Lone On The Range: Texas Lawmen
A history of the Texas Rangers.
Login / Register
ORNo Account? Register here.
No man in the wrong can stand up to a man in the right who just keeps on a-comin’.—The Texas Ranger Creed
The Texas Rangers are one of Texas’ oldest and most legendary institutions. Established almost 175 years ago to defend frontier settlements from Indian attacks, the Rangers became nationally famous when they fought with such ferocity in the Mexican war that they became known as “Los Diablos Tejanos”—the Texas Devils. Immortalized in poems, songs, and dime novels, the Rangers were already icons of popular culture by the mid 1800s.
Scores of books, comics, movies, and TV shows later, the Ranger legend shows no sign of riding off into the sunset.
The Ranger legacy has survived in part because of the enduring appeal of that most durable of heroic archetypes, the self-reliant, independent man on horseback, acting out stories of heroism and brave determination in a rugged frontier environment. The Ranger legacy has also survived because it has been preserved and perpetuated by enthusiastic storytellers of all types, including former Rangers and those who have been simply captivated by Ranger lore and legend.
One writer in particular who has found himself on both sides of the Ranger saga is Mike Cox. He’s written about the Texas Rangers as a newspaper reporter (for twenty years) and as an author of six Texas history books, including an outstanding new one, Texas Ranger Tales: Stories Worth Telling. As public information officer for the Texas Department of Public Safety, Mike Cox is also the official spokesman for the Rangers.
If you caught Mike on CNN recently during the standoff between the Rangers and the Republic of Texas at Fort Davis, you caught a glimpse of what it must be like for the modern Texas Ranger, who might spend the morning on horseback and the afternoon on a laptop computer. For a closer look at the history of that most Texan of Texas institutions, keep a firm grip on the reins of your browser and you too can ride the open range of the cyber frontier to explore the trails.
The History Trail
The Texas Rangers, the oldest law enforcement agency in North America with statewide jurisdiction originated when impresario Stephen F. Austin authorized the deployment of ten men to defend his fledgling colony. The Agency will turn 175 years old in 1998, so now seems as good a time as any to browse through some stirring quotes, factoids, developments, and controversies including a lingering debate as to the official position of one of the most famous Rangers of all time, Leander H. McNelly. To explore how the Ranger tradition was born and how it has evolved over the years, follow these signposts on the history trail.
The origin of the Texas Rangers dates back to 1823, when Stephen F. Austin wrote a note on the back side of a proclamation from then land commissioner Baron de Bastrop, authorizing the employment of “ten men… to act as rangers for the common defense.” These “rangers” were to be paid fifteen dollars a month, not in cash, but in land. And that’s how it all began, sort of.
Actually, the idea of “rangering” originated in Europe several hundred years earlier. So the Texas colonists didn’t really have such an original idea to begin with, but it did tend to get more Texanish with a little practice. And according to Ranger spokesman Mike Cox, the original Rangers most likely picked up a trick or two from their Spanish counterparts, as he explains in his interview.
Mankillers and Riots
After the Civil War, the Texas Legislature created two Ranger forces— the Frontier Battalion, which would consist of six separate Ranger companies, and an organization called the Special Force. Many of the Rangers most celebrated cases occurred during this period, as Texas adjusted to the realities brought on by the South’s defeat in the Civil War—recovery from the turbulence of Reconstruction and transformation by the burgeoning beef industry. The cattle industry was a boon to Texas, and not just to law-abiding cowboys, either. One of the most notorious law-breakers during this period was John Wesley Hardin, the son of a Methodist preacher who may have killed more than 40 men. Hardin killed men during card games, during feuds, on the cattle trail, and at least once, at a circus! His supporters claimed that Hardin never killed a man that didn’t need killing, and he pretty much got away with it for the better part of six years—his first killing occurred at the age of 15, in 1868, and one of his last (a Brown County deputy named Charles Webb), on his 21st birthday. But by that time, law-abiding Texans, and the Texas Rangers, had had enough. With the aid of an undercover Ranger named John Duncan, Ranger John Armstrong tracked Hardin down in Florida and brought him back to Texas to stand trial. Hardin served 16 years at Huntsville and was pardoned by Governor Jim Hogg in 1894. The following year, Hardin was playing dice in the Acme Saloon in El Paso when Constable John Selman walked in and blasted Hardin in the back of the head. El Paso residents sighed with relief and looked on the bright side. Some who viewed Hardin’s body stated that, aside from being dead, the old gunfighter had never looked better.
