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    [John Coffee "Jack" Hays] John Caperton Autograph Manuscript: Travel Journal of the 1848 Texas Ranger Expedition, [24pp.], ca. 1848. When Texas was annexed in 1848, native Indian tribes were the only inhabitants who had any understanding of the territory west of San Antonio. That year, several San Antonio businessmen hired Colonel Jack Hays, a highly respected Indian fighter, Texas Ranger, and Mexican War hero, to establish a trade route to El Paso, a distance of 500 miles through harsh terrain inhabited by hostile Indians. The journey proved far more difficult than the group of Rangers had figured, causing them to turn back before reaching their destination. Still, the information Hays and his Texas Rangers gathered served to help the eventual mapping of west Texas. One of the expedition's Rangers, Major John Caperton, wrote his observations of the ordeal in this journal, though it is unsigned. (A negative photostat of the travel journal, listed as "John Caperton Diary [Manuscript]" is available in the University of Virginia Library's Special Collections Department.)

    Caperton counted "59 whites, 5 Mexicans and 8 Indians" in the expedition, which began in early September [1848] near Fredericksburg in the Texas Hill Country, a vicinity that did not impress Caperton: "The country which is watered by it [the Llano River] is almost entirely destitute of timber. . . . the whole country is poor and barren." The hardships began early. The heat was oppressive, despite the efforts to deal with it: "The custom of all Texians while in the woods and prairies is to stop from two to four hours in the middle of the day, both for the purpose of avoiding the heat, and to rest the horses and pack-mules." Early on, the group lost their way and their water supply "gave out", prompting them to threaten to cut the throat of their Mexican guide. After the guide, in despair, sat down and cried, Colonel Hays served as guide. The heat, coupled with the lack of water, caused at least one member, Dr. Whane, to go "insane", leave the party, and wander the hills. Hunger, another threat, was much more manageable: "[We killed] a fine fat young mustang colt. I found the horse meat tender . . . but few could be prevailed on to taste & try him." Over the duration of the expedition, the Rangers ate a variety of food: black-tailed deer, wild hog, and panther, along with a mule and the more abundant "bear-grass". September 13 was a "memorable day . . . as it was the first time we had ever seen Buffalo or eaten them."

    Unnerving the party were the reminders of nearby hostile Indians, including the sight of "the bones of six negroes, who had been killed some time previously by the Comanches. They were runaways attempting to make their escape to Mexico." One day, four Indians ("an old man and three young men") approached the group. "We were the first Americans they had ever seen," Caperton wrote. The older Indian, "in a state of almost complete nudity", directed the party to better camping grounds.

    Despite the perils, the importance of the expedition kept the Rangers moving: "If this expedition prove successful, we believe it will prove of immense commercial advantage to Texas, the whole Southern country, and incalculable blessings may flow from it to Mexico." The potential for this part of Texas, according to Caperton, was of biblical proportions: "The Canaan flowing with milk and honey yet to be conquered from the Philistines! The land of beauty and promise!" They trudged on to the Pecos River, the Rio Grande, and further, to "the head waters of the Nueces", where they were, Caperton assures, "the first white men who have visited this part of Texas since the days of the Spaniards."

    The journal ends before the hardships caused them to terminate the expedition. Caperton, in a final warning about the Indians, writes, "The tales told of Indian cruelties and atrocities, perpetuated against the defenceless and unprotected Mexicans, make the blood run cold with horror. Butcheries that would not bear telling are of daily occurrence in that unfortunate land."

    John Coffee "Jack" Hays moved to Texas in 1836 to join the Texas Revolution; he was assigned to the Texas Rangers. After the revolution, Hays' Ranger group became one of the first to successfully adopt the use of the Colt five-shot revolving-cylinder pistol in 1844, which changed the way Texas Rangers engaged Indians in battle. The Rangers' fame during the Mexican War persuaded the San Antonio businessmen to choose him to lead this expedition to El Paso. Following the expedition, Caperton, a close friend to Hays, accompanied him to California in December 1848 where he served as Hays' business associate and deputy sheriff (Hays became San Francisco's first sheriff). Caperton later penned, Sketch of Colonel John C. Hays, Texas Ranger from California in 1879. Page one of this journal is missing. Pages 2 through 22 are numbered; pages 23 through 25 are unnumbered, followed by several blank pages. Page 2 is loose; the rest remain bound. The journal is housed in an attractive four-fold portfolio.

    References: Robert Marshall Utley, Lone Star Justice: The First Century of the Texas Rangers (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002); Randolph B. Campbell, Gone to Texas: A History of the Lone Star State (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003).


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    21st Saturday
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