Savage Frontier Volume IV: Rangers, Riflemen, and Indian Wars in Texas, 1842-1845
Savage Frontier Volume IV: Rangers, Riflemen, and Indian Wars in Texas, 1842-1845

Savage Frontier Volume IV: Rangers, Riflemen, and Indian Wars in Texas, 1842-1845

by Stephen L. Moore


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This fourth and final volume of the Savage Frontier series completes the history of the Texas Rangers and frontier warfare in the Republic of Texas era. During this period of time, fabled Captain John Coffee Hays and his small band of Rangers were often the only government-authorized frontier fighters employed to keep the peace.

Author Stephen L. Moore covers the assembly of Texan forces to repel two Mexican incursions during 1842, the Vasquez and Woll invasions. This volume covers the resulting battle at Salado Creek, the defeat of Dawson's company, and a skirmish at Hondo Creek near San Antonio. Texas Rangers also played a role in the ill-fated Somervell and Mier expeditions. By 1844, Captain Hays' Rangers had forever changed the nature of frontier warfare with the use of the Colt five-shooter repeating pistol. For the exacting historian or genealogist of early Texas, the Savage Frontier series is an indispensable resource on early nineteenth century Texas frontier warfare.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781574412949
Publisher: University of North Texas Press
Publication date: 06/23/2010
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 1,190,721
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

 STEPHEN L. MOORE is a sixth-generation Texan and author of volumes 1, 2, and 3 of Savage Frontier: Rangers, Riflemen, and Indian Wars in Texas, covering the years 1835-37, 1838-39, and 1840-41. He is also the author of several other titles, including Eighteen Minutes: The Battle of San Jacinto and the Texas Independence Campaign and Taming Texas: Captain William T. Sadler’s Lone Star Service.

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Savage Frontier Volume IV 1842-1845

Rangers, Riflemen, and Indian Wars in Texas
By Stephen L. Moore

University of North Texas Press

Copyright © 2010 Stephen L. Moore
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-57441-293-2

Chapter One

The Vasquez Incursion January-February 1842

In his first full year as a Texas Ranger captain, John Coffee Hays had gained the respect of the men he rode with and the men he rode against. His first combat had been under Captain Deaf Smith in 1837 and he had later helped defeat the Comanches in the battle of Plum Creek in August 1840. When not engaged in quelling frontier disturbances with hostile Indian bands, Jack Hays had run the northwestern boundary of Travis County and led numerous surveying expeditions to locate headright claims throughout 1840.

By the age of 29 in January 1841, Hays had been placed in command of his first official company of Texas Rangers. Operating out of San Antonio in Béxar County, Captain Hays' frontiersmen were alternately known as rangers, spies and the Béxar County Minutemen during 1841. His company had fought a battle with Mexican marauders led by Agatón Quiñones in April near Laredo. In the second half of the year, Hays' minutemen fought Comanches at Uvalde Canyon in June, killing ten Comanches and capturing two others at the cost of only one wounded ranger.

His next Comanche engagement occurred on July 24, 1841, at the Llano River. In this heated fight, one of his rangers was wounded and another was killed. Captain Hays was also shot in the finger but his company had killed an estimated ten Comanches. It was during this Llano fight that Hays' horse had galloped wildly through the midst of the Indian ranks. His trusted Lipan Apache ranger sidekick Flacco had spurred his own horse on to follow the daring Texan through the fire fight. Both men miraculously escaped, but Flacco was heard to comment that his captain was "bravo too much."

The most fabled story of John Hays involved his solitary stand against a band of Comanches atop Enchanted Rock in Llano County in the fall of 1841. Cut off from his men, he had been chased by Comanches to the granite mass, where Hays reportedly took cover and fought off his attackers single-handedly with his rifle and Colt repeating pistols until his companions could come to his aid.

Hays was believed by many of the Indians to be leading a charmed life. Some referred to him as "Devil Jack" (or "Devil Yack"), while the Tejanos who served under him commonly called him "Capitan Jack." One Indian chief visiting San Antonio for a treaty had remarked, "Captain Jack, great brave. No afraid go to hell by himself."

Such were the praises and the respect bestowed on the Texas Ranger captain who had commanded Béxar County's ranging forces throughout 1841. Newspaper editors credited him with breaking up the Comanche camps in the area during the year and praised him for creating a true sense of security for the citizens of the settlements around the San Antonio area.