In 1878, the Rangers received a tip that the legendary trainrobber, Sam Bass, planned to knock over the bank in Round Rock. Bass was killed in a shoot-out with the Rangers. According to one account, the outlaw’s last words were “Life is but a bubble, trouble wherever you go.”
The Rangers finished out the 1800s preserving law and order in Big Bend mining towns, tracking down train robbers, patrolling the border, and doing whatever was necessary, including the prevention of illegal prize-fights. In 1894-1895, according to the official account, the Rangers scouted 173,381 miles; made 676 arrests; returned 2,856 head of stolen livestock to the owners, assisted civil authorities 162 times, and guarded jails on 13 occasions.
The Frontier Battalion was disbanded in 1900. The following year, the Legislature authorized the creation of a newly organized force to come under the direction of the governor “for the purpose of protecting the frontier against marauding or thieving parties, and for the suppression of lawlessness and crime throughout the state.” But Ranger captains still picked their own men. And as before, the Rangers had to provide their own horses. They could still dress as they chose, and few wore badges.
One Ranger who has come to epitomize the Ranger service of the early 1900s was Bill McDonald, captain of Ranger Company B. One reason McDonald is still so well-known today is that he had a knack for hard-boiled talk. The “One Riot, One Ranger” legend apparently originated when McDonald was sent to Dallas to prevent an illegal prize fight. According to the story, McDonald was met at the train by the mayor who then asked: “Where are the others?” McDonald then replied: “Hell! ain’t I enough? There’s only one prize-fight!”
It was said that McDonald would “charge hell with a bucket of water,” but that was also said of Captain Leander McNelly, who headed the Special Force during the 1870s. McDonald’s personal motto later evolved into the Ranger’s creed: “No main in the wrong can stand up against a fellow that’s in the right and keeps on a-comin.”
Perhaps less known is McDonald’s statement to a large mob that confronted him as he left a jail with two prisoners in custody. “Damn your sorry souls!” growled McDonald as the men surged forward, intent on hanging the prisoners in his custody. “March out of here and get away from this jail, every one of you, or I’ll fill this yard with dead men.” The mob quickly dispersed.
Los Diablos Tejanos
In the 1830s, Rangers were paid $1.25 a day, and had to furnish their own arms, mounts, and other equipment. They elected their own officers. Until more formal organization of Ranger forces occurred after the Civil War, Rangers existed primarily as volunteer companies, which were raised when the need arose and disbanded when their work was done. Because of this, many famous Rangers of the Republic of Texas period and the early years of statehood were men whose “formal” Ranger service may have lasted only a brief time. But because of their very active lives during these formative years, these men are remembered as Rangers, and their tradition of bravery and spirit of adventure became part of the Ranger tradition and legend.
One of these men was William A. A. “Big Foot” Wallace. In 1842, Wallace and several other former Rangers took part in an ill-advised and ill-fated invasion of Mexico, which became known as the Mier Expedition. The Texans were captured and a drawing was held to determine which of the men would be executed. The prisoners were ordered to draw from a pot of beans. Those who drew white beans were allowed to live. Those who drew black beans were killed. Wallace lucked out and drew a white bean. The so-called “Black Bean Episode” became a part of Texas legend, and was foremost on many Texans’ minds when war with Mexico broke out in 1846, the same year Texas was formally admitted to the Union.
Big Foot Wallace and Samuel Walker were among the many Texas Rangers who were mustered into federal service. The Rangers proved to be such fierce fighters they were nicknamed “Los Diablos Tejanos”—the Texas Devils. It was during this period, too, that the Texas Rangers entered the pantheon of American popular culture. Their fame spread far and wide through poems, songs, and dime novels.
