Police History: The story of John Coffee Hays, Texas Ranger
At the start of the Civil War, John “Jack” Coffee Hays declined offers of command by both the North and the South and chose instead to stay in California to help give birth to a new state for the second time in his life
At age 19, John “Jack” Coffee Hays — nephew of President Andrew Jackson moved to Texas and joined the Texas Rangers. Jack possessed natural leadership skills and rose quickly to the rank of Captain.
In a truly historical move, Captain Hays arranged for each one of his Rangers to replace their heavy single shot horse pistols with two five shot, yet to be field-tested Colt Patterson Revolvers. These weapons fired five rounds each, before they needed to be reloaded.
Battle of Walker Creek
Hays extensively trained his troop to ride, shoot, and move as one cohesive fighting unit for in 1844 the Rangers were facing the most deadly light cavalry in the world at the time.
Comanche were raiding throughout the Texas “Comancheria.”
While paused at Walker’s Creek on June 8, 1844 one of Hays’ Rangers climbing a tree after some honey, suddenly shouted, “Captain! Yonder comes a thousand Indians.”
The number was closer to 80 and Captain Jack formed a plan instantly, realizing that the Comanche were charging to trigger a volley. The Comanche expected the Texans to be armed with their single shot weapons so the Comanche planned to charge through that volley then overwhelm and kill every Texan before they could reload after the volley.
Captain Hays was always calm and deadly in combat and through selection, training and example he had molded the 15 Rangers in his troop into his own image. Hays mounted them in formation and gave them their orders. “We’re going to charge them.”
Hays explained that the Rangers were not to fire until they were among the Comanche. During the advance he shouted, “Crowd them! Powder-burn them boys!”
The disciplined Rangers charged into the surprised Comanche, and opened a deadly fire. One of the Comanche survivors later said each Ranger, “Had a shot for every finger on the hand.”
Historians surmise the Rangers had practiced to quickly exchange unloaded cylinders with pre-loaded extra cylinders while on horseback. As the shocked Comanche turned to flee the Rangers pursued them and continued to thin the Comanche ranks.
In desperation Chief Yellow Wolf tried to rally his band for a counter-attack, but Hays’ keen eye spotted the leader and shouted, “Any man with a load left, Kill that Chief!”
Instantly, Ranger Robert Gillespie road forward, took aim, fired and Yellow Wolf fell from his pony with a gunshot wound to the head.
In spite of being outnumbered four to one the Rangers decimated these skilled warriors. The Colt revolver became “The Great Equalizer.”
From Colonel to Sheriff
During the Mexican-American War Colonel Jack Hays commanded the legendary First Regiment, Texas Mounted Rifleman, which served with General Zachary Taylor.
Hays’ 250 men scouted for Taylor and were heavily engaged in effective combat throughout the war. At war’s end Hays and his Texas Rangers were legends nation-wide.
In 1850 Hays moved to San Francisco to become the first elected Sheriff in this lawless town.
Sheriff Hays found that citizens felt the criminal element was so out of control in the city that a Committee of Vigilance had formed, and was taking part in extra-judicial hangings.
Hays sought to establish the Sheriff’s Department as the law. He began building a new jail and in a surprise move Hays and his Deputies raided the headquarters of the Committee of Vigilance, rescuing two ruthless killers, Robert McKenzie and Samuel Whittaker from the noose. He placed them in his jail to await a legal trial.
Four days later, Hays was lured away from the jail to watch a bull fight. While Hays was away the Committee of Vigilance raided the jail and lynched the criminals.
On one hand Sheriff Hays was outraged. On the other he was keenly aware of the fact that this situation existed, because there had been an absence of justice before his arrival. He surmised that the good citizens of San Francisco had to witness justice triumph. Hays completed construction on the new Sheriff’s Department and jail.
In December of 1852 in front of a large crowd, Sheriff Hays stood on a scaffold he helped build and personally swung the ax, which cut the rope, which released the hatch, which dropped 32 year old convicted murdered Jose Fomer into eternity.
Fomer was hanged after a legal arrest, conviction, and sentencing.
It was the first legal hanging in San Francisco.
Hays’ Last Battle
With the rule of law established in San Francisco Hays, took a job as a surveyor, a skill he was trained in before he felt compelled to help bring peace to the West. After serving his term he went into Real Estate and became one of the principal founders of Oakland, California.
In 1860, he took up arms once again after Paiutes killed a Colonel Ormsby and many of his men at the First Battle of Pyamid Lake. Colonel Jack Hays took command of a troop that went into pursuit of warring Paiutes and in a second pitched battle at Pyramid Lake he defeated them.
At the start of the Civil War, Hays was offered commands by both the North and the South. As someone who had sworn loyalty to the United States Government, he chose not to bear arms while the nation tore itself apart. He declined both offers and instead chose to stay in California to help give birth to a new state for the second time in his life.
After Pyramid Lake, Hays neither wore a star, nor fired a gun in combat again. The rest of the battles in life were all political or business.
In 1883, the first law enforcement officer in history to prove the efficacy of “superior fire power,” “crushing the distance,” and “ending a fight with violence of action,” died peacefully in his estate in Oakland Hills.
He succeeded in many things in life, but history shall forever remember him as Captain John “Jack” Coffee Hays, Texas Ranger.
- Police History