Captain Hays' company had been disbanded before the end of the year and the start of 1842 had seen little action to necessitate the recall of his men to service. He had, in fact, returned to his mainstay of surveying during the early weeks of the year. Hays departed San Antonio in February 1842, with six men to locate another soldier's headright north of Béxar. During the course of running this property line, his surveyors were fired upon by a group of Indians. The Indians did not fully engage the surveyors but merely moved in close enough around the men to make things very uneasy. Undaunted, Hays fired periodic shots at the Indians to keep them at a safe distance while his men finished running their survey line.

While Hays had been vigilant in the field fighting Indians during his surveying expeditions, events in early March 1842 would cause him to muster in his ranging unit again in force. This time his opponents were not Native Americans but instead Mexican Army forces which were marching into Texas on the offensive.

* * *

A New Invasion of Texas

Sam Houston had reassumed his presidency of the Republic of Texas on December 13, 1841, and immediately prepared a series of recommendations which he hoped would rescue the country from financial collapse. He also recommended that the Cherokee lands now in public domain be pledged as a security for a foreign loan. Houston was the hero of San Jacinto but politics was one front in which his objectives were sharply different from his predecessor.

With President Mirabeau Lamar-once his ally on the San Jacinto battlefield-out of office, Houston was free to set his own policies. Houston believed that Lamar's Indian extermination policy should be abandoned as a failure. The country should return to the ways he had tried to establish in his first administration. Mexico was no longer a serious threat, and he doubted that they would attempt another serious invasion of Texas. President Houston therefore believed that only a small force would be needed to counter the activities of the Texan and Mexican bandit gangs on the southwestern border and to defend the Indian frontier. Houston suggested that a number of small posts should be established at the western limit of settlement. Each should have a resident Indian trader to conduct all trade with the "savages" in the vicinity and a garrison of twenty-five or thirty men to protect the trader.

President Houston did not favor rangers or minutemen to man these new trading outposts. He was not in favor of Lamar's county minuteman law, which did not authorize the executive to employ men for garrison duty. As originally created, the minuteman law was very limiting on the number of men to be employed and how many consecutive days they could remain in the field.

The regular army which Houston had only recently scoffed at a public dinner in late November 1841 would not be revived under Houston, either. Houston therefore sought Congress' approval to enroll ranging companies to operate under War Department orders. He felt that the organization of long-term ranger companies under the leadership of more capable men was the most sensible solution for the frontier defense problem.

The Sixth Congress of the Republic of Texas did not pass Houston's recommendations without a broil. The Western, or Lamar, faction of Congress clashed with President Houston's proposal to move the seat of government from Austin to the east. The Congress did agree with Houston that government payment of public debt should be suspended and that the nearly worthless paper currency of the Republic should be replaced by a new paper issue, strictly limited in amount and maintained at par with gold and silver.

Congress also proceeded to abolish a number of government positions, as recommended by Houston. Pay cuts were also instituted in all branches of Texas government. For current expenses during 1842, the War Department and the army received an appropriation of under $25,000. President Houston was additionally appropriated $20,000 to be used at his discretion "for the purposes of frontier protection." The Sixth Congress also allowed $2,000 "for redemption of captives from the Indians" and another $9,600 to pay off the county minutemen companies which had served during 1841.

Just prior to passage of the February 3 General Appropriation Act, Congress had on January 29 authorized the President to raise a single company of mounted rangers for service in the Southwest. The resolution briefly authorized Sam Houston to employ "one company of mounted men, to act as rangers, on the southern frontier, on such terms as he may deem most beneficial to the public interest." This open approval gave Houston all the authority he needed to continue providing for the services of Jack Hays' rangers.

Fortunately, a relative peace had settled on the Indian frontier during the winter of 1841-1842. Mexico was not believed to be interested in attacking Texas again and the Indians had remained relatively quiet for months. The sleeping giant south of the border, however, became restless during the early days of 1842. Rumors had always been present that a Mexican invasion was imminent but little heed had been paid to such talk as of late. The first serious hint of trouble came from General Mariano Arista, commander of the Mexican Army of the North, on January 9, 1842. Arista issued a proclamation to the residents of Texas. He said that Mexico had not consented to Texas' separation from the central government and did not recognize her independence. He said that only Mexico's own internal civil war problems had kept her from dealing with Texas for so long. If the Texans did not voluntarily return to their Mexican allegiance, the "persuasion of war" would be applied. Arista's proclamation was generally received with disbelief and given as much attention as ad interim Mexican President Carlos María Bustamante's previous hints of a Mexican invasion.

