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John Coffee Hays

January 28, 1817 - April 21, 1883

A Continent Divided: The U.S.-Mexico War

John Coffee "Jack" Hays

January 28, 1817 - April 21, 1883

John Coffee "Jack" Hays, a relative of President Andrew Jackson, was born in Wilson County, Tennessee on January 28, 1817. In 1837 he went to live in San Antonio, Texas, where, as a frontier surveyor, he earned a reputation for bravery and toughness.

In 1840 the Congress of the Republic of Texas appointed Hays to lead a company of Texas Rangers against the Comanche Indians. He was subsequently called upon to command a battalion and advanced in rank from Captain to Major. During one particularly memorable occasion in 1842, Hays became separated from his men and took refuge atop Enchanted Rock, where he kept an Indian war party at bay for hours until reinforcements arrived. In 1844, Hays and fourteen rangers reportedly defeated a band of Indians that outnumbered them by five to one.

After Texas was annexed by the United States and the U.S.-Mexico War began, Hays became the Colonel of the First Regiment of Texas Mounted Volunteers, which was attached to the command of Gen. Zachary Taylor. In the fall of 1846, shortly after Hays and his men had distinguished themselves at the Battle of Monterey, they were mustered out of service.

In 1847, the same year Hays married Susan Calvert, his regiment was reconstituted, with five companies assigned to guard the frontier. In October the other five were ordered to serve under Gen. Winfield Scott in central Mexico. After the fall of the capital, Hays and his men conducted scouting duties and carried out expeditions against guerillas led by former President Mariano Paredes and Padre Jarauta. In late February 1848, Hays and his men fought a bloody battle with 450 of Padre Jarauta's followers.

Shortly afterward, the Texans learned that General Scott had granted Santa Anna safe conduct out of the country and that he would be passing near their camp. At first, they wanted to kill him but Hays convinced them that doing so would bring dishonor on Texas. When they demanded a chance to talk to the former president, the Colonel persuaded them to settle instead for lining the road in silence as he passed by in a coach with his wife and daughter.

Shortly after this episode Hays and his men were discharged at Vera Cruz and then returned the United States by steamship.

At the end of the U.S.-Mexico War, Hays and his wife left Texas and went to California, where in 1849 he became the first elected sheriff of San Francisco. In 1853, the same year Hays took up residence on the east side of San Francisco Bay, President Franklin Pierce appointed him Surveyor General of California. Today, he is remembered as one of founders of the city of Oakland, where he prospered in banking and the real estate business.

Hays and his wife, who lived on a spacious estate in Oakland called Fernwood, had five children, all of whom were born in California.

On April 21, 1883, the former Texas Ranger died at the age of sixty-six. He and all his family are buried in Oakland's Mountain View Cemetery.

For further reading:

Barton, Henry W. Texas Volunteers in the Mexican War (Waco, Texas: The Texian Press, 1970).

Ford, John Salmon. Rip Ford's Texas (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1963).

Greer, James K. Colonel Jack Hays: Texas Frontier Leader and California Builder (College Station, Texas: Texas A. & M. University Press, 1987).

Kenly, John R. Memoirs of a Maryland Volunteer (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1873).

Reid, Samuel C. Jr. The Scouting Expeditions of McCulloch's Texas Rangers (Philadelphia: G. G. Evans & Co., 1859).

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