From Horse to Car
Along with the state of Texas itself, the Ranger service suffered some growing pains during the teens, twenties, and thirties. Border troubles mounted with Prohibition, World War I, internal strife in Mexico, the Great Depression, and chaos in oil boom towns. Some Rangers began their career patrolling their territory on horseback and ended it riding in automobiles, on motorcycles and talking on two-way radio. The advent of the automobile would also have at least one other far-reaching effect on the future of the Rangers. In 1935, the Highway Patrol, along with the Texas Rangers, were reorganized under the newly created Department of Public Safety.
Undoubtedly the most famous Ranger who made the transition from horse to car was Frank H. Hamer. He first joined the Rangers in 1906, and over the course of his long career, became known as “the best, most fearless, and most efficient peace officer Texas has ever known.” Hamer is probably best-known for his role in tracking down Bonnie and Clyde. An excellent biography, I’m Frank Hamer by John H. Jenkins and H. Gordon Frost tells his exciting life story, and his exploits have been immortalized in scores of other books. One of the most interesting accounts of Hamer’s exploits, however, can be found in a book called I Say Me for a Parable: The Oral Autobiography of Mance Lipscomb. As recorded by author Glen Alyn, Lipscomb, the noted Texas bluesman, fondly recalled his experiences during the early 1900s, when Hamer served as city marshal of Navasota, a town that was torn by racial oppression but which calmed considerably during Hamer’s tenure. During that time, Lipscomb was touched by Hamer’s friendship and sense of justice, and awed by his toughness. Hamer, he said, “was no piece a man, he was a whole man… That Ranger, he sent out ta git you dead or alive… When that Ranger come at ya, podna, you kin go outa the state a Texas. That’s the only way you’ll be safe. Cause they comin at ya.”
When first reorganized under the DPS in 1935, the Ranger force consisted of 36 men. This was the smallest number of Rangers employed by the state for many years. But along with the bureaucracy the Rangers also gained the benefits of a state-of-the-art crime laboratory, improved communications, and the kind of stability that has allowed the organization to grow and change with the times.
Even with this organizational shift, the Texas Rangers duties remained essentially the same, with particular emphasis on felony crimes, gambling and narcotics. Rangers also were used in riot suppression and in locating fugitives.
During World War II, the Rangers’ duties expanded. They did everything from screening air raid warning training films to tracking down escaped German POW’s. As an indication of just how worldwide the Rangers’ reputation had become, the German press once mistakenly reported that Texas Ranger paratroopers had invaded France. Actually, they were U.S. Army Rangers.
By the 1950s, the Ranger force had expanded several times. DPS aircraft added to their mobility. The Rangers also moved into the new DPS headquarters in north Austin. In their first year under the DPS, the Rangers took part in an estimated 255 cases; two decades later, in 1955, the Rangers were involved in 16,701 cases. And once again, there was reason to recall the “One Riot, One Ranger” legend, when inmates in the Rusk State Hospital for the Criminally Insane rioted and took hostages. Ranger Captain R. A. “Bob” Crowder walked into the maximum security unit armed only with a pair of Colt .45s on his hips and over 100 years of Ranger tradition at his back. Crowder and the leader of the mob had a little talk. The mob surrendered. The legend lives on.
Rangers and Race
Nowadays a quote like the above wouldn’t be considered politically correct, but in 1846 it was a sincere assessment of the skills possessed by the adversaries of Anglo settlers during the early days of the frontier—skills that the Rangers themselves had to adopt in order to protect settlements from marauding bands of Comanches and to prevail in the long and bloody series of border conflicts that would continue well into the 20th century.
Was there an inherent racist element to these conflicts? Of course there was. It’s easy for us to say that now. But these were different times, and applying 20th century morality to 19th century conflicts is problematic. In Lone Star: A History of Texas and Texans, author T. R. Ferenbach put it this way:
The morality of this opening border warfare was meaningless, because morality could only be defined within a culture, never across two cultures. The moral, upstanding Comanche who lived by the laws and gods of his tribe enjoyed heaping live coals on a staked-out white man’s genitals… The moral Texan, who lived in peace and amity with his fellows, would bash an Indian infant’s head against a tree, or gut-shoot a “greaser” if he blinked. Relations between disparate cultures were to be determined, as always, by the relative strength and weakness of each, and by the dynamic or regressive nature displayed by Anglos, Indians, and Mexicans. Relations could not be governed by individual, internal ethics or morals any more than history had been determined by such parameters in the past. The great change the frontier Texan made from the Anglo-American mainstream in these years was the real, if unarticulated, understanding that his enemies were “different.”
