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Savage Frontier Volume IV 1842-1845

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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 men, 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. This new weapon allowed his men to remain on horseback and keep up a continuous and deadly fire in the face of overwhelming odds, especially at Walker's Creek. Through extensive use of primary military documents and first-person accounts, Moore sets the record straight on some of Jack Hays' lesser-known Comanche encounters. "Moore’s fourth and final volume of the Savage Frontier series contains many compelling battle narratives, but there is a wealth of social as well as military history lurking in these chapters. No one who is interested in the people and the problems of the Texas Republic can afford to leave these pages unread."--James E. Crisp, author of How Did Davy Die? And Why Do We Care So Much?

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12 Chapters

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1. The Vasquez Incursion


Chapter 1

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


2. Spring and Summer Ranger Actions


Chapter 2

Spring and Summer

Ranger Actions

April–July 1842

The buildup of volunteer troops in Texas as a result of the

Vasquez incursion lasted only for a month. In Goliad, citizen soldiers from Victoria, Jackson, Matagorda and Brazoria counties had remained on station for two weeks under the direction of commander Clark L. Owen before disbanding. The militiamen under Brigadier General Somervell and volunteers under

Ned Burleson who gathered in San Antonio awaited orders from President Houston through March. Scouts brought in intelligence that the Mexican raiders had recrossed the Rio Grande and Burleson—still lacking orders to pursue them—decided to disband the San Antonio volunteers on April 2, 1842.1

Captain Jack Hays was thereby left with the only organized military force in San Antonio once again. Some of his volunteer rangers headed for home once the Vasquez crisis passed. Others who had assembled under Burleson opted to ride with Hays after their companies were disbanded. Among the men who joined


3. Woll Seizes Béxar


Chapter 3

Woll Seizes Béxar

August–Sept. 1842

President Santa Anna was intent on restoring the territory of

Texas to Mexico during the summer of 1842 and he urged his

Congress to approve a new campaign. He sent orders on June 5 to the new commander in chief of the Army of the North, General

Isidro Reyes, to prepare for another attack upon San Antonio.

The July battle at Lipantitlán against Texan forces delayed this initiative but Reyes was active during late July and August in recruiting men and supplies to carry out these orders.1

General Adrian Woll, a French-born senior officer of Mexico's

Army of the North, would lead a division of the army to retake

San Antonio. The 47-year-old, now a naturalized Mexican citizen, had fought in many independence fights for his new country, including the Texas Revolution. Woll crossed the Rio

Grande at Presidio with his Second Division and made his way toward Béxar. Woll issued a proclamation on August 30, 1842, to a Mexican force camped on the left bank of the Rio Bravo, in which he called for the second invasion of Texas of the year. He asked these troops to march to San Antonio and reclaim the former province. These Mexican forces moved toward San Antonio with ease as there were no ranging units operating at the time to intercept them.2


4. Salado Creek Batt le: "Giv e Them Hell!"


Chapter 4

Salado Creek Battle:

"Give Them Hell!"

September 18, 1842

When Reverend Zachariah [or Zacharius] Morrell reached

Seguin on Monday, September 12, he assisted the volunteers in gathering ammunition to use in their attack on General Woll.

Recruits poured into Seguin during Monday night. On Tuesday morning, Colonel Caldwell—the acting commander of all volunteers by their common consent—led his forces to within 20 miles of San Antonio. Caldwell had been vigilant in organizing men to assist San Antonio. "Capt. Caldwell himself came to my house after me," said Robert Hall, a veteran of the 1840 Plum Creek battle. "I joined him next day. He was camped on a creek about eighteen miles northeast of San Antonio."1

On Tuesday, September 12, Caldwell made a call for ten of the best horses and lightest riders to race ahead to meet Captain

Hays on the Salado. One of these ten, Reverend Morrell, recalled,

"He had notified us, by express, that he was there watching the enemy and needed reinforcements."2


5. Hondo Creek Skirmish


Chapter 5

Hondo Creek


September 19, 1842–January 1843

Colonel Caldwell's volunteers spent a dark, anxious night camped on the Salado following their battle with General Woll's troops. Reverend Zachariah Morrell received word that Captain

Dawson's forces had been overrun and massacred. He was deeply worried about the fate of his son, Allen Morrell. At sunrise,

Colonel Caldwell and Captain Hays allowed Morrell, William

Burnham, Griffith Jones, John Henry Brown and Dr. Caleb S.

