COMANCHE AND THE TEXAS RANGERS
by Linda Pelon
A party of warriors (Comanche)
dressed in their trappings—embellished shields, fancy moccasins, long
pig tails, bedecked with silver shoulder belts worked with beads and
adorned with shells, fine leggins, ornamented cases for bows and arrows—mounted
upon spirited horses, singing a war song, and sweeping over a prairie
is a beautiful spectacle to a man with plenty of brave fellows to back
Ford, Texas Ranger
C. "Jack" Hays, "RIP" (Rest in Peace) Ford, "Big Foot" Wallace and Ben
McCullough, all legendary leaders of the Texas Rangers, earned their
reputations as Indian fighters during the years they guarded the settlements
of Southern Texas. These were the years of the Texas Republic and the
early years of statehood. The Penatuhkah Comanche territory was the
front line of the conflict between Comanches and encroaching Texas settlements.
The Comanche raid on Linnville in 1840 and the battle of Plum Creek
which followed were listed among the events which followed were listed
among the events which have been called "a sort of postgraduate course
in Indian warfare from which the real leaders, such as Ben McCullough
and Jack Hays, emerged." Buffalo Hump, a Penatuhkah war chief, was in
command of the Comanche forces in these events.
Texas Revolution lured a group of remarkable men to Texas to assist
the Texans in the fight for independence. When the Alamo was under siege
in 1836 Colonel William Barrett Travis wrote an impassioned plea for
assistance. The letter was sent throughout the United States. Travis’
letter, news of the fall of the Alamo, and the massacre of Fannin’s
men at Goliad motivated many educated and brave young men to come to
the aid of the Texans. John C. Hays was among them. He arrived to late
to fight in the brief revolution buy stayed and became the guardian
of the southern Texas settlements and "the leader and foremost spirit
of the Rangers." Hays’ Texas Rangers were successful for many reasons.
The personal courage, intelligence and skill of Jack Hays made him a
natural leader or rugged and independent men. He led through example
and informal authority rather than through the structure of formal command.
His Rangers lived off the land and could move quickly without the burden
of extra supplies. This mimicked the organization of a Comanche war
party and provided the mobility and flexibility necessary to successfully
wage campaigns against them.
had the technological advantage until the invention of the Colt revolver,
which first appeared in Texas in 189. Until then the bow and arrow were
superior weapons because they could be used for rapid fire from horseback;
there were no guns designed for that purpose. Hays’ Rangers field tested
the revolver and consulted with Colt regarding improvements. The revolvers
were scare until 1844 when an improved version became part of the armament
of the Texas Navy. Hays equipped each of his men with two of the new
Colts and an extra cylinder for both. The advantage of superior arms
shifted to the Rangers.
with Texas Rangers armed with the deadly new weapons had serious consequences
for the Comanches, especially the Pentuhkahs, since they were the band
whose territory was nearest to the areas protected by these Rangers.
A Comanche war chief visiting Bexar was said to have described one of
his first encounters between his warriors and Hays’ Rangers armed with
revolvers to Bob, a friendly Delaware. Bob reported that the war chief
asked him the identity of the white commander at the fight of Nueces.
Bob told him it was "Devil Yack". Bob reported the chief shoo, his head
slowly and said,
never want to fight him again. He had as many shots as I have fingers
on my two hands. I lost half my warriors in that battle, and many more
died along the route while returning to my country on Devils River".
placed a high value on the individual warrior. Bands were small and
a lost warrior was irreplaceable. The psychological impact of the deadly
new weapon should not be underestimated. The Comanches in central and
southern Texas were used to field test this weapon which later became
standard equipment for the United States Calvary to use against other
bands and tribes. The revolver may have been as deadly later, but it
was not as unsuspected.
conflict between Comanches and Texas Rangers changed dramatically in
1849. The leaders of the Penatuhkah band, Santa Anna and Old Owl, and
an estimated one half of the band died of cholera. The band members
who survived the epidemic could not agree on new leadership. They moved
their camps northwestward into the Fort Chadborne area. Jack Hays led
a caravan to California in the ’49 gold rush. He stayed in California,
and served as sheriff, surveyor and promoter of the city of Oakland.
New groups of Comanches where soon to fight other groups of Rangers,
but Ranger legend and tradition were established.
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