Saga of a Texas Ranger–Series by Jeff Robenalt

Texas history and then some.

The Battle of Painted Rock-Texas Rangers Victory-

Written By: admin - Nov• 30•10

The Battle of Painted Rock

By: jeffery robenalt

        In July 1845, after the Texas Congress approved the terms of annexation offered by the United States, President James K. Polk dispatched General Zachary Taylor and his Federal troops to the small Texas settlement of Corpus Christi at the mouth of the Nueces River. The Mexican government had long claimed the Nueces as the border between Texas and Mexico, but based on the Treaties of Velasco signed by Santa Anna after the Texas Revolution, the Texans insisted the border was the Rio Grande. In late December, the United States Congress officially recognized the Rio Grande as the border, and General Taylor prepared to move his troops south into the land between the two rivers known as the Nueces Strip; an act that would doubtless initiate hostilities between the United States and Mexico. 

 Jack Hays     The Texas Rangers were long familiar with the practically lawless Nueces Strip, and Major Jack Hays personally rode to Corpus Christi, offering the services of his Rangers to act as scouts for the army. General Taylor, who had never trusted irregulars like the Rangers, declined Hays’s offer, believing the responsibility of the Rangers lay with defending the Texas frontier against the Comanches. However, bitter experience soon proved General Taylor’s dragoons could never hope to match the speed and mobility of the well-mounted Mexican cavalry. By the time the United States officially declared war on Mexico May 13, 1846, Taylor was asking for 5,000 Texas volunteers, including Hays’s Rangers. 

      It was during the interlude between Hays’s offer to provide scouts and General Taylor’s reluctant acceptance, that the Texas Rangers fought one of their most memorable encounters with the Comanches at the Battle of Painted Rock in present day Llano County. Not long after Hays returned to San Antonio from Corpus Christi, word arrived of a huge Comanche war party, nearly 600 warriors strong, putting the torch to settlements southwest of town. Knowing he could never catch the Comanches by following their trail, Hays took forty Rangers and rode hard for Enchanted Rock a well-known Indian landmark, hoping to intercept the war party before the warriors escaped into the far reaches of the Comancheria

      Hays and his Rangers reined up at Enchanted Rock early the following morning only to find they had barely missed the Comanches, but the Lipan scouts found a fresh trail heading off to the northwest. Hays knew a small lake at the base of Painted Rock served as the only watering hole in that direction for miles around and he made a fateful decision. Facing odds of nearly fifteen to one, the Rangers set out to beat the Comanches to the water. 

      Forty-two hours and 130 miles later the Rangers did exactly that, reaching the lake at 1:00 in the morning, well ahead of the Comanches. After picketing the horses to the rear, Hays concealed his men in a willow thicket on the north shore; the only approach to the water. On the south rim, the face of Painted Rock rose some one hundred feet above the shimmering moonlit surface of the lake. 

      The war party approached the lake at dawn, thirsty, saddle-weary, and expecting to set up camp for the remainder of the day. Hays let the warriors get as close as possible to the willow thicket before giving the command to open fire. Smoke and fire billowed out of the trees with the roar of the Rangers’ rifles, and the Comanches fell back in disarray, carrying off as many of their dead as they could. However, a few alert warriors spotted the Rangers’ trail as they rode out of range. The tracks clearly showed there were no more than thirty or forty Rangers concealed in the thicket. With their superior numbers, the Comanches believed a force of that size could easily be overwhelmed in the full light of the new day. 

      The first Comanche charge came out of the northeast, ensuring that the rising sun would shine in the Rangers’ eyes. With their short bows, long war lances, and thick buffalo hide shields tough enough to turn a rifle ball, feathers and colored ribbons fluttering in the breeze, the Comanches created quite a spectacle. The warriors broke into a screaming, galloping charge when the war chief lowered his long lance. 

