John Salmon Ford was born in 1815 in South Carolina. His family later moved to Shelbyville, Tennessee where he studied medicine. Ford came to Texas shortly after the Battle of San Jacinto, arriving in June of 1836. One of his first memories in Texas was to attend a Forth of July celebration in San Augustine in which Sam Houston was honored. Houston was still suffering from his wounded leg, but he gave a rousing speech. Ford joined the Texas Army and served until about 1838 under Col. Jack Hays, participating in many Indian battles. He then set up a medical practice in San Augustine which he operated until about 1844. During this time, he also studied law and passed the bar exam. In 1844, he won an election and began serving in the Texas House. It was Ford who introduced the resolution for Texas Annexation by the United States.
He became editor the following year of the Austin Texas Democrat and served in that capacity until the onset of the Mexican-American War, when he again joined Hays outfit as adjutant, medical officer and commander of a reconnaissance group. One of his duties as adjutant was to send out death notices for the men killed in battle. He began signing the notices with “Rest in Peace” but later shortened it to “RIP” so the troops started referring to him as “Old RIP” or simply “RIP” and the nickname stuck.
Following the Mexican-American War, he continued to serve with the Texas Rangers as Captain, and patrolled the area between the Nueces and Rio Grande Rivers. During this period there were a number of battles between the Rangers and the various Indian tribes.
In 1852 he won a Texas Senate election, filling the seat of Edward Burleson who had died the day after Christmas in 1851. About this time he acquired the publication Southwestern American. He and a fellow Ranger Joe Walker also started the publication State Times. In 1858, he joined the state troops under Governor Runnels and again fought major battles with the Indian tribes. Near the end of the decade, he began a number of battles against Mexican leader Juan N. Cortina. In 1861, he was a member of the Succession Convention, negotiated a trade agreement with the Confederacy and Mexico and accepted an election as colonel in the Second Texas Cavalry. His duties included overseeing the conscription (drafting) of soldiers into the Confederate Army. In addition, he had responsibility for maintaining trade between Mexico and the Confederacy. Lee surrendered at Appomattox on April 12, 1865, but it took a while for the war to wind down in the west. On May 12 and 13, 1865 at Palmito Ranch, the final battle of the Civil War, Ford commanded the Confederate forces.
Ford returned to newspaper publishing after the war and served as editor of the Brownsville Sentinel. The end of Reconstruction Era was marked in 1872 by the election of Richard Coke as governor over the outgoing Edmund J. Davis. It was a volatile time and Ford served as sergeant at arms to keep the peace in Austin in the weeks following the election. Following this, Ford served in various capacities including being a cattle inspector and Mayor of Brownsville. In 1875, he participated in the Constitutional Convention and served as a state senator from 1876 to 1879. Among his final positions was to serve as superintendent of the entity that became the Texas School for the Deaf.
Ford was named to the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame for his many years of service as a Ranger. He penned his memoirs in the still widely available book, Rip Ford’s Texas and was a charter member of the Texas Historical Society. After suffering a stroke and lingering near death for several weeks, Ford died in San Antonio in 1897. He is interred in San Antonio beside the river.
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