History

The Long Shot: The Battle for Texas at Adobe Walls

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If you know Texas history, you know the story. At the second battle of Adobe Walls, buffalo shooter Billy Dixon used his Sharps rifle to shoot a Comanche chief off his horse at about 1,000 yards. With the chief dead, especially at such extreme range, the Comanches called it quits and left.

The Long Shot

Image:  June 1874 battle of Adobe Walls in the Texas Panhandle, True West Magazine by Joe Grandee

So, did it happen?

We have two seemingly-related incidents:

#1: Billy Dixon fires his rifle at a group of Comanches atop a knoll nearly 1,000 yards away.

#2: One of the Comanches is seen to fall from his horse.

For years, this has been considered proof positive that Dixon shot the Comanche–but is it? Let’s ask–and answer to the best of our ability–three questions: First, could Dixon have done it? Is the shot in the realm of possibility, given the weapon and the man? Second, how likely is it that Dixon did it? Given the known abilities of human beings, is it at all likely that this happened? Third, did Dixon actually do it?

Question #1: Could Dixon have done it?

The Long Shot
Photo: Billy Dixon, www.legendsofamerica.com

Dixon was shooting a Sharps long-range single- shot rifle. It was chambered either for Sharps’ famous ‘Big Fifty’ cartridge, a .50 caliber, 500 grain slug with a cartridge case 3½” long holding about 125 grains of powder, or for its only slightly smaller brother, the .45×3½, holding the same amount of powder and using about the same weight bullet, but of a slightly more ballistically efficient design.

While I don’t have at hand a ballistic table for either of those cartridges, I have one for the Big Fifty’s parent cartridge, the US Government Cal. 50 Rifle cartridge–the .50-70-450. The figures mean .50 caliber (bullet ½” in diameter), 70 grains weight of common rifle powder (1/100 of a pound of powder), and a bullet weighing 450 grains.

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