Henry Wax Karnes was born 1812 in Tennessee. He enlisted as a private in Capt. John York’s volunteer company and distinguished himself in the battle of Concepción and the Siege of Béxar. Karnes was dispatched with Erastus (Deaf) Smith and Robert E. Handy from Gonzales to ascertain the fate of the Alamo, and was the first to return to Sam Houston’s army with word of its fall. On March 20, 1836, with a force of five men, he defeated a party of twenty Mexican soldiers on Rocky Creek. By the time of the battle of San Jacinto he was a captain and was second in command of Mirabeau B. Lamar’s cavalry corps. His service as a scout before the battle was of great value to Houston’s army; after the rout of the enemy his cavalry company led the pursuit of fugitives from Antonio López de Santa Anna’s army. After being promoted to colonel for his contribution to the Texan victory, Karnes was sent to Matamoros to effect an exchange of prisoners but was himself imprisoned on June 10, 1836, by Mexican authorities. He soon escaped and was authorized, on December 28, 1838, to raise eight companies of Texas Rangers for frontier defense. On August 10, 1839, he commanded twenty-one rangers in a fight against an estimated 200 Comanches near Arroyo Seco. Although the fight was a total victory for the Texans, Karnes was wounded by an arrow and never fully recovered. He died of yellow fever in San Antonio on August 16, 1840, soon after accepting the command of the Texan Santa Fe expedition. Karnes County was named in his honor.
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