Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

The most perilous adventure of my life occurred September 12, 1874, in what was known as the Buffalo Wallow Fight. My escape from death was miraculous. The year 1874, as the reader doubtless may have observed, brought me full measure of things I had dreamed of doing when a boy. I came in contact with hostile Indians as frequently as the most devoted warrior might wish, and found that it was serious business. 

On September 10, 1874, General Nelson A. Miles, in command of the troops campaigning against the Indians in the Southwest, was on McClellan Creek, in the Panhandle, when he ordered Amos Chapman and myself, scouts, and four enlisted men to carry dispatches to Fort Supply. The enlisted men were Sergeant Z. T. Woodhull, Troop I; Private Peter Rath, Troop A; Private John Harrington, Troop H; and Private George W. Smith, Troop M, Sixth Cavalry. When General Miles handed us the dispatches, he told us that we could have all the soldiers we thought necessary. His command was short of rations. We preferred the smallest possible number.

Leaving camp, we traveled mostly at night, resting in secluded places during the day. War parties were moving in every direction, and there was danger of attack at every turn. On the second day, just as the sun was rising, we were nearing a divide between the Washita River and Gageby Creek. Riding to the top of a little knoll, we found ourselves almost face to face with a large band of Kiowa and Comanche warriors. The Indians saw us at the same instant and, circling quickly, surrounded us. We were in a trap. We knew that the best thing to do was to make a stand and fight for our lives, as there would be great danger of our becoming separated in the excitement of a running fight, after which the Indians could the more easily kill us one by one. We also realized that we could do better work on foot, so we dismounted and placed our horses in the care of George Smith. In a moment or two poor Smith was shot down, and the horses stampeded.

When Smith was shot, he fell flat on his stomach, and his gun fell from his hand, far beyond his reach. But no Indian was ever able to capture that gun; if one ventured near Smith, we never failed to bring him down. We thought Smith was dead when he fell, but he survived until about 11 o'clock that night.


Ermoke and His Band of Murderous Kiowa Raiders

I realized at once that I was in closer quarters than I had ever been in my life, and I have always felt that I did some good work that day. I was fortunate enough not to become disabled at any stage of the fight, which left me free to do my best under the circumstances. I received one wound--a bullet in the calf of my leg. I was wearing a thin cashmere shirt, slightly bloused. This shirt was literally riddled with bullets. How a man could be shot at so many times at close range and not be hit I could never understand. The Indians seemed to feel absolutely sure of getting us, so sure, in fact, that they delayed riding us down and killing us at once, which they could easily have done, and prolonged the early stages of the fight merely to satisfy their desire to toy with an enemy at bay, as a cat would play with a mouse before taking its life.

We saw that there was no show for us to survive on this little hillside, and decided that our best fighting ground was a small mesquite flat several hundred yards distant. Before we undertook to shift our position a bullet struck Amos Chapman. I was looking at him when he was shot. Amos said, "Billy, I am hit at last," and eased himself down. The fight was so hot that I did not have time to ask him how badly he was hurt. Every man, save Rath and myself, had been wounded. Our situation was growing more desperate every minute. I knew that something had to be done, and quickly, or else all of us in a short while would be dead or in the hands of the Indians, who would torture us in the most inhuman manner before taking our lives.

I could see where the buffaloes had pawed and wallowed a depression, commonly called a buffalo "wallow," and I ran for it at top speed. It seemed as if a bullet whizzed past me at every jump, but I got through unharmed. The wallow was about ten feet in diameter. I found that its depth, though slight, afforded some protection. I shouted to my comrades to try to come to me, which all of them save Smith and Chapman, commenced trying to do. As each man reached the wallow, he drew his butcher knife and began digging desperately with knife and hands to throw up the dirt round the sides. The land happened to be sandy, and we made good headway, though constantly interrupted by the necessity of firing at the Indians as they dashed within range.

It was probably about noon before we reached the wallow. Many times that terrible day did I think that my last moment was at hand. Once, when the Indians were crowding us awfully hard, one of the boys raised up and yelled, "No use, boys, no use; we might as well give it up." We answered by shouting to him to lie down. At that moment a bullet struck in the soft bank near him and completely filled his mouth with dirt. I was so amused that I laughed, though in a rather sickly way, for none of us felt much like laughing.

By this time, however, I had recovered from the first excitement of battle, and was perfectly cool, as were the rest of the men. We were keenly aware that the only thing to do was to sell our lives as dearly as possible. We fired deliberately, taking good aim, and were picking off an Indian at almost every round. The wounded men conducted themselves admirably, and greatly assisted in concealing our crippled condition by sitting upright, as if unhurt, after they reached the wallow. This made it impossible for the Indians accurately to guess what plight we were in. Had they known so many of us were wounded undoubtedly they would have rode in and finished us.

After all had reached the wallow, with the exception of Chapman and Smith, all of us thinking that Smith was dead, somebody called to Chapman to come on in. We now learned for the first time that Chapman's leg was broken. He called back that he could not walk, as his left knee was shattered.

I made several efforts to reach him before I succeeded. Every time the Indians saw me start, they would fire such a volley that I was forced to retreat, until finally I made a run and got to Chapman. I told him to climb on my back, my plan being to carry him as I would a little child. Drawing both his legs in front of me, and laying the broken one over the sound one, to support it, I carried him to the wallow, though not without difficulty, as he was a larger man than myself, and his body a dead weight. It taxed my strength to carry him.

We were now all in the wallow, except Smith, and we felt that it would be foolish and useless to risk our lives in attempting to bring in his dead body. We had not seen him move since the moment he went down. We began digging like gophers with our hands and knives to make our little wall of earth higher, and shortly had heaped up quite a little wall of dirt around us. Its protection was quickly felt, even though our danger was hardly lessened.

When I look back and recall our situation, I always find myself thinking of how my wounded companions never complained nor faltered, but fought as bravely as if a bullet had not touched them. Sometimes the Indians would ride toward us at headlong speed with lances uplifted and poised, undoubtedly bent upon spearing us. Such moments made a man brace himself and grip his gun. Fortunately, we were able to keep our heads and to bring down or disable the leader. Such charges proved highly dangerous to the Indians, and gradually grew less frequent.

Thus, all that long, hot September day the Indians circled round us or dashed past, yelling and cutting all kinds of capers. All morning we had been without water, and the wounded were sorely in need of it. In the stress and excitement of such an encounter, even a man who has not been hurt grows painfully thirsty, and his tongue and lips are soon as dry as a whetstone. Ours was the courage of despair. We knew what would befall us if we should be captured alive--we had seen too many naked and mangled bodies of white men who had been spread-eagled and tortured with steel and fire to forget what our own fate would be. So we were determined to fight to the end, not unmindful of the fact that every once in a while there was another dead or wounded Indian.

About 3 o'clock a black cloud came up in the west, and in a short time the sky shook and blazed with thunder and lightning. Rain fell in blinding sheets, drenching us to the skin. Water gathered quickly in the buffalo wallow, and our wounded men eagerly bent forward and drank from the muddy pool. It was more than muddy--that water was red with their own blood that had flowed from their wounds and lay clotting and dry in the hot September sun.

The storm and the rain proved our salvation. The wind had shifted to the north and was now drearily chilling us to the bone. An Indian dislikes rain, especially a cold rain, and these Kiowas and Comanches were no exception to the rule. We could see them in groups out of rifle range sitting on their horses with their blankets drawn tightly around them. The Plains country beats the world for quick changes in weather, and in less than an hour after the rain had fallen, the wind was bitterly cold. Not a man in our crowd had a coat, and our thin shirts were scant protection. Our coats were tied behind our saddles when our horses stampeded, and were lost beyond recovery. I was heart-sick over the loss of my coat, for in the inside pocket was my dearest treasure, my mother's picture, which my father had given me shortly before his death. I was never able to recover it.

The water was gathering rapidly in the wallow and soon had reached a depth of two inches. Not a man murmured. Not one thought of surrender. The wounded were shivering as if they had ague.

