Michael has a BA in History & American Studies and an MSc in American History from the University of Edinburgh. He comes from a proud military family and has spent most of his career as an educator in the Middle East and Asia. His passion is travel, and he seizes any opportunity to share his experiences in the most immersive way possible, whether at sea or on the land.

Part of our in-depth series exploring the forts of Comancheria

Topics (click on a topic to jump to that section)
Captain Jack Hays Fight At:
Famous Battle of Bandera Pass | Fight at Enchanted Rock | Fight in the Nueces Canyon | Fight on the Pedernales | Jack Hays and the Colt Revolver | Truckee River
Picture of Jack Hays
Jack Hays

In his book, Texas Rangers, Walter Prescott Webb describes Hays:.

    John C. Hays, known in Texas as Jack Hays, was born at Little Cedar Lick, Wilson County, Tennessee, on January 28, 1817. He was from the same section of the country as the McCullochs, Sam Houston, and Andrew Jackson, and was the same adaptable sort of person. It is said that Jackson purchased the Hermitage from Jack Hays's grandfather, John Hays, who served with Jackson in some of his Indian wars, and who built Fort Haysboro. Jack's father, Harmon Hays, also fought with Jackson and named his son for General John Coffee, one of Jackson's trusted officers.

    Picture of Andrew Jackson
    Andrew Jackson. From a painting in New York City Hall.

In his book, Men Who Wear The Star, Charles M. Robinson, III includes Ranger Lockhart's description of his captain:

In the dry and rocky portions of West Texas a squad of fifteen or twenty Indians could go through the country without leaving much sign, consequently a trailer was considered a very effective man. This faculty Captain Hays had to a very marked degree, it almost amounted to instinct with him; he could ride along at a good pace and see the signs where other men could see nothing, hence his great tact in overhauling and finishing Indians. It is said that often he could dismount and observe the small pebbles, and by noticing the slightest displacement made by the horses, could, in a moment, tell in what direction they had gone.

Webb also quoted Hays' Lipan Apache scout, Flacco:

    "Me and Red Wing not afraid to go to hell together. Captain Jack heap brave; not afraid to go to hell by himself."

    Jack Hays Picture
    Captain Jack Hays
Capt. Jack Hays Fight in the Nueces Canyon

About 1844, Kit Ackland, Mike Chevalier, Creed Taylor, Noah Cherry, an Irishman named Paddy, and others, under the leadership of the brave and bold John C. (Jack) Hays, made an expedition up the Nueces River in search of Indians. But no Indians were found, so the rangers started home. After traveling for a considerable distance, someone about noon discovered a bee tree, and the point of entrance of the bees was a considerable distance, someone about noon discovered a bee tree, and the point of entrance of the bees was a considerable distance from the ground. Noah Cherry took a small axe and ascended the tree to get some honey; and his position gave him a splendid perspective of the surrounding country. At a moment when least expected he sang out, “Jerusalem! Captain, yonder comes a thousand Indians.” Since they were coming at a rapid gait, Captain Hays who was sitting on the ground, jumped to his feet and exclaimed, “Come down from there quick! Men, put on your bridles, pick up your ropes. Be ready for them! Be ready for them! The rangers were armed with two colt five or six shooters, a rifle and a holster single-shot pistol.

Captain Jack Hays has been credited with having never lost a single Indian battle, although he was almost invariably greatly outnumbered. On this occasion, he had fourteen men, and they were charged by approximately two hundred Comanche warriors. The Indians, thinking that such a small number would be easily routed, came charging and yelling like wild demons. Captain Hays cried out, “Now, boys, don’t shoot too quick; let them come closer; hit something when you shoot, and stand your ground. We can whip them, there is no doubt about that.” When the citizens fired, the Indians who were at close range, lost several of their number, and many of their horses were also wounded. Indeed, they were surprised that the few whites were still standing their ground, so the remaining Indians divided and were making an effort to strike them from each side. Capt. Jack Hays instantly sprang into his saddle, and shouted, “After them boys; give them no chance to turn on us; crowd them; powder burn them.” The Indians fully expected the rangers to assume the defensive, and in a short time, cause them to exhaust their ammunition. Evidently never before had this particular band of Indians encountered rangers using the five shooters. Such weapons of war with which they had previously come in contact were single shooters, and this new weapon had only recently been invented. So, when Hays and his men boldly charged into their very midst, the Indians although they outnumbered the whites nearly fifteen to one, became completely confused, demoralized, and being unable to rally their forces sought safety in flight. Some of them dropped their bows and shields, and other implements, while trying to dodge the flashing pistols. The Comanches were charged for about three miles, by the rough and ready rangers. In this mad rush for life, some of them prevented the rangers from really powder burning them, only by the force of their lances. Brave Kit Ackland followed the captain’s orders closely, in trying to powder burn the Indians and he was lanced on three different occasions.

