Billy Dixon and the Sharps “Big Fifty”

Billy Dixon and the Sharps “Big Fifty”
Billy Dixon, scout, in his prime.

I considered running this in the “Armchair Editor” section, but because the comment was made during a TV show and a transcript isn’t available, it is impossible to provide the exact quote. The TV program being referred to is a popular western music and poetry show. During this particular episode they interviewed a guest who had a long-time interest in buffalo, buffalo hunting, and Sharps firearms.

Sharps Model 1874 Sporting Rifles.

The questionable comment referred to the famous shot Billy Dixon made at Adobe Walls in 1874. The guest said something to the effect that the Sharps .45-70 was the rifle Dixon used to make his famous shot that killed an Indian almost seven-eighths of a mile away. Later a survey confirmed the distance to be 1538 yards (.87386 of a mile) which is mighty close to seven-eighths (.875) of a mile.

The Sharps 2-1/2 inch .50-caliber cartridge.

Historical events often generate a lot of disagreement, and this shot is no exception. Some writers have suggested it never happened, other say it was the Indian’s horse that Dixon hit, some believe the Indian was killed, and years later an Indian who participated in the fight said that Dixon’s shot did hit the rider but only stunned him.1

This is the famous “long shot bluff” at Adobe Walls, Texas. The distance from the bluff to the point where the photo was taken is 1,538 yards., the same as that at which William Dixon shot an Indian from his horse the day after the Adobe Walls fight, June 27, 1874. Dixon was using a .50 caliber 2-1/2 inch Sharps, and admitted that it was strictly a lucky shot.

However, every account that I’ve seen states that Dixon made the shot with a “Big Fifty” Sharps, not the .45-70 Sharps.2 The “Big Fifty” or sometimes called the “Texas Fifty” was chambered for the S.S. 2-1/2 inch .50/100/425 or the .50/100/473 paper patch cartridge.3 To be specific it means that the straight-sided metallic case was 2-1/2 inches long, the lead bullet was .50 inches in diameter and weighed either 425 or 473 grains, and the powder charge was 100 grains of black powder. This particular firearm was developed by the Sharps Rifle Company at the request of some professional buffalo hunters who wanted a gun with better killing power.

The “Big Fifty” was used by many of the professional hunters during the destruction of the southern herd. The southern herd was found in west Texas from the Panhandle down to below Fort Griffin, Texas, where the systematic killing for the hide market lasted from 1872 through 1878.


  1. Olive K. Dixon,Life of “Billy” Dixon Plainsman, Scout and Pioneer(Dallas, TX: P. L. Turner Company, 1927), 181; Charles M. Robinson III, The Buffalo Hunters (Austin, TX: State House Press, 1995), 87; W. S. Nye, Carbine & Lance: The Story of Old Fort Sill (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1969), 191.
  2. Dixon, Life of “Billy” Dixon, 180; Frank Sellers, Sharps Firearms (Alstead, N.H.: Frank M. Sellers, 1998), 315.
  3. Sellers, Sharps Firearms, 306, 340-341.
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