John Coffee Hays – Soldier and Texas Ranger


John Coffee Hays

John Coffee Hays

John Coffee “Jack” Hays (1817-1883) – Born in Little Cedar Lick, Tennessee on January 28, 1817, to Harmon and Elizabeth (Cage) Hays, he was one of several children. When Jack was just 15 years-old both of his parents died and the young man soon moved to Mississippi where he began an apprenticeship as a surveyor. By 1836, he had moved west to Texas and joined the Texan army under General Thomas Rusk and was soon appointed as a member of a company of Texas Rangers, where he took part in several armed conflicts including the Indian and the Mexican-American wars. His bravery in these battles earned him the promotion to deputy and in 1840, he achieved the rank of captain.

During his reign as captain, Hays was responsible for improving the quality of recruitments and initiating tough training programs for the new Rangers, as well as initiating an “esprit de corps” within his command. Described as a man who looked very slender and looking far younger than his age, his manners were unassuming and he was a man of few words. Hays has often been given credit for giving the Rangers’ cohesion and discipline and became a rallying figure to his men. From those that he commanded, came a number of celebrated Ranger captains including  William Alexander Anderson “Bigfoot” Wallace, Ben and Henry McCulloch, Samuel H. Walker, and Robert Addison “Ad” Gillespie.

After the Mexican-American War ended, Hays left the Texas Rangers in 1848 and first traveled to San Antonio, before he followed with thousands of other men to the California Gold Rush. Settling in San Francisco County, he was elected sheriff in 1850 and became active in politics. In 1853, he was appointed United States surveyor General for California.

Ever expanding, he was one of the founders of the city of Oakland, California and served as the first mayor. An ambitious man, he soon held interests in real estate, ranching, banking and utilities. In 1860, he re-entered soldiering service when he was called on to lead an expedition during the Paiute War in Nevada which had temporarily shut down the stage and Pony Express service over the western end of the Central Overland Mail route.

When the Civil War broke out the following year, he held a neutral position. In 1876, he was elected a delegate to the Democratic national convention.

Hays died in California on April 21, 1883 and was interred in the Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California.


© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated October, 2017.

Also See:

Texas Rangers – Order Out of Chaos

Soldiers and Officers in American History