The Republic of Texas Struggles With Mexico

“In 1842, when Texas was last invaded, Tom Rife volunteered for her defense, and he served two enlistments in the Mexican War, and was in the fray from beginning to the end. One of those enlistments was served under a man dear to Texas, Jack Hayes, the other under Walter P Lane. No one has yet risen to question his courage or service.”

— “Custodian of the Alamo,” San Antonio Light, (San Antonio, Texas), February 23, 1887

John Coffee Hays, 1857. Hays commanded the Minutemen of Bexar County almost continuously from 1841 until the Mexican War. In 1842, Mexico invaded Texas. Hays led a body of volunteers to defeat Mexican General Woll at the Battle of Salado Creek and stopped the Mexican advance on Austin. Photo by Matthew Brady, Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons, accessed May 12, 2020.

The Minutemen of Bexar became Hay’s Rangers.

In the turmoil during and after the war for Texas independence, many progressive and industrious Mexican inhabitants of San Antonio left for Mexico;1 much of the Mexican population of Nacogdoches and displaced Native Americans who had gathered in east Texas2 were forced to leave the Republic by the victorious Anglo-Americans.3 The Anglo population itself consisted of a majority of honest farmers but also a significant minority of “loafers” who drifted from one opportunity to another.4

After Texas became a republic, the Texas Army was disbanded5, and defense of the frontier was turned over to the militia and county ranging companies.6 In the absence of a standing army, the ranging companies provided a body of paramilitary troopers who could lead militia and volunteer forces in the continuing faceoff with Mexico.7 These civilian soldiers were often called minutemen.8 The primary purpose of the minutemen was to punish Indian and Mexican raiders that were attacking settlers. As early as 1836, the frontier defenses came to rely on independent9 and short-term10 but full-time ranging companies paid by the Legislature and commissioned by the Governor.11

John Coffee (Jack) Hays, the commander of the minutemen of Bexar County,12 became the most famous ranger captain.13 Hays entered the ranger service as a 20-year old in late 1836 soon after arriving in Texas from Mississippi.14 He served as the commander of a company of rangers around San Antonio almost continually from 1841 until the Mexican war.15 He and his rangers developed techniques that eventually neutralized and then reversed the advantage that Comanche Indians had previously enjoyed in a fight with the Spanish military and Anglo settlers.16

Hays received his first commission as a ranger captain shortly after the battle of Plum Creek in August of 184017 and continued in military service until about 1848. The young men who served in Jack Hays’ ranging companies in 1841-1842 formed the nucleus of his Mexican War regiments in 1846.18 Other young adventure-seeking young men, such as Walter P. Lane, who never formally served in Hays’ ranger companies, joined Hays’ command, on occasion, as amateurs to learn how to pursue and defeat Comanche raiders.19

Jack Hays built his rangers into a creditable military organization.

Most men who applied to join Hays’ rangers could not meet the requirements for enlistment set by Hays. His caution in selecting recruits enabled him to create what is considered to be the best set of Indian fighters that Texas ever produced. Hays’ rangers patrolled an area of 40 to 50 miles and, in later years, lived in a camp on the Medina River. They patrolled continually in groups of three men led by a sergeant. Few of Hays’ rangers were over 22 years old.20

Hays initially established a camp at Leon Creek seven miles west of San Antonio.21 By 1844, he had moved the camp to the Medina River several miles above the site of Castroville.22 Between June 1 and September 30, 1843, Hays and 25 to 37 men ranged the region south of San Antonio.23 After 1844 the rangers provided security for the outlying settlements at Castroville, Quihi Lake, Vanderburg, and D’Hanis.24 These settlements were on the Indian frontier and were protected by a squad of rangers stationed at a camp on Seco Creek, two miles from D’Hanis.25 In 1844, there were 30 rangers stationed in Béxar County, 15 in Travis County, and 15 each in Refugio and Goliad.26 The rangers were charged with patrolling their assigned areas, searching for and pursuing raiders who, in the 1840s, were usually Comanche Indians or their allies.27

The rangers eventually found a way to defeat Horse Indians.