We now found that our ammunition was running low. This fact rather appalled us, as bullets, and plenty of them, were our only protection. At the fight at the Walls, not only was there plenty of ammunition, but the buildings themselves gave confidence. Necessity compelled us to save every cartridge as long as possible, and not to fire at an Indian unless we could see that he meant business and was coming right into us.

Late in the afternoon somebody suggested that we go out and get Smith's belt and six-shooter, as he had been shot early in the fight and his belt undoubtedly was loaded with cartridges.

Rath offered to go, and soon returned and said that Smith was still alive, which astonished us greatly, as well as causing us to regret that we had not known it earlier in the day. Rath and I at once got ready to bring Smith to the buffalo wallow. By supporting the poor wounded fellow between us, he managed to walk. We could see that there was no chance for him. He was shot through the left lung and when he breathed the wind sobbed out of his back under the shoulder blade. Near the wallow an Indian had dropped a stout willow switch with which he had been whipping his pony. With this switch a silk handkerchief was stuffed into the gaping bullet hole in Smith's back.

Night was approaching, and it looked blacker to me than any night I had ever seen. Ours was a forlorn and disheartening situation. The Indians were still all around us. The nearest relief was seventy-five miles away. Of the six men in the wallow, four were badly wounded, and without anything to relieve their suffering. We were cold and hungry, with nothing to eat, and without a blanket, coat or hat to protect us from the rain and the biting wind. It was impossible to rest or sleep in the two inches of water in wallow.

I remember that I threw my hat, a wide-brimmed sombrero, as far from me as I could when our horses stampeded--the hat was in my way and too good a target for the Indians to shoot at.

We were unable to get grass for bedding, as the whole country had been burnt off by the Indians. It was absolutely necessary, however, that the men should have some kind of bed to keep them off the cold, damp ground. Rath and I solved the problem by gathering tumble-weeds which in that country the wind would drive for miles and miles, until the weeds lodged and became fast. Many of them were bigger than a bushel basket, and their twigs so tough that the weeds had the "spring" of a wire mattress. We crushed the weeds, and lay down on them for the night, though not a man dared close his eyes in sleep.

By the time heavy darkness had fallen every Indian had disappeared. Happily, they did not return to molest us during the night. There was a new moon, but so small and slender that in the clouded sky there was little light. While there was still light, I took the willow switch and sat down on the edge of the bank and carefully cleaned every gun.

While I was cleaning the guns, we held a consultation to decide what would be best for us to do. We agreed that somebody should go for help. No journey could have been beset with greater danger. Rath and I both offered to go. The task was squarely up to us, as all the other men were injured. I insisted that I should go, as I knew the country, and felt confident that I could find the trail that led to Camp Supply. I was sure that we were not far from this trail.

My insistence at once caused protest from the wounded. They were willing that Rath should go, but would not listen to my leaving them. Once I put my hand on my gun with the intention of going anyway, then yielded to their wishes against my better judgment, and decided to remain through the night. The wounded men relied greatly upon my skill as a marksman.

Bidding us goodbye, Rath disappeared in the darkness. After he had been gone about two hours he came back, saying that he could not find the trail.

By this time Smith had grown much worse and was begging us in piteous tones to shoot him and put an end to his terrible sufferings. We found it necessary to watch him closely to prevent his committing suicide.

There was not a man among us who had not thought of that same melancholy fate. When the fight was at its worst, with the Indians closing in on all sides, and when it seemed that every minute would be our last, I was strongly tempted to take my butcher knife, which I kept at razor edge, and cut off my hair. In those days my hair was black and heavy and brushed my shoulders. As a matter of fact, I was rather proud of my hair. Its luxuriance would have tempted any Indian to scalp me at the first opportunity. I had a further and final plan--to save my last bullet for self destruction.

