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The Texas Rangers and the Texas Navy


The Texas Rangers and the Texas Navy both had an important role in securing the safety of the Republic of Texas from 1836-1845 before Texas joined the Union. Most are familiar with the Texas Rangers but few are even aware of the existence of the Texas Navy.

One of the first historians to document the importance of the Texas Navy in the war between Texas and Mexico was Jim Dan Hill (see reference at the end of this article). In that book, Hill initially described the role of the sea and the Gulf of Mexico in Texas history. He noted that the majority of the first settlers came to Texas by way of the sea via New Orleans or Mobile to the ports at Galveston Bay, Brazoria, or Matagorda Bay. The Gulf of Mexico also became important in bringing supplies to the Mexican Army during their war with Texas. In fact, the tariffs, trade, and maritime grievances of the Anglo-Texans with their Mexican rulers in the 1820s and 1830s were responsible for the actions that led to the Texas revolution, especially Mexico's decree of April 1830 that banned future Anglo-American immigration into Mexico.

After Texas declared its independence from Mexico on March 2, 1836, the fall of the Alamo later that month and the defeat of Sana Anna at San Jacinto in April followed. Captain Isaac Burton of the Texas Rangers was ordered to take 20 men to scour the country along the Gulf Coast and keep lookout for a Mexican approach by water. In June 1836 they sighted a ship in the Bay of Copano south of Galveston. Sixteen Rangers succeeded in boarding the Watchman, a Mexican vessel bringing supplies to the Mexican Army. Using the Watchman as a decoy, the Rangers then captured the Comanche and the Fanny Butler, two other Mexican Ships with war supplies. Burton and his Rangers turned the captured supplies over to the Texas Army and forever earned the name of "Horse Marines" in winning one of the first encounters between Texas and Mexico on the water.

The first four warships of the Texas Navy were in service from 1835 to 1837. The Brutus was commissioned in February of 1836 and was successful in interfering with Santa Ana's supply ships and helped Sam Houston defeat Santa Ana at San Jacinto. The Brutus was wrecked in a storm along the Texas coast in 1837.

From 1838 until 1843, nine more ships were acquired for the Texas Navy. According to Serven (see reference below), in 1839 Edward Ward Moore was appointed to the courtesy title of Commodore of the Navy of the Republic of Texas. It is uncertain how Moore had heard about the Colt Paterson revolver, but after his appointment as head of the Texas Navy, Moore contacted Samuel Colt to acquire his rifles and pistols for the Texas Navy. In 1839, the Texas Navy ordered 180 of Colt's revolving carbines and 180 of his revolving pistols, the Paterson, to be used by their men aboard ships during battle.

Under Moore's leadership, the Texas Navy soon established control in the Gulf of Mexico. His defeat of the Mexican fleet at Compeche near Yucatan in 1843 essentially ended Mexico's threat to Texas by sea, and the Texas Navy was decommissioned in 1843.

Moore was very impressed with the Colt Paterson revolver and became good friends with Samuel Colt. Moore later testified in Washington on a proposed arms contract on behalf of Colt's guns. It was Moore's friendship and his support of the arms contract that likely led to Colt commemorating Moore's defeat of the Mexican fleet in an engraving on the cylinder roll of his 1860 Army Model handgun.

An interesting sideline to this story was that the Texas Rangers acquired the Colt Paterson pistols from the Texas Navy after it had been decommissioned. Jack Hays and his Texas Rangers at San Antonio received the pistols. In a famous battle with the Comanche at Walker Creek, Hays and his men first used that weapon to surprise the Comanche who were expert at drawing fire from the Ranger's single-shot weapons and then attacking before their guns could be re-loaded. Imagine the surprise of the Comanche when multiple shots were fired from the handguns of the Texas Rangers. The use of the Paterson revolver by the Texas Rangers in that battle is often credited with changing frontier Indian fighting tactics forever.

The stories of how the Texas Rangers and the Texas Navy contributed to the success of the war with Mexico make for fascinating reading. Those interested in finding out more about the little known history of the Texas Navy are encouraged to read Hill's book or to visit the website of the Texas Navy Association.

Note: An edited version of this story was published in the January 2009 edition (pp. 60-61) of The Cowboy Chronicle (the journal of the Single Action Shooting Society).

References for story:

  • The Texas Navy by Jim Dan Hill, A. S. Barnes & Co., New York, Perpetua Edition, 1962.
  • Colt Firearms: 1836-1959 by James E. Serven, Serven Books, Santa Anna, CA, third printing, 1959.