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18 April 2010

famous last is san jacinto day!

One of the greatest early Texans was John Coffee Hays.  He was born outside of Nashville, TN into the Donelson family, founders of that great city.  His father Harmon and Uncle Robert rode with Gen. John Coffee during the War of 1812.  Hays' uncle was their ultimate commander, Gen. Andrew Jackson.  Hays was born a year after their return from the war, and was named in honor of their commander.  Uncle Robert dubbed him "Jack", the proper noun by which he would be known to friends, family, and compadres in arms throughout his life.

After a stint at the Davidson Academy, Jack Hays learned of the Texas War for Independence from Mexico.  This struggle was being led by Gen. Sam Houston, who was meant to be Jackson's political protégé.  [Personal problems took Houston off that path, but Houston was back on track in Texas.  A perfect story for another time though!] 

Anyway, Andrew Jackson provided young Jack Hays with letters of introduction and recommendation to present Gen. Houston.  Unfortunately, Houston's victory at San Jacinto had already occurred on 21 April 1836--several weeks before Jack Hays arrived in Texas.  Houston sent young Hays to Capt. Erastus "Deaf" Smith, whose men were assigned to buried the remains of Fannin and his men at Goliad.

This began the Texas Ranger career of Jack Hays.  He became a Captain in his own right soon after, and has since become the archetype for every Texas Ranger since.  He was a smaller man than most expected, and very soft spoken.  But when it came to defending Texas against hostile Indians, the man the men called Captain Jack fought with ferocity and authority.  When asked why he fought so hard and fast, Hays always admitted that he just wanted to get the fighting done with as soon as possible.

Jack Hays was known for defending himself against 100 Comanche on Enchanted Rock.  He was also known for sending Ranger Samuel H. Walker to meet with Sam Colt in Paterson, NJ to perfect the pistol the Comanche said could fire a bullet for every finger on your hand.  Apache Chief Flacco took note, "Me not afraid to ride through hell with Captain Jack, because Captain Jack not afraid to ride through hell all by hisself!"  As a result, the Comanche called him the White Devil, or Devil Jack.

When Santa Anna returned to power in Mexico and waged war on the United States for the annexation of Texas, the US Army was over-matched in the unfamiliar new territory of Texas.  By then, 1812 War hero Gen. Winfield Scott was Army Chief of Staff.  He dispatched Gen. Zachary Taylor to San Antonio to meet with the only man in America who knew how to defend that territory, John Coffee Hays.

Hays was happy to entertain Gen. Taylor.  He made it clear that the Texas Rangers would not readily take up arms for just anybody though.  Hays agreed to attach his men to Taylor, but under two conditions:

1. Hays and his men would be allowed to return to San Antonio after a year.
2. Any orders Taylor had for the men would have to come through Hays.

Hays had been leading his men in defense of Texas for a decade, and none of them would fight for anybody else.  As a surveyor, scout, and Indian fighter, nobody knew that area better than Devil Jack Hays.  Taylor had to accept the terms.  Within the year, Hays' Rangers led the US Army to victory over Santa Anna and returned to San Antonio.  Hays married, retired from the Rangers, and blazed the trail to California.

Hays went on to found the City of Oakland, serve as the first Sheriff of San Francisco County, and was even Surveyor General of California.  He was a wealthy man by the time he lay on his death bed in the spring of 1883.  On Saturday, 21 April 1883, he as his friend and business partner John Caperton "Do you know what day it is?"  Of course, Caperton could only answer, "It's Saturday the 21st, Jack."

Before Hays lost consciousness and breathed his last, he answered,


1 comment:

  1. Is it horrible that I really wish my middle name was "Coffee"?

    Great story!