My Genealogy Home Page:Information about Thomas Dixon
Home Page |Surname List |Index of Individuals | |Sources
Thomas Dixon (b. 11 Apr 1841, d. 24 Jan 1878)Thomas Dixon (son of James Baughman "Jim" Dixon and Susan Copple)17992, 17993, 17994, 17995, 17996, 17997, 17998, 17999, 18000, 18001, 18002, 18003 was born 11 Apr 1841 in Shelby County, IN18004, 18005, 18006, 18007, 18008, 18009, 18010, 18011, 18012, and died 24 Jan 1878 in Steins Mountain, Grant County, OR18013, 18014, 18015, 18016, 18017.
Notes for Thomas Dixon:
Notes for THOMAS H. DIXON: The following was taken from "The Umpqua TRAPPER" publication of the Dou g las county (Oregon) Historical Society, 1966, Volume III."The Saga of Tom Dixon"by G. B. Abdill
The family cemetery of the Dixons lies nestled among the oaks overlooking the North Umpqua river, not far west of the place where
Clover Creek discharges into the Umpqua. It is a peaceful site, the silence broken only by the call of the quail and the drumming of a
woodpecker seeking grubs in a decaying oak. Moss cottles the marble stone which marks the resting place of James and Susan Dixon and
around the graves of these pioneers of Douglas County other markers preserve the memory of their relatives and friends who have
passed to their final rest.
James Dix on, the patriarch of the clan, was b: Crooked Lake, NY- July 4th, 1803, the son of a Revolutionary War veteran. He m: Susan
Copple and after living in IN for some time, the family moved to MO. James Dixon came to OR in 1850, accompanied by his son, John ,
and daughters Sarah and Elizabeth. Leaving the 3 children in Portland, James Dixon returned to his home via the Isthmus of Panama and
in 1852 he came back to OR across the plains, bringing his wife and children; in the train of wagons making this journey was James
Dixon's brother, Hiram Dixon, who brought his wife and children; the Ziba Dimmick family, the John short family, the Powells, the Pughs,
and others. After wintering in the Willamette Valley, James Dixon came to the Umpqua country in 1853 and purchased a land claim from a
squaw man named Rowland, paying the man $1,000 for his squatters rights.
The Hiram Dixon family settled nearby, as did the Short family. The two daughters who had accompanied James Dixon on his first trip to
Oregon both married: Sarah Dixon became the wife of Captain George Washington Shaver, the noted Oregon steam boat operator, and
Elizabeth Dixon m: Captain William Irving, head of the noted British Columbia steamboat family. The 5 sons of James and Susan Dixon
all came to Douglas County with their parents and engaged in ranching and stock raising; these boys were: John, Thomas H., Rafael B.,
Enos, and Riley Dixon.
It is with Tom Dixon, the 2nd of these sons, that our story lies. The dust has long since settled over the trail of Tom Dixon and many of
the events of his last days have been dimmed by the passing of time, but what follows is an attempt to present the stories and accounts in
an effort to document his history.
The Dixons raised cattle in Douglas County, and trailed them east across the Cascades to the open grazing hand of southeastern
Oregon. Here the herds were fattened in the Steen's Mountain region, then driven to the shipping point at Winnemucca, NV.In 1878 Tom
Dixon was trailing a herd east, accompanied by his 17-year old nephew, Lincoln Shaver; also in the trail drive was a hired man named
Higgison--thidentity of this man is uncertain, varied accounts giving his name as Nixon, Harrison, Neckleson, etc. According to an account
left by Lincoln Shaver, John Dixon was probably in the Steen's Mountains area waiting the arrival of the trail herd; the Dixon ranch was
located on the east side of the Steen's, between Mann's Lake and Barren Valley.
As Tom Dixon and his riders trailed their herd eastward the flames of the Bannock Indian was spread rapidly west to meet them. Led by
the noted war chief, Egan , the warriors moved across the Owyhee River and headed for the Steen's Mountains, stealing horses, burning
isolated ranches, and killing any unfortunate white man in their path. Rumors of the Indian advance reached John Dixon and he sent a
rider west to intercept Tom Dixon and the trail herd, informing him of the approach of the hostiles and advising him to drop the cattle and
not attempt to bring them on to the Dixon range.
