Western Trips

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Colt Revolvers / Texas Rangers

There's plenty of interesting things to do while vacationing in Texas and one popular attraction you just may want to visit is the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame and Museum in Waco. The Texas Rangers heritage goes all the way back to the time of the Republic of Texas in 1836 and even before. The history of the Texas Rangers story is the story of Texas and it's also the story of the effectiveness of the Colt revolvers. The Texas Rangers as an official group are considered by many as being the oldest law enforcement agency in the U.S. and their usage of Colt revolvers was a pivotal event in their history. The Texas Rangers Hall of Fame and Museum is a great side trip during your Texas vacation and is located just off Interstate 35 at Exit 335B in Waco, about one hundred miles south of Dallas.

Forming the Historic Texas Rangers

texas rangers hall of fame and museum
Texas Rangers Hall of Fame and Museum
The Texas Rangers were formed when Stephen F. Austin decided that the then colony of Texas needed a body of men to protect this new Anglo settlement. Originally, Stephen Austin envisioned a group of ten men. Their jurisdiction would be quite large, covering the entire area of the frontier line.

At that time the largest threat to the safety of settlers was from Indian attack. The Comanches conducted raids on settlement outposts on a somewhat regular basis. This had gone on during the Mexican rule and as far back as Spaniard rule. The new body of Texas Rangers equipped themselves with horses and firearms and received pay of $1.25 per day. One of the reasons that the early Rangers were able to stay together was the fact that the group was relatively inexpensive to operate. When the Texas colony went to war against Mexico for it's independence in 1835, the Rangers took part in that conflict as well.

The Biggest Indian Attack Against Texas

What is considered the largest Indian attack against the Republic of Texas occurred in 1840. The conflict is referred to as the Great Raid of 1840. The Comanches went on a raiding spree that extended southeastward all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. This was quite an incursion into the Anglo settlement line. The raid had it's roots in the killing of several Comanche chiefs by Texans at a meeting that went bad. The meeting started as a negotiation for the return of several white hostages who had been kidnapped during raids. The Comanches brought for exchange one disfigured young female when the Texans were expecting all to be returned. Gunfire erupted during the meeting and the Comanches were killed.

1843 colt pistol
1843 Colt Reproduction
The Great Raid of 1840 was Comanche retribution for that ill fated meeting.

The significant battle immediately after the raid was the Battle of Plum Creek just south of present day Austin Texas. The Texans claimed some eighty Comanches killed during that battle which was quite high. The Indians were slowed down by their load of loot from the raiding and the Texans were able to more effectively fight them.

Usually the Comanches were too fast to be pinned down. Some of the stolen property was recaptured and some a bit later. What the Great Raid of 1840 did do was give then Texans a wake up call that the defenses along the frontier needed to be strengthened. While Texas militia groups were very involved against the Comanches, the Texas Rangers were the group mainly tasked with the job.

John Coffee Hays

john coffee hays
John Coffee Hays, public domain photo
One of the more famous of the Texas Rangers, and there were far more than one, was a man named John Coffee Hays. Hays joined the Texas Rangers in 1836 at the young age of nineteen.

Prior to that time Hays had been a surveyor in Tennessee. He was appointed to this elite group of Rangers by Sam Houston. Prior to the 1846 war with Mexico Jack Hays was noted for his effectiveness in fighting the Comanches.

The story is that Hays was the first to use Colt revolvers against the Comanches in the Battle of Bandera Pass and to great success. There is no historical exact date of this battle although it did occur in 1841, about one year after the Great Raid of 1840.

Bandera Texas is a short ways northwest of San Antonio. The first Colt revolver was a five shot firearm and then was redesigned as a six shot pistol. You can imagine the effectiveness of the new Colt revolvers in place of the single shot firearm. To say this was an advantage is an understatement. Prior to these Colt pistols, the Comanches and their method of battle had the advantage over the single shot arms used by the Texans.

The Texas Rangers at Bandera Pass were vastly outnumbered at the start of the battle and had they not been equipped with the new Colt revolvers they may have had to retreat. The numbers were reportedly fifty Rangers against perhaps up to a thousand Comanches. The new repeating Colt revolvers allowed the Rangers to hold their own. This was a weapon the Comanches had not went up against until this point.

The battle lasted all day from about 11A onward and only ended at nightfall. The Colt revolvers made all the difference. What occurred at the Battle of Bandera Pass was seen as the turning point in the long conflict between Texan settlers and the Comanches. The new Colt pistols would allow Texans to better fight Indian incursions.

george erath texas ranger
Texas Ranger Major George B. Erath Statue
During the war with Mexico from 1846 to 1848, Jack Hays led the Texas Rangers with precision. In fact, many believe that the actions of the Rangers during the American conflict with Mexico first gave it it's national stature.

 An interesting side note about the organization was that at various times the group was abolished and then reformed again. During the American Civil War the Union troops who had been stationed in Texas were largely withdrawn to the east. The Union troops at those forts were there primarily to help protect settlers so their departure left quite a void. At that point the Texas Rangers basically were the only line of defense for the settlers against Comanche attacks.

The Texas Rangers occupied the old Union forts and tried to keep the Comanches under control. When the Civil War ended and with Texas a former Confederate territory, the U.S.military went back in and abolished the Rangers. By the year 1874, with political things settling down in Texas, the Texas Rangers were again established this time with six companies. Their duty then involved continuing to protect the settlements against Indian attack and working to keep law and order in general.

texas ranger statue
Ranger with Republic of Texas Flag
Another interesting fact is that the city of Waco Texas where the museum is located had it's roots from the Texas Rangers.

The city of Waco can trace it's beginnings to a Texas Ranger camp located there in 1837. This would have been the time of the start of the Texas Republic. The Ranger camp was known as Fort Fisher and it's a very fitting place for the establishment of the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame and Museum. The museum was officially opened in 1968.

The era in which Texas became a republic was a very volatile time. First the Texans revolted against the Mexican government to gain their independence and then had to contend with the Indian incursions to make the new republic work.

A visit to the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame and Museum in Waco during your next Texas vacation is one of the best places to get a real glimpse at how the new Republic of Texas organized itself and provided protection for it's settlers and later for it's growing ranches.

(Article and photos copyright Western Trips. John Coffee Hays photo from the public domain)