On March 19, 1840, Texas soldiers killed, at the Council House Fight, several Comanche chiefs who had come to San Antonio to negotiate the return of captives.28 This negotiation was the third attempt to sign a treaty with the Comanche.29 The hope of peaceful relations between the Texans and the Comanche Indians that had been promoted by Sam Houston30 was extinguished and not revived until 1853.31

Most encounters between Anglos, Mexicans, and the Comanche Indians were the result of horse-stealing raids.32 By 1840, stealing livestock from Mexico and Texas during the winter months was a tradition of the Southern Comanche.33 After each raid, the settlers pursued the Indians and attempted to recover kidnapped women, children, and horses. However, Indian raiders mounted on horses usually escaped the pursuing settlers.34

Even when the settlers managed to catch an Indian raiding party, the outcome was uncertain. Settlers armed with single-shot, long muzzle-loading rifles had to dismount to fire and reload. The Indians carried short bows that were accurate at short and medium range. For close fighting, the Comanche carried lances that were sometimes tied to the wrist by a cord. The shields that they carried on their left arm were made of several layers of buffalo hide35 and could deflect musket balls.36 Until the Anglos obtained repeating firearms, the two sides were about evenly matched in firepower in close-quarter fights.37

Jack Hays and his ranging company were the first to employ repeating pistols in a fight with Comanche raiders.38 During a fight on Walker Creek in June 1844, Jack Hays and 15 men used, for the first time, newly acquired Colt Paterson five-shot revolvers. These guns were bought for the Texas Navy and acquired by the rangers when President Sam Houston disbanded the Texas Navy in 1843.39 The ability to reload while galloping on horseback revolutionized the ranger’s fighting style and finally gave them the upper hand over mounted Comanche Indians.40 After the introduction of the six-shooters, the settlers gained an even more significant advantage, and Indian fights became simply chases.41

The war between Texas and Mexico began again in 1842.

The United Mexican States did not recognize the independence of the Republic of Texas despite the agreement signed by President López de Santa Anna in 1836.42 In 1842, Santa Anna was once again President of Mexico, and the republics of Texas and Mexico were once again at war.43 Texas President Mirabeau Lamar sent 270 armed men on a trading mission called the Santa Fé Expedition in June 1841. The expedition was meant to be a joint political, military, and commercial enterprise44, but the Mexican government interpreted it as an armed invasion.45 The participants in the expedition were captured and imprisoned.46

To revenge the invasion of New Mexico by the Santa Fé Expedition, President Santa Anna sent troops to invade Texas.47 Seven hundred Mexican soldiers under Gen. Rafael Vásquez briefly occupied San Antonio in early March 1842.48 In response to the Vásquez invasion, the President of Texas called out the militia.

In July 1842, Mexican soldiers under Colonel Antonio Canales approached Corpus Christi. In September 1842, Mexican troops under General Adrian Woll once again occupied San Antonio.49 General Woll’s army of 1,600 men cut a new road from Presidio de Río Grande to San Antonio that crossed the Leona River at Woll’s Crossing, four miles south of Mt. Inge.50 In this way, the army escaped detection by scouts sent out by Jack Hays and arrived unobserved at San Antonio on the morning of September 11, 1842.51

Hays, who had been out on a scout when the city was taken, quickly assembled a body of volunteer soldiers to prevent the Mexican army from proceeding north towards Austin, the Republic’s capital.52 On September 17, 1842, the two forces met near where the city of New Braunfels is today, and, after the Battle of Salado Creek, General Woll and his army retreated to San Antonio.53 The Mexican army left San Antonio on September 20 and returned to Mexico.54

President Houston authorized an invasion of Mexico in 1842.

In October 1842, following the earlier assault on San Antonio, General Alexander Somervell (commander of the western militia brigade) was authorized by Texas President Sam Houston to invade Mexico.55 On November 18, 1842, Somervell’s Texans, led by Jack Hays and his scouts, left San Antonio with 750 men. On December 8, Somervell’s forces captured the town of Laredo on the northern bank of the Rio Grande. On December 19, General Somervell ordered his remaining volunteers to return to his base camp at Gonzales.56 Two hundred men, including Hays’ company of rangers, thinking the expedition was over,57returned to San Antonio58 but other men refused to abandon the invasion; instead they reorganized their forces and began what became known as the Mier Expedition. They crossed the Rio Grande and attempted to capture the town of Mier. On December 26, 1842, the Mexican Army captured 260 Texans at Mier after a long battle.59

In negotiations that followed,60 Mexico was willing to give the State of Texas autonomy if it would remain in the Mexican republic.61 They continued to consider Texas a Mexican state until 1847.62 Texan and American politicians, however, refused to acknowledge Mexico’s claim to Texas, and in December of 1844, a bill annexing Texas to the United States passed the US Senate.63 A Texas Constitutional Convention agreed that the Republic would become part of the United States on July 7, 1845.64

