The Kansas Historical Society, Kansas Anthropological Association, Ellis County Historical Society, and Fort Hays State University Department of History and Department of Geosciences are teaming up to sponsor the 2013 Kansas Archeology Training Program field school, June 1-16, 2013.
The site of Billy Dixon’s trading post (14EL311) south of Hays in Ellis County has been selected for investigation. Components will include a block excavation of dugouts and other features, survey of a segment of the Smoky Hill Trail, an artifact processing lab, classes, and associated programs.
William “Billy” Dixon was born in Ohio County, West Virginia on September 25, 1850. He was orphaned at age 12 and set out on his own at 14. He was an oxen driver and mule skinner, a skilled marksman and scout. In 1869 he joined a hunting and trapping venture on the Saline River northwest of Fort Hays. Dixon scouted the Texas Panhandle for the Army, hunted buffalo for the train companies, defended the Adobe Walls settlement against Indian attack with his legendary buffalo rifle, and was one of eight civilians in the history of the U.S. to receive the Medal of Honor. He married Olive King in 1894, and they had seven children. In later life his occupations included justice of the peace, postmaster, and sheriff. Dixon died from pneumonia at his Cimarron County, Oklahoma, homestead on March 9, 1913, at age 62. On his deathbed he told his complete life story to his wife Olive, and in 1927 she published Life of “Billy” Dixon, Plainsman, Scout and Pioneer. In this book a brief reference was made to the trading post site (sometimes known as Whiskey Ranch) that will be investigated during the 2013 KATP field school.
We moved south of Hays City about ten miles and came to a boiling spring that flowed from an opening in solid rock. Here we decided to make our permanent camp for the winter, so we built a picket house and a big dugout, expecting to dry a lot of buffalo meat for market, but finally abandoned this scheme. Our camp was on a main-traveled road leading to Hays City. Freighters and hunters urged me to establish a road ranch or store, where such supplies as were used in that country could be purchased in reasonable quantities. Having some spare money, I stocked up with tobacco, whiskey and a general line of groceries, and employed a man named Billy Reynolds to run the place for me, while I devoted my time to killing buffaloes. Many a jolly company gathered at the road ranch at the boiling spring. The sale of whiskey was a common practice in those days, as whiskey was freely used by frontiersmen, and its sale was expected as a matter of course. Other conditions were too hard and too pressing for the question of the morals of the traffic to be raised as it was in later years, when the country became more thickly settled, and an entirely new order of things was established.
I was well acquainted with Reynolds and liked him, having formed his acquaintance on the Custer expedition to Camp Supply in 1868, when he was a mule-driver. He was a friendly, whole-souled kind of fellow, and knew just how to treat men to get their trade. I made good money out of this venture until 1871, when the income abruptly and permanently ceased—during my absence Reynolds sold the whole outfit and skipped the country, without even telling me good-bye. I had been absent two weeks when I returned one day to find only the empty building. I never again heard of Billy Reynolds. I doubt that his robbing me was ever to his final advantage. Money obtained in that way never brought good luck, even in the Plains country, where men were judged by rougher standards than prevailed farther east.