Author Bill O’Neal presents book, hosts signing at WDLM

Above, author Bill O’Neal demonstrates the mechanisms of a short-barrel rifle replica he purchased for teaching purposes. O’Neal visited the White Deer Land Museum on Thursday, Sept. 15 to give a presentation of his new book, Billy and Olive Dixon: The Plainsman and His Lady. (Photo by Miranda Ellis | The Pampa News)

Miranda Ellis

The author of Billy and Olive Dixon; The Plainsman and His Lady stopped by White Deer Land Museum last Thursday evening to give a presentation about the book, followed by a book signing. 

The famed author and historian, Bill O’Neal, was introduced by Dan Morrison, President of the White Deer Land Museum Foundation.

“He’s been a past president and fellow of both West Texas Historical Association and the East Texas Historical Association. He was presented the A.C. Greene Literary Award in 2015 at the West Texas Book Festival in Abilene. In 2012, he received a lifetime achievement award of the Wild West Historical Association. In 2007, he was named True West Magazine’s ‘Best Living Nonfiction Writer.’ He’s done TV documentaries on the History Channel, TBS, the Learning Channel, CMT, A&E and the American Heroes Channel. He served six years from 2012 to 2019 as the State Historian of Texas, traveling tens of thousands of miles across the Lone Star State as an ambassador for Texas history. He’s an author of more than 40 books, and we have several on hand to be purchased and signed,” Morrison said. 

“The book we are honored and pleased to have him present for us is Billy and Olive Dixon; The Plainsmen and His Lady. It’s the first biography of a sharp-shooting Panhandle hero in more than a century.”

O’Neal opened by thanking everyone for their attendance.

“I was about 13 when I first read about Billy Dixon,” said O’Neal.

“I was simply captivated by this heroic short-shooting buffalo hunter. He triggered the most famous shot of the old west. The most famous shot in the West was not the bullet that killed Billy the Kid, it was not the bullet that killed Wild Bill Hickok, or anybody else. It was this shot that Billy made at the Battle of Adobe Walls in 1874.”

“And then only a few months later (after Billy Dixon made his famous shot) he won the Congressional Medal of Honor as an Army Scout from a Buffalo Wallow Fight, also here in the Panhandle.”

O’Neal says that he participates in an annual Wild West History Association meeting in Amarillo that typically lasts four nights. Every year on one of those nights, the association makes a field trip and in July of 2015, that field trip was to Adobe Walls, the site of Billy Dixon’s famous shot. 

“Our field trip consisted of four buses and a car caravan out to Adobe Walls. There were about 250 of us. I had been asked to provide a program about Dixon and the battle out there. I’d never been there and never been closer than that historical marker outside of Stinnett which is 70 miles away. And boy, I knew what it was supposed to look like and I got out there and I saw it, and I felt the ghosts, and we got to shoot blanks from a buffalo gun. It was absolutely a thrill,” O’Neal said.

“After that experience, I had to write a book about Dixon. There had not been a biography of him in over a century. The one Olive (Dixon) wrote was the only one ever. Then I was not very far into [reading] the Billy Dixon book before I realized the extraordinary importance of Olive Dixon, and that’s why it became a dual biography starring Billy and Olive. I’ll come back to her shortly.” 

“First, let me focus on the remarkable frontier adventures of a youngster named Billy who ran away to the West in 1863 when he was 13 in the middle of the Civil War with another boy.” 

“The boys were taken in by wood choppers in camps alongside of the Missouri River. Most steamboats (back then) used to use two cords of wood an hour, so there was a lot of business for these guys. But with the Civil War raging, there was a terrible manpower shortage.” 

“So, soon he was hired as a bull-packer of government freight trains. He was a teamster. Now, I know the civil war is raging, but the government’s got these frontier outposts out in the West. Well, they had to be supplied, so that’s what these teamsters did. They had these huge wagons that were designed to carry seven thousand pounds and they had these very high sidewalls- and it was such a tall perch that the driver just couldn’t get up there. So, the driver walked alongside the oxen and popped a bull whip. In time, he (Billy) turned into a man with a very strong physique.”

