Thursday, January 23, 2020

John Coffee "Capt. Jack" Hays -- Part Two

A Remarkable American Hero

John Coffee Hays was born on January 28th, 1817, at a place called Little Cedar Lick in Tennessee. His father was Harmon A. Hays who fought in the War of 1812. If you're wondering where his name came from, John Coffee was actually named after General John Coffee. The reason for this is that John Coffee Hayes was a second cousin of the General's wife.

In fact, General John Coffee married Mary Donelson. She was related to President Andrew Jackson's wife, Rachel Donelson Robards. So as for relatives, since President Andrew Jackson's wife Rachel was John Coffee Hayes' great aunt -- subsequently President Jackson was his great uncle. So yes, he was named after General John Coffee.

By the age of fifteen, he had moved to Mississippi and began to attend school to learn surveying. Surveying was not something taken up by those wanting to lead safe lives. It was an occupation that was dangerous and took a great deal of bravery. Great Americans such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln all started out as surveyors. For Hays, like Washington, his knowledge of the land and Indian fighting which he would learn surveying would later help him serving as a citizen soldier in Texas. In fact, he is said to later mix his knowledge of surveying into his Ranger career. He got most of his surveying education at Davidson Academy in Nashville, Tennessee.

By 1836, at the age of 19, he decided to join with the freedom fighters which Mexico saw as rebels fighting for Independence in Texas. Yes indeed, one man's freedom fighter is another man's rebel. Thankfully, John Coffee Hays was on the side of right at the time -- just as his entire life would be. It was that same year that he migrated to Texas. In 1836, he traveled to New Orleans and then entered Texas at Nacogdoches just in time to join the Texian troops under Thomas J. Rusk.

The Goliad Massacre was a horrible event that took place during the Texas Revolution. On March 27th, 1836, right after the Battle of Coleto, over 425 Texas prisoners of war were mercilessly executed by the Mexican Army in the town of Goliad, Texas. Those men were all part of the Texian Army of the Republic of Texas. The massacre was orders by General and President of Mexico Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. It was carried out by Lt. Colonel José Nicolás de la Portilla.

Lt. Colonel José Nicolás de la Portilla ordered that the almost 445 Texian soldiers be marched out of Fort Defiance in three columns on the Bexar Road, San Patricio Road, and the Victoria Road, between two rows of Mexican soldiers. They were halted and then shot at point blank range. Those who were not killed instantly, and were only wounded, were clubbed and knifed to death. It is said that the entire Texian force was killed with the exception of 20 or so men who actually feigned death and then escaped to tell the story of what took place there.

Now, before people write to say that my spelling of Texan is wrong, "Texians" were White settlers of Mexican Texas which later became the Republic of Texas. Mexican settlers there during that era are referred to as "Tejanos." Modern day residents of Texas are known as "Texans."

As a part of Thomas J. Rusk's Texian troops, when John Coffee Hays' unit arrived in Goliad, it's said they were tasked with helping to bury those who massacred but weren't even given the respect of being buried. As for the carnage, the smell, the sight before them when they arrived, it probably resembled Hell itself. 

While some say Sam Houston appointed him as a member of a company of Texas Rangers because Houston is said to have known the Hays family from Tennessee, it is known that young John Coffee Hays also gave a letter of introduction to Sam Houston. That letter also served as a letter of recommendation from Hays's great uncle, then-President Andrew Jackson. Houston advised Hays to join a company of Rangers under Erastus (Deaf) Smith. Smith's unit was seeing service from San Antonio to the Rio Grande under orders from Col. Henry W. Karnes. 

It was during that time that John Coffee Hays is said to have tried to learn as much as he could about warfare and tactics used by the Indians. So by mid-1836, Hays was serving as a Ranger under Erastus "Deaf" Smith. During that time, one of the first skirmishes that he took part in was with the Mexican Cavalry where he assisted in the capture of Juan Sánchez. Some say it was because of his bravery and knowledge that he was appointed deputy surveyor of the Bexar District while a Ranger.

It should be noted that Jack Coffee Hayes became a Texas Ranger about the same time as others who would also become legendary Rangers. Those men were Ben McCulloch, John S. "Rip" Ford, and Sam Walker. Hays and the other three men are actually responsible for establishing the heroic rough and ready can-do fighting ethos of the Texas Rangers. John Coffee Hays gained a reputation for being very intelligent with a keen sense of tactical knowledge, a man who was a skilled horseman, a man with excellent skills with weapons available to him and his men at the time, all with great physical endurance suited for the rugged Texas terrain.

