Billy Dixon’s Remarkable Shot

On this date, June 27, 1874, a battle began that eventually culminated in a 23-year-old army scout—Billy Dixon—felling a Native American with a Sharps .50-90-2 1/2-inch rifle at 1,578 yards. That’s about 9/10 of a mile. Dixon made his famous shot at the second battle of Adobe Walls, along the Canadian River in Texas.

Dixon was one of the 28 men and one woman holed up at the small settlement. Most of the men were buffalo killers and skinners, and though Dixon was once a buffalo shooter, he was serving as a scout on this adventure. Among those present were Bat Masterson and a 12-year-old boy, “Shorty” Bowman, who was a nephew of Dixon. A mixture of an estimated 700 to 1,200 Kiowa and Comanche Native Americans, including the legendary Comanche chief Quanah Parker, had been harassing the killers for some time, attempting to protect what was left of their traditional hunting grounds.

As the sun rose on that day, the Native Americans prepared to lay siege upon the killers and residents of Adobe Walls—at the time three buildings, a well and a scraggly corral. Their intent was to catch the interlopers while they slept, but a beam in the roof of one of the buildings began to crack, waking many of the residents, who set to scurrying around in an attempt to repair the beam. As for Billy Dixon, by chance he was peering toward a distant hill from which the Native Americans were planning their assault. Because the Adobe Wells populace was wide awake, the Native Americans lost their critical advantage of surprise, and as the first warriors began to descend on the prairie pueblo several of the buffalo shooters were already set up with their Sharps rifles.

These long-range specialists methodically shot the braves and many of their horses before they were close enough to use their pistol-caliber lever actions, muzzleloaders and bows. Less than a dozen of these men staved off a vastly numerically superior force, incurring a casualty count of three dead, a handful of wounded and a total loss of livestock. The Native Americans continued their attack, though with somewhat less enthusiasm because of their substantial losses.

On the third morning of the attack it was cool and clear, with virtually no wind. Some 15 Native Americans were huddled on a hill that Dixon surmised was about 7/8 mile away. Dixon’s skill as a shootist was well known, and, according to legend, it was Bat Masterson who suggested that Dixon take a crack at them with his Big Fifty. It took Dixon some time to set up the shot—establishing a rest, adjusting the long-range vernier sight and setting the trigger. He stated his target was “the group of riders” on the distant hillside. It took the bullet a bit more than five seconds to make the trip; the deep report of Dixon’s rifle arriving perhaps a second or so before the bullet. Nonetheless, one of the chiefs was knocked from his horse to the ground.

It was claimed by Masterson that Billy Dixon killed the chief, however accounts provided by the Native Americans said the bullet broke the chief’s arm and he survived. Regardless, the shot served its purpose and terminated the hostilities.

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