May 26, 1815 - November 3, 1897
John Salmon "Rip" Ford
May 26, 1815 – November 3, 1897
Born in Greenville District, South Carolina, the Ford family moved to Lincoln County, Tennessee in 1817. At nineteen Ford took it upon himself to learn medicine and began to study under James G. Barksdale in Shelbyville, Bedford County, Tennessee.
In 1836, Doctor Ford emigrated to San Augustine, Texas, practiced medicine, taught Sunday school and wrote plays for the local theater group. In his spare time he joined local militias protecting the frontier settlements from Comanche raids.
In the early 1840's Dr. Ford passed the Texas State Bar and won a seat in the Republic of Texas Ninth Congress of 1844, campaigning in favor of the annexation of Texas into the United States. After his first term he purchased the Texas National Register and relocated the newspaper to the state capitol in Austin. Following the death of his wife in August of 1845, Ford sold his interest in the paper and became reclusive.
On May 10, 1847, Ford enlisted in John "Jack" Coffee Hays' First Regiment of Mounted Texas Rifles as General Winfield Scott began his siege of the Mexican port city of Vera Cruz. The 1st Texas Mounted Rifles spent several weeks in the Vera Cruz area and Ford formed a spy company which moved around the district hunting for bandits and guerillas. Hays and his men joined General Robert Patterson and followed General Scott's route up the National Highway to Mexico City, securing the road from persistent guerilla activity, which had prevented the movement of communication and supplies to the U.S. Army.
Ford became the adjutant to Colonel Hays and one of his duties consisted of sending condolences to the loved ones of Texans killed in action or, more often, from disease. Ford signed each of the letters "Rest in Peace" as causalities mounted; Ford shortened the epitaph to R.I.P., and the rest of his company began to call him by the name of "Rip" Ford. With the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo on February 2, 1848, The Texas Mounted Rifles disbanded and returned home.
Never one to settle on any one endeavor, Ford spent the next fifty years of his life buying and selling newspapers, dabbling in state politics, and organizing Texas Ranger companies. In 1849 he aided the U.S. Army in establishing a wagon trail from San Antonio to El Paso. The following year he abetted Jose M. J. Carbajal in an attempt to wrest northern Mexico into the independent Republic of the Rio Grande; failing in that, he returned to Austin and became a state senator in 1852 and then mayor of Austin the following year.
By 1860, Ford had shifted to the far right politically and became an ultra-secessionist. In March the Committee on Public Safety appointed Ford a colonel in command of the Rio Grande Valley. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Colonel Ford persuaded the Union commander at Fort Brown to surrender all fifteen forts along the Rio Grande River together with Federal supplies valued at three million dollars. Ford's command consisted of tenuous negotiations between Texas, the Mexican government, and French forces attempting to occupy Mexico for non-payment of debt. Ford directed the last battle of the Civil War on May 13, 1865. Not knowing that General Robert E. Lee had surrendered Confederate forces on April 9, Ford attacked a Federal force sent to reoccupy Fort Brown.
Ford is best known in Texas history for his quieting of a mob in Austin in January of 1874. Following months of tension between the citizens of the city and a federal garrison comprised of Negro troops, pressure boiled over and a crowd threatened to attack the arsenal and kill the soldiers. Ford argued that such action would only prolong federal intervention in state politics and the crowd disbursed.
In his later life, Ford became superintendent of the State School for the Deaf and Blind and one of the founding members of the Texas State Historical Association. He is known as one of the state's first historical authors.
Following a short illness John Salmon Ford died in San Antonio, Texas, on November 3, 1897.
Ford, John Salmon and Stephen B. Oates. Rip Ford's Texas. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 1963.
Simpson, Harold B.. Rangers of Texas. Waco, Texas: Texian Press, 1969.