July 1845, after the Congress of the Republic of Texas approved the terms of annexation
offered by the United States government, President James K. Polk dispatched General
Zachary Taylor and 5000 Federal troops to the small Texas settlement of Corpus
Christi at the mouth of the Nueces River. According to the Mexican government,
the Nueces was, and always had been, the border between Mexico and the province
of Texas. However, based on the Treaties
of Velasco, signed by Santa Anna after the Texas Revolution, the Texans insisted
the border was the Rio Grande.
In late December, the United States Congress
officially recognized the Rio Grande River as the border. General Taylor then
prepared to move his troops south into the land that stretched between the Rio
Grande and the Nueces known as the Nueces Strip; an act that would eventually
initiate hostilities between the United States and Mexico. The Texas Rangers were
long familiar with the lawless Nueces Strip, and Captain Jack Hays rode to Corpus
Christi to offer the services of his Rangers to act as scouts for the American
Army, who in 1845 lacked a cavalry branch and depended on slow-moving, mounted
infantry known as dragoons to provide mobility.
Portrait of Jack Hays|
While Jack Hays
was presenting his offer to General Taylor, he received word of a large Comanche
war party putting the torch to the settlements southwest of San
Antonio. Knowing that he could never catch the elusive Comanches by following
their trail, Hays quickly returned to San
Antonio, and after gathering up forty Rangers and a few Tonkawa
and Lipan Apache scouts, rode hard for Enchanted Rock, a well-known Indian landmark
northwest of the old mission town. In this way, the veteran Captain of Rangers
hoped to intercept the war party before the warriors could escape into the far
reaches of the Comancheria.
Hays and his Rangers
reined up at Enchanted Rock early the following morning only to find that
they had barely missed the Comanches, but the Indian scouts soon found a fresh
trail heading off to the northwest. A severe drought had long plagued the area,
and the scouts were sure that a small lake formed by the nearly dry Concho River
would serve as the only watering hole in that direction for miles around. The
lake stood at the base of Paint Rock in present day Concho County. Based
on this information, Hays made a fateful decision. Facing odds of more than ten
to one, the Rangers set out to beat the Comanches to the water.
hours and 130 miles of hard, bone-jarring riding later, Jack Haysís weary Rangers
did exactly that, reaching the lake at 1:00 in the morning, well ahead of the
unsuspecting Comanches. After ordering the picketing of the horses to the rear,
Hays carefully concealed his men in a willow thicket along the north shore; the
only approach to the water. On the south rim, the face of Paint Rock rose high
above the shimmering moonlit surface of the lake.
As expected, the
war party approached the lake at dawn, thirsty, saddle-weary, and anxious to rest
for the remainder of the day. Hays let the warriors get as close as possible to
the willow thicket before giving the command to open fire. Smoke and fire billowed
out of the willows with the roar of the Rangersí rifles, and the Comanches fell
back in disarray, carrying off as many of their dead as they could. However, a
few alert warriors spotted the Rangersí trail as they rode out of range. The tracks
clearly showed there were no more than thirty or forty riders concealed in the
thicket. With their superior numbers, the Comanches believed they could easily
overwhelm the Rangers in the full light of the new day.
The first Comanche
attack would come rolling out of the northeast, ensuring that the blinding glare
of the rising sun would shine directly in the Rangersí eyes. With their short
bows, long war lances, and buffalo hide shields tough enough to turn a rifle ball,
the Comanches presented a fearsome spectacle as they assembled for the charge.
The war chief, feathers and colored ribbons fluttering in the breeze, lowered
his long, scalp-decorated war lance, and the warriors suddenly broke into a screaming,
galloping mass of color.
Hays fired when the Comanches closed to within
fifty yards, and the Rangers quickly joined in with a thunderous volley. Galloping
past the willow thicket, the warriors released a barrage of arrows as they slid
off to the sides of their horses to avoid the deadly Ranger rifle fire. Circling
wide, the Comanches made a second charge past the thicket before pulling back
to regroup for a lance charge that the Rangers quickly broke with the brutal firepower
of their rapid firing Colt revolvers and muzzle-loading shotguns.
Comanches made several more gallops past the thicket throughout the remainder
of the day before finally withdrawing to the prairie and setting up camp for the
night. By now they were growing so desperate for water they were forced to send
warriors in relays for more than twenty miles to get it.
