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Jeffery Robenalt

"A Glimpse of Texas Past"

The Battle of
Walker's Creek and
the Colt Paterson Revolver

by Jeffery Robenalt
Jeffery Robenalt
The Battle of Walker's Creek was more of a minor skirmish than a battle, but thanks to Sam Colt the outcome of the fight had pivotal consequences in the long-running struggle between the Comanches and the Texas Rangers. Given enough men, the Rangers could always dismount and keep the Comanches at bay by firing in accurate, well-coordinated volleys; some men firing while others reloaded. However, prior to Walker's Creek, the Texans were at a distinct disadvantage when it came to fighting on horseback.

A Comanche warrior on horseback could shoot five or six arrows from his powerful short bow in the time it took a Ranger to dismount and reload his rifle, and reloading a rifle while mounted was an even slower and more cumbersome process. Moreover, the accuracy of the bow and arrow in the hands of a mounted warrior was unquestioned, while a Ranger firing his percussion rifle or pistol from horseback was unlikely to hit anything. Darting in and out and slipping off to the sides of their ponies, the Comanches would tempt the Rangers into firing, then charge in for the kill.

During the Battle of Walker's Creek the Comanches attempted to use their traditional style of mounted warfare, but this time thanks to Sam Colt, each of the Rangers was armed with two rapid firing Paterson revolvers. One Comanche who took part in the fight complained that the Rangers "had a shot for every finger on the hand."
Samuel Colt
Samuel Colt
19th Century Engraving

Walker Creek - Colt Paterson Revolver
Colt Paterson Revolver
The basic idea of a revolving cylinder had been around for a long time. However, it took a combination of Samuel Colt's genius and the emerging technology of percussion caps to bring to life the concept of the first multiple-shot revolver using a percussion cap to ignite a charge of powder that in turn fired a round lead ball from the cylinder. Colt obtained a patent for a repeating firearm in 1836, and began manufacturing the Colt Paterson model revolver in 1837, in his Paterson, New Jersey workshop.

Sam Colt produced several models of the Paterson, but model No. 5 was a five-shot .36 caliber percussion revolver with a nine inch barrel and a folding trigger that only emerged when the hammer was cocked; a feature common to all Paterson Colts. The revolver was a bit fragile and the barrel had to be removed to switch cylinders, but the weapon came with an extra cylinder or two, giving the user from ten to fifteen shots before reloading was necessary. Colt's model No. 5 was referred to as the "Texas" Paterson because of its use by the Texas Rangers at Walker's Creek. How the Rangers got their hands on the weapon is a story unto itself.

After the United States Army rejected the Paterson as being too impractical — after all, who needed a sidearm that could fire five times without reloading — Sam Colt turned to the new Republic of Texas. In 1838, he sent a pair of the revolvers to President Sam Houston, but the Texas Army rejected the weapon, thinking the barrel would get too hot to handle, and that "the whole formation seems to be too complicated for use in the field." Then a Washington hotel owner whose son was serving in the Texas Navy wrote to the Secretary of the Navy, praising the merits of Colt's revolver, and in 1839, the Secretary ordered 160 of the new weapons.
Jack Hays Statue, San Marcos TX
Jack Hays statue in front of Hays County Courthouse in San Marcos
Photo by Jeffery Robenalt, February 2011
The story turned full circle when a January 16, Act of the Texas Congress authorized Captain Jack Hays to raise a new Ranger company of forty privates that was to operate from Bexar County to Refugio County and points west. While meeting with President Houston to discuss his assignment, Hays was informed the soon to be decommissioned Texas Navy had received a shipment of the new Colt five-shooters, and that he could place an order with the Secretary of War to equip his new company with the revolvers. After personally securing the weapons from a Galveston warehouse, Hays returned to San Antonio and issued each of his new Rangers two Patersons.

