John Coffee Hays maybe not be a name that you instantly recognize like a Davy Crockett or Sam Houston. However, don’t think for a minute that this month’s BADASS was anything but a Comanche kickin’, cattle rustler killin’, wild west taming kick ass cowboy that ultimately gets credit for the formation and initial training of one of the world’s most revered security forces – The Texas Rangers.
Born in Cedar Lick, Tennessee (which is a bad ass name by itself) in 1817, Hays was the nephew of future President, Andrew Jackson. His father was a well known military man, but both of his parents died from yellow fever when Hays was but 15. He and his six siblings were scattered, with most of them going to live with relatives in Mississippi, but Hays took off to become a land surveyor in 1832, which was a helluva lot more dangerous than it is nowadays.
You see, in the 1830s, there was still a ton of Louisiana Purchase territory that had never been mapped or charted yet, so these surveyors in those days basically packed up a horse and took off into the unknown wilderness with a rifle, some jerky, and their surveying equipment as they tried to survive. Hunger, Indians, wild animals, hypothermia, heat stroke…everything bad that could happen would happen to these guys frequently. Hays was described as a quiet skinny kid by those he worked with, but it was noted that anytime he got to pull his gun and start kicking ass, he did so with terrifying efficiency.
Hays kept up with the surveying gig for a while, but things were blowing up down in Goliad and with the Alamo and Hays said “Hell yeah. I’m on my way.” He fought for Texas in 1840, introduced himself to Sam Houston as the nephew of Andrew Jackson, and was immediately given an officer’s position in a relatively new organization charged with providing order on the wild frontier – the Texas Rangers.
Hays quickly worked his way up the ladder, and “Captain Jack” was soon commanding a regimen of Rangers charged with patrolling the southwest portion of Texas. If anybody told you that land surveying was dangerous back in the day, Hays and his crew single handedly trying to protect hundreds of miles of Wild West Texas was whole lot worse. Comanches, Mexican Army patrols, bandit gangs, cattle rustlers, horse thieves, and all sorts of other trouble makers were littered all over this part of the world and they would love nothing more than to kill any man with a five-pointed tin star on their shirt.
Hays’ job was to build up this team, outfit them, and train them properly. The first thing that he did was have them throw away their single shot pistols and trade them in for a relatively new invention, the five shot revolver known as the Colt Paterson.
This initial group was a pretty rag tag bunch of badasses, many of which with little more than a grudge to enact a little justice the Texas way. He trained them efficiently and constantly, and before long he had pretty much the most bad ass group of lawmen that Texas had ever seen.
Hays adapted many Indian and Mexican ways of travel by limiting what his guys actually carried to what they could fit on the horse. If they were hungry, they shot an animal. They were able to travel light and fast, and were responding to any threats they heard about with lightning speed. Most bad guys simply gave up simply due to their reputation, and the ones that didn’t surrender did not live to have time to regret it.
One of his more famous battles was in 1844 at the “Battle of Walker’s Creek”. Hays only had about 15 of his guys (he had to split them up frequently to cover ground), when they were ambushed by a similar number of Comanche. As soon as Comanches attacked, they seemed to retreat. Hays was skeptical, so he had his guys stand their ground, and when the Comanches figured that their fake retreat wasn’t going to work, they charged at a full 80 strong. Hays spit in the dirt and rode head-on towards a force of Indians that outnumbered him four-to-one. Hays screamed for his men to not fire until they were at point blank, and as the Comanches were still using the old single shot guns, Hays’ men wiped them out almost instantly and the Rangers didn’t lose a single man.
One of his officers in the battle, Lieutenant Samuel Walker, was so impressed with the fight that he would go on to create a six-shooter pistol known as the Walker Colt. It got a lot of use in the Civil War, and it’s the same gun as used in The Outlaw Josey Wales.
Hays was then called into action in 1846 for the Mexican-American War to assist in the invasion of Mexico. Hays now had 250 men, was promoted to Colonel, and his Rangers worked as scouts, recon, and anti-guerilla forces. Their job was to keep the supply lines open, and in doing so they found themselves in tons of battles and basically kicked ass all over Mexico. He spent 3 days outside Vera Cruz where the Rangers drove off a force of 200 Mexican cavalry without losing a single man. Santa Anna himself even referred to the Rangers as “Los Diablos Tejanos” and at some point Hays even went to a ball in Austin wearing a uniform that he had stolen from Santa Anna’s palace.
Hays had become a pretty big celebrity in Texas and people even tried to talk him into running for governor. Instead, Hays decided to head west and quiet down for a bit. But this is Jack Hays, so quieting down wasn’t in his blood, so he split for Tucson where he had to stay for 6 weeks because so many people in his party were sick. From there, he took off for San Diego, on horseback, kicking Apache ass, beating disease, heat, wild animals and every other imaginable challenge along the way. From there, he jumped on a boat and sailed up to San Francisco on a steamboat that almost capsized twice.
After kicking ass all the way across the Southwestern US, Hays basically ends up in San Francisco where, because of his reputation, he was immediately elected to be the city’s first Sheriff. He then built the town’s first permanent jail, disbanded a murderous vigilante group called the “Committee of Vigilance” and actually brought order to the place by declaring that alleged criminals were entitled to a fair trial under the law. He beat the Paiute Indians in the Second Battle of Pyramid Lake, and then went back to his roots as the US Surveyor General for California. He founded the City of Oakland, was a stockholder in the Oakland Gas Light Company, served on the Board of Regents for the California School for the Deaf and the Blind, founded the Oakland Union Nation Bank, and finished up as the Mayor of Oakland for a while.
When the Civil War fired up, Hays was of course offered a high ranking position, but he declined because he had far too much fortune generating awesomeness to attend to. He died peacefully in his sleep in 1883, and will forever live on in lore as one of the most badass men to ever leave a mark on Texas history and legend.