The Bloody border
Border conflicts during the middle decades of the 19th century were sparked by a variety of factors, including Mexico’s refusal to recognize Texas sovereignty below the Nueces River, cattle theft, and incidents such as Mexican bandit Juan N. Cortina’s forays across the Rio Grande. In 1859, Cortina’s band took over the city of Brownsville. A Ranger company led by Captain John S. “Rip” Ford took it back in a running fight that cost the lives of 151 of Cortina’s men and at least 80 Texans, including some Rangers. Ford’s nickname stood for “Rest In Peace,” a moniker he gained while writing home to the families of deceased veterans of the Mexican War. Ford later described the kind of men who served under him as Rangers:
A large proportion…were unmarried. A few of them drank intoxicating liquors. Still, it was a company of sober and brave men. They knew their duty and they did it. While in a town they made no braggadocio demonstration. They did not gallop through the streets, shoot, and yell. They had a specie of moral discipline which developed moral courage. They did right because it was right.”
Reprinted from Mike Cox’s official history pamphlet “Silver Stars and Six Guns,” published by the Waco Convention and Visitor Services.
Texas Rangers are still investigating major felony crimes and other related incidents. Today, though there is some overlapping, the DPS Special Crimes Division handles most of the gambling cases, the Department’s Narcotics Service concentrates on the drug problem, and the agency’s Motor Vehicle Theft Service handles motor vehicle and equipment thefts.
Still, the Rangers’ caseload has continued to grow, along with the rest of Texas. In 1996, a total of 3,680 investigations resulted in 601 felony arrests, 157 misdemeanor arrests, and 598 indictments returned. The Rangers executed 319 search warrants, and secured 2,875 statements of which 473 were confessions to various crimes. The Rangers also recovered $3,129,349.13 in stolen property and at the same time seized contraband which totaled $1,088,659.00. There were 774 convictions for various crimes investigated by the Rangers resulting in 4 death sentences, 48 life sentences, and a total of 6,703 years in penitentiary time being assessed. Additionally, 518 court writs and 568 warrants were served and 107 executive security assignments were handled by the Rangers. The Rangers traveled 2,254,875 miles during 1996 and made 140 separate traffic referrals to appropriate authorities for dangerous drivers or driving conditions.
On September 1, 1996, the size of the Ranger force was increased to 107 commissioned members. These Rangers are supervised by a Senior Captain, an Assistant Commander, six field captains and seven lieutenants. The force is organized into six companies, “A” through “F”. A captain, lieutenant and from two to four Rangers are located at each of the six Company Headquarters. The six field Headquarters offices are located in Houston, “Company A”; Garland, “Company B”; Lubbock “Company C”; San Antonio, “Company D”; Midland “Company E”; and Waco, “Company F”. There is also a field office in Austin consisting of a lieutenant and three Ranger sergeants. This office reports to the Ranger captain in Waco. Other Rangers are stationed in various towns and cities in the state, each Ranger having responsibility for a minimum of two to three counties, some with even larger areas.
Larger than Life
What makes a Texas Ranger seem larger than life? Why these legendary lawmen have reached mythic proportion.
“A Ranger is an officer who is able to handle any given situation without definite instructions from his commanding officer or higher authority. This ability must be proven before a man becomes a Ranger.”—Ranger Captain Bob Crowder
“No man in the wrong can stand up to a man in the right who just keeps on a-comin’.”—Captain Bill McDonald
“They were men who could not be stampeded.”—Col. Homer Garrison, Jr., DPS
Those are some mighty powerful words, and they’re not empty boasts, either. The men who said those words believed them, and every generation of Rangers has striven to live up to them. Sadly, though, they don’t quite resonate like they used to. The quote by Captain Bob Crowder really harks back to another era, before the advent of two-way radio, cell phones, helicopters, email—not to mention automobiles and paved roads. In those days, Rangers had to be independent and self-reliant and “able to handle any given situation without definite instructions” because when they were out on the scout, they had no way to call for back-up, new orders, snakebite serum, or anything else. Although Crowder joined the Rangers in the late 1930s, those ideals still served him well; modern-day Rangers continue to carry on in that same tradition.