      Hays fired when the Comanches closed to within fifty yards and the Rangers joined in with a thunderous volley. Galloping past the willow thicket, the warriors released a barrage of arrows as they slid off to the sides of their horses to avoid the deadly Ranger rifle fire. Circling wide, the Comanches made a second charge past the thicket before pulling back to regroup for a lance charge that the Rangers quickly broke with the brutal firepower of their rapid firing Colt revolvers and muzzle-loading shotguns. The Comanches made several more gallops past the thicket throughout the remainder of the day before withdrawing to the prairie and setting up camp for the night. By now they were growing so desperate for water, they were forced to send a large party more than twenty miles for it. 

      Late the following morning, the Comanches launched a massive attack in four separate waves, attempting to get the Rangers to empty their weapons. A few of the warriors in the final wave managed to crash their way into the thicket, but they were again blown off the backs of their painted ponies by the Rangers who possessed the deadly five-shot Colts. Withdrawing to the top of Painted Rock, the Comanches fired arrows high into the air for the remainder of the day, attempting to arch them into the willow thicket. The arrows were ineffective from that range, but the Ranger long rifles managed to chalk up a few Comanche victims who carelessly exposed themselves on the rim of the high rock. As the sun began to set, the frustrated warriors again withdrew to the prairie and sent for water. 

      Early in the morning of the third day the Comanches attacked from several different angles at once, forcing the defenders to divide their fire. Realizing from the diminished volume of gunfire that the Rangers were running low on powder and ball, the war chief took his time, massing his warriors on the high ground to the northeast for one final attack. By mid-morning all was ready and he rode to the front of the war party, raising his feathered war lance high and haranguing the warriors into making one final supreme effort. 

      Screaming his fury, the war chief heeled his stallion to a gallop and led what was to be the final charge at the willow thicket. The Rangers picked up a target over the sights of their long rifles and waited for Hays to open fire, swallowing the fear that churned at their bellies as the painted warriors drew closer and taking up the slack in their triggers. At less than a hundred yards the war chief made a fatal mistake by turning on the back of his galloping pony to urge his warriors on. As he swung around, his buffalo hide shield turned with him, exposing his right side. Jack Hays chose that instant to open fire, and the war chief was dead before his body struck the tall grass of the prairie. 

      The death of the war chief broke the momentum of the charge, and a wail of anguish arose from 600 Comanche throats. Before the warriors could recover, Rangers up and down the line opened fire with a rolling volley of thunder and the leaderless warriors retreated as several more painted ponies were emptied. Hays ordered one of his men to rope the war chief’s neck and drag the body back to the Ranger lines. The act infuriated the frustrated Comanches, and they galloped past the thicket one final time, launching a cloud of arrows before riding away to the northwest toward the Comancheria. 

      The Battle of Painted Rock was a complete victory for the Texas Rangers. More than 100 Comanche dead lay strewn across the prairie in front of the willow thicket. Incredibly, only one Ranger was wounded in the fighting, and one unlucky horse killed by a few arrows that fell from the rim of Painted Rock. With the dawn of the Mexican American War, Jack Hays would devote the remainder of his time with the Texas Rangers serving as a volunteer with the United States Army. Painted Rock was to be his final major engagement with the Comanches. 

**** If you enjoyed reading this article, you will love my book, “Saga of a Texas Ranger”; historical fiction at its finest! To find out more about the book, go to ABOUT THE BOOK and BOOK REVIEW on this web site. To order either the hardback or kindle edition, go to ABOUT THE BOOK on this web site or click on . The second book in the series, “Star Over Texas”, is due to be released soon along with the soft cover edition of “Saga of a Texas Ranger.”****

About the Author


Jeffery Robenalt was born and raised in Tiffin, Ohio. He served in Vietnam as a Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps and later served as a Platoon Leader and Executive Officer with the 101st Airborne Division. He has a BS in Sociology from Troy University, a BA in History from New York University, and a Doctor of Jurisprudence from Texas Tech University. After earning his law degree, Mr. Robenalt was an Attorney for the State of Texas for ten years. Saga of a Texas Ranger is his first novel, however, the second volume in the saga, Star Over Texas, will soon be ready for publication. Mr. Robenalt currently resides in Lockhart, Texas where he teaches Texas history at Lockhart Junior High School.

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