Oklahomans shouldered pivotal roles in one of the most famous and strategically important battles of the Old West. As two civilizations brutally fought for control of this harshly beautiful land, the body count of men, women, children, and even buffalo—especially buffalo—multiplied. By 1874, the U.S. Army had mostly muscled the fierce Plains tribes onto reservations in present-day western Oklahoma. Defiant factions among these Natives, however, often using western Indian Territory and even their own reservations as both staging grounds and places of refuge, proceeded to unleash enough firepower that the Southern Plains grew more rather than less violent for American settlers—and the railroads.
On June 27 of that year, several hundred Comanches, Cheyennes, and Kiowas—including legendary Comanche Chief Quanah Parker (pictured right) and Kiowa Chief Lone Wolf (the elder)(pictured below), who both hailed from modern-day Oklahoma—thundered into the buffalo hunting operation at Adobe Walls, in the Texas Panhandle. There, they shot it out with a small but well-armed band of tough white frontiersmen that included future Dodge City Sheriff legend Bat Masterson and some of the most accomplished buffalo hunters in America. It was a sight as fearsome as it was unparalleled—hundreds of the toughest warriors ever to ride, from the most dangerous tribes, uniting in a concerted campaign to wrest control of the Southern Plains from the white man.
In a stunning—and historic—checking of the Native juggernaut, the defenders and their .50-caliber buffalo guns stacked up numerous Indian corpses, wounded scores more—including Quanah—and the shattered attackers scattered across the north Texas plains. It was a singular feat by one of the frontiersmen that finally sent the Natives packing after three days of determined assaults and siege. Scout and buffalo hunter Billy Dixon, who lived the last many years of his life in Cimarron County and was one of eight civilians ever honored with the Medal of Honor, used a Sharps .50-90 rifle to fire the most famous shot in the history of the American West. It killed a mounted Comanche on a rise nearly one mile away.
The enraged, heartsick Indians exploded in a summer-long rampage of vengeance. They robbed, raped, murdered, and tortured from southern Colorado to the Rio Grande. Nearly two hundred white men, women, and children perished. Buffalo hunting, stagecoach travel, railroad expansion, westward settlement itself, were imperiled. At long last, however, the U. S. government, corporate America, and the American people alike, clear to the Atlantic, reached their breaking point. President U. S. Grant himself unleashed the armed might of the nation’s western armies against the remaining hostile Indians. Within months the final Southern Plains holdouts surrendered.
Revised excerpt from John's upcoming "The Oklahomans: The Story of Oklahoma and Its People," Vol. 1, which can be preordered now.