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"Me and Red Wing not afraid to go to hell together.
Captain Jack heap brave; not afraid to go to hell by himself."

—Chief Flacco, Lipan Apache guide


JackHayspic.jpg (43481 bytes)At the age of nineteen, Tennessean John (Jack) Coffee Hays emigrated to San Antonio in 1837, where he readily found employment in his profession as a surveyor. At the time the surveyors were also members of a ranging company, or as they were called at the time a spy company. These men were the only protection on the frontier and later came to be known as the Texas Rangers. Due to Hays’ courage, leadership, and endurance, he rapidly rose to the rank of captain. In those early days the Rangers who patrolled the frontier, lived like the Indians they fought; and a position of leadership among the Rangers was achieved only by the consent of the men. As Ranger Rip Ford wrote of Hays in 1885: " No officer ever possessed more completely the esteem, the confidence, and the love of his men".

Hays was an enigma. His boyish appearance and slight build—he was under five foot eight inches tall and weighed barely 150 pounds—belied his attributes as a leader of the hardiest and, of necessity, meanest men on the Texas frontier. Amid the other large and robust Rangers, Hays seemed more like a camp follower. Thin, pale, and restless, he spoke little and ate less. Yet when occasion demanded, he could shoot straighter, fight meaner, ride faster, cuss fouler, yell louder and endure hardships better than any man in his command.

J. W. Wilbarger, a Ranger serving under Hays, wrote in his book Indian Depredation in Texas, published in 1889: "Colonel Hays was especially fitted by nature for this frontier service. He was a man rather under the medium size, but wiry and active and gifted with such an iron constitution that he was able to undergo hardships and exposure without perceptible effect…I have frequently seen him sitting by his camp fire at night in some exposed locality, when rain was falling in torrents, or a cold norther with sleet or snow was whistling about his ears, apparently as unconscious of all discomfort as if he had been seated in some cozy room of a first class hotel; and this, perhaps, when all he had eaten for supper was a hand full of pecans or piece of hard tack. But above all, he was extremely cautious where the safety of his men was concerned, but when it was a mere question of personal danger his bravery bordered closely on rashness."

A year prior to Hays’ arrival in Texas, an event occurred in the Indian Queen Hotel in Washington, D. C., that would change the course of warfare against the Indians. There, twenty one year old Samuel Colt was examining with pride the patent he had just received for his revolving pistol. Five years earlier, when Colt was a sailor aboard a ship bound for Calcutta, he whittled to while away the time, but he was no ordinary whittler. What he fashioned was his model for the weapon that would play a central role in the "winning of the West".

It is unclear when Colt came to Texas to promote his revolver, either in 1839 or 1840. Initially he was unable to find a market for his invention. Captain Hays, however, immediately recognizing the tactical advantage of the weapon, acquired several of the "five-shooters" for himself and his men. Hays and his Rangers, particularly Samuel Walker, tested the weapons and even recommended modifications, which Walker was sent back East to supervise.

In the hands of Jack Hays and his Rangers, the Colt revolver represented a sudden and decisive turn of events in confrontations with the Indian. Prior to acquiring the revolvers, the Rangers had to dismount in order to reload their muzzle-loading rifles, while the Indians, with their bows and arrows, could remain mounted and mobile. Also, it was a common plan of attack for the Indians to draw fire and, while their opponent was reloading, to charge the virtually defenseless adversary.

James Wilson Nichols, a scout in Hays’ command, gives the following description of the training Hays demanded after the Rangers acquired the revolver: "We kept out scouts all the time, when one would come in another would go out, and those not on scout were every day practicing horsemanship and marksmanship. We put up a post about the size of a common man, then put up another about forty yards farther on. We would run our horses full speed and discharge our rifles at the first post, draw our pistols and fire at the second. At first there was some wild shooting but we had not practiced two months until there was not many men that would not put his balls in the center of the posts.

"Then we drew a ring about the size of a mans head and soon every man could put both his balls in the circle. We would practice this awhile, then try riding like the Comanche Indians. After practicing for three or four months we became so perfect that we would run our horses half or full speed and pick up a hat, a coat, a blanket, or rope, or even a silver dollar, stand up in the saddle, throw ourselves on the side of our horses with only a foot and a hand to be seen, and shoot our pistols under the horse’s neck, rise up and reverse, etc."

In the fall of 1841 the twenty three year old Hays camped with his party of twenty Ranger surveyors on Crabapple Creek, not far from Enchanted Rock. Early the next morning a fellow Ranger, Ben McCullouch, overheard Hays talking to his guns—two of Colt’s five-shooters. While giving them a good cleaning, Hays murmured; "I may not need you, but if I do I will need you mighty bad." A short time later Hays rode out alone to inspect the legendary Enchanted Rock. Hays, thoroughly familiar with the Indian and their beliefs, he must have known that if there were any Comanche in the area, they would not tolerate his intrusion on sacred land; furthermore, their reaction to a surveying party would be especially fierce. Needless to say, when the Comanche saw the notorious Jack Hays on their holy mountain with surveying equipment, they were as angry as teased wasps. When the Indians attacked, Hays headed for the summit, where he held out until his companions arrived to finish the fight.

The Comanche hadn’t counted on Hays’ Colts. With two five-shooters and a rifle he was better armed than ten men with muzzle-loading rifles. Especially when you take into account the element of surprise. The Comanche’s old methods of attacking a stranded white where suddenly useless.

According to most accounts, the Comanche lost between ten and twenty warriors in the confrontation. Out gunned and bewildered by the sudden change of events, the Comanche quit the field and sought escape in the labyrinth of Enchanted Rock Cave.

The credit for the victory went to Jack Hays, who couldn’t resist the climb to the summit of Enchanted Rock, alone. But the unsung hero of the day was Samuel Colt.

Texas’ most renowned Ranger, Hays attained the rank of Captain at twenty-three, major at twenty-five, and colonel at thirty-four. In 1849, the year of the gold rush, Hays left Texas for California. He served as sheriff of San Francisco County for four years, and in 1853, President Franklin Pierce appointed Hays Surveyor General of California. As part of his duties, Hays laid out the city of Oakland. It is said his last Indian fight was in Nevada in 1846. Jack Hays died in Piedmont, California, on April 25, 1883.


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(c) 1999   Ira Kennedy   All rights reserved