When the fight was over, and the rangers rode back to their bee tree, the Irishman Paddy, said he saw a wounded Indian go in a certain thicket and that he was going in there after him. Capt. Hays exclaimed, “If there is a wounded Indian in there, you had better let him alone. If you go in where he is, he will kill you before you see him.” But he persisted in going, and was pierced through the heart by the wounded warrior. Three or four of his companions cautiously advanced to his aid. When the first movement of the wounded Indian became discernible, each of them fired and upon examination, it was found that none of them had missed their mark. Poor Paddy, however, lay dead with an arrow through his heart, and he was buried nearby.

Picture of Older Jack Hays
Jack Hays

Many years afterwards, the Comanche chief who led his warriors on this occasion, asked a friendly Delaware who it was that made so brave a fight on this occasion. The Delaware replied, that it was Captain Jack Hays, and his Texas Rangers. The chief shook his head and said that he never wanted to fight him again, for his men had a shot for every finger on his hand, and that the Comanches lost half of their number. He also stated that the warriors died for a hundred miles back towards Devil’s River.

Capt. Jack Hay's Fight on the Pedernales

About 1844, while scouting in the present Gillespie County, Capt. Jack Hays in charge of a detachment of fourteen men, discovered about fifteen Comanche warriors who showed signs of wanting to fight; but Hays realizing that the Indians, no doubt, were endeavoring to ambush the Texans, led his men around the timber and stationed them on a ridge, separated from the Indians by a narrow valley. The Comanches realizing that their strategic maneuvers had failed to decoy the rangers about seventy-five in number rode out into the open, and summoned Captain Hays and his men for a fight. The challenge was accepted and the rangers slowly rode down the hill in the Indians’ direction. But contrary to expectation instead of charging in front, they followed a ravine and charged the Indians in the rear. This, of course, somewhat demoralized the Indians, who nervously awaited the first appearance of the Texans from the opposite direction. The Indians, however, soon rallied and made a countercharge. Captain Hays ordered his men to be ready, and they waited until the Indians were almost within throwing distances with their lances, before they fired a single shot. Twenty-one warriors almost immediately fell from their horses, and the Indians fell back in confusion. The rangers in turn charged the retreating savages. Charge after charge was made by both the Indians and rangers; and the fight lasted nearly an hour. The Texans had almost exhausted their loads in both revolvers and rifles. Capt. Jack Hays asked who was loaded. Ab Gillespie replied that he was, and Hays told him to dismount and made sure work of the chief as that would, no doubt, end the fight. Although the ranger was badly wounded, he tumbled the chief from his horse. The Comanches now retreated and when the smoke of battle had cleared away, thirty dead Indians remained to indicate the accuracy of the Texans’ deadly aim.

In his book, Indian Depredations in Texas, J.W. Wilbarger provides a description of Hays' victory:

Hays on the Pedernales by Wilbarger

Hays on the Pedernales by Wilbarger

Capt. Jack Hay's Fight on Enchanted Rock
Enchanted Rock Picture
Enchanted Rock

On one occasion when Capt. Jack Hays and about twenty members of his company were scouting in the vicinity of the Enchanted Rock, Hays became separated from his companions. At an unexpected moment he was charged by Indians, and as a consequence, retreated to the Enchanted Rock. Hays was pursued by the Indians until he reached the summit of this great wonder of the southwest. Here he entrenched himself in a crevice and intended to sell his life as dearly as possible. He did not fire until it became absolutely necessary, and when he did, an Indian hit the granite. Again and again it became necessary for him to fire, and nearly every time other Indians were desperately wounded or killed. For a time the Indians, who were losing heavily, fell back, and this gave Captain Hays an opportunity to re-load his firearms. And in this manner for sometime, he made a desperate fight for his life. His comrades were having a fight of their own near the bottom of the Enchanted Rock, but could hear the firing of their Captain and screaming of Indians near the crest of this wonderful structure. As rapidly as possible they fought their way in his direction, and so deadly was their fire, the Indians were soon forced to flee. Those warriors who had surrounded the Captain, now saw the advance of the rangers and immediately retreated to the opposite side of the Enchanted Rock. Consequently, Capt. Jack Hays and his men were soon again together, and another victory was added to the lists of this noble Indian fighter and his men. After the smoke of the battle had cleared away, five or six Indians lay around the spot where Hays had fought, and twice the number were found below. Three or four rangers were seriously, but none fatally wounded. The exact date of this fight is not known, but it occurred about 1844 or 1845, and is reported at this particular time.