The problem with the other sayings is that the word “men” just won’t cut it anymore, because some Rangers are women, the first female full-time Rangers having joined the force in 1993. This is a good thing. But they’ll need to come up with some new mottos. “No person in the wrong can stand up to a person in the right who just keeps on a-comin’” just doesn’t quite cut it.
The McNelly Controversy
An article titled “The Myth of the Rangers,” by Robert Draper that was published in Texas Monthly ‘s February 1994 issue examined some of the problems and controversies encountered by the agency as it moved down the road to gender and racial equality. Would such an independence-loving, hidebound institution survive into the next millennium? Still, the stunning black and white photographs that accompanied the story made the Rangers look as tough and timeless and thoroughly Texan as liveoaks and limestone ledges.
For many Rangerphiles, however, it was a tangential reference to past Rangers that overshadowed everything else about the article. The subject was Ranger Captain Leander H. McNelly, one of the most legendary Rangers of all time, who died in 1876. The story asserted that, technically at least, McNelly was not a real Ranger, reasoning that since the term “ranger” did not appear in the Legislation that created the Special Force, neither McNelly nor his men should be thought of as the real deal. A rumble of thunder could be heard, as several generations of Rangerphiles rolled over in their graves, and the living ones saw red. McNelly certainly was a Ranger, maintains DPS spokesperson Mike Cox, unless you want to get bogged down in a game of nit-picking semantics.
John Coffee Hays (1817-1883), a former Tennesseean, only lived in Texas for 14 years, but he packed a lot of fighting into that period. He came to San Antonio in 1837, joined a Ranger company and was promoted to the rank of captain within t hree years’ time. Hays led the Rangers in many important Indian battles in Central Texas, and fought with such boldness that he was nicknamed “Bravo Too Much” by an Indian companion. Hays also served as a colonel in the Mexican war, taking part in several key battles. Hays was the first Ranger to use the new five-shot revolver invented by Samuel Colt, and one of his men, Samuel Walker, suggested improvements to the weapon that were incorporated into a new, much heavier six-shot weapon that became known as the Walker Colt. During the California gold rush, he became sheriff of San Francisco County, then founded the city of Oakland.
Samuel H. Walker served with Captain Jack Hays’ company of Rangers, participating in many memorable Indian fights, the ill-fated Mier Expedition of 1842, and the Mexican War, in which he was killed. Walker is best-known for the aid he gave gunmake r Samuel Colt in developing the so-called “Walker Colt,” the granddaddy of all western six-shooters that tipped the balance of the Indian wars heavily in favor of the Texas Rangers.
William A.A. Big Foot Wallace (1817-1899) lived a very full life. He was a Texas Ranger in the 1840s and 1850s, participated in the ill-fated Mier Expedition of 1842, fought in the Mexican war, learned Indian ways and languages, drove a mail wagon between San Antonio and El Paso, saw the last herd of buffalo run down Congress Avenue in Austin, and became an all-around folk hero, inspiring J. Frank Dobie to say that Wallace “summed up in himself all the frontiers of the Southwest.”
John S. Rip Ford (1815-1897) earned his nickname during the Mexican War when he got in the practice of labeling death notices “RIP” for “Rest in Peace.” As a Ranger captain stationed between the Nueces and Rio Grande, Ford fought both Indians and Me xicans. During the Civil War he commanded the 2nd Texas Cavalry and took part in the battle of Palmito Ranch, one of the last battles of the war. His long and active life also included stints as a doctor, journalist, and politician.
