Tennessean John Coffee “Jack” Hays began as a surveyor’s apprentice at the age of fifteen. Over time, he became a respected member of law enforcement and the first mayor of a Northern California city.
The Wilson County native was born on January 28, 1817. By the time he was 15, his parents had died, and Hays was off to Mississippi working as a surveyor’s apprentice.
In 1836, he left Mississippi and joined the army in west Texas under the command of General Thomas Rusk. Hays fought as a member of the Texas Rangers in a Mexican Calvary skirmish, helping to capture Juan Sanchez.
He became a captain in 1840 and was a natural leader and a fearless fighter. Colonel Jack Hays and his men fought in the Mexican-American War, including the Battle of Monterey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico, in 1846.
Under his leadership, new tougher training programs were enacted, and the standards for recruitment were improved. While he commanded respect and discipline from his men, Hays was described as a quiet, unassuming man.
Life In California
Hays went to San Antonio when the war was over, then joined the Gold Rush bandwagon and headed for California. He landed in San Francisco county and, in 1850, was elected the sheriff.
This launched his start in politics, and he became the United States Surveyor General in California in 1853. He helped start the city of Oakland, California, and was its first mayor.
He soon diversified and held real estate, ranching, banking, and utility assets. Once again, in 1860, his expertise as a soldier was needed. He helped guide an expedition during the Paiute War when the Pony Express service and stage were shut down in Nevada.
However, he did not pick a side in the Civil War, and in 1876 he was chosen to be a delegate at the Democratic national convention. On April 21, 1883, Hays died and was buried in Oakland, California, at the Mountain View Cemetery.