Some of the Indians who withdrew from the Lyman fight had found
another target a few miles away, as they headed south toward Palo
In the early dawn of September 12, 1874, a group of six white
men riding northeast approached the Washita River on their way
to Camp Supply with dispatches from Col. Miles. Two nights previously
Miles, from his camp on McClellan Creek, five miles north of present-day
McLean, Texas, had sent two noted Army scouts, Billy Dixon and
Amos Chapman, with four enlisted men, Sgt. Woodhall and Privates
Rath, Harrington, and Smith, to report on the continued absence
of the wagon train of supplies under Lyman's guard.
The six men were riding hard to find a place to hide for the
day, as they were traveling at night to avoid Indians on the warpath
in the Panhandle. Suddenly the small group found themselves surrounded
by approximately 125 mounted Kiowa and Comanches warriors.
There was no shelter anywhere, not even a patch of weeds, as
the whole prairie had been burned off a few days before by Indians
retreating from Lt. Baldwin. The couriers' horses were tired from
all-night riding; so a mounted conflict was out. The worst danger
would be in becoming separated so that the Indians could pick
them off one by one. They must dismount and make a stand for their
lives, though it looked futile.
Pvt. Smith, while taking charge of their six horses, was shot
down in the first minutes of the fight. The horses stampeded,
taking with them canteens, haversacks, blankets and coats. Thirty
minutes later every member of the small company had been struck,
one mortally and three others severely wounded.
With odds of 25 to 1 in their favor,the Indians were sure of
victory; so, instead of killing the trapped men and moving on,
they indulged in a game of cat and mouse. Circling their victims
on horseback and firing on a dead run, they prolonged the early
stages of the fight. After a while they desisted and rode away
a short distance to watch.
With this first breathing spell, the five remaining men began
looking around for cover. A mesquite flat several hundred yards
away was the best place, but they realized they would never make
it that far alive. Amos Chapman was down with the bone of his
left knee shattered, Smith was apparently dead on the prairie,
and Billy Dixon had received one wound, a bullet in the calf of
his leg which did not disable him.
It was Dixon who spotted a slight depression several yards away,
a buffalo wallow (where the animals had pawed and rolled around
to escape the summer heat). It was about 10 feet in diameter and
shallow, but it was their only hope for any kind of protection.
One by one the desperate men made a run for the buffalo wallow,
with arrows and bullets whizzing all around, until by noon all
except Smith and Chapman were safely there. As each one dived
into the depression, he started digging furiously with his butcher
knife and his hands to throw up the dirt higher around the perimeter
of the circle, and at the same time to deepen the hole in which
they must crouch. The digging went fast because of the sandy loam,
but was, of necessity, interspersed with firing at the Indians
in order to keep them at a distance. Dixon, a former buffalo hunter,
was renowned for his accuracy with a rifle (Battle of Adobe Walls),
and Indians fell with regularity.
Chapman, too, was a crack shot,but was unable to run for the
wallow because of his wounded knee. His exposed position on the
prairie inhibited his firing to some extent. Dixon , as recorded
in his book, tried several times to run to Chapman but was forced
back each time by a volley of bullets. At last, early in the afternoon,
Dixon said, he made it to Chapman and, using all his ebbing strength,
carried him back through a rain of gunfire to the wallow.
Smith's body still lay face down on the parched ground, but they
decided not to risk lives to bring him in. His gun, lying in the
open some distance from his body, was never captured by an Indian.
If one approached it, he was immediately show down from the wallow.
The Indians, proud of their horsemanship, "circled round
us or dashed past, yelling and cutting all kinds of capers."
They knew Chapman well, since he had lived with the Indians and
had married an Indian woman. He was the "squaw man"
who had warned Harnahan at Adobe Walls of the impending Indian
attack. Frequently the warriors called out to him as they rode
past, "Amos, Amos, we got you now." Occasionally a small
group charged straight at the wallow, spears poised, but each
time the leader was brought down.
