The Greatest Long-Range Shot Ever Made

In June 1874 William "Billy" Dixon used a Sharps rifle in either a .50-70 or .50-90 to make a shot during a battle with Comanches that has been estimated to be nine-tenths of a mile. Several companies currently produce versions of the Sharps rifle in various calibers, like this Model 1874 Buffalo Rifle from Pedersoli.

In June 1874, at a trading post in the Texas Panhandle called Adobe Walls (what is now Hutchinson County, Texas), a group of more than 20 buffalo hunters found themselves besieged by a force of Comanche, Cheyenne, and Kiowa warriors.

According to the book "Life and Adventures of "Billy" Dixon" William "Billy" Dixon, one of the buffalo hunters, described the warriors this way:

“There was never a more splendidly barbaric sight. In after years I was glad that I had seen it. Hundreds of warriors, the flower of the fighting men of the southwestern Plains tribes, mounted upon their finest horses, armed with guns and lances, and carrying heavy shields of thick buffalo hide, were coming like the wind. Over all was splashed the rich colors of red, vermillion and ochre, on the bodies of the men, on the bodies of the running horses. Scalps dangled from bridles, gorgeous war-bonnets fluttered their plumes, bright feathers dangled from the tails and manes of the horses, and the bronzed, halfnaked bodies of the riders glittered with ornaments of silver and brass. Behind this headlong charging host stretched the Plains, on whose horizon the rising sun was lifting its morning fires. The warriors seemed to emerge from this glowing background.”

This painting was done by renowned artist Kim Douglas Wiggins and is called the “Second Battle of Adobe Walls.”photo from wikipedia.org

The warriors’ first attack almost took out the buffalo hunters. This part of the battle was in such close quarters that the hunters’ buffalo rifles didn’t give them an advantage. Historical accounts say they were fighting with pistols and Henry and Winchester lever-action rifles in .44 rimfire. After the hunters drove off the Comanches and others, they kept the warriors at a distance with their Sharps rifles. Three of the hunters had been killed on that the first day.

On the third day after the first attack, 15 warriors rode onto a bluff nearly a mile away to decide how to proceed. This is when Billy Dixon made a shot snipers still study. He had a “Big Fifty” Sharps (either a .50-70 or .50-90). He didn’t have optics or a rangefinder. He had a peep sight. Yet Dixon shot one of the warriors off his horse. “I was admittedly a good marksman, yet this was what might be called a ‘scratch’ shot,” Dixon later said.

Pendersoli makes a reproduction Billy Dixon model Sharps rifle in .50-70 with an octagonal barrel. It sells for about $1,900.

There are disagreements over the exact range of Dixon’s shot. A post-battle survey by a team of U.S. Army surveyors, under the command of Nelson A. Miles, measured the distance at 1,538 yards (nine-tenths of a mile). What is clear is that the warriors were impressed. After that shot the battle was effectively over.