June 27

This Day in History

Old West

Jun 27, 1874:

Buffalo hunters and Indians clash at Adobe Walls

Using new high-powered rifles to devastating effect, 28 buffalo hunters repulse a much larger force of attacking Indians at an old trading post in the Texas panhandle called Adobe Walls.

The Commanche, Kiowa, and Cheyenne Indians living in western Texas had long resented the advancement of white settlement in their territories. In 1867, some of the Indians accepted the terms of the Treaty of Medicine Lodge, which required them to move to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) but also reserved much of the Texas Panhandle as their exclusive hunting grounds. Many white Texans, however, maintained that the treaty had ignored their legitimate claims to the area. These white buffalo hunters, who had already greatly reduced the once massive herds, continued to hunt in the territory.

By the early 1870s, Commanche, Kiowa, and Cheyenne hunters were finding it harder to locate buffalo, and they blamed the illegal white buffalo hunters. When the federal government failed to take adequate measures to stop the white buffalo hunters, the great chief Quanah Parker and others began to argue for war.

In the spring 1874, a group of white merchants occupied an old trading post called Adobe Walls near the South Canadian River in the Indian's hunting territory. The merchants quickly transformed the site into a regional center for the buffalo-hide trade. Angered by this blatant violation of the treaty, Chief Quanah Parker and Lone Wolf amassed a force of about 700 Commanche, Kiowa, and Cheyenne braves. On this day in 1874, the Indians attacked Adobe Walls.

Only 28 hunters and traders occupied Adobe Walls, but they had two advantages over the Indians: the thick walls of the adobe structure were impenetrable to arrows and bullets, and the occupants had a number of high-powered rifles normally used on buffalo. The hunters' .50 caliber Sharps rifles represented the latest technology in long-range, rapid firing weaponry. Already skilled marksmen, the buffalo hunters used the rifles to deadly effect, decimating the warriors before they came close enough even to return effective fire. On the second day of the siege, one hunter reportedly hit an Indian warrior at a distance of eight-tenths of a mile.

Despite their overwhelmingly superior numbers, after three days the Indians concluded that Adobe Walls could not be taken and withdrew. The defenders had lost only four men in the attack, and they later estimated that the Indians had lost 13. Enraged by their defeat, several Indian bands subsequently took their revenge on poorly defended targets. Fearful settlers demanded military protection, leading to the outbreak of the Red River War. By the time the war ended in 1875, the Commanche and Kiowa had been badly beaten and Indian resistance on the Southern Plains had effectively collapsed.

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