John B. Armstrong clashed with border bandits and noted desperados like John King Fisher, but is best known as the Ranger who tracked down Texas’ most notorious gunfighter, John Wesley Hardin, while aboard a train in Pensacola, Florida. Apparently the thing that, in Walter P. Webb’s words, “aroused Armstrong’s sporting blood” was a combination of the $4,000 reward on Hardin’s head and the fact that Armstrong had earlier been duped into arresting a man who, under the influence of too much liquor, h ad thought that impersonating the fugitive killer would be good for a laugh or two.
Bill McDonald, the famous commander of Ranger Company B, had a knack for tough talk and the reputation never backing down from a fight. Those traits were not unusual for a Ranger, but McDonald’s reputation is better remembered than most, in large part because of his biography (written by Albert Bigelow Paine in 1909) and the many memorable quotes that originated from it, including McDonald’s creed: “No man in the wrong can stand up to a man in the right who just keeps on a-comin’.”
Frank Hamer (1884-1955), who first joined the Ranger force in 1906, is best known as the man who tracked down Bonnie and Clyde, but even if he hadn’t participated in that case, there were plenty of others on which to build a legend. J. Edgar Hoove r called him “one of the greatest law officers in American history” as well as “one of the most colorful.” Hamer’s character was also summed up as being picturesque, blunt, stubborn and fearless.
Captain R. A. “Bob” Crowder transferred to the Ranger force from the DPS Bureau of Intelligence in 1939. In 1955 the inmates at Rusk State Hospital for the Criminally Insane rioted and took hostages, giving Crowder a chance to live up to the “One rio t, one Ranger” legend. Alone, Crowder walked into the maximum security unit to meet with the leader of the riot. The two men exchanged words, and within an hour, the riot was over and the hostages were freed. Before Crowder agreed to enter the building, h owever, the Ranger talked to the lead inmate on the phone and informed him that, although he was coming in alone, he would have a Colt .45 on each hip. “I want to tell you one thing,” said Crowder. “I’m not comin’ in unarmed because you’ve already got th ree people over there as hostages and I don’t want to be the fourth one— and I’m not going to be. I just want to tell you this. If somethin’ goes amiss, I know who’s going to fall first.”
The Silver Star
One thing that still distinguishes the modern Texas Rangers from most other law enforcement agents is that they do not wear uniforms. What is probably less well known, however, is that the famed lone-star-in-a-wheel badge worn by today’s Rangers was only recently adopted. In fact, Ranger badges weren’t commonly worn until the last 20 years of the 19th century, and were virtually unknown before the Civil War. There were several reasons for this. One is that a Ranger rarely needed to show a badge to a hostile Comanche or border bandit in order to put the latter on notice that they were on opposite sides of the law. Another is that appropriations for Rangers were so meager that a Ranger felt lucky to get reimbursed for feed for his horse and ammunition for his guns. As Mike Cox points out in a chapter on the subject in Texas Ranger Tales, some Rangers also “felt that a shiny star on the chest made too tempting a target.”
A variety of different badge types were worn in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The star-in-a-wheel design started to become commonplace in the early 1900s, long before state-issued badges became common. The first star-in-a-wheel badges were made by cutting a star in a Mexican silver coin. According to Cox, the origins of the design are uncertain, but the symbolism is not. The lone star has been a symbol of Texas since the time of Texas independence. By cutting a star out of a Mexican coin, a Texas Ranger was metaphorically asserting Texas’ sovereignty over its former oppressors.
In 1962, Ranger Hardy L. Purvis and his mother donated enough Mexican five-peso coins to the DPS to provide badges for all 62 Rangers then in commission. Since that time, only one change has been made in the Ranger badge: Since Rangers are sometimes transferred from one company to another, the abbreviated company designation (e.g., “CO A”) has been dropped.
The Walker Colt
We often think of our Rangers as a sort of throwback to frontier times, proudly anachronistic and staunchly resistant to the softening influences of civilization, but the Rangers also prevailed against their opponents by adopting the latest technology—like the Colt revolver.