He was known to take his skills as a horseman, his skills with weapons, and his endurance of the hard Texas landscape, and inspire his Ranger unit. Showing his men that he was not all talk and in fact having always lead from the front, he inspired his men and made his unit excellent fighters. This was so much the case that his men were known as skilled horsemen. Later, his men would be known for their exception use of revolvers -- so much so that they were considered better than most.

In 1836, Connecticut-born gun manufacturer Samuel Colt received a U.S. patent for a revolver mechanism that enabled a pistol to be fired multiple times without reloading. To build such a pistol, Colt founded a company to manufacture his revolving-cylinder pistol.

Fighting at the time was using muzzle-loader rifle and pistols, and of course the bowie knife. It was well known at the time that Indians were not stupid fighters. Unlike Hollywood which depicts Americans Indians as uneducated in the ways of war, that's not the case. One example of how smart they were was their understanding the capability of their enemies. They knew that getting close to a Ranger and being able to charge him after he fired his muzzle-loader rifle and pistol meant that they could get to that Ranger before he reloaded.

Rangers using a multi-shot weapon, even though it would be a close range weapon, changed everything for the Rangers. Multi-shot pistols meant survival in situations where a Ranger is outnumbered. John Coffee Hays would make his legend in such a situation where it was close quarter fighter with just a pistol when he was completely outnumbered.

As citizen soldiers John Coffee Hays led the Rangers on a campaign against the Comanche in Texas. He rode with an Apache Chief named Young Flacco who led the charge into every battle with him, always inspiring other Rangers to do greatly. Flacco was a good friend of Hayes. Flacco is said to have stated, "Me and Red Wing aren't afraid to go to hell. But, Jack isn't afraid to go by himself." Some feel that's how Hays got the nickname "Devil Jack." 

 From 1840-46, he was given the title of Captain. And frankly, it's no wonder when you consider how truly tenacious an Indian fighter that he was. Imagine this, he engaged both the Comanches and Mexicans in a great number of skirmishes. Of course, it was at a battle at Enchanted Rock that made Hayes famous. It was there that he took on a group of Indians by himself. 

Enchanted Rock is a granite dome in southwestern Llano County about twenty miles north of Fredericksburg. Texans believe that the area is ripe with legends, both from the local Comanche and Tonkawa Indians. In fact, there are legends about human sacrifices being conducted there, and battles between tribes. Some say Enchanted Rock is where the ghosts of brave warriors now reside. 

Another legend tells of an Indian princess who committed suicide by throwing herself off the rock after witnessing her people slaughtered by an enemy tribe. It's said by some that her ghosts haunts that place. Then there's the Indian legend about the chief who is doomed to walk the summit as punishment for sacrificing his only daughter to the gods. It's said the indentations on the rock's summit are the chief's own footprints.

According to Texas lore, there is a story of a young Spanish soldier by the name of Don Jesús Navarro who rescued an Indian maiden named Rosa. The story goes that Navarro traveled from Monterrey to San José y San Miguel de Aguayo Mission in San Antonio in 1750. It was at the mission that Navarro met and fell in love with Rosa. She was the Christian daughter of Chief Tehuan a local tribe.

Not long after arriving, Comanche raided the mission and kidnapped Rosa. They were going to keep her as a slave, then they thought about selling her off for ransom, but finally decided to use her as a sacrifice to the spirits of Enchanted Rock since she was indeed the daughter of a chief. Navarro is said to have trailed them for more than 90 miles to Enchanted Rock. It was there that Navarro sneaked into there camp to rescue her. Legend says he killed the Comanche raiders and saved her just as she was about to be burned at the stake. It's a great legend.

Of course, a plaque near the summit of Enchanted Rock was put there by the State of Texas to commemorate a battle that took place there. That battle is said to be about a heroic episode in the life of Capt. John Coffee Hays when he was cut off by Comanche raiders from his company of Texas Rangers on a surveying trip in the fall of 1841. Cut off and alone, with rifle, pistol, and Bowie knife, Hays took refuge on Enchanted Rock and single-handedly held off the Comanche for three hours in a battle that ended when the frustrated Comanche finally decided to flee the scene.

Of course that wasn't the only time he was in a position where death seemed almost certain. On June 1st, 1844, at Walker's Creek, Capt. Jack and his Rangers were out numbered by a combination of Mexicans and Comanche. That all started when Capt. Jack left the Ranger headquarters which was in San Antonio  with fourteen men to scout the hills to the north and west. They were looking for a Comanche war party led by Yellow Wolf. He and his warriors had recently been raiding into Bexar County.