“During the next several years he also worked as a mule skinner, so he mastered both skills. Wages were excellent. They had to pay double during the Civil War just to get anybody. Everybody was given army-issued firearms (for self-defense against Native American tribes). They were issued a Remington army-model pistol. The other one that he (Billy) was issued was a Sharps carbine. A carbine is short-barreled, and therefore had a shorter range.” 

“As a teamster, Billy traveled all over the frontier of that day, as far as Colorado. So he saw the mountains, but he was already in love with the Plains. He loved the outdoor life, he trapped and hunted and he proved to be a gifted marksman.”

Billy also had plenty of government-issued ammunition to practice with, and spent his evenings practicing his marksmanship. 

“By 1870, he was only 20 at the time, he was hunting buffalo in Kansas out of Dodge City. That city was a buffalo-hunter center before it was ever a countdown. The buffalo hunters, most of them, favored and creedmoor tang sight. [With these], they shot at an incredible range- they generally shot buffalo at 500 yards.

“However, within a few years, Buffalo had disappeared from Kansas, they got hunted out. Billy Dixon had scouted out, however, a vast herd out in the Panhandle. He had heard about it, and sure enough, it was there. A bunch of Dodge City merchants that were in the buffalo trade were about to go out of business. And so, ‘yes, let’s get into this,’ they said, and so consequently, he got some customers for this and pretty soon there was a big caravan of merchants and hunters heading to the Panhandle.”

“They located their local community about a mile north of the ruins of an earlier trading post, a trading post that had been built about a mile south of this famous battle.” 

O’Neal said the soil texture near the creek was such that adobe could be made from it. Because this community was built too far away from the creek to build their buildings out of adobe, they were actually made from sod. However, despite this, the name Adobe Walls stuck.

Adobe Walls consisted of a blacksmith shop, a saloon, a corral with stables, the trading post itself, a store and a mess hall to eat at. 

“Now, Billy had come in to Adobe Walls Trading Post and he had been there a few days and conducted his business. On the morning of June 27, 1874, he was getting ready to go back to his camp. He was up before dawn, get his wagon ready. He was one of 28 men who were in that camp. The majority of them were not hunters. They were the Clarks and the blacksmith and the bartender and so forth. But there were some hunters

there, thank goodness as it turned out, because they had company they didn’t know about.”

The buildings of Adobe Walls faced East, and there is both a Northern and Southern Plateau nearby.  The Northern plateau was closer to Adobe Walls than the Southern plateau. 

“It was around that far plateau, that had a large gathering of mounted warriors; Comanches, Kiowa and Arapaho,” O’Neal said.  

“During the winter (prior to the buffalo hunting season), a young up-and-coming war leader named Quanah, who we would later call Quanah Parker, and a very charismatic medicine man named Isatai’i teamed up as recruiters. They went from one band to another trying to recruit warriors for a major effort. When they got this force up, the Chief decided he wanted to go after the buffalo hunters who came into their Panhandle hunting grounds at Adobe Walls.”

“So they planned a dawn charge, and Billy happened to be there as the light just began to creep up- and here came the (Native Americans). He saw that movement, and he at first thought they were going after the horses that were grazing in front of the buildings. Well, partially, they were and they sent a division after them.”

“He got one shot off his buffalo gun before he noticed that ‘Whoa, those guys look like they’re coming right at me.’”

“He took off, and he had to run past the picket corral (towards the saloon). The saloon doors were already shut by then, and he pounded on it and they let him in, and the [Native Americans] arrived momentarily. Had they been just a little bit quicker, if they had gotten in those buildings with what kind of numbers they had against these 28 guys, [it would have been over for them].”

“There was a furious 30-minute firefight and low and behold, they (buffalo hunters) beat them (Native Americans) off. When they did, they (Natives) had to retreat.”