Poor Smith endured his agony like a brave soldier. Our hearts ached but we could do nothing to relieve his pain. About 10 o'clock that night he fell asleep and we were glad of it, for in sleep he could forget his sufferings. Later in the night one of the boys felt of him, to see how he was getting along. He was cold in death. Men commonly think of death as something to be shunned. There are times, however, when its hand falls as tenderly as the touch of a mother's hand, and when its coming is welcomed by those to whom hopeless suffering has brought the last bitter dregs of life. We lifted the body of our dead comrade and gently laid it outside the buffalo wallow on the mesquite grass, covering the white face with a silk handkerchief.

Then the rest of us huddled together on the damp ground, and thought of the morrow. That night is indelibly stamped in my memory; many a time have its perils filled my dreams, until I awoke startled and thrilled by a feeling of imminent danger. Every night the same stars are shining way out there in the Panhandle, the winds sigh as mournfully as they did then, and I often wonder if a single settler who passes the lonely spot knows how desperately six men once battled for their lives where now may be plowed fields, and safety and the comforts of civilization.

Like everything else, the long night finally came to an end, and the sun rose clear and warm next morning. By this time all the men were willing that I should go for help, and I at once started. Daylight exposed me to many dangers from which the night shielded me. By moving cautiously at night, it was possible to avoid the enemy, but if surprised, to stand a good chance of escape. In the daytime, however, the enemy could lie in hiding and scan the country in every direction. On the Plains, especially in the fall when the grass is brown, the smallest moving object may be perceived by the trained eye at an astonishingly long distance. I knew that I must proceed with utmost caution, lest I fall into an ambush or be attacked in the open by superior numbers.

I had traveled scarcely more than half a mile when I struck the plain trail leading to Camp Supply. Hurrying along as rapidly as possible and keeping a constant lookout for Indians, I checked myself at the sudden sight of an outfit that seemed to cover about an acre of ground, two miles or so to the northwest. The outfit at first did not appear to be moving and I could not tell whether it was made up of white men or Indians. I skulked to a growth of tall grass and hid for a while. My nerves were too keen to endure hiding and waiting, so I stole back and took another look. The outfit was moving toward me. Shortly I was able to see that they were troops--Indians always traveled strung out in a line, while these were traveling abreast.

I never felt happier in my life. I whanged loose with my old "50" to attract the attention of the soldiers, and saw the whole command come to a halt. I fired my gun a second time, which brought two soldiers to me. I told them of our condition, and they rode rapidly back to the command and reported. The commanding officer was Major Price, with a troop, accompanying General Miles' supply train which was on its way with supplies from Fort Supply to field headquarters.

The same Indians that we had been fighting had been holding this supply train corralled for four days near the Washita River. Major Price, luckily for the outfit, happened along and raised the siege. The Indians had just given up the attack when we ran into them.

Major Price rode over to where I was waiting, bringing his army surgeon with him. I described the condition of my comrades, after which Major Price sent the surgeon and two soldiers to see what could be done for the wounded. I pointed out the place, which was about a mile distant, and asked the surgeon if he thought he could find it without my going along, as Major Price wanted me to tell him about the fight. The surgeon said that he could and rode away.

I was describing in detail all that had happened when I looked up and saw that the relief party was bearing too far south. I fired my gun to attract their attention, and then waved it in the direction which they were to go. By this time they were within gunshot of my comrades in the buffalo wallow. To my utter astonishment, I heard the roar of a gun and saw a puff of smoke rise from the wallow--one of the men had fired at the approaching strangers, killing a horse ridden by one of the soldiers.

I ran forward as rapidly as possible, not knowing what the men would do next. They were soon able to recognize me, and lowered their guns. When we got to them the men said that they had heard shooting--the shots I had fired to attract the attention of the troops--and supposed that the Indians had killed me and were coming for them. They were determined to take no chances, and shot at the surgeon and the two soldiers the moment they got within range.

Despite the sad plight of the wounded men, about all the surgeon did was to examine their injuries. The soldiers turned over a few pieces of hardtack and some dried beef, which happened to be tied behind their saddles. Major Price refused to leave any men with us. For this he was afterwards severely censured, and justly. He would not even provide us with firearms. Our own ammunition was exhausted and the soldiers carried guns of different make and caliber from ours. However, they said they would let General Miles know of our condition. We were sure that help would come the moment General Miles heard the news. At the time we were glad just to have seen these men and did not think much about how they treated us.