The afternoon wore on, and the hot September sun bore down on
the man in the buffalo wallow. Every man was suffering from thirst,
since their water supply had been lost with the horses and, according
to Dixon, "In the stress and excitement of such an encounter,
even a man who is not wounded grows painfully thirsty, and his
tongue and lips are soon as dry as a whetstone." Having overcome
their earlier anxiety and turmoil, they were not "perfectly
cool," each man sitting upright in the wallow to conceal
their crippled condition from the Indians.
They had shot nearly all of their cartridges away and the Indians,
venturing closer at every opening, would soon discover their plight
and overwhelm them in a great howl of victory. Realizing the fate
of live captives in the hands of the Indians, their only thought
in the apparently hopeless situation was to fight to their last
breath. That their steady aim was effective was attested to by
the increasing number of dead horses scattered in a ring of death
By mid afternoon the parched men were so weak from loss of blood
that they could scarcely move. Their thirst was all-consuming,
but still they sat erect, answering bullet for bullet, but hopefully
watching dark clouds approaching from the north.
Just as it seemed that all was lost, that same rainstorm which
had just drenched Lyman's battlefield less than 10n miles across
the Washita now swept over this one. Lightning and thunder dramatized
their salvation, and torrents of cool rain fell upon them. The
rain gathered quickly in their 6-foot square hole, and the men
gratefully slaked their thirst on the muddy water, colored by
blood from their wounds.
Typical of Panhandle weather was the sudden change which followed.
From sweltering heat, the afternoon changed to a sharp cold as
the strong wind shifted to the north. The Indians, who disliked
cold and rain, retreated out of range, drew their blankets tightly
around them, and sat huddled on their ponies. Cold water deepened
in the wallow, and the five hungry, wounded men shivered and ached
as they took stock of their situation.
Ammunition was their immediate concern. Private Rath, taking
advantage of the Indians inattention, ran to Smith's side on the
flat to salvage his rifle, revolver, and ammunition belt. To his
surprise he found Smith still alive. With Dixon's help he managed
to bring the private into their makeshift fortress, where they
realized that a bullet through his lungs had made a mortal wound.
Nevertheless, Smith was propped in an upright position to conceal
how bad his condition was.
At sundown the Indians, cold and wet, disappeared. Dixon and
Rath gathered tumbleweeds brought in by the stiff wind, crushed
them, and made a bed of sorts in the wallow to shield the men
from the damp ground.
In the long, dreadful night of September 12, 1874, Smith, who
in his agony had begged his companions to kill him, quietly died.
The survivors lifted his body outside on the mesquite grass stubble.
Private Rath left the wallow in the dark of night to seek help,
but couldn't find Miles' trail' so he returned in two hours.
The next morning, September 13, was clear and warm without an
Indian in sight. Dixon volunteered to go for help and left the
tattered and crippled group almost defenseless in the wallow.
Within a mile he struck Miles' back trail and soon spotted a large
military outfit in the distance. He attracted its attention by
firing his gun twice. The column turned out to be Maj. Price with
four companies of the Eighth Cavalry from New Mexico, about 225
men in all. Undoubtedly, Price's appearance in the vicinity had
frightened the Indians away from the buffalo wallow as well as
from Lyman's wagons.
Price followed Dixon back to the wallow, but did little to relive
the miserable men, according to Dixon. His surgeon made a brief
examination; the five surviving men needed an ambulance, and Price
had none. Some of Price's soldiers tossed them buffalo meat which
they ate raw, and the major sent a courier to Miles with the news.
Then he moved on. The hapless five men endured another day of
uncertainty and pain in the wallow. Price later explained that
he was in need of supplies himself and was hunting his wagons
at the time Dixon contacted him. His independent command ended
four days later when Price's force was assigned to Col. Miles'
It was midnight of that day, September 18, 1874, before aid came
from Miles and the wounded men received proper medical attention
and food. (That same night Lyman's wagon train across the Washita
was rescued by troops from Camp Supply and also joined Miles the
At that time George Smith's body was wrapped in an army blanket
and buried in the buffalo wallow, where it has remained since.
The wounded men were sent to Camp Supply for treatment. Amos Chapman's
leg was amputated above the knee. The others recovered and continued
with the Army.