President Houston, however, took Arista's threat a little more seriously. On February 15, he wrote to his friend and private secretary Washington D. Miller-a veteran of the 1840 battle of Plum Creek-that he believed Santa Anna "will if he can send a large force and station it upon the Rio Grande & from that line send out into our Territory parties of cavalry such as may annoy and injure us the most."

Miller reported back to Houston that the Mexicans had become more active than usual in breaking up the forbidden trade between the Rio Grande and Texas settlements. This seemed to indicate more of an interest in Texas on the part of Mexico, but Texans in general seemed to show little concern.

Juan Seguin, mayor of San Antonio, was one citizen who did show a growing concern about the rumors of Mexican invasion. Seguin had shown great loyalty to Texas during the revolution of 1836 and had commanded a Tejano company valiantly at the battle of San Jacinto. In the years thereafter he had commanded cavalry troops, participated in an expedition against Comanches, and he even resigned his seat in the Texas Congress to help support General Antonio Canales' Federalist troops in driving out the Centralists in 1840.

Seguin had returned to San Antonio, where he was elected mayor of the town in late 1840, in spite of rumors circulating from his enemies that he was secretly supporting Mexico's Centralist government. He wrote a letter in early 1842 to General Rafael Vasquez, commander of Mexican troops on the Rio Grande frontier, requesting a passport into Mexico to purchase sheep to pay off debts in Texas. Seguin would report that the tenor of Vasquez's reply letter made him believe that "an expedition was preparing against Texas, for the following month of March."

Mayor Seguin thus called the San Antonio city councilmen together to warn them that a Mexican invasion seemed imminent. He also wrote a letter of warning to President Houston on January 30 but Houston advised that he was unable to provide proper troops for defense due to the country's "impoverished condition." Further intelligence was received in San Antonio during the next two weeks which supported the Mexican invasion rumors. Seguin, already under suspicion of siding with Mexican forces, felt that it was impossible to properly defend his city and he declared that he would retire to his ranch and then to Seguin before his town could be taken.

The remaining Anglo-Texan citizens of San Antonio met and elected frontier ranger leader Jack Hays to lead them and to declare martial law in the town. Among the prominent Béxar County citizens known to have assembled under Hays' direction were Duncan Campbell Ogden, French Strother Gray, Henry Clay Davis, John R. Cunningham, Hendrick Arnold, Cornelius Van Ness, Dr. Launcelot Smithers, John Twohig and James Ury, a former planter from Louisiana. These men were quickly joined by Benjamin McCulloch and Alsey S. Miller from Gonzales after they were specifically summoned by Captain Hays. The townspeople of San Antonio pledged money to help pay for his spies and other volunteers who would be needed. Others mounted the town's artillery pieces and began fortifying the city against a potential invasion from Mexican forces.

The Béxar County Committee of Safety met on February 21 and sent two Tejanos to Mexican military posts near the Rio Grande to gather information. Just beyond the Nueces River, the two men were seized and briefly held captive by Agatón Quiñones, the noted Rio Grande robber who had long been the attention of Captain Hays' rangers. The two Tejanos, Damacio Galvan and Eusebio Farias, were told by Quiñones that his orders were to prevent all communications with the Rio Grande. They were ordered to return home and they reached San Antonio on the night of February 26.

Captain Hays had no shortage of able men available to send out on scouting duties to monitor the approaching Mexican forces. Unfortunately, any muster roll which may have existed for Hays' unit for 1842 has not survived time but it is evident he had roughly two dozen men under his charge in San Antonio by the beginning of March.

Hays' men were well seasoned. Marcus Rapier had served in a post-revolutionary ranger company of the Colonel Coleman/ Major Smith battalion and had participated in Major Mark Lewis' spring 1841 expedition. Isaac Allen and Truman Beck had also made the Lewis expedition. The blue-eyed Jett brothers, 28-year-old Stephen and 30-year-old James Matthew Jett, had first joined the ranging service in November 1835 and they fought together at San Jacinto. James Dunn's ranger service dated back to January 1836 and he had commanded a company during the 1841 Lewis expedition. William "Bigfoot" Wallace, a 25-year-old former Virginian, had come to Texas to avenge the loss of a brother and cousin who were killed in the Goliad Massacre. The six-foot-two 240-pound frontiersman had since proven his able fighting skills at the battle of Plum Creek and during General Tarrant's 1841 Village Creek battle.

