Buffalo Wallow Fight

By: H. Allen Anderson

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: June 21, 2020

The Buffalo Wallow Fight was one of the most unusual engagements in the Red River War. On September 10, 1874, Col. Nelson A. Miles, whose command was running short of rations, sent two scouts, Billy Dixon and Amos Chapman, and four enlisted men, Sgt. Z. T. Woodhall and privates Peter Rath, John Harrington, and George W. Smith, from his camp on McClellan Creek with dispatches concerning the delay of Capt. Wyllys Lyman's supply train, then under siege by Indians on the upper Washita River (see LYMAN'S WAGON TRAIN). The six-man contingent set out on the trail to Camp Supply in Indian Territory. On the morning of September 12, as they approached the divide between Gageby Creek and the Washita River in Hemphill County, they suddenly found themselves surrounded by about 125 Comanche and Kiowa warriors, some of whom had come from the siege of the wagon train. Since retreating Indians had burned off the prairie grass only days before, there was no shelter close by; Dixon and his companions thus decided to dismount and make a desperate stand. In a few minutes George Smith, who took charge of the horses, fell with a bullet through his lungs. The horses then stampeded, carrying with them the men's haversacks, canteens, coats, and blankets. The mounted Indians indulged in a cat-and-mouse game with their intended victims by circling them and firing on a dead run. Soon Harrington and Woodhall were hit, and Chapman's left knee was shattered by a bullet. When the Indians desisted for a few minutes, Dixon, who had a slight wound in the calf, spotted a buffalo wallow a few yards away. He bade his companions take cover in this shallow depression, which was about ten feet in diameter. By noon, all except Chapman and Smith had reached it safely and with their hands and butcher knives began throwing up the sandy loam around the perimeter of the wallow for better protection. In the process, the men managed to keep their adversaries at bay and away from Smith and Chapman.

As the fight progressed, Dixon tried several times to reach Chapman but was forced back repeatedly by a hail of bullets and arrows. Since the crippled scout had lived as a "squaw man" among the Indians for a time and was known to many of the warriors present, they taunted him by shouting, "Amos, Amos, we got you now, Amos!" Finally, early in the afternoon, Dixon made it to Chapman and carried him back amid the gunfire to the safety of the wallow.

As the day wore on, the five men suffered terribly from hunger, thirst, and wounds; but their expert marksmanship continued to hold back the Indians, who could not even capture Smith's guns. Late in the afternoon an approaching thunderstorm brought relief to the parched men and served to break off the Indian attack, but the blue norther that it heralded resulted in more suffering from a severe drop in temperature. Taking advantage of the lull in the skirmish, Peter Rath went to recover Smith's weapons and ammunition and was astonished to find Smith still alive. Dixon and Rath carried the unfortunate trooper back to their makeshift fortress, where he died later that night.

At nightfall the Indians disappeared. Dixon and Rath fashioned crude beds for themselves and their wounded comrades out of tumbleweeds they had gathered and crushed. Afterward Rath went to bring help but was unable to locate the trail and returned in two hours. The following morning, September 13, dawned clear with no Indians in sight. Dixon then volunteered to go for help and found the trail less than a mile away. Soon he saw a column of United States Cavalry in the distance and fired his gun to attract their attention. As it turned out, this contingent consisted of four companies of the Eighth Cavalry from Fort Union, New Mexico, about 225 men in all, under the command of Maj. William R. Price. Price's appearance had caused the Indians to withdraw from the wallow and Lyman's wagons.

Price accompanied Dixon back to the wallow but had no ambulance wagon and was running short of supplies himself. What was more, Dixon's companions mistook the approaching column for Indians and, before the scout could stop them, shot the horse of one of the surgeon's escorts. As a result, the piqued surgeon only briefly examined the men, and Price refused them ammunition or reinforcements, although some of his troops did give them hardtack and dried beef. Price then moved on, promising to notify Colonel Miles and send aid immediately. Not until nearly midnight, however, did aid arrive and the beleaguered men receive food and medical attention. George Smith's body was wrapped in an army blanket and buried in the wallow, and the disabled survivors were taken to Camp Supply for treatment. Amos Chapman's leg was subsequently amputated above the knee, and Woodhall and Harrington recovered and continued their military service. After "severely censuring" Price for his failure to render further aid to the survivors, Colonel Miles recommended that they be given the Medal of Honor for bravery under adverse circumstances. The medals were awarded, including a posthumous one to Smith; Dixon personally received his from Miles while they were encamped on Carson Creek near Adobe Walls.

The Buffalo Wallow Fight was widely publicized as a heroic engagement; Richard Irving Dodge presented a somewhat inaccurate narrative of the episode in his book Our Wild Indians (1882). While nearly all accounts of the battle, including Dixon's, claimed that the six men killed as many as two dozen warriors, Amos Chapman, who spent his later years in Seiling, Oklahoma, once told George Bent that no Indian actually fell to their guns. Some years later, the medals of Chapman and Dixon were revoked by Congress since they had served the army as civilian scouts. Dixon, however, refused to surrender what he felt he had justly earned. His medal is now on display at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon. In 1925, under direction of J. J. Long and Olive King Dixon, a granite monument was erected on the Buffalo Wallow site, twenty-two miles southeast of Canadian. It bears the names of the six heroes "who cleared the way for other men."

Olive K. Dixon, Life of "Billy" Dixon (1914; rev. ed., Dallas: P. L. Turner Company, 1927; facsimile of original ed., Austin: State House, 1987). James L. Haley, The Buffalo War: The History of the Red River Indian Uprising of 1874 (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1976). George E. Hyde, Life of George Bent, Written from His Letters (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1968). John L. McCarty, Adobe Walls Bride (San Antonio: Naylor, 1955).

  • Peoples
  • Native American
  • Military
  • Campaigns, Battles, Raids, and Massacres
Time Periods:
  • Reconstruction

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

H. Allen Anderson, “Buffalo Wallow Fight,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 26, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/buffalo-wallow-fight.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

June 21, 2020