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 City, Kansas.
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
“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
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
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
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.
“Billy…observed 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
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 Cemetery.
© Mike Cox
7, 2012 column