The Rangers were among the first to employ the new five-shot revolver, invented by New England gun maker Samuel Colt and patented in 1836, the same year Texas won its independence from Mexico. Previously, running battles with Indians on the Texas frontier were awkward affairs at best. The Rangers would have to stop and dismount their horses in order to fire their muzzle-loading rifles as the Indians charged, hurling arrows all the way. The new revolvers, however, gave the Rangers the equivalent of a frontier atomic bomb. One of the earliest Ranger companies to make use of the weapon was led by Ranger Captain John Coffee Hays, who was such a fearless leader that one of his Indian allies gave him the nickname of “Bravo Too Much.” According to legend, Hays once single-handedly held off a band of attacking Comanches from atop Enchanted Rock, using his trusty revolver. Early gun fighting experiences like these led one of the men in Hays’ company, Samuel H. Walker, to suggest some improvements to Colt’s revolver, leading to the development of a new, heavier six-shot revolver, or “six-shooter,” which became known as the Walker Colt.
Call to Duty
Reprinted from Mike Cox’s official history pamphlet, “Silver Stars and Six Guns,” published by the Waco Convention and Visitor Services.
Texas Rangers are selected from the ranks of the Department of Public Safety. Little recruiting has ever been necessary. It is not unusual for more than 200 officers to apply for only a handful of openings.
To become a Ranger, a DPS officer must have at least eight years of commissioned law enforcement experience (including four years with the DPS). Ranger appointments are made on the basis of a competitive examination and oral interviews.
Rangers are required to attend at least 40 hours of in-service training every two years, but for most Rangers, the training far exceeds the requirement. Some Rangers receive additional training in areas such as investigative hypnosis, which has played an important role in some criminal cases.
In 1987, the average Ranger was about 45 years of age. On average, Rangers had 42 hours of college. Twenty-eight Rangers had college degrees (including two with Master’s degrees). Eight years later, in 1995, the average age was 44.5. Time spent in college had increased to an average of 81 hours; 28 Rangers had Bachelor’s degrees and 3 possessed Master’s degrees.
Reprinted from Mike Cox’s official history pamphlet, “Silver Stars and Six Guns,” published by the Waco Convention and Visitor Services.
Modern Rangers have the benefit of state-of-the-art weaponry and other equipment. Each Ranger is furnished a semi-automatic pistol, 12-gauge shotgun and Ruger Mini-14 or Colt AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. The Ranger also has a crime scene kit with materials for taking fingerprints and making plaster casts of tracks and tool marks along with additional evidence-gathering necessities.
The Rangerphile Saddlebag
J. Frank Dobie pays succinct tribute to the Texas Rangers in a preface to his chapter on Ranger books in his Guide to Life and Literature of the Southwest. On the Mexican border and on the Indian frontier,” he writes, “a few Rangers time and again proved themselves more effective than battalions of soldiers.” He also states that the Rangers “were never more than a handful in number, but they were picked men who knew how to ride, shoot, and tell the truth.” It’s hard to find fault with those remarks, but I would add a little attenuation to the tell the truth part. All Ranger histories, including books in which the Ranger saga is a central part if not the overall focus, are products of their time. That is, whether written by Rangers themselves or by biographer-historians, they’re written by people who wrote the truth as they saw it. Sometimes the facts and dates are garbled, sometimes the books merely reflect the prejudice of their time and the fever of Manifest Destiny. The Ranger legacy, and the legacy of the American frontier as a whole, is often shaped and colored by the medium that perpetuates it. So when we revisit that legacy in books, songs, films, and other cultural manifestations, it’s a good idea to remember that we’re seeing a window on the past, not the whole picture.
Sophisticated Rangerphiles will have an acquired appreciation for these nuances, but even if you’re a novice Texana browser, it shouldn’t take long for you to learn to read between the lines. The thing about the Ranger legacy, as in all things western, is that these nuances add, not detract, from the information and entertainment they provide. And there’s something there for the serious historical researcher, the bibliophile, the film student, and the escapist. For me the appeal is a combination of all these things. It’s as basic as the scent of barbecue, the distinctive curve of a cowboy boot, or the high lonesome sound of a cowboy (or Ranger) ballad.
