Though they were composed entirely of citizen volunteers, the earliest Ranger companies were organized as quasi-military units. The number of men in each unit could vary depending on how many were mustered in at any given time. But regardless of the number, most units were commonly referred to as companies. A Captain commanded each company.
John Coffee Hays was born in Tennessee in 1817. He father fought with Andrew Jackson and Sam Houston in the war of 1812. Hays immigrated to Texas in 1836 in time to take part in the Texas Revolution. Joining up with other volunteers he served under another famous Texan, Erastus ‘Deaf’ Smith. Hays distinguished himself in his military service and after the surrender of General Santa Ana, he served in various assignments for the Texas Republic, each time with distinction.
Hays stood just over five feet nine inches tall, and by all contemporary accounts was considered mild mannered and even tempered. However, his comrades also described him as ‘absolutely fearless’ in battle and a brilliant tactician. Along with other famous Rangers like Samuel Walker, John ‘Rip’ Ford and Ben McCulloch, Hays helped fashion the fledgling Texas Rangers service into an organized, regimented and effective fighting force.
But in the short time Hays lived in Texas, his reputation perhaps took no greater leap than during his involvement at the ‘Battle of Enchanted Rock.’ Hays and his Rangers were assigned to protect a survey company near present day Fredericksburg, Texas. Unexpectedly attacked by Comanche’s and cut off from his command, Hays took cover in a small depression atop ‘Enchanted Rock.’
Enchanted Rock was a place that held mystery and reverence to the Native Americans of the area. Some thought it was a haunted place to be avoided. Others thought it was a spiritual and mystical location. Whatever it was to the Comanche, it soon became nothing more than a source of frustration. Try as they might, they could not dislodge Hays from his perch. Each time they crept closer, Hays, a crack shot, scattered them with gunfire. For more than three hours the war party attempted to capture or kill Hays but he and his rifle refused to cooperate. Finally, his Ranger company managed to regroup and drive off the Comanche war party.
From that moment, most of the Indian tribes in Texas assumed that Hays was protected by mystical powers. That reputation served him well in his further dealings with area tribal leaders. It also contributed to his legend among the men of the Texas Rangers who served under him.
Hays only lived in Texas for thirteen years, later moving on to San Francisco and the Southwest. But “Captain Jack” became one of the first in a long line of the legendary lawmen, Texas Ranger Captains who brought fame to the ‘men who wear the star.’