Thursday, July 30, 2015

Adobe Walls

"Lone Star Historian 2" is a blog about the travels and activities of the State Historian of Texas during his second year. Bill O'Neal was appointed to a two-year term by Gov. Rick Perry on August 22, 2012, at an impressive ceremony in the State Capitol. Bill is headquartered at Panola College ( in Carthage, where he has taught since 1970. For more than 20 years Bill conducted the state's first Traveling Texas History class, a three-hour credit course which featured a 2,100-mile itinerary. In 2000 he was awarded a Piper Professorship, and in 2012 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wild West Historical Association. Bill has published over 40 books, almost half about Texas history subjects, and in 2007 he was named Best Living Non-Fiction Writer by True West Magazine. In 2013 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by his alma mater, Texas A&M University - Commerce. 

The Wild West History Association held its annual Roundup in Amarillo from July 15-18. An unforgettable highlight of the Roundup was a field trip to Adobe Walls, site of two notable battles of the Indian Wars. Adobe Walks is located on private property, the historic Turkey Tracks Ranch. The closest I had ever come to Adobe Walls was a historical monument on the outskirts of Stinnett, indicating that the famous site was 17 miles to the northeast. 

Monument, Adobe Walls 1874
But the leadership team of the WWHA arranged a large-scale field trip for Friday, July 17, with the kind permission of the ranch owners, the Whittenburg family. The buses were lined up, and all 168 seats were filled. A fourth bus came from Borger, with members of the Hutchinson County Historical Society aboard. The WWHA buses began loading at 7:30 AM, and we pulled out of the hotel parking lot half an hour later. Our journey north across the High Plains took nearly two hours. When we arrived at the site of the 1874 Battle of Adobe Walls, a large tent and 200 folding chairs awaited us.

Monument honoring Native
American warriors
Program chair Roy Young voiced a welcome and introduced the great-great-grandson of Kit Carson, commander of federal troops at the 1864 Battle of Adobe Walls. Following John Carson’s description of his famous ancestor, Clay Renick, Director of Borger’s Hutchinson County Museum, offered remarks on the “History of Adobe Walls.” We were incredibly fortunate to have in attendance two men who had conducted more on-site research at Adobe Walls than anyone else. Alvin Lynn is an archaeologist who has done extensive field work at Adobe Walls, and who walked the 200-mile route taken by Col. Kit Carson and his column from Fort Bascom, New Mexico, to Adobe Walls. (When I asked Alvin about the threat of critters during his trek, he shrugged matter-of-factly and mentioned rattlesnakes “and a few cougars in the mountains.”) Alvin has worked at Adobe Walls alongside J. Brett Cruse, Sites Supervisor of the Historic Sites Division of the Texas Historical Commission. Alvin and Brett oriented us regarding the sites of the 1864 and 1874 events.
Billy Dixon grave

Next I presented a 10-minute program on Billy Dixon, the buffalo hunter who shot a Comanche off his horse on a distant ridge during the 1874 siege. A shooting demonstration followed, with 10 raffle-winners firing blanks from a Sharps Big Fifty buffalo gun at two re-enactors atop a ridge 750 yards away. The re-enactors later told us of the unique view they enjoyed, looking down at the site of the 1874 Battle of Adobe Walls. We all walked around the site, admiring and photographing the monuments and historical markers. We boarded the buses for a one-mile trip to the site of the 1864 Battle of Adobe Walls. Among the features pointed out by Alvin Lynn was the hilltop where Colonel Carson positioned the two field howitzers which held off what should have been an overwhelming force of Comanche and Kiowa warriors. On our drive back to Amarillo, we ate box lunches and reflected upon our remarkable field trip.

Alvin Lynn addressing the crowd
The next morning we enjoyed a series of programs which provided follow-up to our field trip to Adobe Walls. Alvin Lynn and Brett Cruse shared their expertise with us in 30-minute presentations about, respectively, “Adobe Walls 1864” and “Adobe Walls 1874.” The next program, “Trajectory Analysis of the .50-90 Sharps Bullet Fired During the 2nd Battle of Adobe Walls,” was presented by Dr. James Bailey. Billy Dixon’s legendary shot has been ascribed by others as aimed at a line of war leaders on a far ridge seven-eighths of a mile distant, rather than the closer range of 750 yards distance. However, we had learned that while numerous artifacts had been excavated at the closer ridge, none had been found at the site seven-eighths of a mile from the buffalo hunter’s position. And after hearing Dr. Bailey’s facts about the incredible elevation required, the  drop of the bullet, and other facts (the slug would take nearly five seconds to arrive at the far ridge, for example), those of us who had observed both ridges began to assume that Dixon’s shot was triggered at warriors on the nearer ridge.
Brett Cruse orienting the crowd

Bill talking about Billy Dixon
Following a break I was privileged to participate in an hour-long Adobe Walls Panel with Alvin and Brett, while Clay Renick served as moderator. I was able to provide context for Carson’s 1864 campaign and for the Red River War of 1874-75 as well as the tactics of Comanche and Kiowa warriors. Brett and Alvin added more details to their excellent morning presentations, and we each responded to questions from the audience.

At long last I’ve had an opportunity to visit Adobe Walls, after years of writing and lecturing about the campaigns and battles. And I was enormously impressed by the depth of hard-earned knowledge by our guest experts, Alvin Lynn and Brett Cruse.

The target ridge, 750 yards away. To see two re-enactors,
just left of center, click on photo to enlarge.
Monument, Adobe Walls 1864
Hilltop where Col. Kit Carson positioned
the  two field howitzers
Next morning, Adobe Walls Panel:
Brett Cruse, Alvin Lynn,
Bill, Clay Renick

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