seems that from the day he was born, John Coffee (Jack) Hays was
destined to be a Texas Ranger – when you consider his roots, it
shouldn’t have been any other way.
Hays was born on Jan. 28, 1817, in a place called Little Cedar Lick,
Tennessee. His father, Harmon, was of Scots-Irish descent and had
fought alongside Andrew Jackson and Sam
Houston in the War of 1812. From the very beginning no one in
Little Cedar Lick must have doubted that baby boy Jack would be
involved in many adventures during his stay on this earth.
The future ranger left his home early in life and attended Davidson
Academy in Nashville. According to The Handbook of Texas,
Hays became a surveyor and worked at his trade in Mississippi before
coming to Texas.
After the young man heard of the war in Texas,
he decided to join the rebels who were fighting for independence
from Mexico. In 1836, Hays entered Texas
just in time to join up with troops being led by Thomas J. Rusk
– his first task was to help bury the remains of victims of the
It’s been said that Sam
Houston advised Hays to join a company of rangers under the
command of Erastus
(Deaf) Smith. That group was ordered to patrol from San
Antonio to the Rio Grande, protecting citizens on the frontier
from Indians and the Mexican army. During this time, Hays took part
in a battle with Mexican cavalry near Laredo.
After this battle, he was promoted to the rank of sergeant.
Jack Hays left military life for a brief period after he was appointed
deputy surveyor for the Bexar District. However, it seems that he
could not stand being away from the action and combined soldering
and surveying for several years. This experience, along with his
increasing knowledge on Indian warfare, helped prepare him for protecting
survey parties in later years.
us that Hays was a mild-mannered man and his features didn’t really
measure up to what most people considered a ranger ought to look
like. He was 5 feet nine inches and had a fair complexion. But when
it came to fighting, this Ranger stood tall.
In the early years of the Texas Rangers, they were often outnumbered
in most battles. They had to try and keep the peace between Anglo
colonists and Hispanic settlers – the Indians were also a constant
threat to cause problems.
In the 13 years
that Jack Hays lived in Texas he gained a national reputation, especially
during the Mexican War. He was hailed as a brilliant leader and
fearless fighter. He was known as “Devil Yack” by his enemies and
friends alike. In the war with Mexico, he served under the command
of Gen. Zachary Taylor. During this time, Hays was promoted to the
rank of colonel.
During the Mexican War, Colonel Hays saw action at Monterrey, Veracruz,
Teotihuacan, and Sequalteplan. Often going against superior numbers,
Hays’ rangers proved themselves time and time again on the battlefield.
Another important piece of history is that Hays and his rangers
revolutionized warfare against Texas Indians by their effective
use of the new Colt revolvers. In a fight with Indians in the battle
of Walker’s Creek in 1844, Hays and 14 rangers charged into
a large force of hostiles, blazing away with Colt pistols, and routed
nearly 80 Comanche warriors.
After his illustrious years as a Texas Ranger and soldier, Hays
went on to pioneer trails through the Southwest to California. He
served for a while as an Indian agent for the Gila River country.
Later, he was elected sheriff of San Francisco County. In succeeding
years, he was successful in real estate and ranching – he was one
of the founders of the city of Oakland. Hays was married and had
three daughters and three sons.
It seems fitting that he died on April 21, 1883; the anniversary
of the Battle
of San Jacinto, some 47 years later. John Coffee (Jack) Hays
is buried in California. Hays County, Texas, is named in his honor.
August 27, 2012 column