In the summer of
1924 Johnson’s final journey to Adobe
Walls started where the first one had begun so many years before -- in Dodge
A Swedish immigrant born in 1845, Johnson had come to Dodge
City in the spring of 1874 and opened Western Kansas’ first blacksmith shop. He
ran the business only a few months before selling out to Adam Schmidt after deciding
he could earn a better if more dangerous living hunting buffalo
in Texas. That marked the start of a lifelong friendship
with the Schmidt family, which is why in the spring or early summer of 1924 Johnson
came to Adam’s son Heinrich to ask a favor. Heinrich Schmidt had served as Dodge
City’s postmaster and edited the Daily Globe.
In his prime, Johnson could
shoe a horse, skin a buffalo, grade tanned hides, and wrangle recalcitrant mules.
And later in life he had made a good hand running a cement crew replacing Dodge
City’s old wooden sidewalks with smooth pavement. But he knew nothing of writing
a speech. Accordingly, he approached Schmidt to type up something he could read
when the big day came.
As soon as it was convenient, one night Schmidt
went to Johnson’s two-room frame house on Front Street, just south of Dodge City’s
famous Boot Hill cemetery to interview him about his experiences at Adobe
“We used a large box of matches keeping Andy’s pipe going and
the lamp lighted,” Schmidt later remembered. “It was 2 a.m. when I left his house
and started for home.”
Johnson had made the 150-mile trip many a time
in a wagon, but as the day of the monument dedication approached his friend Tom
Stauth offered to drive him from Dodge to the site of Adobe
When the Kansas men motored to within sight of where the old
trading post had stood, Johnson began to get excited. Stauth hardly had time to
stop his Model T before Johnson bailed out, running almost childlike to spot where
he had fought to save his scalp so many years before.
After taking in the
scene, Johnson and other guests enjoyed a barbeque lunch hosted by W.T. Coble,
whose Turkey Track Ranch took in the Adobe
Walls site. Heartily supporting the monument, Coble had deeded to the Panhandle
Plains Historical Society a plot of land that included the graves of the three
men killed in the fight.
With airplanes circling overhead, the dedication
program began at 1 p.m. When it came time for him to make his talk, Johnson tried
but couldn’t do it. Having lost a battle with himself, Johnson handed his speech
to Gene Howe, editor of the Amarillo Globe-News. Like most everyone else in Kansas,
Johnson knew Howe’s father, writer Ed Howe.
Editor Howe cleared his throat
and started reading Johnson’s narrative.
the morning of June 27, 1874, at 2 o’clock…the ridge pole in Hanrahan’s saloon
broke with such a loud noise that it woke every man in the camp,” he read.
To keep the roof from caving in, Johnson and others got on top and threw off as
much dirt as they could. That didn’t take long and everyone went back to bed.
But Billy Dixon, who planned
on leaving later that morning for Dodge City with a load of hides, decided he
might as well just stay up. That proved providential.
the Indians coming up the river between the high bluffs east of the battleground
and the river bed,” Howe continued. “He gave the alarm and we immediately began
preparations to ward off the attack.”
What Johnson saw that morning struck
him as beautiful in an awful sort of way, and he still remembered it clearly.
“In full war paint it was a colorful scene, one that will never again be duplicated,”
Howe went on. “Many of [the Indians] were armed with rifles…and revolvers, many
carried bows and arrows and many carried…lances.”
After the fight began,
he continued, “the action for thirty or forty minutes was too brisk for anyone
to describe. Each man was too busy to notice what the others were doing.”
Finally, after Dixon killed one of their
leaders, the Indians gave up.
Johnson was back in Dodge City for good by
1878 when the last shipment of 40,000 buffalo hides left town. The buffalo
nearly extinct, Johnson turned to other ways to make a living.
On June 12, 1925 -- less than a year later after the dedication of the monument
at Adobe Walls -- Johnson
joined his fellow defenders in death. He’s buried in Dodge City’s Maple Grove
Cox - June
7, 2012 column
Texas | Texas
History | Texas
People | Texas Town List | Columns