Tom Dix on was a man who did not frighten easily. Born in Shelby County, IN, he had been 11 years old when he accompanied his
parents west over the Oregon Trail; now, in the spring of 1878, he was 37 years of age, unmarried, and an experienced cattleman. Scanning the horizon for any indication of danger, he kept moving his herd slowly through the valley of the Donner und Blitzen River.
About 4 miles ahead of him vaqueros led by Pete French, noted cattleman, were engaged in working stock near French's big Diamond
Ranch. Just as French and his crew were saddling up for the day's work, a rider came flying into camp with news that a war party of
Paiutes was rapidly approaching. French put up a running fight, which enabled his men to escape toward the P Ranch, headquarters for
French's vast cattle empire. The only casualty was the Chinese cook who, unaccustomed to riding , fell from his horse and was killed by
the Indians while hiding under a little bridge.
Warned by some of the fleeing riders, Tom Dixon and his crew abandoned their camp wagons and cattle and retreated south to the Home
Creek cattle ranch of David Shirk. According to Lincoln Shaver, a sod breastworks was erected at the Shirk ranch and the Dixon party spent
several days here, awaiting an attack that never materialized . David Shirk's written account (in which he confuses Tom Dixon with his
brother, John Dixon) states that Dixon and one of his crew. Higgison, decided to return to their abandoned wagons to see what had become
of them. Accord ing to Shirk, Higgison's wife and child had recently died at Roseburg and he was anxious to secure some mementos of
them that he had left in the wagon when the drovers had fled before the approaching Indians. Shirk loaned this man a horse, but Dixon
refused the offer of a similar loan, preferring to travel on his big riding mule. William Shirk, a younger brother of Dave Shirk, accompanied
the two men.
The three proceeded cautiously, but discovered no sign of hostiles and eventuall y reached their abandoned camp wagons, which the
marauding warriors had evidently missed. Horses were hitched up and the men started back toward the Shirk ranch, William Shirk riding
some distance ahead. The rifle he had been carrying was left in one of the Dixon wagons. Without warning, Indians hidden in the junipers
opened fire on Shirks, one report stating that a rifle ball clipped a lock of hair from his head just above his ear. His horse jumped at the
first fire and Shirk's pistol fell from the holster, leaving him unarmed. After a wild ride and a narrow escape, William Shirk out-distanced his
pursuers and made his way back to his brother's ranch on Home Creek .
Dixon and his helper failed to show up; when Shirk had last seen them, they were about 4 miles behind him, moving along a plateau.
After several more days of anxious waiting, David Shirk led a party of cattlemen out to search for the missing men. They located them at
the crossing of a stream - most sources say the Blitzen River, but there is some evidence that the stream may have been Krumbe Creek, a
tributary of the Donner und Blitzen. Higgison was found dead, apparently shot as he sat in his wagon while permitting his team to drink
from the stream. He had been scalped and his body mutilated, and Shirk believed the man had been killed by Indians lying in ambush at
In the limited (750 copies) edition of the book, "The Cattle Drives of David Shirk", edited by Martin F. Schmitt and published by the
Champoeg Press of Portland in 1956, Dave Shirk has left his version of the last earthly moments of Tom Dixon, "When the first shots were
fired, Dixon evidently leaped from his wagon and tried to gain cover in the willows that bordered the stream. His body was found about a
hundred feet from the willows, and every sign pointed to the fact that he had died a horrible death. His limbs were drawn up, and his
features terribly contorted, displaying unmistakably the pangs of which he died. I made a couple of rough boxes and interred the bodies of
the ill -fated men as best I could. Later, the bodies were taken up and removed to Roseburg, OR, their old home, and given decent
Shirk also mentions the wantonness of the Indians, relating how the war parties shot cattle they did not want to drive off. Quoting Shirk's
account, "As an instance of utter wantonness, the case of Mr. Dixon, brother of the man murdered at the crossing of the Blixen River, will
serve as an example. He owned a horse ranch on the east side of Stein Mountain, between Mann Lake and Barren Valley. There the
Indians corralled sixty of his best bred Oregon horses, animals weighing from 1400 to 1600 pounds, and killed every one of them."The
story of Tom Dixon does not end with his death near the willows bordering the eastern Oregon watercourse where he fell before the hail of
death fired by the Indians as he bravely dashed toward a place of shelter where he could make his last desperate stand. Before w e move
onto the final chapter of his saga, it might be well to discuss the date on which he died.