Late the following
morning, the Comanches launched a massive attack in four separate waves, the first
waves attempting to get the Rangers to empty their weapons, so the later waves
could close in. A few warriors in the final wave managed to crash their way into
the thicket, war lances lowered, but they were again blasted off the backs of
their painted ponies by the Rangers superior firepower.
the top of Paint Rock, the Comanches spent the remainder of the day firing arrows
high into the air, attempting to arch them into the willow thicket. The arrows
were ineffective from such long range, but the Ranger rifles managed to chalk
up a few more Comanche victims who carelessly exposed themselves on the rim of
the high rock. As the sun began to set, the frustrated warriors again withdrew
to the prairie, their thirst unquenched.
Early in the morning of the third
day the Comanches attacked the Texans from several different angles at once, forcing
the defenders to divide their fire. Realizing from the diminished volume of gunfire
coming from the thicket that the Rangers were running low on powder and ball,
the war chief took his time, massing his warriors on the high ground to the northeast
for one final attack that would surely overwhelm the beleaguered defenders.
By mid-morning all was ready and the war chief rode to the front of his warriors,
raising his war lance high and haranguing the Comanches into making one final
supreme effort. Screaming his fury, the Comanche leader heeled his stallion to
a gallop and led what was to be the final charge at the willow thicket. The Rangers
calmly picked out targets over the sights of their long rifles and took up the
slack in their triggers, waiting patiently for Hays to open fire and swallowing
the fear that churned their bellies as the painted warriors drew closer.
had been trying to get a decent shot at the Comanche leader since the fighting
had begun, and at less than a hundred yards he finally got his chance, when the
war chief made a fatal mistake by turning on the back of his galloping pony to
urge his warriors on. As he swung around, the Comancheís buffalo hide shield turned
with him, exposing his right side. Jack Hays chose that instant to open fire,
and the war chief was dead before his body struck the tall grass of the prairie.
untimely death of the war chief shattered the momentum of the charge, and a terrible
wail of anguish arose from 600 Comanche throats as the warriors milled around
in front of the thicket. Before the Comanches could recover their momentum, Rangers
up and down the line opened fire with a rolling volley of thunder. The leaderless
warriors retreated as several more painted ponies were emptied. Hays ordered one
of his men to ride out, rope the war chiefís neck, and drag the body back to the
Ranger lines. This act of defiance infuriated the Comanches, and they galloped
past the thicket one final time, launching a cloud of arrows before riding away
in frustration to the northwest toward for the Comancheria.
Battle of Paint Rock was a resounding victory for the Texas Rangers. More than
100 Comanche dead lay strewn across the prairie in front of the willow thicket.
Incredibly, only one Ranger had been wounded in the fighting, and one unlucky
horse killed by an arrow launched from the rim of Paint Rock. With the dawn of
the Mexican American War, Jack Hays would devote the remainder of his Texas Ranger
career serving as a volunteer with the United States Army, riding for both General
Zachary Taylor at Monterey and General Winfield Scott on the road to Mexico City.
Paint Rock was to be his final major engagement with the Comanches.
in the absence of official records, some historians have questioned the truth
of the Rangersí victory at Paint Rock, as they have Jack Haysís efforts at Bandera
Pass and his solo fight against the Comanches at Enchanted Rock. Some have even
suggested that Paint Rock was an attempt to revise history for the sake of tourism
dollars or to ďglorifyĒ the Rangers. However, the Texas Rangers need no help from
me or any other historian to bring glory and honor to their name. History is,
and always will be, an attempt to recount the distant past, and one manís history
is often times another manís fiction. I choose to believe those like Joe Tom Davis
in Volume IV of Legendary Texans, and Thomas W. Knowles in They Rode
for the Lone Star: The Saga of the Texas Rangers, who believe in the truth
of Paint Rock as I do.
Glimpse of Texas Past" June
1, 2012 Column
More Texas | Texas
People | Texas Towns | Columns
by Jeffery Robenalt - Order Here >|
for "Paint Rock: The Last Comanche Fight of Jack Hays "
| Austerman, Wayne
R. (2010), Ambush and Siege at Paint Rock, originally published by Wild
West Magazine, published online February 05, 2010, HISTORYnet.com Weider History
Joe Tom (1989), Legendary Texans Vol. IV, Eakin Press, Austin TX ISBN 0-89015-669-7.
Knowles, Thomas W. (2009), They Rode for the Lone Star: Saga of the Texas Rangers,
Lone Star Publishing, ISBN 978-09435416. |
|Book Hotel Here
by Jeffery Robenalt