Historical Society, 1960). Hutchinson County Historical Commission, History of Hutchinson County, Texas (Dallas: Taylor, 1980). David Lavender, Bent's Fort (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1954). Mildred P. Mayhall, The Kiowas (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1962; 2d ed. 1971). John L. McCarty, Adobe Walls Bride (San Antonio: Naylor, 1955). Frederick W. Rathjen, The Texas Panhandle Frontier (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1973).

H. Allen Anderson


The first battle of Adobe Walls occurred on November 26, 1864, in the vicinity of Adobe Walls, the remains of William Bent's abandoned adobe fort near the Canadian River in what is now Hutchinson County. The battle was one of the largest engagements between whites and Indians on the Great Plains. It resulted from the determination of Gen. James H. Carleton, commander of the military units in New Mexico, to halt Comanche and Kiowa attacks on Santa Fe wagontrains; the Indians saw the wagoners as trespassers who killed their game.

Col. Christopher (Kit) Carson, commanding the First Cavalry, New Mexico Volunteers, was ordered to lead an expedition against the winter campgrounds of the Comanches and Kiowas, believed to be somewhere on the south side of the Canadian. On November 10 he arrived at Fort Bascom with fourteen officers, 321 enlisted men, and seventy-five Ute and Jicarilla Apache scouts and fighters he had recruited from Lucien Maxwell's ranch near Cimarron, New Mexico.

Two days later the column, supplied with two mountain howitzers under the command of Lt. George H. Pettis, twenty-seven wagons, an ambulance, and forty-five days' rations, marched down the Canadian into the Panhandle of Texas. Carson's destination was Adobe Walls, where he had been employed by Bent nearly twenty years earlier. After a delay caused by snowstorms the column set up camp for the night of November 25 at Mule Springs, in what is now Moore County, thirty miles west of Adobe Walls.

Two of Carson's scouts reported the presence of a large group of Indians, who had recently moved into and around Adobe Walls with many horses and cattle. Carson immediately ordered all cavalry units and the two howitzers to move forward, leaving the infantry under Lt. Col. Francisco P. Abreau to follow later with the supply train. After covering fifteen miles Carson halted to await the dawn. No loud talking or fires were permitted, and a late-night frost added to the men's discomfort.

At about 8:30 A.M. Carson's cavalry attacked Dohäsan's Kiowa village of 150 lodges, routing the old chief and most of the other inhabitants, who spread the alarm to several Comanche groups. Pushing on to Adobe Walls, Carson forted up about 10 A.M., using one corner of the ruins for a hospital. One of the several Indian encampments in the vicinity, a Comanche village of 500 lodges, was within a mile of Adobe Walls. The Indians numbered between 3,000 and 7,000, far greater opposition than Carson had anticipated. Sporadic attacks and counterattacks continued during the day, but the Indians were disconcerted by the howitzers, which had been strategically positioned atop a small rise. Dohäsan led many charges, ably assisted by Stumbling Bear and Satanta; indeed, Satanta was said to have sounded bugle calls back to Carson's bugler.

With supplies and ammunition running low by late afternoon, Carson ordered his troops to withdraw to protect his rear and keep the way open to his supply train. Seeing this, the Indians tried to block his retreat by torching the tall bottomland grass near the river, but Carson set his own fires and withdrew to higher ground, where the battery continued to hold off the attacking warriors. At dusk Carson ordered a force to burn the Kiowa and Kiowa-Apache lodges, which the soldiers had attacked that morning. The Kiowa-Apache chief, Iron Shirt, was killed when he refused to leave his tepee.

Concerned with protecting the supply wagons and Abreau's infantry column moving up from Mule Springs, Carson decided to retreat. The reunited forces encamped for the night, and on the morning of November 27 Carson ordered a general withdrawal from the area. In all, Carson's troops and Indian scouts lost three killed and twenty-five wounded, three of whom later died. Indian casualties were estimated at 100 to 150. In addition 176 lodges, along with numerous buffalo robes and winter provisions, as well as Dohäsan's army ambulance wagon, had been destroyed. One Comanche scalp was reported taken by a young Mexican volunteer in Carson's expedition, which disbanded after returning to Fort Bascom without further incident.

General Carleton lauded Carson's retreat in the face of overwhelming odds as an outstanding military accomplishment; though the former mountain man was unable to strike a killing blow, he is generally credited with a decisive victory. Carson afterward contended that if Adobe Walls was to be reoccupied, at least 1,000 fully equipped troops would be required. The first eyewitness account of the battle other than Carson's military correspondence was published in 1877 by George Pettis, who had served as the expedition's artillery officer.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: M. Morgan Estergreen, Kit Carson: A Portrait in Courage (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1962). C. Boone McClure, ed., "The Battle of Adobe Walls, 1864," Panhandle-Plains Historical Review 21 (1948). George Henry Pettis, Kit Carson's Fight with the Comanche and Kiowa Indians at the Adobe Walls (Providence: Rider, 1878; rpt., Santa Fe, 1908).

H. Allen Anderson


The second battle of Adobe Walls occurred on June 27, 1874, when a buffalo hunters' camp, built in the spring of that year in what is now Hutchinson County, about a mile from the adobe ruins known as Adobe Walls was attacked by a party of about 700 Plains Indians, mostly Cheyennes, Comanches, and Kiowas, under the leadership of Quanah Parker and Isa-tai.q Most of the hunters at the camp were awake repairing a broken ridgepole when the Indians charged at dawn.

The defenders, twenty-eight men and one woman, gathered in (Jim) Hanrahan's Saloon, (Charlie) Myers and Leonard's Store, and (Charles) Rath and Wright's Store and repelled the initial charge with a loss of only two men. One more man was lost in later charges, which continued until about noon, and a fourth man was accidentally killed by the discharge of his own gun. The Indians, who had been urged into the fight by a medicine man, Isa-tai, conducted a desultory siege for about four or five days but made no other attacks. On the second day a group of fifteen or twenty of the Cheyennes appeared on a high mesa overlooking the post.

Their appearance led to the famous gunshot of William (Billy) Dixon, when Dixon, inside the stockade, shot an Indian off his horse seven-eighths of a mile away. Hunters in the vicinity were notified of the attack on Adobe Walls, and by the end of the fifth day there were more than 100 men at Adobe Walls. A rescue party arrived after the Indians had given up the fight and retired. The significance of this fight is that it led to the Red River War of 1874-75, which resulted in the final relocation of the Southern Plains Indians to reservations in what is now Oklahoma. A monument was erected in 1924 on the site of Adobe Walls by the Panhandle-Plains Historical Society.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: T. Lindsay Baker and Billy R. Harrison, Adobe Walls: The History and Archaeology of the 1874 Trading Post (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1986). Olive K. Dixon, Life of "Billy" Dixon (1914; rev. ed., Dallas: Turner, 1927; facsimile, Austin: State House, 1987). Evetts Haley, Jr., "Adobe Walls," Junior Historian, January 1948. Mildred P. Mayhall, Indian Wars of Texas (Waco: Texian Press, 1965). Rupert N. Richardson, "The Comanche Indians at the Adobe Walls Fight," Panhandle-Plains Historical Review 4 (1931). G. Derek West, "The Battle of Adobe Walls," Panhandle-Plains Historical Review 36 (1963).