J.W. Wilbarger's version of the fight appears below. (From the book Indian Depredations in Texas)

Hays at Enchanted Rock by Wilbarger

Hays at Enchanted Rock by Wilbarger

Famous Battle of Bandera Pass

    Different accounts do not agree concerning the date of this engagement. According to one account, it was fought in the spring of 1841, while others place the date in 1843. Nevertheless, the story will be related at this time.

    Soon after the big raid of the Comanches on Victoria and Linnville, President Houston felt a stronger need for frontier protection. So he appointed Capt. John C. Hays to recruit a company of rangers. Many noted Indian fighters saw service in Capt. John Hays’ company. Among the number were: Big Foot Wallace, Ben Highsmith, Creed Taylor, Sam Walker, Ed Gillespie, P. H. Bell, Kit Ackland, Sam Luckey, James Dunn, Tom Galberth, Geo. Neill, Frank Chevallier, and others. When the famous fight of the Bandera Pass was fought in about 1843, some of Capt. Hays’ best men at the time, were prisoners in Old Mexico. But on this particular occasion, Sam Walker, Ed Gillespie, P. H. Bell, Ben McCulloch, Kit Ackland, Sam Luckey, James Dunn, Tom Galbreth, Geo. Neill, Frank Chevallier, and others, numbered among the fighting forces. Hays and his men arrived at the Pass about 11 o’clock in the morning and were unexpectedly charged by a large band of Comanches. At first his men became somewhat demoralized by the sudden shock, but the voice of the brave Captain cried out, “Steady there, boys, dismount and tie those horses, we can whip them. No doubt about that.” The Colt five and six-shooters had just been invented and Captain Hays and his men were fortunate to acquire fifty or sixty of these weapons, which were apparently unknown to the savages. Although many times outnumbered, the Texans began discharging their rifles and new pistols, and every shot seemed to strike an Indian. Sam Luckey was soon wounded and as he fell, Ben Highsmith caught him and laid him down easy on the ground. He immediately called for water which was tendered by Highsmith out of the latter’s canteen. The Comanche chief during the thickest of the fighting, charged and wounded Sergeant Kit Ackland. Ackland then wounded the chief with his new pistol, and immediately following the two clinched and went to the ground. Both of the men were large and fought a terrific combat with their knives. Over and over they rolled, but finally the ranger was successful in the duel. Covered with blood and dirt, he then arose from the ground where lay the chief literally cut to pieces. This engagement of Captain Hays and his men was one of the most bitter and bloody battles ever fought in the West and continued until the Indians finally ceased fighting and retreated to the upper end of the Pass, leaving the rangers in charge of the battleground. Five rangers, however, lay dead on the field, and others wounded. A large number of horses were also killed and their bleaching bones could still be seen in this famous old Pass for many years afterwards. After the Indians had retreated, Capt. Hays and his men withdrew to the south entrance of the mountains, and the night was spent burying the dead and treating the wounded. During the same time, the Comanches buried their chief near the others end of the exit through the mountains.

The above stories are from the book, The West Texas Frontier, by Joseph Carroll McConnell.

Jack Hays and the Colt Revolver

    The Texas six-shooter was first made famous by a Ranger captain named Jack Hays. John Coffee Hays was a Tennessean, from the same county as Andrew Jackson and Sam Houston; in fact, his grandfather had sold Jackson the Hermitage estate. Hays was a born adventurer, of the type called forth by many frontiers. He went west to Texas as a surveyor, was mustered into a ranging company, and suddenly found his métier. Hays was a natural warrior. He was soon recognized as the captain of his band, and, at the age of twenty-three, he commanded the San Antonio station, the most dangerous and important Ranger post in western Texas.