“Billy then stationed himself at a window, and beside him was his buddy Bat Masterson. Bat was the youngest guy there at the age 20. Billy was only 23. The [Native] warriors, meanwhile, had driven off all the [grazing] horses,” O’Neal said.

The native warriors approached the picket fence of the corral and began shooting down the remaining horses, not wanting the men in the buildings to have any means of escape. The buffalo hunters were shooting back, and in the process 56 horses and 28 oxen were killed. 

“When there was finally a lull in the fight, the guys went outside and they found 13 dead (Native) warriors. Now those [Native Americans] would do almost anything to carry their dead and wounded away, but these guys (buffalo hunters and other merchants) were right up against the buildings, and would have been suicidal (to go after their dead). They (buffalo hunters) beheaded those 13 guys (deceased Native warriors), and they very defiantly put those heads on the poles of the picket fence. They (Natives) never did make another mass attack.”

“On day two, [the Native American warriors] demonstrated they wanted to feel them out. Well, they got shot for their troubles. The buffalo hunters were coming into their own by then.”

O’Neal describes that the Native American warriors were using guns that were not as accurate for long-distance shots that the buffalo hunters were using. They had older models and didn’t know what kind of range the rifles the buffalo hunters could shoot accurately from. Therefore, the Native Americans were blasted out of this position by the superior rifles owned by the buffalo hunters. 

“On day three, about 15 mounted warriors came out on a plateau. When those leaders came out, everybody at Adobe Walls started hollering for Billy. They thought, if anybody could hit those guys, Billy could,” O’Neal said. 

“He (Billy) was operating a BAR rifle with a 32-inch barrel. He [mounted] it on a window ledge and elevated it to maximum height. He felt like he only had a chance for one shot,so, he decided to rainbow it into the midst of those guys (mounted warriors) instead of shooting at one of them. He knocked a [Native] warrior off his horse, and that was the end of the fight. They were gone the next day.”

After this event, the U.S. Army decided to intervene and send troops to deal with the attacks by Native American warriors on trading posts and hunter camps in the area. The Army paid well at the time and would enlist men along their routes by motivating them with substancial salary offers. So when General Miles of the U.S. army, along with his men, showed up at Adobe Walls, Billy too decided he liked the salary offer and enlisted. He stayed with the army until Feb. of 1883.

O’Neal decribed the incident during the time Dixon was enlisted and earned his medal of honor. 

“Dixon and another scout were told the carrier to carry dispatches to camp supply, and they were given four enlisted men as an escort. They traveled at night, and they had just almost gotten out of the Panhandle, and here came 125 warriors. Now if you think they were outnumbered at adobe walls, this was six guys versus 125 warriors.”

The warriors jumped Billie Dixon and the five other men, resulting in the death of at least three men and the loss of their horses. Dixon and the remaining men were injured and on foot.  

“Billy spotted a buffalo wall about 10 feet around and he helped everybody get over there. They had their knives and they built it up a little bit, and they were able to fight from there. The key was that Billy had his buffalo gun. Everybody else had the short barrel carbines. Billy used the buffalo gun and kept those [Native warriors] at a great distance. Everybody got the medal of honor for this. And in those days, they were mailed from the Secretary of War and that’s all they did, no ceremony. Well, [Billys General] wanted more than that, and he presented Billy his medal of honor in camp in front of everybody,” O’Neal said. 

After his service ended in 1883, Dixon looked to make his home near Adobe Walls where he became the Postmaster, the Justice of the Peace, a Texas Land Agent and ran a store of his own. He also had a fruit orchard, a little livestock and an alfalfa field. 

“There weren’t very many people there and so he wasn’t all that busy. He had dogs and hunted all the time. He led an idyllic life for a decade,” O’Neal said. 

“Then Billy met Olive...”

If you would like to know how Billy’s story ends and read about Olive Dixon’s role in his life, please make sure to check out Bill O’Neal’s book, Billy and Olive Dixon; The Plainsman and His Lady. 

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