PENATUHKAH 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 him.

"RIP" Ford, Texas Ranger

John 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.

The 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.

Comanches 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.

Encounters 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,

"I 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".

Comanche 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.

The 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.

return to features index