His tombstone gives this date as "June 24, 1878".David Shirk's story relates that the horse he had loaned to Tom Dixon's companion,
Higgison, was later found dead on the battlefield on Silver Creek, after the sharp engagement fought there between the Indians under Chief
Egan and the troopers led by Col. Barnard on Jun 23rd, 1878.In his fine book, "Cattle Country of Peter French", author Giles French
details the death of rancher George Smyth and his son, John at the hands of the Indians in their burning ranch house in Happy Valley
(George Smyth was the father-in-law of Stilly Riddle), then goes on to describe the attack of Pete French and his crew, giving the date of the
attack on French as July 14th, 1878. Giles French write, "Later that day the Paiutes killed Tom Dixon and a man named Harrison (sic), who
were fishing in the Blitzen River."
French goes on to relate how Peter French and his crew retreated to Fort Harney, where Pete French was made a scout under Colonel
Bernard and took part in the battle of Silver Creek on Sunday, June 23rd, 1878, thus contradicting his own date in regard to the previous
attack on French and his crew at the Diamond Ranch.George F. Brimlow, in his book , "Harney County, Oregon, And Its Range Land" ,
covers the attack on Peter French's crew, stating that, "two Dixon brothers and their Indian hand called Joe" were among the men who fled
with French from the Diamond Ranch. He gives no date for this attack, but later states that John South, foreman of a bunch of buckaroos
camped at the Malheur Slough, rode south to the Diamond Ranch, discovering the body of the scalped Chinese cook , and while on his way
to the P Ranch he, " [...] warned Tom Dixon and another man (named Nixon or Harrison), camped near the river. Disdainful of danger, the
pair soon met death at the hands of Indians."
Brimlow, too, records that Pete French and his men were on hand at Fort Harney and joined the scouts under Orlando ("Rube") Robbins
and the troops led by Captain Reuben F. Bernard, U.S.A., prior to the battle of Silver Creek on June 23rd, 1878. Sifting the jumbled versions
of the affair, evidence strongly points to the fact that the death of Tom Dixon and his companion occurred during the last half of the month
of June 1878, rather than on the July 14th date commonly given. The date of June 21st, given on the Tom Dixon's grave marker, is likely
Lincoln Shaver, Tom Dixon's nephew, escaped the Indians and on or about the 10th of September 1878, joined in a trail drive of cattle to
Winnemucca; after the herd was delivered, he went to San Francisco and boarded the old steamer, 'CITY OF CHESTER', for the trip home
to Portland. On the Nehalem River, the steamer broke her main shaft and drifted helplessly until taken in tow by the steamer, 'LITTLE
CALIFORNIA'and brought safely in to Astoria. What with the excitement of cattle drives, Indian wars, and near marine disaster, it had been
quite a year for the 17-year old Lincoln Shaver, who later became Chief Engineer of the Shave Transportation Company steamboats.
When the news of Tom Dixon's death reached Roseburg, plans were made to return his body for burial. From the recollections of
descendants of the Dixon, Short, and Strader families the following sequel of the Tom Dixon story evolves.
Libert y ("Lib") Short and Riley ("Rile") Dixon set out from Roseburg to return the remains of Tom Dixon, "Rile" Dixon being a brother of
the deceased . According to one version, this pair only got as far as Lakeview, on Goose Lake, where the threat of continued Indian
hostility caused them togive up the trip and return home. The next attempt to retrieve the remains was made by George W. Short, Sr., and
a son of the murdered Higgison who was killed with Dixon. This pair made the trip to the Steen's Mountains in a buckboard, located the
graves of Dixon and Higgison, dug up the remains, and started home. The journey was an exciting one, reportedly made in the chill of
winter. One night Short and Higgison camped at a straw stack where a number of hogs had taken shelter, possibly at the site of one of the
ranches destroyed by the Indians. Although opposed by Short, young Higgison kindled a fire; Short feared that the blaze might draw the
attention of roving bands of Indians still at large in the desert. During the night the pair detected a suspicious figure among their horses
and when George Short cocked his rifle a man cried out, "Don 't shoot!".