  1. Joseph William Schmitz, Thus They Lived: Social Life in the Republic of Texas, (San Antonio: The Naylor Company, 1936), 1 ↩︎

  2. Jimmy L. Bryan, Jr., More Zeal Than Discretion: The Westward Adventures of Walter P. Lane, (College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 2008), 15 ↩︎

  3. Bryan, Jr.,More Zeal Than Discretion, 42-3; David McDonald, Jose Antonio Navarro, In search of the American Dream in Nineteenth-Century Texas, (Denton, TX: State Historical Association, 2010), 69 ↩︎

  4. Schmitz, Thus They Lived, 5; Victor Bracht, Texas in 1848, (San Antonio: Naylor Printing Company, 1931), 68; (558) Noah Smithwick, The Evolution of a State or Recollections of Old Texas Days, 1900, reprint, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1983), 32; J. Frank Dobie, The Flavor of Texas, (Dallas: Dealey and Lowe, 1936), 53 ↩︎

  5. James Kimmins Greer, Colonel Jack Hays: Texas Frontier Leader and California Builder, (New York: E. P. Dutton & Company, 1952), 25 ↩︎

  6. Prescott Webb, The Texas Rangers, (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993), 23 ↩︎

  7. T. R. Fehrenbach, Seven Keys to Texas, (El Paso: Texas Western Press, The University of Texas at El Paso, 1983), 26 ↩︎

  8. Rena Maverick Green, Editor, Samuel Maverick, Texan: 1803-1870, A Collection of Letters, Journals and Memoirs, (San Antonio: Privately Published, 1952), 103 ↩︎

  9. Webb, The Texas Rangers, 24 ↩︎

  10. Gerald S. Pierce, Texas Under Arms: The Camps, Posts, Forts & Military Towns of the Republic of Texas 1836-1846, (Austin: The Encino Press, 1969), 143 ↩︎

  11. Webb, The Texas Rangers, 78 ↩︎

  12. Pierce, Texas Under Arms, 141 ↩︎

  13. Webb, The Texas Rangers, 33, 67; S. C. Gwynne,Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History, (New York: Scribner, 2011), 139 ↩︎

  14. Greer, Colonel Jack Hays, (College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 1993), 22 ↩︎

  15. Webb, The Texas Rangers, 69 ↩︎

  16. Greer, Colonel Jack Hays, 119; Fehrenbach, Seven Keys to Texas, 28 ↩︎

  17. Webb, The Texas Rangers, 69; Greer, Colonel Jack Hays, 40 ↩︎

  18. Webb, The Texas Rangers, 86; A. J. Sowell, Early Settlers and Indian Fighters of Southwest Texas, (Abilene, TX: State House Press, McMurry University, 1986), 60 ↩︎

  19. Texas Presbyterian, (Victoria), February 13, 1847 ↩︎

  20. Greer, Colonel Jack Hays, 24, 34 ↩︎

  21. Miss Mattie Jackson, The Rising and Setting of the Lone Star Republic, (San Antonio: n.p, 1926), 179 ↩︎

  22. Darren L. Ivey, The Texas Rangers: A Registry and History, (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company Inc, 2010), 57 ↩︎

  23. Pierce, Texas Under Arms, 147-8 ↩︎

  24. Middle Rio Grand Development Council, Uvalde County,, accessed Aug 26, 2012 ↩︎

  25. Sowell, Early Settlers and Indian Fighters of Southwest Texas, 447 ↩︎

  26. Webb, The Texas Rangers, 33 ↩︎

  27. Webb, The Texas Rangers, 30 ↩︎

  28. Webb, The Texas Rangers, 55 ↩︎

  29. Smithwick, The Evolution of a State, 249 ↩︎

  30. Vinton Lee James, Frontier and Pioneer Recollections, (San Antonio: Artes Graficas, 1938), 161; Sowell, Early Settlers and Indian Fighters of Southwest Texas, 341; (555) Wright, San Antonio de Bexar, 46 ↩︎

  31. J. C. Duval, Early Times in Texas, (1892, reprint, Austin: The Steck Co., 1935), 69 ↩︎

  32. Fehrenbach, Seven Keys to Texas, 21; Schmitz, Thus They Lived, 101; (224) Jackson, The Rising and Setting of the Lone Star Republic, 118, 155 ↩︎

  33. T. R. Fehrenbach, Comanches: The Destruction of a People, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1974), 86; L. G. Park, editor, Twenty-Seven Years on the Texas Frontier by Captain Wm Banta and J W Caldwell, Jr., (Council Hill, Oklahoma: L. G. Park, 1933), 8, 19; Gwynne, Empire of the Summer Moon, 59 ↩︎

  34. Park, Twenty-Seven Years on the Texas Frontier, 148-9; Stephen B. Oates, ed., Rip Ford’s Texas by John Salmon Ford, (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1963), 184 ↩︎

  35. Albert D. Richardson,Beyond the Mississippi: From the Great River to the Great Ocean, 1857-1867, (Hartford, Conn: American Publishing Company, 1867), 173; Gwynne, Empire of the Summer Moon, 132 ↩︎

  36. Sowell, Early Settlers and Indian Fighters of Southwest Texas, 694; Fehrenbach, Comanches, 112 ↩︎

  37. Walter Prescott Webb, The Great Plains, (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1936), 170; Fehrenbach, Comanches, 128-9; Fehrenbach, Seven Keys to Texas, 28 ↩︎

  38. Fehrenbach, Seven Keys to Texas, 28; Gwynne, Empire of the Summer Moon, 146 ↩︎

  39. Wikipedia, “Colt Paterson.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, (accessed October 07, 2012); Robert M. Utley, Lone Star Justice: The First Century of the Texas Rangers, (New York: Berkeley Books, 2002), 10 ↩︎

  40. Oates, Rip Ford’s Texas, 181 ↩︎

  41. Webb, The Great Plains, 175; Harold J. Weiss, Jr., “The Texas Rangers Revisited: Old Themes and New Viewpoints”, The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Vol. 97, April 1994: 627 ↩︎

  42. Florence Johnson Scott, Old Rough and Ready on the Rio Grande, (Waco, TX: Texian Press, 1969), 49; Green, Samuel Maverick, Texan, 251 ↩︎

  43. Pierce, Texas Under Arms, 143 ↩︎

  44. Green, Samuel Maverick, Texan, 150 ↩︎

  45. McDonald, Jose Antonio Navarro, 182 ↩︎

  46. McDonald, Jose Antonio Navarro, 180; James T. De Shields,Border Wars of Texas, (Waco, TX: Texian Press, 1976), 362180 ↩︎

  47. Greer, Colonel Jack Hays, 63; McDonald, Jose Antonio Navarro, 180 ↩︎

  48. Sowell, Early Settlers and Indian Fighters of Southwest Texas, 343; Green, Samuel Maverick, Texan, 156; Greer, Colonel Jack Hays, 64 ↩︎

  49. Webb, The Texas Rangers, 73 ↩︎

  50. Middle Rio Grand Development Council, Uvalde County, accessed Aug 26, 2012, 6 ↩︎

  51. Green, Samuel Maverick, Texan, 164; Greer, Colonel Jack Hays, 69 ↩︎

  52. Greer, Colonel Jack Hays, 71 ↩︎

  53. Sowell, Early Settlers and Indian Fighters of Southwest Texas, 817; Greer, Colonel Jack Hays, 73 ↩︎

  54. Sowell, Early Settlers and Indian Fighters of Southwest Texas, 60; Pierce, Texas Under Arms, 146; Green,Samuel Maverick, Texan, 170 ↩︎

  55. Webb, The Texas Rangers, 74 ↩︎

  56. Greer, Colonel Jack Hays, 87 ↩︎

  57. Ivey, The Texas Rangers, 56 ↩︎

  58. Pierce, Texas Under Arms, 147 ↩︎

  59. Webb, The Texas Rangers, 76; Sowell, Early Settlers and Indian Fighters of Southwest Texas, 65 ↩︎

  60. Greer, Colonel Jack Hays, 90 ↩︎

  61. Green, Samuel Maverick, Texan, 251 ↩︎

  62. Jorge L. Tamayo, Geografia moderna de Mexico, (Mexico, DF: Editorial F. Trillas, S.A., 1968), 354 ↩︎

  63. Clarence R. Wharton, Texas Under Many Flags, (Chicago and New York: The American Historical Society, Inc., 1930), 7 ↩︎

  64. Nathan Covington Brooks, A Complete History of the Mexican War, 1846-1848, (Chicago: The Rio Grande Press Inc., 1965), 59; Ivey, The Texas Rangers, 59 ↩︎