The Bloody Origins of the Texas Rangers

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S.C. Gwynne

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S. C. Gwynne is an American nonfiction writer. He is the author of the prize-winning "Empire of the Summer Moon" and his latest book "Hymns of the Republic" is now available.

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I thought it was hilarious too that they wanted him to not have so many wives. They didn't want to have the wives, they didn't want to have the braids, the long, long braids. I didn't like that, didn't like the wives. He wanted things his own way. He also played politics brilliantly. He understood from the early going that, quote, the chief of the Comanches was going to be appointed by the commander at Fort Sill. You know, it wasn't just going to happen. And there were all sorts of candidates jostling for this. And he made sure that it was him. That didn't make him any less the leader of his tribe. It didn't make him any less of an independent person who the white men had to deal with. But he made sure he had that one buttoned up. And he was challenged continuously. I mean, there was a continuous challenge to him. It's interesting historically that you don't hear about him in the Comanches. When he played such a significant part in taking over the West and settling the West, you hear about crazy whores, you hear about Sitting Bull, you hear about the Sioux and the Apaches. You don't hear that much about the Comanches. And you don't hear much about Kwanah Parker. No. It was one of the great pleasures of writing this book is that these were largely unknown things. I mean, if you, Kwanah was one of them. Another discovery was, you know, we all know about certain people running around San Antonio in the 1830s. Davy Crockett would come to mind. But we don't know about Jack Hayes, the world's greatest, you know, the ranger. The guy who sort of invented this anti-Comanche warfare. Invented the repeating, you know, he first needed an invent, but he first used the repeating five-shot pistol. And then of course had a hand in the invention of the six-shooter. But everybody should know who Jack Hayes is. Everybody should know. I mean, Kwanah was, I mean, Geronimo is Geronimo, and he's famous largely for one particular breakout in the late 19th century. But you know, Kwanah was arguably the greater man in the reservation period. And I mean, Geronimo in some ways was kind of a curmudgeon. Yeah, that was another part that I wanted to get to, was Jack Hayes and the creation of the Texas Rangers. We think of the Texas Rangers today. We think of Chuck Norris. You know, you really don't realize that they were essentially a group that was created to effectively combat the Comanche. Exactly. That's where they came from. It's amazing. The story, when you talk about how it took like sort of several iterations of these guys before they figured out how to do it right. And the guys that came out, they're essentially a lot like a lot of depictions of Navy SEALs, like Renegades. Like wild rugged rebels. And there they are. There's the original Texas Rangers. Is that Jack Hayes in there? I don't see him. I don't see him. San Antonio's military. There he is. There's Jack Hayes's, well, the lightest picture. That's him. That's him right there, huh? Yeah, so Hayes, so the thing was, okay, San Antonio in the 1830s, late 1830s, you have about 2,000 residents. It's the kind of the final outpost on the frontier. And what's happening is Texas, which now owns Texas, having won its independence, is giving out what they call head rights. So if you want to get a head right, meaning free land, so all you had to do to get your free land outside of San Antonio was go survey the land. That's all you had to do, and you had it. And so the surveyors would go out and survey it, and the commandeys would kill them in ever more imaginative ways, because the commandeys understood exactly that the instruments did steal the land. The instruments were the mechanism of the theft of the land from them. And so part of the deal was to keep, how can you keep the surveyors alive? And Hayes was originally a surveyor, but he eventually just got good at keeping other surveyors alive. And these guys who could do that eventually became known as rangers. And they evolved as commandeys fighters, you know, fighting like commandeys did. I mean, they learned bird signs to track people. They would, you know, make cold camps. I mean, you never made a warm, you never made a campfire if you were around commandeys. I mean, they would, they learned these techniques and techniques of warfare. And they got really good at it. They just had this one problem, and the problem was that they had three shots. They had a Kentucky long rifle, bang, and two single-shot pistols. And that's all they had. Against commandeys who, I would encourage all of your listeners to go and look up this guy Lars Anderson. On the internet. Yeah. He's the, he's the bow guy. Yeah. Okay. So what he, what he proved among other things, he went back and he just researched it. And a lot of the things that I frankly found hard to believe about commandeys, once I saw the Anderson videos, you believe them. Yes. Anderson can, I think it's 10 arrows and five seconds. He, there's no such thing as a quiver. You're holding it as a bunch in your arm. But all these things that we, you know, we heard that the commandeys could do underneath the horse's neck and rapidity of fire and no one's ever, commandeys never stood in one place and closed one eye and shot. They never once did that. They were moving both eyes open. Anyway, look at the Anderson video. It's really cool. But what that meant was that Jack Hayes and the Rangers were at an enormous disadvantage. You know, and then lo and behold, he, well, cut to the East coast. This inventor named Samuel Colt had come up in the, in the early 1830s with a prototype of a, it was a, it was a really ingenious little pistol. It was a five shot pistol made in, eventually made in Patterson, New Jersey. There it is right there. Yeah. Is that the Patterson Colt? I hope so. It's just a five shot chamber that was popping up with the same guy. So, Jack Hayes. Yeah, it doesn't look like the Patterson Colt. But anyway, it's a five shot. It's a five shot thing with, with revolving cylinders. And it was a great idea, right? Absolutely nobody wanted it. I mean, it was, it was like a sidearm for cavalry, but the US didn't have a cavalry. So it didn't really work out. For some reason, Mirabelle Lamar, the president of Texas, ordered 180 of these things and they can, they found their way to Texas, the five shot Patterson Colts. And somehow Jack Hayes and his guys found out about them. And they got a hold of them, they trained with them and they immediately understood what it meant. It meant equalizing the warfare against the Comanches. It meant, because now they had, they had five shots, one interchangeable cylinder, now 10, 10 shots in each pistol now. So in close hand combat, the world changed. And, and not only did that world change, but eventually everybody was so stunned by what, by this development that the US government ordered a lot of what ended up being Walker Colt's six shooters for the Mexican war. Colt becomes one of the richest men in America. And basically Jack Hayes and the Rangers redefined warfare, which is, which is, and people said this about Jack Hayes and it's broadly speaking true before Jack Hayes, you know, people came into the West on foot carrying a Kentucky long rifle and after Jack Hayes, they came mounted and carrying a six shooter. Yeah. That was the other thing that was really shocking was that the US soldiers would try to get off their horse to engage. Right. Right. Because they didn't think you fought Mount. The only people who fought mounted were the Plains Indians. I mean, you know, nobody thought you've, fighting mounted was not something anybody did. If you, if you used a horse, you used it in the Dragoon way, which is you would ride to where you were going to fight, get off the horse and then fight. But canachis were fully mounted and Rangers were fully mounted. And what they, what they use the Texas Rangers for in the Mexican war, which is they were, there was terrible gorilla problems. And these Rangers just went and cleared out these whole areas. And nobody had seen this type of warfare before. Nobody had seen this kind of ability to fight and move and move mounted and move with these. Well, I, nobody had ever seen these, these Walker cults, these five pound hand cannon six shooters that they had. Nobody had seen those either. And so these crazy, these, these Rangers that dressed any way they wanted to, you know, sometimes with no shirts on and Sarah pays and crazy hats. I mean, they were just the Rangers. Everybody was scared to death.