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Adobe Walls.

I grew up in the Texas Panhandle, near the Palo Duro Canyon.

To some people, the Texas Panhandle is an ocean of "sameness", with few features, scarce water, and no landmarks. Some say it is "flat". Nothing could be further from the truth.

This is the Llano Estacado--the Staked Plains. Legend has it that Spanish explorers drove stakes in the land that they might use to assist them in navigation. It is the heart of the fabled Comancheria--the sanctuary and refuge of the Comanche.

There are many sites of historical significance on the Llano including adobe dwellings of the Anasazi era, the infamous Tule Canyon, the famous Palo Duro, Yellow House, Caprock Canyons, and the Adobe Walls. The Llano represented a formidable barrier to westward expansion, not only because of its geography, but because of the indigenous peoples who lived there. This was a natural haven for buffalo, and consequently people who depended on the buffalo made the Llano their home. This included Native peoples of course, but it also included Anglos involved either in trade, western movement, military action, or other pursuits, making the Llano an epicenter of conflict of manifest destiny.

Whatever the motives, a string of fortifications stretched across the Plains. One such fortification was Fort Adobe located in what is now the Texas Panhandle at a place which became known as "Adobe Walls", apparently named after the adobe bricks which were used in its construction. Fort Adobe was built by the Bent brothers, Charles and William and partner Ceran St. Vrain. Given its location, in the heart of buffalo country, Fort Adobe was a satellite trading post of Bent's Old Fort or "Fort William", in southeastern Colorado near present day LaJunta. Fort Adobe was a center of trade for the more aggressive Comanche and Kiowa tribes. In 1848 William Bent closed Fort Adobe. Today, nothing remains of Fort Adobe. Historically, there were at least two "battles" fought at (approximately) that location in the latter half of the 1800s.

Given the geopolitical situation, with demands for suppression of Native peoples and expansion of the westward movement, the practical limitations imposed by geography, the politics extant in both Washington and New Mexico, and the fierce independence of the occupants, it was inevitable that military conflict would happen at Adobe Walls.

The Battles at Adobe Walls

There were two battles fought at the Adobe Walls, separated in time by about ten years, and in location by about a mile. The first conflict involved a military detachment under command of Kit Carson and a fairly large party of Cheyenne, Kiowa, and Comanche. This first battle was termed a "victory" for the Native tribes involved, and Carson was lucky to escape, through circumstance, with his life and his command fairly intact. There were significant casualties on both sides. The site of that battle is on private land, and it is not now accessible to the public.

The second "Battle of Adobe Walls" (in 1874) was fought about a mile from the first. Over the space of about a decade, a trading center was constructed near the old fort. The trading center was occupied by a small force of buffalo hunters, including William Dixon and Bat Masterson, when they were surrounded by a force of Comanche and Kiowa including Quanah Parker (c.?1845 or 1852 -1911), Isatai'I (1840-1916), and a few others. It is not clear that the Natives were spoiling for a fight, though they were not likely to avoid one if opportunity was presented.

The initial attack was repulsed, and a siege ensued. Sometime during the siege William Dixon is said to have made a remarkable rifle shot, striking a far distant Native from his horse. Dixon himself, in his well-written narrative, did not "brag" in later years about the shot. There is also some oral history suggesting that the attackers were not confident in their "medicine" at the time.

The Native attackers withdrew the siege, and the "Second Battle of Adobe Walls" was acclaimed a "victory" for the Anglos. In practical terms, it did provide encouragement of the westward movement, and of the buffalo hunting culture which was prevalent at the time.

The historical record should be examined through the lens of detachment, and I do not believe that the complete story has ever surfaced.

Visiting the Site Today

I went to the site of Adobe Walls to see if I could get some answers. I came away with some photos and some observations.

There are two sites involved. One exists entirely on the property of the Turkey Track Ranch, whose management rather actively discourages visitors. The other site, located on about six acres, belongs to the Panhandle Plains Historical Museum, who has made some minimal effort in the past to preserve it. The second site, if you can find it, is open to the public.

A road bisects the second site, and probably destroyed some valuable information. There is little preservation effort at the second site. William Dixon lived there in later years, and is buried at that place (with a Masonic marker), with a couple of other people. There is also a stone marker which mentions some of the Natives who were involved in the battle, but it was erected in 1923, and the names are translated into English with some apparent effort to honor the sensibilities of the 1920s. I doubt that record is complete.

The location of the second site is rather an odd one to my eyes. It nestles in a place with some shelter from a north wind, but not as much as might be found close by. It also has no water in the immediate vicinity, so I must assume an active well, now lost, was present. There is a great deal of open land about the site, so perhaps it was chosen from a military point of view. The adobe walls, which constituted the walls of the trading post, are still visible, though mostly faded from sight.

I was not able to visit the first site, located about a mile from the second site.

When I visited, as always, the wind was blowing. I stayed for about three hours, traipsing about the site. I saw no other human beings, though cattle grazed close by. I left tobacco at certain places, and sang a certain song, with apologies to the residents, which I deemed appropriate. I was glad I came.

I had the feeling that the Old Ones understood both my motivation and my apology. There must be a thousand such places in this world where the facts of some event have faded into lore and legend, and into the voices of the Old Ones, and remain certain knowledge only for the Maker.


Texas State Historical Society Online

Portal to Texas History http://texashistory.iint.edU/ark:/67531 /metapth29402/ml/1/

Red River War

Dixon, Billy & Edward Campbell. (2010). Billy Duxon & Adobe Walls: Scout, Plainsman <& Buffalo. Driffield, Yorkshire, UK: Leonaur Publisher, reprint of Oakpast LTD.

Durkin, Peter. (2000). The Southern Cheyenne, William Bent and the Buffalo Robe Trade, 1833-1849. Whispering Wind 30:5. Folsom, LA: Written Heritage, Inc.

Fort Adobe: The Beginning. Hutchinson County Historical Museum.

Caption: Little remains of Adobe Walls and Fort Adobe.

Monument marker above: Much worn and poorly maintained monument to the Anglos in the 1874 battle.

Monument at right: Some of the Native warriors commemorated. The list is neither complete nor faithfully translated

Photographs by the author.

Caption: Above: Quanah Parker wearing his single trailer warbonnet now housed in the Panhandle Plains Historical Museum, Canyon, Texas. Inset image: Isatai'I

Written Heritage collection.

Caption: Left: William "Billy" Dixon.

Written Heritage collection.

Caption: Below: Grave marker for Billy Dixon with Masonic emblem.

Author's photograph.

Caption: Left: Kit Carson Center: Bat Masterson Written Heritage collection.
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Author:Walker, Bill
Publication:Whispering Wind
Geographic Code:1U7TX
Date:Aug 1, 2018
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