We watched and waited until midnight of the second day after the troops had passed before help came. A long way off in the dark we heard the faint sound of a bugle. It made us swallow a big lump in our throats and bite our lips. Nearer and clearer came the bugle notes. Our nerves were getting "jumpy," so strong was our emotion. We fired our guns, to let them know where we were, and soon the soldiers came riding out of the darkness.

As soon as the wounded could be turned over to the surgeon, we placed the body of our dead comrade in the wallow where we had all fought and suffered together, and covered it with the dirt which we had ridged up with our hands and butcher knives for breastworks. Then we went down on the creek where the soldiers had built a big fire and cooked a meal for us.

Next day the wounded were sent to Camp Supply where they were given humane and careful treatment. Amos Chapman's leg was amputated above the knee. Amos was as tough as second growth hickory and was soon out of the hospital and in the saddle. All the men recovered and went right on with the army. Chapman could handle a gun and ride as well as ever, the only difference being that he had to mount his horse from the right side, Indian fashion.

I should like once more to meet the men with whom I fought in the Buffalo Wallow Fight, but I seldom hear from them. When I last heard of Amos Chapman he was living at Seiling, Oklahoma. My last letter from Sergeant Woodhull was dated Fort Wingate, New Mexico, 1883. This was shortly after Colonel Dodge had published his book, "Our Wild Indians," in which he attempted to give a circumstantial account of the Buffalo Wallow Fight. Sergeant Woodhull was displeased with the statement of facts, and resented the inaccuracies.


Drew Dixon, Son of "Billy" Dixon._ Like His Father, a Sure Shot.

I guess I am partly to blame in the matter. When Colonel Dodge was writing his book, he wrote and asked me to send him an account of the fight. I neglected to do so, and he obtained his information from other sources. If my present narrative differs from that of Colonel Dodge, all I can say is that I have described the fight as I saw it. In saying this I do not wish to place myself in the attitude of censuring Colonel Dodge. However, it should be reasonably apparent that a man with a broken leg cannot carry another man on his back. In correcting this bit of border history I repeat that every one of my comrades in that fight conducted himself in the most heroic manner, bravely doing his part in every emergency. Below will be found the text of the report which General Miles sent to Washington:

    Headquarters Indian Territory Expedition,
    Camp on Washita River, Texas,
    September 24, 1874.

    Adjutant General, U.S.A.,
    Thro Offices Asst. Adjt. Gen., Headquarters
    Department and Military Division of the Missouri and of the Army.


    I deem it but a duty to brave men and faithful soldiers to bring
    to the notice of the highest military authority, an instance of
    indomitable courage, skill and true heroism on the part of a
    detachment from this command, with the request that the actors may
    be rewarded, and their faithfulness and bravery recognized, by
    pensions, medals of honor, or in such way as may be deemed most
    fitting. On the night of the 10th inst. a party consisting of
    Sergt. Z. T. Woodhull, Co. I; Privates Peter Rath, Co. A; John
    Harrington, Co. H. and George W. Smith, Co. M, Sixth Cavalry;
    Scouts Amos Chapman and William Dixon, were sent as bearers of
    despatches from the camp of this command on McClellan Creek to
    Camp Supply, I.T.

    At 6 a.m., of the 12th, when approaching the Washita River, they
    were met and surrounded by a band of Kiowa and Comanches, who had
    scarcely left their Agency; at the first attack all were struck,
    Private Smith mortally, and three others severely wounded.
    Although enclosed on all sides and by overwhelming numbers, one of
    them succeeded, while they were under a heavy fire at short range,
    and while the others, with their rifles, were keeping the Indians
    at bay in digging with his knife and hands a slight cover. After
    this had been secured, they placed themselves within it, the
    wounded walking with brave and painful efforts, and Private Smith,
    though he had received a mortal wound, sitting upright within the
    trench, to conceal the crippled condition of their party from the

    From early morning till dark, outnumbered 25 to 1, under an almost
    constant fire and at such short range that they sometimes used
    their pistols, retaining the last charge to prevent capture and
    torture, this little party of five defended their lives and the
    person of their dying comrade, without food, and their only drink
    the rain water that collected in a pool mingled with their own

    There is no doubt but that they killed more than double their
    number, besides those that were wounded. The Indians abandoned the
    attack on the 12th at dark.