    Jack Hays was the prototype for a certain kind of emerging American hero. He did not look like a fighting man's hero: he was slight and slim-hipped, with a clear, rather high voice; he had lovely manners and was seen as a "perfect gentleman" by the belles of San Antonio. Hays was utterly fearless-but always within the cold, hard bounds of practicality, never foolhardy. He was not a talker, and not even a good gunman, but a born leader of partisans who by great good luck had been born in the right time and place. Hays was calm and quiet, almost preternaturally aware of his surroundings and circumstance, utterly in control of himself, and a superb psychologist, in control of all the men around him. His actions appeared incredibly daring to other men who did not have Hay’s capacity for coolly weighing odds. It is known that most of the other Ranger leaders, and hundreds of future riders, consciously tried to "be like Jack Hays"-strong, silent, practical, explosive only in action. He put an indelible stamp on the force that was soon to be formalized as the Texas Rangers.

    He personally trained the great captains Ben McCulloch and Sam Walker, and his image and example deeply influenced McNelly, Jones, and Rogers. His example made individual Rangers into one-man armies.

    Hays was the first captain in Texas to recognize the potentialities of Colt's newfangled revolvers. Because of this, in early 1840 he fought the first successful mounted action against the Pehnahterkuh Comanches. Riding beside the Pedernales River northwest of San Antonio with only fourteen men, Hays was ambushed by a party of some seventy Comanches. Previously, the standard Texan tactic was to race for cover and hold off the horsemen with their long rifles-heretofore, the only hope for survival. Hays, however, wheeled and led his men in a charge against the howling, onrushing horse Indians; the fourteen rangers rode through a blizzard of shafts and engaged the Comanches knee-to-knee with blazing revolvers. Hays lost several men to arrows-but his repeating pistols struck down a dozen warriors.

    Startled, amazed by white men who charged and whose guns seemed inexhaustible, horrified by heavy losses, the Comanche war band broke and fled. The Rangers killed thirty Comanches.

    The engagement was quickly celebrated along the frontier: "the best-contested fight that ever took place in Texas," in one observer's view. Hays immediately realized that the revolvers, plus the element of surprise, gave him a great advantage over the raiders. He resolved to patrol boldly and to meet the enemy on horseback at every opportunity.

    Only a few days afterward, Hay’s company ran into a vastly superior force of Pehnehterkuh in the Nueces Canyon west of San Antonio. Hays allowed the warriors to charge, sweep around, and completely surround him, while his troop dismounted. Then he ordered his men to discharge their rifles, with deadly effect, and as the exultant enemy, sure that the white men were now at the Indians' mercy, swirled in for the kill, he mounted and led a point-blank assault. Each Ranger singled out a Comanche warrior and rode after him. The tactic was so surprising that the Texans were at close quarters before the Comanches reacted.

    Hays screamed: "Powder-burn them!" His riders ripped though the Comanche circle, knocking down warriors left and right. Enraged, the Comanches swarmed after the Rangers, believing that they were now fleeing with empty weapons. Hays wheeled about and charged through them again, fire spitting from his men's pistols, shooting down the enemy before they could notch bowstring to arrow. The Comanches, ponies and riders, were thrown into immense confusion. Again, the Texans singled out individuals, rode beside them cheek by jowl, and shot them out of the saddle at pointblank range.

    Now there occurred that phenomenon that the whites were to see again and again in the coming years, and which the canny Ranger captains were to use to their deadly advantage. In the face of something they could not fully understand-immediate bad medicine-the bravest of warriors' morale cracked. More of the milling Amerindians were blasted from their horses by guns that never emptied, the Comanches became panic-stricken. They screamed and fled as if pursued by Furies. Great warriors threw away useless shields and spears and rode away howling, bent low over their horses' sides for protection. In their flight the Comanches suffered far greater losses than they would have taken had they pressed the fight. Hays pursued them mercilessly, killing all he could overtake.

    Even after the exhausted Rangers broke off the chase, the remnants of the war band fled on to the Devil's River, more than a hundred miles to the west. Fatally wounded warriors fell out and were abandoned all along the trail. Fully half of the Comanches died, and the survivors were gripped with superstitious horror. The war chief, who lived, swore hysterically that he would never face Hay’s Rangers again.

    Samuel Walker Picture
    Samuel Walker

Ranger Walker traveled to New York at his own expense to visit Colt. He persuaded the gun manufacturer to produce a heavier version of his repeating pistol which would be a .45 calibre six-shooter as opposed to the .32 calibre five shot version that had been used at Bandera Pass. The result was a Walker Colt Revolver. The first shipment was sent to the Ranger forces fighting in the Mexican War.