Mike Chevallie was well versed on frontier fighting. He had served in the 1840 Council House Fight, Major Howard's fall 1840 expedition, and had fought with Captain Hays in 1841. Cyrus Egery had twice ridden on expeditions against Comanches in 1839 with Hays and Henry Karnes. Antonio Coy, Nathaniel Harbert, Arch Fitzgerald and Matt Jett had been in Major Howard's fall 1840 Comanche expedition. Seven of Hays' March 1842 rangers had served with him in 1841-Matt Jett, Stephen Jett, John Young, Coy, Harbert, Fitzgerald and Chevallie.

On February 26 the citizens of Gonzales had sent a note from Andrew Neill to Cornelius Van Ness in San Antonio, offering their help to San Antonio in case of attack. Within two days, definite word of an impending invasion reached the Gonzales citizens. The word came from an officer in the Mexican army to a priest in San Antonio, who immediately spread the word to his parishioners. The alarm prompted Mexicans within San Antonio to move south and the Anglo-American settlers to move north and east of town. Word of the threatened attack was also spread to settlements on the Guadalupe River and to Austin.

In response to the word from the two captured Tejanos, Captain Hays sent out other spies, including Mike Chevallie and James Dunn to make a scout toward the Rio Grande. A messenger was sent from Béxar to call on the people of Gonzales to provide 100 men to reinforce San Antonio. Chevallie and Dunn made it only as far as the Nueces River before they were also ambushed and captured by Colonel Calixto Bravo's Mexican troops. Chevallie cocked his pistol, pointed it at the Mexican general and made Bravo swear an oath that the rangers would be spared their lives for surrendering as prisoners of war.

Hays next directed his Tejano servant Antonio Coy toward the Rio Frio to report on that vicinity. Coy was also captured by Mexican forces and was mistreated for his loyalty to the Texan cause. By March 2, the Gonzales volunteers under 1835 ranger Captain Daniel Boone Friar had reached San Antonio and Hays had heard nothing from his three scouts. That evening, he dispatched Benjamin McCulloch and Alsey S. Miller to gather information toward the Medina River. Miller and McCulloch proceeded to Hondo Creek, where they hid in the chaparral and counted the Mexican troops under Vasquez. The spies pushed on to the Nueces River, monitoring the Mexican forces in the area, before turning back for San Antonio by way of the hill country north of Béxar. They would rejoin Hays on March 6 opposite Seguin at the Flores Rancho.


Excerpted from Savage Frontier Volume IV 1842-1845 by Stephen L. Moore Copyright © 2010 by Stephen L. Moore . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Prologue vii

1 The Vasquez Incursion 1

A New Invasion of Texas 3

2 Spring and Summer Ranger Actions 21

Indian Peace Talks of 1842 25

The Gilleland Family Massacre 28

Captain Hays' Guadalupe River Battle 30

Ranger Life 39

The Battle of Lipantitlán 41

Ranger Actions: Summer 1842 45

Comanche Empire 50

3 Woll Seizes Béxar 53

4 Salado Creek Battle: "Give Them Hell!" 59

"I Would Rather Die Than Retreat" 75

5 Hondo Creek Skirmish 85

Hays Takes Cannon at Hondo Creek 88

6 The Somervell and Mier Expeditions 95

The Somervell Expedition 95

The Battle of Mier 109

The Archives War 114

7 "Active, Vigilant and Efficient" 117

Frontier Depredations of 1843 119

The Snively Expedition 124

Tawakoni Creek and Bird's Fort Treaties 126

Capt. Hays' 1843 Actions 128

8 The Deadly Colts on Walker's Creek 139

Jack Hays' 1844 Ranging Company 140

Other 1844 Frontier Fights 152

9 "I Laid Down to Die" 155

Ambush of Hays' Rangers 158

The Regulator-Moderator War 165

Peace Talks Renew at Tawakoni Creek 168

10 The 1845 County Ranging Companies 171

The First Rangers of Dallas 180

11 Rangers in Federal Service 187

Major Hays' Ranger Battalion 187

"The Republic of Texas Is No More" 199

12 Afterword 201

Appendix: Texas Ranger Companies of the Republic of Texas 207

Chapter Notes 221

Bibliography 241

Index 247

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