Brown to leave camp to scour the battlefield for survivors of the

Dawson engagement.1

The men were guided to the scene by a number of wounded horses found around the grove where the battle had taken place.

At the scene of Dawson's surrender, Morrell and company found

35 bodies of men he knew well. They "lay scattered and terribly mangled among the little clusters of bushes on the broad prairie."

Brown wrote that the bodies were "entirely naked, so mutilated with cannon shot, sabre wounds and lances as to be unrecognizable. The heads of several were nearly severed from their bodies.


6. The Somervell and Mier Expeditions


Chapter 6

The Somervell and

Mier Expeditions

September 23, 1842–January 1843

The Somervell Expedition

The Texans had allowed Woll's troops to escape, but they did not give up the plans for revenge and for recapturing their own men. Mathew Caldwell's report indicates that many of his men had returned home but that he planned to reassemble forces in 30 days. Ned Burleson set October 25 as the date for men to rally in San Antonio. Volunteers began drifting into town during October, among them a Washington County company under Captain Samuel Bogart. Many weeks would pass before an effectively organized force of men would be able to set out toward Mexico.1

President Houston wrote to one of his militia leaders, Brigadier

General Alexander Somervell of San Felipe, on October 3, 1842.

Houston advised Somervell to "proceed to the most eligible point on the southwestern frontier of Texas, and concentrate with the force now under your command." Somervell was directed to advance into "the enemy territory" if necessary and if he could maintain an element of surprise. He told the general to maintain discipline and control of his troops while observing the rules of civilized warfare. Somervell was also advised to "rely upon the gallant Hays and his companions" to cooperate with his efforts.


7. "Active, Vigilant and Efficient"


Chapter 7

"Active, Vigilant and Efficient"


The Texas Congress was taxed with creating a new system for protecting its frontiers in the wake of the Mexican incursions of 1842. Citizens from the eastern portions of the state had not been of benefit to the more sparsely settled western counties during the times of crisis. Deciding that reestablishing a formal

Texas Army was futile, the Congress opted to organize a new militia with designated commanders in order that the Republic of Texas would be able to be better organize itself in the event of another invasion attempt.1

The Seventh Congress passed a new frontier act on January

16, 1843, which declared a state of martial law between the

Nueces and Rio Grande while hostilities existed between Mexico and Texas. The major general of the Texas Militia, once again

Thomas Jefferson Rusk, was authorized to organize his militia throughout Texas into six brigades of up to six companies of 56 men each. Rusk was able to organize his militia should he "deem it expedient" and take his command into the field. Congress even dictated where the militia companies were to be stationed if they were raised: "two companies at the crossing of the Presidio road of the Leona River; two companies at the White House on the


8. The Deadly Colts on Walker's Creek


Chapter 8

The Deadly Colts on

Walker's Creek

January–June, 1844

The key Indian agent in Texas from the U.S., Pierce Butler, had more resources and thus more negotiating power than Sam

Houston's appointed agents. He found the Indians receptive when he called for a meeting of all Plains Indians to be held at Cache

Creek of the Red River in December 1843. Butler arrived with an escort of 30 U.S. dragoons and a large store of gifts.1

Butler spent 18 days with the Comanches and their associate tribes speaking of peace. He advised his superiors that the Indians would eventually need help in surviving as game became more scarce for hunting and the better farmlands were taken over by the Anglo Texas settlers. Butler took great interest in documenting the demographics of the Indian tribes he met with. In his report of

January 31, 1844, Butler counted 1,500 people in the two main

Wichita towns on the upper Trinity River. He found that another

500 or 600 lived in two Wichita communities near the Wichita mountains. Chief Jose Maria's Caddos had largely moved to the upper Trinity River, while some remained on the Brazos. Butler estimated the total population of southern Comanche tribes at


9. "I Laid Down to Die"


Chapter 9

"I Laid Down to Die"

Summer–Fall 1844

Captain Hays' rangers remained in San Antonio through the latter days of June to let his men recover from their wounds received in the Walker's Creek fight. They were still in town on

June 27, when his company completed new muster rolls.

