John Coffee Hays: Ideal Texas Ranger

Rough and ready yet polite and mild-mannered, John Coffee “Jack” Hays was the prototypical Texas Ranger.

John Coffee Hays: Ideal Texas Ranger
Because of his tactical proficiency and natural leadership skills, John C. Hays has been referred to as “the greatest Ranger chief in the history of the Lone Star State.”

In the early 1850s, John Coffee “Jack” Hays was elected sheriff of San Francisco County and appointed United States Surveyor General for California, became one of the founders of the city of Oakland, and ran successful enterprises in real estate and ranching. But before all of that, he led the Texas Rangers into the history books. Usually outnumbered and against overwhelming odds, Hays triumphed in so many battles against bandits, Indians, and the Mexican army that he is what historian Darren Ivey called “the ideal Texas Ranger.”

Hays was born on January 28, 1817, in Cedar Lick in Wilson County, Tennessee. After his parents died, when he was 15 years old, he moved to Mississippi where he learned surveying. By mid-1836, he had migrated to Texas and joined a Ranger company under Erastus “Deaf” Smith. He soon took part in a skirmish with the Mexican Cavalry. He was appointed deputy surveyor of the Bexar District and subsequently often had skirmishes with marauding Indians while carrying out his surveying duties.

In 1840 Hays was appointed a captain of the Rangers. He proved to be a fearless fighter and a good leader. He saw action in battles at Plum Creek, Cañon de Ugalde, Bandera Pass, Painted Rock, Salado, Walker’s Creek, and others.

The battle at Walker’s Creek on June 8, 1844, marked a turning point in Ranger warfare as it was the first effective use of revolvers in close combat. Hays was a fan of the Colt Paterson percussion revolver and outfitted his Rangers with them. The “Texas Paterson” was an open-top, .36-cailber, five-shot cap-and-ball revolver with various barrel lengths and a folding trigger that was accessible only when the hammer was cocked. To facilitate the revolver’s use in close combat while on horseback, Hays and his men carried extra preloaded cylinders that they quickly swapped during battle.


The Walker’s Creek fight began as Hays and a company of 14 or 15 Rangers (accounts vary) were returning to San Antonio after an extensive patrol when they were attacked by some 80 mounted Comanches. Vastly outnumbered, Hays ordered his Rangers to charge the Comanches, who were caught off-guard by the maneuver. Putting their Colt Paterson revolvers to work, Hays and his men routed the war party.


Hays gained further respect as a fighter during the Mexican-American War (1846–1848) when he and his Texas Mounted Riflemen scouted for the army of Zachary Taylor and took part in the Battle of Monterrey. He also helped keep the communication and supply lines open between Veracruz and Mexico City for the troops under Winfield Scott.

In 1849 Hays left Texas and joined the Gold Rush to California. He was elected sheriff of San Francisco in 1850 and built the first permanent jail there, disbanded a murderous vigilante group called the Committee of Vigilance, and declared that all accused criminals had a right to a fair trial. In 1853 he was appointed U.S. Surveyor General for California. He was one of the developers of Oakland, and he held interests in land, banking, and utilities.

When the Comstock Lode was discovered near Virginia City, Nevada, in 1859, local Paiute Indians attacked, robbed, and killed several local miners and settlers. Hays went to Nevada and led hundreds of volunteers in a series of running gun battles with the Paiutes.

After the Paiute attacks stopped, Hays returned to California and became active in politics. He was selected as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1876. He passed away on April 21, 1883, and was interred in the Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California.


Though he served as a Texas Ranger for less than a dozen years, John C. Hays made an indelible mark on the force. As Ivey wrote, “Even though ranger companies, battalions, and regiments had taken the field in previous years, Hays was the man who set the traditions of personal courage and gallant leadership that would be expected of future Texas Ranger captains.” You could say he was the Rangers’ Ranger.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Pinging Steel At Over A Mile Away

Pinging Steel At Over A Mile Away

Big bore semiauto or a lever gun? We look at the futuristic .450 Bushmaster and how it compares to the tried and true .45-70. ISS Prop House gives us the rundown on the guns used in Enemy at the Gate. We ping steel with a .300 WinMag at over a mile.

The Future Of Special Operations Small Arms

The Future Of Special Operations Small Arms

We're taking a look at what the Army's Elite Units are using for service rifles and what the future of SOCOM sniping looks like.

Tactical Solutions Introduces New X-Ring Takedown SBR Rifle

Tactical Solutions Introduces New X-Ring Takedown SBR Rifle

Keith Feeley of Tactical Solutions sat down with Michael Bane at SHOT Show 2018 to talk about the new X-Ring Takedown SBR .22LR rifle.

All About .300 Blackout

All About .300 Blackout

The .300 Blackout is here to stay, and we take some time to look at new technology surrounding this cartridge. Next, we pit subsonic rivals against each other before stretching the legs of this CQB round out to 600 yards from a short 9-inch barrel.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Cutting-edge projectiles provide unprecedented performance in the venerable old workhorse, the .30-06. Ammo

Get the Most Out of the .30-06

Joseph von Benedikt - April 01, 2019

Cutting-edge projectiles provide unprecedented performance in the venerable old workhorse, the...

How can a shorter-barrel revolver have higher velocities than a longer-barrel semiauto pistol? Here's why. Handguns

Revolver vs. Semiauto Pistol: A Ballistic Oddity

Allan Jones - May 15, 2019

How can a shorter-barrel revolver have higher velocities than a longer-barrel semiauto pistol?...

Considering how popular the .270 Winchester has become, it's a great mystery why more .270 caliber (6.8mm) rifle cartridges  have not been introduced. Ammo

5 Great .270 Rifle Cartridges

Layne Simpson - May 28, 2019

Considering how popular the .270 Winchester has become, it's a great mystery why more .270...

The new Bushnell FORGE riflescope is “the only choice for long-range hunting enthusiasts.” Optics

Review: Bushnell FORGE 4.5-27X 50mm

Sam Wolfenberger - May 01, 2019

The new Bushnell FORGE riflescope is “the only choice for long-range hunting enthusiasts.”

See More Trending Articles

More Handguns

The craftsmen at Nighthawk Custom build some of the most precise Model 1911s available, and the Fire Hawk is a perfect specimen. Handguns

Nighthawk Custom Fire Hawk Model 1911 Review

Layne Simpson - May 01, 2020

The craftsmen at Nighthawk Custom build some of the most precise Model 1911s available, and...

Made from 1990 until 1997, the sturdy and compact Star M-40 Firestar was one of the first concealable pistols chambered for a potent cartridge. Handguns

Star M-40 Firestar Single-Stack Pistol

Joseph von Benedikt - April 07, 2020

Made from 1990 until 1997, the sturdy and compact Star M-40 Firestar was one of the first...

The Smith & Wesson Model 57 N-Frame .41 Magnum—a favorite of sixgun superstars—refuses to go out of style. Handguns

Smith & Wesson Model 57 N-Frame .41 Magnum Review

Payton Miller - May 20, 2020

The Smith & Wesson Model 57 N-Frame .41 Magnum—a favorite of sixgun superstars—refuses to go...

The FX 1911 Military DDEF G10 produced by American Tactical Imports (ATI) exclusively for Davidson's has a bunch of nice features, including a Davidson's Dark Earth Cerakote-finished frame and textured Pachmayr G10 grip panels. Handguns

ATI 1911 FX Military DDEF G10 Review

Joel J. Hutchcroft - June 08, 2020

The FX 1911 Military DDEF G10 produced by American Tactical Imports (ATI) exclusively for...

See More Handguns

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get Digital Access.

All Shooting Times subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now