Over the last 160 years the phrase Adobe Walls has become a metaphor for a place name that stirs images of the historical American West. What began as a trade venture between Anglos and the Indians of the southern High Plains ultimately turned in to the epitome of conflict between Native Americans and the settlers of the new frontier.
The first trading post along the Canadian, actually called Bent Fort, was established by William Bent
and Ceran St. Vrain on the north side of the Canadian River in what is today modern Hutchinson county. Bent and St. Vrain's original objective was to trade with the Comanches and Kiowas in the area. Whether it was too early for Anglos to trade with the Indians or they simply didn't want intruders in their hunting grounds, the Adobe Walls story is one of conflict.
Trade at the original Bent Fort at Adobe Walls was conducted from a teepee and later from more improved structures. The second was an eighty square foot structure built by Mexican adobe makers brought from the New Mexico territory. By the early 1870's a much more elaborate set of structures dominated the landscape. There was a hide yard, a blacksmith shop, a saloon and probably numerous residences in the area.
By 1848 after numerous temporary uses of the site, William Bent sent another group to the Canadian River to attempt a successful venture. Kit Carson
and Lucien Maxwell attempted to use the location but the Jicarilla Apaches in the area were resistant and the shipment of merchandise was cached with Carson and Maxwell returning to Bent's Fort in Colorado.
A final attempt by Bent to occupy the post failed because of the arrogance of the local Comanches. Bent ultimately destroyed the main structure at the site, leaving an untimely landmark as a reminder to any white man who ventured into the area.
The danger of Adobe Walls along the Canadian River is manifested in the fact that it was a crossroads of native tribes like the Apaches, Comanches and Kiowas who hunted the buffalo seasonally and used the flat plains to graze their live stock. It also sat atop the major trade routes of local Comancheros and was in a dangerous proximity to the Santa Fe Trail used by Anglo traders as well. On November 26, 1864 Kit Carsonand a force of 400 troops and Ute and Jicarilla allies attacked between 3,000 and 7,000 Kiowa, Comanche and Kiowa-Apaches camped in the Adobe Walls area.
The attack was in retaliation to Indian raids on Santa Fe wagontrains which the Indians felt were encroaching upon their territorial hunting grounds. The battle was the largest engagement of US troops and Indians on the Southern Plains.
After suffering through a nighttime snowstorm without fires to warm them, Carson's men attacked at 8:30 am and immediately routed Chief Dohasan's Kiowa camp of about 150 lodges. The alarm was spread by Indians to neighboring Comanche camps and the two sides traded attacks throughout the day. Chiefs Dohasan, Satanta and Little Bear led the Indians in counterattacks and Carson's men were able to hold their position at the ruins of Adobe Walls with the help of howitzers brought along for the fight.
Greatly outnumbered, and with artillery support from Lt George Pettis, Carson's forces retreated on November 27 with losses of three dead and twenty five wounded. Indian casualties were between 100 and 150. Carson's operation was commended by General Carleton, commander of the military units in New Mexico, as a great achievement and a decisive victory. The action didn't halt Indian dominance in the region. The Indians in the area were still powerful and would be for another decade.
Around March, 1874 a group of merchants from the Dodge City area followed buffalo hunters to the Adobe Walls area and built a large complex to support the hunters. Two stores, a blacksmith shop, a corral and a saloon supported by about three hundred hunters. On June 27, 1874, about 700 Cheyenne, Comanche and Kiowas attacked the compound and laid seige to the hunters for several days. Led by Comanche Chief Quanah Parker
and medicine man, Isa-tai, the initial fight lasted no longer than half a day. During the seige, legends tell us that buffalo hunter Billy Dixon shot an Indian off his horse from nearly a mile away. As word spread among the hunting parties in the region about a hundred hunters gathered to support the besieged compound.
Reluctance to continue the battle led the Indians to retreat. The attack and seige was what actually led to the Red River Wars of 1874-75 and resulted in the the defeat of the Southern Plains Indians.
The primary reference source for this article is the Handbook of Texas Online.