It's said that in the summer of 1844, Texas settlers in the gentle rolling country north of San Antonio were worried about Comanche raids. Captain Hays led a patrol of fourteen of his Rangers on a long patrol between the Pedernales and Llano Rivers. Capt. Jack's men were looking for any traces of the raiders who they believed came down from the open plains north of the Hill Country. The Rangers rode as far as the Pedernales River, then turned back and following the Pinta Trail to its crossing of the Guadalupe River. They camped there on June 9th.

While camped, Ranger A. Coleman who was on guard duty saw a group of Comanche following their trail. A moment later Ranger Noah Cheery called out, "Jerusalem, Captain, yonder comes a thousand Indians!" 

The Rangers quickly saddled and mounted up. The over 80 Comanche warriors actually disappeared into the same thicket which they were hoping to use as cover before springing an ambush. What the Comanche didn't know was that they were already seen. 

As the Rangers came within a few hundred yards of where the Comanche were hiding, about 20 or so warriors stepped out to challenge the Rangers to fight. Their lure didn't work as Capt. Jack knew the rest of the war party was still ready to pounce. Because the Rangers refused to take the bait, the rest of the Comanche war party tired of waiting and rode forward in line of battle. 

To the Comanches' rear ran a dry ravine, and beyond that rose a high hill covered with timber and brush, all strewn with rocks. The Rangers advanced while the Comanche fell back to take up a defensive position. From there, behind rocks and trees, the Comanche taunted the rangers in Spanish, all in the hopes of provoking the Rangers into a frontal assault on their position. It would have been suicide and the Rangers were smarter than that.  

Capt. Jack Hays was no fool. As many times before, he proved once again that he could read a battlefield. With that, he led his men around the hill, all the while being shielded by the ravine. When in position, he then lead his men and attacked the Comanche from the rear. Ranger Ben McCulloch wrote: "The fight for the hill top was soon hand-to-hand, and they took it rough and tumble." 

The rangers repulsed two counterattacks on their flanks, after which the Comanche fled the field and were pursued for three miles under heavy fire from the Rangers' revolvers. 

Capt. Jack ordered his men, "Crowd them! Powder-burn them!" 

Yes indeed, there is a reason that the Comanche called him "Devil Jack." And in the end, the hour-long battle resulted in Comanche casualties at anywhere from 20 to more than 50 killed and wounded. Yellow Wolf was among those killed. As for the Texas Rangers, they lost one man and four others were seriously wounded. Among the seriously wounded was famed Texas Rangers Samuel Walker and Robert A. Gillespie, both thrust through the body with lances. Both were not expected to live, but both survived and later become Ranger Captains in the Mexican War.

The Houston Morning Star characterized the Walker's Creek fight, while talking about Capt. Jack, as follows: "Unparalleled in this country for the gallantry displayed on both sides, its close and deadly struggle, and the triumphant success of the gallant partisan captain of the West." 

And by the way, it was the battle at Enchanted Rock and the one at Walker's Creek that really solidified the legend of Captain Hayes and the Texas Rangers. And something else, the battle is significant because it marked the first time that an entire Ranger company used Colt revolvers in combat against an enemy combatant. Comanche are said to have later complained that "the rangers had a shot for every finger on the hand."

We need to understand how that new technology played a vital role in winning those battles. The Colt revolver first won its reputation as a weapon that was perfectly suited for a mounted fighter like Texas Rangers. Using Paterson Colts purchased in 1843, John Coffee Hays commanded Rangers in several battles where they were simply outnumbered by Comanche warriors. As when he and his fourteen Rangers charged and forced the over 80 Comanche warriors to flee the battle at Walker's Creek in 1844, it was their bravery and their use of Colt multi-shot pistols that saved the day. 

Seeing the need fulfilled and his invention put to exemplary use by Texas Rangers, it's said that Sam Colt himself gave the Paterson Holster model Colt revolver the moniker "The Texas Arm." And while gun collectors today refer to the Paterson Holster model Colt as the Texas Model or Texas Paterson, the battle of Walker's Creek is what is depicted on the cylinder of the 1847 Walker Dragoon model Colt revolver. It's true, all of Walker and Dragoon model Colts carry a cylinder scene which in fact commemorated what became known as "Hays Big Fight."

Tom Correa

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