When I think of Texas, one of the first things that comes to mind are the Texas Rangers, and the first Ranger that comes to mind is John Coffee “Jack” Hays. He was everything that the Ranger legend says a man should be, but in his case, the man lives up to the legend. Hays was a Ranger, soldier, businessman, and politician, who moved from Tennessee to Texas and then to Northern California, and managed to make history every step of the way.
John Hays was born in Wilson County, Tennessee in 1817 into a prominent family. His father served during the War of 1812, and his Uncle, John Hays, for whom he was named, served under Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans.
In 1836, Hays moved to the Republic of Texas, where Sam Houston appointed him to the Texas Rangers. As a Ranger Captain, he led his company in many skirmishes against the Comanche, but the most famous was the Battle at Plum Creek. The Comanche were led by Buffalo Hump and had carried out numerous raids into South Texas, where they had accumulated a huge herd of horses and many other plundered items. As they were trying to make their way back to the Llano Estacado, they were confronted near present day Lockhart by Hays and his Rangers, who were joined by a Texas militia. At the end of the battle, the Comanche were able to escape with some of the horses, though many were recovered and over eighty Comanche lay dead on the battle field.
During the Mexican War, Jack Hays commanded several companies of Rangers. Participating in several key battles, Hays and his Rangers won many victories, which cemented the reputations of both the Rangers and Hays. During battles at Monterrey, Mexico City, and Matamoros, the Rangers decisively beat back far superior forces. Another Texas Legend was born during this war as well when Hays was the first to field test the Colt Patterson revolver. His use of the Patterson was also the impetus for him to introduce Samuel Walker to Samuel Colt, which led to the development of the famous Walker Colt.
In 1849, Jack Hays led a group of Forty-Niners from Texas to California. In 1850, he was elected Sheriff of San Francisco California, which led him into local politics. In 1853, he was elected surveyor-general for California, and he amassed a fortune from real estate dealings and ranching. During the 1860’s, he commanded a force of volunteer soldiers and retired from military service with the start of the Civil War. On April 21, 1883, John Coffee “Jack” Hays died in California and was laid to rest in Oakland.
Jack Hays was a man of action, just like his adopted home state of Texas, and his exploits built the fighting reputations of himself and the Texas Rangers. He set the example that generations of Texas Rangers would follow, enabling them to bring law and order to the untamed frontier, so in that sense, he helped lay the foundation for all that the great state of Texas would become. Texas has many institutions that are at the very heart of who we are as Texans, but none elicits more feelings of pride than the Texas Rangers.