The remainder of the winter of 1844 passed quietly, but after an uneventful spring, word reached San Antonio during the first week in June that a good sized Comanche war party under the leadership of a war chief named Yellow Wolf was raiding the settlements in the northern and western reaches of Bexar County. In the first week of June 1844, Hays rode out of San Antonio at the head of fourteen Rangers, all of them eager to put their new Colts to the test.
Guadalupe River
Guadalupe River
Photo courtesy Gloria Bauernfeind, 2007

The Rangers thoroughly scoured the hills as far as the Pedernales River without discovering any Comanche sign and reluctantly turned back, following the Pinta Trail to the ford on the Guadalupe River in the area of present day Kendall County. There they set up camp near Walker's Creek. One of the Rangers, Noah Cherry, spotted a bee tree, and he was half way up to seize his prize when he called out, "Jerusalem, captain, yonder comes a thousand Indians!"

Private Cherry scrambled back down the trunk of the bee tree, quickly joining the other Rangers as they saddled up and mounted. The war party, numbering between seventy and eighty warriors, withdrew to some wooded terrain from which they apparently hoped to initiate the ambush. Hays got the Rangers on line and advanced to within a few hundred yards of the woods when fifteen or twenty warriors rode out into the clear and began to badger them for a fight. The rest of the war party remained hidden in the woods.

Hays had too much experience dealing with Comanches to fall into such an obvious trap, and he waited patiently until the entire war party emerged from the woods and formed a line of battle. A dry ravine ran to the rear of the Comanche line, and beyond the ravine rose a high, timber and brush covered hill strewn with rocks. Hays gave the signal for his Rangers to advance at the trot, and the Comanches fell back through the ravine and took cover on the hill.

From behind the rocks and trees, the warriors taunted the Rangers in Spanish, hoping to lure them into making a frontal assault on the formidable defensive position. However, instead of attacking, Captain Hays cleverly used the cover of the dry ravine to move his Rangers around the hill and come up behind the Comanches. After quickly forming his men into a wedge formation, Hays led the attack on the rear of the Indian line.

Ben McCulloch, a veteran Ranger and Hays's second in command, later wrote that the fight for the top of the hill was hand-to-hand, and "they took it rough and tumble." Fighting fiercely even though heavily outnumbered, the Rangers drove off two counterattacks on their flanks with the firepower of the Colt Patersons before the Comanches finally fled the field.

Captain Jack Hays led the pursuit for three miles, making sure his Rangers kept the warriors under heavy fire with their revolvers. "Crowd them! Powder-burn them!" were Hays's shouted orders.

During the running, three-mile, hour-long Comanche retreat, Yellow Wolf rallied his warriors for three separate counterattacks with the Rangers fighting in relays — one group quickly switching the cylinders of their Colts while the other engaged the Comanches. Just as Yellow Wolf was haranguing his warriors into making one more attack, Ranger Ad Gillespie shot him in the head at thirty yards. Now thoroughly demoralized, Comanches fled the field.

Captain Sam Walker
Captain Sam Walker

In the intense struggle, Comanche casualties were estimated at from twenty to more than fifty wounded or killed, including Yellow Wolf. One Ranger was killed and four were seriously wounded. Among the latter was Sam Walker, his body pierced by the thrust of a Comanche war lance. Although not expected to live, Walker survived to become a national hero during the Mexican American War and the co-designer along with Sam Colt, of the famous "Walker" Colt revolver.

The fight at Walker's Creek, also known as the battle of Pinta Trail Crossing, the battle of Asta's Creek, or the battle of Sisters Creek, was characterized by the Houston Morning Star as "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."

Walker's Creek marked the first time that an entire company of Texas Rangers armed with Colt revolvers participated in combat. Jack Hays later attributed the victory solely to the Patersons, and in fact, the weapons were so deadly the Rangers fired only 150 shots during the entire engagement. Later model Colt Paterson revolvers were adorned with an engraving of the battle scene on the cylinder. The engraving, based on a sketch by Sam Walker, shows Rangers chasing Comanches, with Jack Hays mounted on a white horse and Sam Walker mounted on a black one.

The Colt Paterson revolver caused a revolution on the Texas frontier as the pendulum of warfare swung in favor of the Rangers. While Sam Colt may well have invented the five-shot and later six-shot repeating revolvers, the Texas Rangers certainly discovered their utility. Mounted warfare between the Comanches and the Rangers would never be the same.

©Jeffery Robenalt
"A Glimpse of Texas Past"
March 11, 2011 Column

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