    Hays gave himself no credit; he credited only the Colt revolvers. This was, of course, too modest, yet the six-shooters did permit white frontiersmen to meet and match Plains Indians at their own mode of mounted warfare. Hays and his band were the new breed of Anglo-American fighting men who had been bred in the West, audacious and coolly competent, ready to seize any advantage and exploit it to the hilt. Hays wrote no books and held no classes, but, by example, he was instructing every Indian fighter near the plains. Incredibly, almost all that is known of his exploits comes from brief, admiring mentions by equally inarticulate contemporaries. These, however, show what he accomplished against the Amerindians.

    Hays now took the offensive, riding with confidence into Pehnahterkuh country. He never commanded more than fifty riders, but he had learned almost everything there was to learn about Comanche war warfare. He picked up much from his Lipan scouts, but he also taught them a few things. He made cold camps and rode silently by moonlight, like Indians on the war trail, seeking out the Pehnahterkuh in their scattered lodges and secluded but vulnerable encampments. Now he hunted Indians. He had learned how to find them, even when hidden in the most inaccessible canyons, by watching carefully for the swirl of vultures that followed Comanche lodges. The buzzards descended regularly to feed on the bloody Amerindian garbage. Hay’s troop rode like Comanches and attacked like Comanches, with one exception: Hays and his men were disciplined, purposeful as well as deadly. They wasted no energy in exultation or victory dances, and no time making ritual sport with captives. They could not be burdened with prisoners, and they took none.

    If possible, Hays preferred to surprise the Indians and shoot them down in their sleeping robes, or else surprise a camp and chase its warriors, dismounted, into brush. The Comanche warrior was at a tremendous physical and psychological disadvantage when afoot, and his lances and bows were ineffective in the brushy canyons in which the Pehnahterkuh, the Honey-Eaters, liked to camp. Hay’s men mauled the Pehnahterkuh from the Nueces to the Llano, killing Amerindians of every age and both sexes. By their own lights, defending a battered, bleeding, ravished frontier, they were not making war but exterminating dangerous beasts.

    Very little mention was made of this, but no one in Texas would have had it any other way. The Lipan chief, Flacco, was in awe of Hays, saying often that he was not afraid to ride into hell all by himself. Lamar’s papers, in an age when few systematic records were kept and every Texas political figure was inordinately jealous, indicate that Hay’s troop was instrumental in halting Comanche depredations on the southwestern frontier in 1840. Even Sam Houston who deplored wars against the red men and was disgusted with the brawling Texas borderlands, wrote, “You may depend on the gallant Hays and his companions.” Hays’s bloody marauding beyond the frontier was a great factor in the Comanches’ decision to seek a truce. Other Ranger companies, formalized by the Texan Congress as border troops, followed his example. The Pehnahterkuh were in no sense exhausted or defeated, but the warfare against the tejanos was ceasing to be sport. The Rangers sometimes wiped out camps whose warriors were away raiding deep in Mexico. Also the Comanches quickly overcame their initial superstitious fear of repeating pistols. The People were not given to awe or cringing, and their chiefs quickly understood that these were only guns of a new and better kind. They desired a truce so that they might obtain such firearms from traders.

The above story is from the book, Comanches, The Destruction of a People, by T.R. Fehrenbach.

Truckee River

The following story and picture is from the book, Encyclopedia of Indian Wars, by Gregory F. Michno.

Picture of Truckee River
Truckee River

3-4 June 1860, Wadsworth, Nevada: After their fight at Williams Station, John C. Hays and the Washoe Regiment marched north. Capt. Joseph Stewart and his regulars joined them at a campsite on the Truckee River. The next day the combined force moved eight miles down the river and built an earthwork defense. Downriver, in the valley near Pyramid Lake, an advance party found the remains of volunteers from the 12 May rout there. They also spotted 300 Paiute warriors rapidly approaching.

With the Paiutes in pursuit, the vanguard hurried back to the main force. The men formed a skirmish line about a mile long and held the Paiutes back, but they could not drive them from the field. After three hours, at sunset, the Paiutes pulled back north toward the lake. Stewart, Hays, and their men followed for a while, then built a fortification in which to spend the night.

The next morning, the force continued its pursuit, leaving one company in camp to care for the wounded. In a canyon, Paiutes ambushed the five advance riders, killing volunteer William Allen, the expedition's last fatality. After that, the Paiutes vanished; the command reached the south end of Pyramid Lake to find the village gone. After several days, Hays returned to Carson City and disbanded his regiment. Stewart stayed in the area for another month, but the Paiutes did not return.

In all, the regulars and volunteers killed 25 Paiutes and wounded about 20. The Paiutes killed 3 men and wounded 5.

Texas Ranger Dispatch Magazine Article on Capt. Jack Hays
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