Billy Dixon

Billy Dixon

Old West Tales by Mustang

 and the Buffalo Wallow Fight

The Great Plains region of the United States and Canada is a broad expanse of flat and undulating land that includes such features as prairie, steppes, and grasslands. It begins just west of the Mississippi River tallgrass prairie region and ends just east of the Rocky Mountains.  Most of this region encompasses present-day Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota and parts of Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas.

In the American southwest, the Great Plains includes what is known as the Llano Estacado (Staked Plains) in eastern New Mexico and northwest Texas.  It is one of the largest mesas on the North American continent, with an elevation from 3,000 to 5,000 feet above sea level … a slope of about ten feet per mile.  The Llano Estacado was once referred to as the Great American Desert; its northern boundary is the Canadian River, and on its southern side blends into the Edwards Plateau near Big Springs, Texas.  In total, the area of the Llano Estacado is 37,500 square miles … which is larger than thirteen of America’s states.

In 1541, Spanish explorer Francisco Coronado described the Llano Estacado in this way: “I reached some plains so vast, that I did not find their limit anywhere I went, although I traveled over them for more than 300 leagues with no more land marks than if we had been swallowed up by the sea.  There was not a stone, not a bit of rising ground, nor a tree, nor a shrub, nor anything to go by.”

Another fact concerning the Llano Estacado was of particular concern to migrating European-Americans: it was Indian country.  The Comanche expanded their territory to include the staked plains during the eighteenth century, displacing another native American tribe who were called Apache [1].  Llano Estacado was firmly within what became known as the Comancheria, an Indian stronghold until they were finally defeated by white Americans in the late 1800s.

The Great Plains region was also home to the American Bison, or buffalo, that inhabited this area in massive herds since around 9,000 BC.  The buffalo population living in the Great Plains region in the mid-18thCentury has been estimated as high as 60-millions; they also existed in areas as far north as New York, and as far south as Georgia.


Within the Great Plains were natural topographical depressions that held rainwater.  These would serve as temporary watering holes for wildlife, including the buffalo, known to have used these basins for drinking, bathing, and wallowing.  Gradually, the watering basins were transformed into wallowing holes and these were enlarged as the animals floundered, covering themselves in mud and dirt, and transporting these elements always with them.  Western pioneers simply called them Buffalo Wallows.

The Buffalo Wallow fight was one of the more unusual engagements in the Red River War.  On 10 September 1874, a force of soldiers under Colonel Nelson A. Miles [2] were running low on rations.  Miles sent out two scouts and four enlisted men with dispatches from his encampment at McClellan Creek to notify others of his column that Captain Wyllys Lyman’s supply train was under siege by Indians on the upper Washita River.  The scouting party consisted of Scouts Billy Dixon and Amos Chapman, Army Sergeant Z. T. Woodhall, and Privates Peter Rath, John Harrington, and George W. Smith.  On the morning of 12 September, the detachment had reached the divide between Gageby Creek and the Washita River (in present-day Hemphill County, Texas) when they suddenly found themselves surrounded by as many as 125 Comanche and Kiowa warriors, some of whom had come from the siege of the Lyman Supply Train[…]

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