Guns for the Republic - March 1840
Jack Hays sat in a cane chair in the General’s office. He’d been a Captain only a week and already he was crossways with General Sam, but for what? If this was about the Council House raid in San Antone, he hadn’t been involved. Hadn’t even been near the place. Nor had anybody in his Ranger company. But then, General Houston knew that already.
On the other hand, Colonel William Cook, the man sitting next to Jack, had sure as hell taken part in that debacle. He’d been the senior officer in charge of the peace parley with twelve Comanche Chiefs and their families at the Council House last week. Didn’t matter that Will Cook used to be head of the Texas Militia and was now President Mirabeau Lamar’s Secretary of War. He was in real trouble with General Sam. So why did Jack have to be here?
“Dammit all to hell and back!” Sam Houston flung his copy of the March 24th printing of The Texas Sentinel across the room in fluttering pages. “Cook, I know I ain’t President of the Republic no more,” Houston pushed his x-frame military spectacles up the bridge of his nose, “but I am still a General. I’m orderin’ you to tell me what the flamin’ hell happened out there!”
Hays shifted his gaze to Colonel Cook, who squirmed uncomfortably in his squeaky chair. Houston poured Tennessee sour mash whiskey into a tin cup, then offered the flask to Jack. Jack waved away the pour. Colonel Cook motioned for a shot. Houston acquiesced and passed the whiskey.
Jack had read the headline article, what the Austin newspaper called “The Council House Fight.” Nothing but a bloody massacre of peace seekers, if you were Comanche. Buffalo Hump and the other senior Comanche war chief, Peta Nokona, hadn’t been there. Those two had refused peace talks or even any suggestions for releasing White hostages in exchange for land. So now, the devil’s work would be afoot. These two Chiefs would plan some kind of revenge for all the killings of their people.
Houston eyed the Colonel and shouted, “How can a bunch of Comanche peace chiefs and their women and children end up bein’ gunned down by our folks like goddamn fish in a rain barrel? I smell Mirabeau Lamar’s shady doin’s in all this, I reckon.”
Sam Houston leaned back in his chair. The General took a deep draw from his tin. Was there any water at all in there? Probably not. Just whiskey today.
“General Sam.” Colonel Cook spoke. “Now, I know your feelin’s about Indians. By God, most talk is you’re least half-Cherokee anyhow. Cherokee, Apache, even the damned Comanche, they all trust you. That said, it ain’t a secret that you and President Lamar have your personal differences about dealin’ with Redskin folk.”
No reaction came from Sam Houston. Hays turned his eyes back to Colonel Cook. Comanches trusted General Sam? The Colonel took a sip of sour mash from his tin and cleared his throat. Pretty risky business, Colonel Cook saying General Sam was nothing but a lover of Indians, even if it was true.
“This Council House thing,” Colonel Cook put one open hand up. “It was all a terrible mistake. But…but that poor little girl they brought with them. Clothes ragged. Her all dirty, filthy, full of scars n’ tattoos, and no nose.” Cook made a slicing motion toward his face. “The savage bastards had cut her whole nose right off, Gen’ral Sam. For what reason, God in Heaven don’t even know. Couldn’t let ’em leave just like that, clean as a whistle.”
Houston still had not moved, hadn’t blinked. Goddamn, what was he thinking? What was the General going to do? No way was Colonel Cook going to get out easy. He’d lose some rank, or get a court martial. General Sam was pissed, anyone could see that.
“They had it comin’,” Cook shouted. “And we lost some good men ourselves in that scrape. Don’t forget that, General Sam.”
Stony quiet, even now in the General’s office. Jack didn’t know Colonel Will very well, but the man must have had either giant balls or a real death wish, talking on like that. Reminded Jack of some of his own insubordinations. Nobody moved. Sam Houston’s eyes were shut tight, like he might be praying.
“All right, Will. All right.” Sam Houston opened his eyes and sighed. “Must’ve been truly hard seein’ that girl and all. Don’t envy you that.” Houston stood and leaned on his cane. “But you know what the Comanche’ll do now? This ain’t finished, not by no means. Dammit.” He waved the heavy cane at Colonel Cook. “For them, they’re just gettin’ started. They got to hit back, and it’ll be bloody.”
Houston slammed his cane down across his desk. Hays jumped, almost tipping out of his chair. Will Cook flinched and ducked.
“Our folks gonna die. Hundreds of ‘em.” Houston waved his cane around again. “We barely finished our fuckin’ war with the Mexicans, now we got another on our hands with the Comanche, thanks to a bunch of squeamish, trigger-happy fools.” He pointed the cane barely an inch from the Colonel’s face. “Like you and your fuckin’ man Mirabeau in Austin.”
So, no respect for President Mirabeau Lamar. And Lamar had been General Sam’s cavalry hero at San Jacinto, too. When – and perhaps more importantly, how – might Jack be excused from this confrontation? At least he wasn’t the one riling up General Sam today.
The General sat down and leaned his cane beside the desk. Time crawled by like pouring molasses. Then Houston stood again, slow and stiff, and offered his hand to the Colonel. Now that was odd, considering the ranting and raving the General had done. And why was Jack here, seeing and hearing all this? Why hadn’t General Sam done it the Army way: praise in public, chew ass in private?
“Colonel Cook. Will,” Houston said. “Thanks for showin’ up, even though you knew what was coming.” Sam Houston leaned on his cane. “Now, in your official capacity, I need a favor. I want them 200 or so new repeater pistols, the ones we ordered for the Texas Navy a few months back, and I want ’em now.”
Jack leaned forward in his chair. Repeating pistols? Navy? What the hell? He’d heard rumors of some fellow back east developing five-shot pistols. Rifles, too. Had General Sam ordered some already? And was he getting them for the fuckin’ patrols against Mexicanos and common pirates in the Gulf? Why not for the Rangers going up against Indians and bandits? Now that would be a good reason for Jack being here and witnessing all this.
“I figure,” Houston said, waving one hand toward Jack, “they’ll be just what my boy Captain Jack here needs to beat back the Comanche and their like. I want ’em redirected and shipped to Hays and his company, pronto.” Houston straightened himself and pointed the cane at Cook. “And one more thing, Will. I want you to find that goddamn Yankee, that pistol inventor, Samuel Colt. Get him the hell out here, along with his guns.”
Cook nodded. A long time coming, but Jack now knew why he was at the meeting. Rangers were gonna get new pistols, and the fellow who made them was going to show him and his men how to use the damned things. About time Hays’ Rangers got recognized for the tough boys he’d turned them into. More firepower was all they needed.
“Our boys’ll need proper training,” Houston said, glancing first at Jack, then eyeing Cook. “The last thing I want is Captain Hays here teachin’ Rangers his horseshit idea of weaponry on his own.” Houston turned to Jack. “That’s it, Captain. You’re dismissed.”
Jack Hays stood, saluted both officers and headed for the door. He’d get repeater pistols, maybe at least two each. That was something the Comanche wouldn’t be expecting. Wonder how they’d react? For that matter, how would he feel not needing to haul around three or four damned single-shot flintlocks? Pretty soon, he’d be carrying what amounted to ten flintlocks. Except, he’d only need two. From now on, war was going be different, maybe even a little fun.