by Pat Rodgers
The name “Texas Rangers” conjurers up various images. Our baseball team, the Texas Rangers, made us proud as they won the 2023 Baseball World Series. The team is named in honor of the original Texas Rangers, the famous investigative law enforcement agency.
The Texas Rangers, based in Austin, have led law enforcement since Stephen F. Austin established them in 1823. Celebrating their bicentennial in 2023, they’ve tackled diverse tasks: from crime investigation, including murder and political corruption, to riot control, governor protection, fugitive tracking, and safeguarding the Alamo.
Their evolution from frontier defenders into a modern-day investigative force has profoundly influenced the Lone Star State, reflecting a tapestry of bravery and controversy. To grasp their impact on early Texas settlers and communities, we must revisit 1823, at a cabin on the Colorado River in Fayette County, where colonizer Stephen F. Austin proposed formation of a 10-man force to serve as “rangers for the common defense”.
In 1834, Texas was a vast, rugged land, with fertile soil and rich resources, attracting settlers and pioneers venturing westward, driven by their belief in “Manifest Destiny.” They saw Texas as a great land of opportunity for establishing farms, ranches and businesses.
Simultaneously, traveling bands of Comanches, native to this wilderness, depended on the buffalo for their existence. As pioneers cultivated the land and built fences and the buffalo hunters decimated buffalo populations, the native tribes faced suffering and starvation.
The Comanche loved his way of life and his land. He fought for them with all his ferocious cunning. He rarely took prisoners. He killed the men, took the women as slaves, and adopted the children into the tribe who were too young to run away. The Comanche power was in sheer military superiority and his ability, man to man to outride and outshoot any Anglo or Mexican vaquero.
For years, men who rode to safeguard the frontier were not always called Rangers and were not always about law and order. For over a half century, they saddled up to protect Texas from hostile tribes and Comanche bands.
The Rangers, a rugged and undisciplined group known for their eclectic attire including buckskins, serapes, and Mexican sombreros, posed a significant challenge to the Comanches. Often shirtless and adorned with Indian breechcloths and leggings, these men, not formally part of any army, made sparse camps on the prairie and were sporadically paid.
In this cultural clash, Jack Hayes emerged as a legendary Texas Ranger; a fearless and skilled lawman who would forever leave his mark on the frontier. Born in 1817, he abandoned his surveying studies to join “Deaf Smith’s” Texas Ranger Company to patrol the land between San Antonio and Laredo.
He was promoted to sergeant and the illiterate unmanageable border ruffians gave their full allegiance to the quiet, twenty-three old. In 1840 Jack Hayes was made a captain and later a major with the Texas Rangers.
The Hays Ranger knew how to ride and was mounted on an agile and fast horse. His ranging companies, rarely numbering more than fifteen or twenty men, behaved more and more like the Comanches
they were hunting. They learned how to ride, track, and make camp like the Comanche.
Hayes required each man to carry a rifle, two pistols and a knife. He had a Mexican blanket behind his saddle, a small wallet, in which he carried salt, cold flour, and tobacco.
The Hays Rangers, mirroring Comanche tactics, traveled by moonlight, guided by rivers and the North Star. They swam the frozen rivers alongside their horses. Always ready for battle, they slept fully clothed and armed.
Hays introduced charging and shooting from horseback, a technique inspired by plains Indians that was unique to his Rangers in America. This approach had no precedent in American military history. Hayes epitomized the ideal Ranger, admired for his bravery, intelligence, and composure under fire, marking him as one of America’s finest military commanders.
Battles were fought, and victories were won; but Hays was more than a warrior. He sought to build bridges between cultures, to find common ground even amidst conflict. In the midst of his duties, he acted as a mediator, brokering peace treaties and striving for a more peaceful coexistence.
Today, we look back at the legacy of Jack Hays and the Texas Rangers. We remember the bravery and resilience, the triumphs and tragedies, and the lasting impact the Rangers have had on the transformation of Texas from a rugged territory to a modern powerhouse.