The Battles of Adobe Walls

In a dusty Panhandle camp near Canyon, Texas, Plains Indians and white combatants clashed in two historically crucial battles, separated by a decade, at the same site.

Today, it’s mostly parcels of sectioned-off ranch land, set apart from other dusty Texas Panhandle acreage by only a few historical plaques and a medium-size bluff. But peering at a cluster of cottonwoods lining a narrow nearby creek, it’s easy to imagine the scene there just at daybreak on June 27, 1874, when hundreds of Comanche, Cheyenne, and Kiowa warriors eased their mounts from behind the trees and prepared to attack a hunting camp known as Adobe Walls. Only 28 men and a woman (all white?—?she was the wife of one of the men) were currently in the camp. Besides outnumbering their enemies by at least 10-to-1, perhaps as much as 20- or even 30-to-1 (the number of Indian assailants has never been determined), Comanche mystic Isa-tai promised an additional advantage: His magic would ensure that all the whites would still be sleeping when the pre-dawn assault took place, assuring easy victory.

But some in the camp were awake, and the subsequent Battle of Adobe Walls was so extraordinary?—?from the legendary frontier figures who fought in it to the miracle shot that essentially marked its conclusion?—?that it’s easy to forget it was the second time vastly outnumbered whites faced a determined tribal coalition in the same rugged vicinity.

The original intent of Adobe Walls and its later iteration was commerce, not combat. In the mid-1840s, a trading firm built an outpost in isolated Hutchinson County just below the Canadian River. The original building was made of logs, but it was soon replaced by a better, broader structure of adobe bricks, which provided the camp’s name. Hunters and trappers passed through, and pioneers headed farther west. But Indians who considered the region their homeland made periodic raids. Peril trumped profit, and by 1849 proprietor William Bent had had enough. He closed down his operation and moved on. The adobe walls of the abandoned post soon tumbled, and scattered stacks of bricks were the only evidence that the trading post had ever existed. Few remembered it until November 1864.


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