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Ranger Tobin: A First Look

June 2024
2min read

Gen. Zachary Taylor never resolved his ambiguity about the Texas Rangers. On the one hand, they made splendid combat troops, as they demonstrated at the Battle of Monterrey in September 1846. On the other hand, they were chronic troublemakers. The Mexicans called them Los Diablos Tejanos (“the Texas devils”)—and with good reason. Taylor felt no regret when his two Texas regiments went home after Monterrey.

One Texan, however, had won Taylor’s unqualified approval. Capt. Benjamin McCulloch and his company of Gonzales Rangers had thoroughly scouted the approaches to Monterrey and shown Taylor how best to get his army there. The general asked McCulloch and his company to come back. They did. In January 1847 they were mustered into federal service as “McCulloch’s Company Texas Mounted Volunteers (Spies).”

The muster roll bore the name of George Henry Tobin as the company first sergeant. Descended from Irish immigrants, college-educated, 28 years old, he hailed from New Orleans and had gone to war in a Louisiana regiment. But he also served as a correspondent for the New Orleans Delta . Like other New Orleans newsmen, he found the Texas Rangers better copy than the other volunteer units, and he quickly attached himself to McCulloch’s company.

Tobin’s arresting portrait, never before published, is an uncommon find. Daguerreotypes of Mexican War Rangers in typical garb are rare. As this one reveals, the Rangers wore no uniform but attired themselves suitably for camp and field. Made in New Orleans by Tobin’s brother-in-law, James Maguire, this daguerreotype turned up in the hands of a relative. Thanks to instant communication in Cyberspace between editor in New York, author in New Haven, descendant in Connecticut, and state archivist in Austin, George Henry Tobin emerged as first sergeant of one of the most famous Ranger units of the Mexican War.

He joined McCulloch at a critical moment. All of General Taylor’s regular units had been withdrawn and assigned to the army of Gen. Winfield Scott, driving toward Mexico City from the Gulf of Mexico. The Mexican president, Santa Anna, resolved to crush Taylor’s little army before turning to confront Scott. Taylor sent McCulloch to find the Mexican army and ascertain its strength. At great peril he succeeded just in time to enable Taylor to dispose his army in defensive positions and throw back the Mexican assault. The Battle of Buena Vista, on February 22, 1847, propelled Zachary Taylor into the White House.

On March 8, 1847, Sergeant Tobin wrote to his mother from Saltillo, the town nearest the battlefield:

My Dear Mother,

I am still alive after a terrible battle. The Mexican Army is destroyed. They lost more than 2000 in killed and wounded and thousands of them have now deserted. We lost 747 men & are now resting ourselves and horses for a few days. The duty to which I am appointed is very dangerous. I belong to the Texas Scout and Spy Co. You can learn particulars in the Delta to which I have written at length.

I am off now on a long ride. Frost every night.

Love to all,
G. H. Tobin

Two weeks later he was promoted to second lieutenant of McCulloch’s Rangers and served with them until they were mustered out in June 1847. He ended the war as a captain in his Louisiana regiment. After the war he rushed to California with other gold seekers. Instead of finding fortune, in December 1849 he succumbed to dysentery.— R. M. U.

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