Another Texas frontier force was in action during the summer of 1844. Rancher Henry Kinney established a ranging company to protect his own interests and those of the citizens living near him in the Corpus Christi area. During June, his volunteer company fought a battle with Comanches who had raided their area.

More than a dozen Texans were killed or wounded, including

Captain Kinney, who was slightly wounded by a Comanche spear while trying to save his company clerk, Juan Ruiz. At least six

Comanches were killed or badly wounded in the brief encounter.

The Texas secretary of war would authorize Kinney on August

5, 1844, to operate a regular ranging company with a strength of up to 56 men "for the protection of Corpus Christi." The Ninth


10. The 1845 County Ranging Companies


Chapter 10

The 1845 County

Ranging Companies


Newly seated President Anson Jones quickly took steps to reimburse the senior ranger commander for the expenses he had incurred while keeping Mexican bandits and Comanches in check throughout 1844. Jones recommended after his December inauguration that the Ninth Congress should pass legislation to settle the various accounts that Captain Hays had made on behalf of his rangers.1

The Ninth Congress would ultimately prove to be the last in service for the Republic of Texas era. It would also be the last legislature to meet in the old river town capital of Washingtonon-the-Brazos. One of the more heavily contested resolutions which passed on December 20 was that of moving the capital back to Austin. The location of the Texas government continued to be a hotbed even after the so-called Archives War.

Nine members of the House of Representatives, led by former ranger leaders John "Rip" Ford and William Turner Sadler, argued that the location of Austin, "liable at any moment to hostile incursions from the Indian and Mexican foe, renders that point at all times an insecure repository for the Archives of the nation."


11. Rangers in Federal Service


Chapter 11

Rangers in

Federal Service


Major Hays' Ranger Battalion

U.S. President James Polk did not want war but Mexico's hostile nature had compelled him to move U.S. regular army troops into Texas after the Ninth Congress had voted overwhelmingly in favor of annexation. The impending movement of Texas under control of the United States had brought about discussion of the Texas Rangers in Austin.

The Texas Congress realized that the U.S. would soon assume the principal responsibility for protecting Texas. Captain

Jack Hays and some of his county ranging units remained in service during late summer 1845 as Secretary of War William Cooke reviewed his republic's mounted service. The time and political process required for Texas to formally become part of the United

States insured that rangers would remain on the frontier.

General Zachary Taylor knew that the presence of so many

United States troops in Texas during 1845 had already been considered by Mexico to be an act of war. Taylor had been given authorization by President Polk to accept additional volunteers from Texas, Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and


12. Afterword


Chapter 12


The Republic of Texas was no more but the legendary Texas

Rangers continued by necessity. John Coffee Hays would also continue to be the predominant figurehead of the ranging service even as it came under control of the U.S. military during the

Mexican War.

During February 1846, Major Hays had gone to Corpus

Christi to visit with General Taylor. While there, his rangers learned that some 600 Indians had raided the settlements southwest of San Antonio and were retiring northward with their stolen goods. Some secondhand accounts have it that Hays and about forty rangers cut off this war party in the vicinity of Bandera Pass and then tracked the Comanches back into the hill country near

Enchanted Rock.1

Hays—as the story is told—rode with his rangers west from Enchanted Rock to a distinctive limestone formation on the Concho River called the Painted Rocks. The so-called

"Paint Rocks" received their moniker from the hundreds of ancient Indian pictographs which adorn a high cliff overlooking the Concho. Hays' men arrived during the night ahead of the



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