Ranger John Coffee “Jack” Hays was born in Little Cedar Lick, Wilson County, Tennessee, January 28, 1817. In “Texas Rising,” he seems to be a somewhat less important character, likely because most of his service as a Texas Ranger occurred after the Texas Revolution. Hays was related to Andrew Jackson’s family in that Mrs. Jackson was his great aunt. His father fought with Andrew Jackson and gave Jack his middle name Coffee in honor of Gen. John Coffee who had also served under Jackson.
When Hays was still a young man, he left Tennessee and moved to Mississippi where he learned surveying. Some accounts have him coming to Texas in 1836, early enough to serve under Erastus “Deaf” Smith and Henry W. Karnes while others maintain that he arrived in late 1837 or early 1838. Regardless, he had settled in San Antonio by February, 1840 and apparently “rangered” while he also served as a surveyor. He fought in the Battle of Plumb Creek and in 1840 he became Captain of a company of Rangers under Mirabeau B. Lamar, during the interim years after the Texas Revolution but before the Mexican-American War. In addition to Plum Creek, he was also involved in action at Cañon de Ugalde, Bandera Pass and Painted Rock.
Conditions were difficult on either side of the Texas/Mexico border as the Rangers battled Cherokees and Comanches and endeavored to keep track of Mexican outlaws and other forces in the area. By early 1841, Hays was Captain of Rangers that tried to deal with Mexican soldiers in Laredo who had been known to raid and commit robberies in Texas. In addition, the Rangers were called upon to try and protect legitimate traders who were carrying on commerce between Texas and Mexico. Hays distinguished himself in defense of the traders and was as successful with defense against the Indians, earning the nickname “Captain Jack.”
In 1841 and 1842 there were a number of exchanges between Texas and Mexico beginning with the Texans’ unsuccessful Santa Fe Expedition and Mexico’s General Rafael Vasquez’s attempt to capture San Antonio. Vasquez was successful, but withdrew after two days. The Texans countered with a raid near Lipantilican. Hays was directed to increase his numbers to 150 men and defend San Antonio from another attack, but was unable to do so due to a lack of funds. The Texans were vastly outnumbered as San Antonio was again besieged, this time by the Mexican General Woll and his forces in September 1842. The Mexican forces were successful in San Antonio, but went on to Salado Creek where the Texans rallied their forces and overtook them. The Texans generally prevailed except for the near complete loss of Captain Nicolas Dawson’s forces as he was trying to join them. Still, the now larger Texas force forced Woll to retreat, pursued by the troops of Caldwell and Hays, who was by then quite well known to the Mexicans. General Woll had even offered $500 for the head of Hays, who was in hot pursuit. The Mexicans guarded their retreat with a cannon that Hays was able to capture. The Texans drove Woll and his army all the way to the Rio Grande before turning back. Following this action, Hays and his men were commended by Sam Houston. The Texans, encouraged by their success, again overstepped with the Mier Expedition, to be discussed later.
Hays returned to the defense of San Antonio until the Mexican-American War, in which he commanded the Texas Mounted Riflemen and Second Regiment of Texas Rangers, serving under General Winfield Scott in the Mexico City campaign. After he was married in 1847, Hayes left the Rangers and he became the US Indian agent for the Gila River area in New Mexico and Arizona in 1849. Following this brief service, he moved to California the following year during the “Gold Rush” days,. He was successful in the real estate and ranching business there. He also served as U. S. Surveyor General for California, served as sheriff of San Francisco County and was active in politics, serving as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. He had helped found the city of Oakland, California and following his death in 1883 he was interred there at Mountain View Cemetery. He has been memorialized in several ways in Texas, including the naming Hays County and at least one school in his honor. In consideration for his service as a Ranger, he was named as one of the 30 members of the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame.