Billy Dixon

Dixon, William (Billy), scout, buffalo hunter (Sept. 25, 1850-Mar. 9, 1913) B. in Ohio County, the present West Virginia, He was orphaned at age 12 and went to live with an Uncle in Ray County, Missouri, ran away from uncle's home at age 14 carrying only the clothes he was wearing and a sack containing one extra shirt and a photograph of his mother. He was hired by wagon freighters in Kansas as a teamster, he spent most of the time until 1869 at this occupation, working between such points as Fort Kearny, Nebraska, Fort Collins, and Julesburg, Colorado and Camp Supply, Indian Territory.

He was a government mule skinner. On October 18, 1867, he was at the camp on Medicine Lodge Creek when some 1500 Plains Indian warriors appeared dramatically at the peace conference, riding over a hill in all their finery and charging to within 200 yards of the camp. Dixon became a fine rifle shot and sometimes guided parties of eastern excursionists on buffalo-hunting expeditions. In November, 1869 he went into buffalo hunting fulltime northwest of Fort Hays, one of the first professional hide hunters. He soon had his own outfit. On one occasion he recalled he had taken "120 hides without moving (my) rest sticks." The work was profitable and Dixon invested his earnings in a road house a dozen miles south of Hays City, Kansas, but a partner, Billy Reynolds, skipped with the accumulated cash and Dixon returned to buffalo hunting. He was one of the first hunters to work south of the Canadian in Comanche country and by 1874 was in the Texas Panhandle.

On another occasion Billie Dixon killed 82 buffalo at one "stand" of about two or three acres of land. Spring of 1874 found him in Dodge City along with a number of other hunters. By then the buffalo had been thinned out in many areas by constant hunting, and the treaty land south of the Arkansas River began to look more and more tempting. Despite the Indians' growing hostility, about fifty hunters, skinners, and merchants decided to establish a camp deep within the treaty territory somewhere along the Canadian River. The site finally chosen was about one mile northeast of Brent's old trading post. Abandoned in 1844, the ruins had come to be known as Adobe Walls. There Kit Carson and his troops narrowly escaped defeat when they attacked a Kiowa-Comanche encampment in 1864 and were forced to beat a hasty retreat.

After constructing two trading stores, a blacksmith shop, and a saloon, the hunters scattered to search for the buffalo herd. By late June, the scattered Indian attacks had increased in intensity and several hunters had been killed. As a result many of the men gathered at Adobe Walls for mutual protection. Second Battle of Adobe Walls A force of between 700 and 1,000 warriors was assembled, and the attack was launched at dawn on June 27, 1874. There were twenty-eight men and one woman at Adobe Walls on that morning. On this morning the men in Hanrahan's saloon were awakened by a mysterious report at 2:00 a.m. After bracing the ridge pole of the building, the men decided to stay up and get an early start on their travels. That occurrence no doubt saved the hunters' lives. Just before the attack, Billy Dixon emerged from the saloon carrying his rifle. When he looked up he noticed a strange body of unidentified objects moving along the edge of the timber some distance from the camp. As he watched, the objects suddenly fanned out and broke into a headlong charge. Even when he recognized the hostiles, Dixon didn't expect an attack on the buildings. He ran to tie his horse to a wagon. When he returned to fire a shot or two at the raiders, he expected them to be running off the other horses. But to his amazement, he found that they were charging directly toward the buildings. Dixon fired one shot and ran for his life back into Hanrahan's saloon. As for the Indians, their intended victims were men who made their living by means of their shooting skill, who were sheltered in buildings, and who had a plentiful supply of ammunition. Most of the hunters were equipped with the Sharps buffalo rifles which could easily outrange the Indian arms. The effects of its big .50 calibre bullets on a human body were devastating.

During much of the day, the two youngest hunters in the group, Billy Dixon and Bat Masterson, fought together. Masterson, who would later gain considerable fame as a lawman, considered Dixon "an extraordinarily fine shot with a buffalo gun." They lost four killed compared with an unknown but probably greater Indian loss, Dixon scored one of the remarkable shots of Plains legend late in this engagement, picking off an Indian at a distance later measured at 1,538 yards, just under seven-eights of a mile; and with allowances for luck, it was a memorable feat.

