Heritage, 2011, Volume 1 Page: 32
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CAPTAIN JACK RETURNS TO TEXAS
By Byron A. Johnson
The artifacts of Texas heritage have survived because of serendipity and the efforts of persons
determined to preserve them for future generations. Such is the story ofan extraordinary painting held
in trust by the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum in Waco.
During the 175th anniversary of the Texas Rangers in 1998, Senior Ranger Captain Bruce Casteel
was asked to unveil a historic painting at the annual Texas Ranger Reunion banquet. In doing so, he
came face-to-face with his predecessor of 150 years earlier, Captain John Coffee 'Jack" Hays. Aside
from age, the two men were eerily similar-they were quiet, of wiry build with piercing eyes, and
possessed natural leadership skills. Both had spent their youth in Tennessee and would serve in sheriff's
departments, and both left their mark on the Texas Rangers.
Captain John Coffee Hays, depicted at age 24 in the
painting now held by the TRHF, was the best-known early
Texas Ranger commander. Born in Tennessee in 1817, he
was the son of a War of 1812 veteran. After both parents
died while Hays was still a teen, he trained to be a surveyor
and accompanied crews mapping the new state of Mississippi.
He excelled at technical details and logistics and showed char-
acter traits that would later prove to be invaluable.
News of Texas independence attracted Hays to the new
republic about 1837 or 1838. His father's old friend Sam
Houston appointed him to Erastus "Deaf" Smith's compa-
ny of Rangers patrolling for Indian war parties and Mexican
incursions between San Antonio and the Rio Grande. His
dedication and ability resulted in a promotion to sergeant,
and his surveying skills won him an appointment as deputy
surveyor of the huge Bexar District.
In 1840 at 23, Hays was commissioned as captain of his
own ranging company. Contemporary accounts describe
him as a commanding leader and brilliant strategist who
did not look like the stereotype of a Ranger. He was of av-
erage height, a "slender built man...whose soft, beardless
face did not betray his martial occupation and inclina-
tion anymore than did his black frock coat... Only in his
flashing eyes could a keen observer see traces of his hid-
Hays learned and experimented constantly. He gained an
extensive knowledge of Indian tactics and guerilla warfare
by working closely with Lipan Apache allies. He adopted
Samuel Colt's new revolving pistols and a rifle, drilling his
men to fight on horseback instead of dismounting to fire as
was the custom. He earned a legendary reputation fighting
superior Comanche and Kiowa war parties at battles such as
Plum Creek and Walker's Creek. Hays' defeat of Mexican
expeditionary forces intent on retaking Texas presaged his
effectiveness in the Mexican War.
After the outbreak of that conflict, Hays was offered a
commission as colonel of the all-volunteer First Regiment
of Texas Mounted Riflemen. His men performed as scouts,
demonstrated cavalry and guerilla tactics to young officers
such as Robert E. Lee, and conducted guerilla warfare. It
is not an exaggeration to say that the Texas volunteers kept
the U.S. Army from defeat or annihilation on several occa-
sions. This did not endear them to the military command,
nor did their lack of discipline and unauthorized reprisals.
However, the Mexican War was the first to be covered by
imbedded newspaper correspondents. The colorful and ir-
32 TEXASHERITAGE I Volume 1 2011
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, 2011, Volume 1, periodical, 2011; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth254220/m1/32/: accessed June 29, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.