    The exposure and distance from the command which were necessary
    incidents of their duty, were such, that for thirty-six hours from
    the first attack, their condition could not be known, and not till
    midnight of the 13th could they receive medical attendance and
    food, exposed during this time to an incessant cold storm.

    Sergt. Woodhull, Private Harrington and Scout Chapman were
    seriously wounded. Private Smith died of his wounds on the morning
    of the 13th. Private Rath and Scout Dixon were struck but not

    The simple recital of their deeds, and the mention of the odds
    against which they fought, how the wounded defended the dying, and
    the dying aided the wounded by exposure to fresh wounds after the
    power of action was gone, these alone present a scene of cool
    courage, heroism and self-sacrifice which duty, as well as
    inclination prompts us to recognize, but which we cannot fully

    Very Respectfully,

    Your obedient servant,

    (Signed) NELSON A. MILES,
    Col. and Bvt. Maj. Gen'l. U.S.A., Commanding.

    Headquarters Indian Territory Expedition,
    Camp on Oasis Creek, I.T.,
    Oct. 1, 1874.

    Official copy respectfully furnished William Dixon.
    By command of Bvt. Maj. Gen'l. Miles.

    G. W. BAIRD,
    Asst. Adjt. 5th Inf., A.A.A. Gen'l.

General Miles had both the heart and the accomplishments of a soldier, and Congress voted to each of us the Medal of Honor. He was delighted when the Medals came from Washington. With his own hands he pinned mine on my coat when we were in camp on Carson Creek, five or six miles west of the ruins of the original Adobe Walls. The text of the official correspondence concerning the award of the Medals of Honor is appended:

    Headquarters Indian Territory Expedition,
    Camp near Fort Sill, I.T.,
    January 24th, 1875.

    General Order No. 28:

    The Commanding Officer takes pleasure in announcing to the troops
    of this Expedition that his recommendation that the distinguished
    heroism displayed on the 12th of September, 1874, by Sergeant Z.
    T. Woodhull of Co. I, Private John Harrington, Co. H, and Peter
    Rath Co. A, 6th Cavalry, and Scouts Amos Chapman and William Dixon
    be recognized, has been approved by the highest military
    authority, and that the Congress has bestowed upon each of these
    men a Medal of Honor. It is now his pleasing duty to bestow upon
    men who can worthily wear them, these tokens of the recognition
    and approval of their Government.

    By Command of Bvt. Maj. Gen'l. N. A. Miles.

    (Signed) G. W. BAIRD,
    1st Lieut. and Adjutant 5th Infty.,
    A.A.A. General.

    Headquarters Ind. Ter. Expedition.
    Camp on Canadian, Texas.
    December 24, 1874.

    Mr. William Dixon,


    I take pleasure in presenting to you a Medal of Honor, as a
    recognition by the Government of your skill, courage and
    determined fortitude, displayed in an engagement with (5) others,
    on the 12th of September, 1874, against hostile Indians, in
    overwhelming numbers.

    This mark of honor, I trust, will be long worn by you, and though
    it in a small degree compensates for the hardships endured, yet it
    is a lasting emblem of distinguished services, well earned in a
    noble cause. It will ever recall the fact to you and yours, of
    having materially aided in clearing this fair country of ruthless
    savages, and freeing it from all time to civil settlements. This
    must be an ever increasing gratification to you.

    This badge of honor is most worthily bestowed.

    Respectfully, &c.,

    Bvt. Maj. Gen'l. U.S. Army,

It was always my intention to go back and mark the spot where the Buffalo Wallow Fight took place and where George Smith still lies buried. Procrastination and the remoteness of the spot have prevented my going.