In August General Nelson Miles arrived in Dodge City and hired Dixon as a scout for his expedition sent out to put down the uprising into the Staked Plains in the summer of 1877, where his knowledge of the country was instrumental in discovering water for the command at a critical time. In September Dixon, scout Amos Chapman and four enlisted men were directed to take dispatches from Miles's headquarters on McClellan Creek, Texas, to Camp Supply. With them went Sergeant Woodhull and Privates Rath, Harrington, and Smith, all from the Sixth Calvary. On the second day they were met by a large band of hostile Indians. A soldier, Private Smith, who was holding the horses, was wounded mortally and four others, Sergeant Woodhall, Private Harrington, and Scout Amos Chapman were seriously wounded; and Private Rath and Scout Billy Dixon received comparatively minor wounds. The tiny group managed to gain the limited protection of a shallow buffalo wallow and in this famous engagement successfully held off the enemy. All of the men were recommended for the Medal of Honour by General Miles and all received the award. Dixon's dictated autobiography, published as a biography by his widow, gives somewhat more heroic credit to the scout than do other accounts of this fight but in any event his actions were wholly creditable as were those of the other five. All six were awarded Medals of Honour, although Dixon and Chapman, being civilians, subsequently were obliged to return them.

Dixon was present at the November 8, 1874, rescue of two of the German (Germaine) sisters from the Cheyennes on McClellan Creek. He said he was with the party which selected the site of Fort Elliott, Texas, established February 3, 1875, near the present town of Mobeetie (SweetWater) and was attached to that post as guide.

In 1883 Dixon quitted the army payroll and, since the buffalo were gone from the South Plains, ranched, homesteaded, built a residence at the site of Adobe Walls and even became postmaster when a post office was established there. He married Olive King in 1894 and was elected first sheriff of Hutchinson County, Texas, but resigned in disgust at political activity affecting the position. He resettled in 1902 at Plemons, a small community in central Hutchinson County so his children could go to school, but shortly moved once more, this time to Cimarron County, Oklahoma where again he homesteaded. He died at Texline, Texas, on the New Mexico border just south of Cimarron County, Oklahoma.

Taken From:- Encyclopaedia of Frontier Biography, A-F by Dan L. Thrapp - 1988 Some Panhandle History - Amarillo Southwest Plainsman, October 23, 1926 Old West, Spring 1987-Billy Dixon, Congressional Metal of Honour - Indian Wars.

Billy was obviously a remarkable man, and even if there has been some embellishment of his deeds over time, he would still be such.

Several article published in recent years contradict some of the accounts, and the famous "Big 50" long-shot.

1,538 Yards? No.

Even if Billy Dixon did shoot an Indian off a horse at long range it almost certainly was not at 1,538 yards. Billy Dixon himself never said so. On the third day, the story goes, after the battle a small group of horseback Indians exposed themselves on a distant butte, and Billy Dixon rested his borrowed Big .50 Sharps and dropped one of them. Supposedly, some years later Dixon related this story to his wife Olive K. Dixon who then included a single paragraph about it in her book The Life and Adventures of Billy Dixon, published after his death in 1913. In the first edition (1914) of that book the distance is said to be 1,200 yards. According to Adobe Walls; the History and of the 1874 Trading Post by T. Lindsay Baker and Billy R. Harrison, a Texas surveyor measured the range in 1924 and determined it was 1,028 yards. The second edition of Olive K. Dixon's book published in 1928 changed the range to 1,538 yards.

However, the author / shooters "Mike Venturino" with the country-western singer Hank Williams Jr, were invited by the army to conduct a field experiment to test the claim.

In the Autumn of 1992 Shiloh Rifle Manufacturing had invited Mike to test the claim. The army had recently declassified their new radar system that could track objects as small as a bullet, and were pleased to help conduct the test. Claims had already been made by a so called expert scientists that the physics and components of the time would have made it impossible to even get a 50 cal to carry that far. In Mikes excellent book "Shooting Buffalo Rifles of the Old West" he goes in to quite some detail, but hence to say the first shot taken, using a paper patched 675 grain bullet over 90 grains of Goex FFg left the Shiloh at 1216 fps with the bullet splashing down 3600 yards away.

After a day of shooting, using various angles, Mike was able to reproduce the shot almost perfectly, the bullet landed 1517 yards away with enough energy to be deadly,(400fps would be more than enough to spoil your day.)

I am not really bother if Billy did, or he did not make that shot on that day. The man probably did shoot over that distance at some point in his life, and he was certainly in my view more than able to do so.


Recommended reading


Shooting Buffalo Rifles of the Old West. Shooting Lever Guns of the Old West. Author: Mike Venturino.

Fantastic analysis of many different cals, with tips and load data., a real must for the western shooter.