Suspecting the man to be a horse thief, they forced him to remain with them and the hogs in the straw until daybreak.Another night was
spent at one of Peter French's cattle ranches and more excitement was in store here. One of French's Mexican vaqueros reportedly stole a
bottle of whiskey from the Short party and got drunk. An argument ensued and the Mexican drew a gun. Enter now Tom Strader, whose role
is still not clear;whether he had accompanied Short from Roseburg or whether he had been in the Malheur region, perhaps with John
Dixon, and had jo ined the Short party in recovering Tom Dixon's remains is unknown.
At any rate, Strader seized a singletree and struck the Mexican over the head, knocking him senseless. About this time Peter French
himself arrived on the scene and when the affair was explained to him, the hot-tempered little cattle baron proceeded to literally stomp up
and down with his boot heels on the prostrate form of his vaquero who had created such a breach of the proverbial French hospitality.
From the French ranch the party drove on to Fort Harney, where they reportedly spent another night. Quite a number of Indians were being
held under guards at that post, and signal fires from hostile bands not yet captured were visible on various peaks. Once during the trip
Stanley Short of Wilbur relates that his father saw some Indians driving off a band of cattle, but the men in the buckboard either escaped
detection or were avoided by the natives.
The party reportedly made their way north to The Dalles, probably coming down the Columbia River by steamboat. Arriving in Portland,
the men drove south through the Willamette Valley, leaving Higgison's son and the remains of Higgison at Salem.The buckboard bearing
Tom Dixon's remains, drawn by a little white driving team flecked with spots, finally arrived in Roseburg and the unfortunate young
rancher's last ride was over.He was laid to rest in a plot in the family cemetery, close to the raw earth covering in the grave of his mother,
for Susan Copple Dixon had passed away on March 10th, 1878, only a few months before the death of her son. Tom Dixon had been a
popular young man in Douglas County, and a host of friends and relatives mourned his passing.
A tall marble shaft topped his tombstone, and on the base was carved the following:Thos. H. DixonBornIn Shelby County, IN- April
11, 1841Killed by the Indians at Stein's Mountain, Grant County, Ogn.June 24, 1878The engraving on the stone uses the old spelling
of Stein's Mountain, but this rugged chain of peaks thrusting up from the floor of the desert rangelands was named for Major Enoch Steen
of the United States Army and the current spelling uses the form of Steen's Mountain.
Dixon's headstone also locates the place of his death in "Grant County" and this was correct at the time, for while the site is now in
Harney County the latter county was not created until 1889.James Dixon, the father of Thomas Dixon, was laid to rest within the protecting
iron fence surrounding the graves of his son and his wife, having died on June 21st, 1895. Near their plots lie the graves of a Chinese
cook long employed on the Dixon ranch and one or two Indian ranch hands, marked only by a blaze on an oak tree.In recent years the
Dixon cemetery suffered damage at the hands of irresponsible young vandals. Today the final resting place of these early Douglas County
pioneers is cared for by Mrs. Myrtle Dixon Kent of Roseburg, a niece of Tom Dixon and the granddaughter of James and Sarah Copple
Dixon.And so Tom Dixon is home sleeping away Eternity in the quiet solitude on the banks of the North Umpqua, far removed from the scene of his tragic death at the hands of the Indians in the open range country of eastern Oregon.
Notes from G . B. Abdill (The writer is indebted to Mrs. Myrtle Dixon Kent, Claude, George and Stanley Short, Frank, Phil and Roy Strader, and others for information and pictures related to the story of Tom Dixon.)
More About THOMAS H. DIXON: Burial: Dixon Family cemetery - Dixonville , Oregon Census: 1870, Deer Creek Precinct, Douglas County, Oregon, age 27, farmer, place of birth MO.
More About Thomas Dixon:
Ancestral File #: 8H2S-PF.18018, 18019