Dixon, William (1850–1913)

By: T. C. Richardson

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: December 1, 1994

William (Billy) Dixon, scout, plainsman, buffalo hunter, and Indian fighter, was born in Ohio County, West Virginia, on September 25, 1850. He was orphaned at twelve and lived with his uncle Thomas Dixon in Ray County, Missouri, until the fall of 1864, when he worked in woodcutters' camps along the Missouri River until he secured employment from government freight contractors in Kansas as a bullwhacker and muleskinner. Except for a year (1866) spent working on the McCall family's farm near Leavenworth, when he obtained some formal schooling, Dixon followed this occupation until the fall of 1869. He was a skilled marksman and occasionally scouted for eastern excursionists brought out by the railroads for buffalo hunting. In November 1869 he joined a venture in hunting and trapping on the Saline River northwest of Fort Hays. In 1870 buyers offered a dollar each for buffalo cow hides and two dollars for bull hides, and Dixon's marksmanship made hide hunting highly profitable. He invested in a road-ranch or supply store, a merchandising venture that was successful until 1871, when, during Dixon's absence, the store manager, Billy Reynolds, sold out and departed with the proceeds.

At one time Dixon probably had as many as four or five skinners in his employ. He had scouted Texas as far south as the Salt Fork of the Red River when the buffalo hunters moved into the Texas Panhandle in 1874. He and his group hunted along the Canadian River and its tributaries in the vicinity of the new Adobe Walls, the supply post established by businessmen and buffalo hunters near the South Canadian about a mile and a half from the remains of the old Adobe Walls trading post, built about 1843 by William Bent. It was said that after the spring migrations occurred, Dixon could shoot enough buffalo to keep ten skinners busy, and he found Adobe Walls a convenient place to store his wagonloads of hides hauled in from the field. He was one of the twenty-eight men who with one woman participated in the second battle of Adobe Walls in 1874, fighting from inside James Hanrahan's saloon. The story of how he became a hero two days into the battle, when a bullet from his Sharps buffalo rifle knocked an Indian off his horse nearly a mile away, is perhaps exaggerated. Dixon himself never claimed credit for his "long shot."

Despite a partnership proposal from Hanrahan, Dixon did no more hide hunting after the battle. While he was in Dodge City early in August 1874, Gen. Nelson A. Miles enlisted his services as a scout in the detachment commanded by Lt. Frank D. Baldwin. In September the command was on McClellan Creek when Miles sent Dixon, Amos Chapman, and four enlisted men with dispatches to carry to Camp Supply. Near Gageby Creek on the second day out they encountered a large war party of Comanches and Kiowas, who surrounded them in the Buffalo Wallow Fight. Dixon was among the five survivors awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism in that engagement.

He was present at the rescue of the German sisters from the Cheyennes on McClellan Creek on November 8, 1874. He was with the party that selected the site of Fort Elliott in the spring of 1875 and was attached to that post for duty when he guided the Nolan expedition in pursuit of the Comanches in August 1877. His knowledge of the country saved the command when he led the men to water at Double Lakes on the Llano Estacado.

Dixon returned to civilian life in 1883, worked on the Turkey Track Ranch, built a home near the site of the original Adobe Walls, planted an orchard and thirty acres of alfalfa that he irrigated from Bent's Creek, and became postmaster at Adobe Walls, a position he held for twenty years. In 1901 he was elected the first sheriff of the newly formed Hutchinson County but resigned in disgust at the political strife aroused in connection with the organization of the county. In addition, he served as a state land commissioner and justice of the peace for the area around Hutchinson, Gray, and Roberts counties. He and S. G. Carter operated a ranch-supply store at the house. On October 18, 1894, he married Olive King Dixon of Virginia, who for three years thereafter was the only woman living in Hutchinson County. They had seven children.

The family moved to Plemons in 1902 to provide schooling for their children. Small-town life proved irksome to the former scout, and in 1906 he went to homestead in the open spaces of Oklahoma. During his last years Dixon reportedly lived near poverty, and friends tried to obtain a pension for him. On March 9, 1913, he died of pneumonia at his Cimarron County homestead; he was buried in the cemetery at Texline by members of his Masonic lodge. On June 27, 1929, his remains were reinterred at the Adobe Walls site. Dixon Creek in southern Hutchinson County is named for him, as is the Billy Dixon Masonic Lodge in Fritch. Personal artifacts from his scouting days are housed in both the Hutchinson County Museum in Borger and the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon.

T. Lindsay Baker and Billy R. Harrison, Adobe Walls: The History and Archaeology of the 1874 Trading Post (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1986). Olive K. Dixon, Life of "Billy" Dixon (1914; rev. ed., Dallas: P. L. Turner Company, 1927; facsimile of original ed., Austin: State House, 1987). Hutchinson County Historical Commission, History of Hutchinson County, Texas (Dallas: Taylor, 1980). Mrs. Sam Isaacs, "Billy Dixon: Pioneer Plainsman," Frontier Times, June 1939. John L. McCarty, Adobe Walls Bride (San Antonio: Naylor, 1955). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.


  • Exploration
  • Explorers (American)
  • Peoples
  • Native American
  • Military
  • Soldiers

Time Periods:

  • Reconstruction

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

T. C. Richardson, “Dixon, William,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 22, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/dixon-william.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1994