Like the tradition of rangering itself, Ranger ballads—and by extension, cowboy ballads—have European roots, as well as a good dose of the vaquero tradition. Some of the same sentiments and themes that worked in traditional folk songs on the other side of the Atlantic proved to be quite adaptable to the great wide open spaces over here. So it’s not so surprising that Texas Ranger ballads seem anachronistic, timeless, intrinsically Texan, and utterly universal in appeal. And damn it, they’re just plain fun.
Some of these songs can be found in various anthologies of cowboy ballads, like John Lomax’s Cowboy Songs. Another good place to find them is in the many early Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and Tex Ritter western films and serials. Check out the Celluloid Rangers section for some of these titles.
I certainly haven’t heard every Ranger song in existence, but in my humble opinion, the one that music archivist John Lomax collected and called “The Disheartened Ranger” is not only one of the best, it’s the one that really expresses what being a frontier Ranger was all about. And you can yodel to it.
The Disheartened Ranger
Come listen to a ranger, you kind-hearted stranger,
This song, though a sad one, you’re welcome to hear;
We’ve kept the Comanches away from your ranches,
And followed them far o’er the Texas frontier.
We’re weary of scouting, of traveling, and routing
The blood-thirsty villains o’er prairie and wood;
No rest for the sinner, no breakfast or dinner,
But he lies in a supperless bed in the mud.
No corn or potatoes, no bread nor tomatoes,
But jerked beef as dry as the sole of your shoe;
All day without drinking, all night without winking,
I’ll tell you, kind stranger, this will never do.
Those great alligators, the State legislators,
Are puffing and blowing two-thirds of their time,
But windy orations about Rangers and rations
Never put in our pockets one-tenth of a dime.
They do not regard us, they will not reward us,
Though hungry and haggard with holes in our coats;
But the election is coming and they will be drumming
And praising our valor to purchase our votes.
For glory and payment, for vittles and raiment,
No longer we’ll fight on the Texas frontier.
So guard your own ranches, and mind the Comanches
Or surely they’ll scalp you in less than a year.
Though sore it may grieve you, the Rangers must leave you
Exposed to the arrows and knife of the foe;
So herd your own cattle and fight your own battle,
For home to the States I’m determined to go,—
Where churches have steeples and laws are more equal,
Where houses have people and ladies are kind;
Where work is regarded and worth is rewarded;
Where pumpkins are plenty and pockets are lined.
Your wives and your daughters we have guarded from slaughter,
Through conflicts and struggles I shudder to tell;
No more we’ll defend them, to God we’ll commend them.
To the frontier of Texas we bid a farewell.
From Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads, collected by John A. Lomax, (1929, McMillan Company)
Come, all you Texas Rangers, wherever you may be,
I’ll tell you of some troubles that happened unto me.
My name is nothing extra, so it I will not tell,—
And here’s to all you Rangers, I am sure I wish you well.
It was at the age of sixteen that I joined the jolly band,
We marched from San Antonio down to the Rio Grande.
Our captain he informed us, perhaps he thought it right,
“Before we reach the station, boys, you’ll surely have to fight.”
And when the bugle sounded our captain gave command,
“To arms, to arms,” he shouted, “and by your horses stand.”
I saw the smoke ascending, it seemed to reach the sky;
The first thought that struck me, my time had come to die.
I saw the Indians coming, I heard them give the yell;
My feelings at that moment, no tongue can ever tell.
I saw the glittering lances, their arrows round me flew,
And all my strength it left me and all my courage too.
We fought full nine hours before the strife was o’er,
The like of dead and wounded I never saw before.
And when the sun was rising and the Indians they had fled,
We loaded up our rifles and counted up our dead.
And all of us were wounded, our noble captain slain,
And the sun was shining sadly across the bloody plain.
Sixteen as brave Rangers as ever roamed the West
Were buried by their comrades with arrows in their breast.
ÎTwas then I thought of mother, who to me in tears did say,
“To you they are all strangers, with me you had better stay.”
I thought that she was childish, the best she did not know;
My mind was fixed on ranging and I was bound to go.
Perhaps you have a mother, likewise a sister too,
And maybe you have a sweetheart to weep and mourn for you;
If that be your situation, although you’d like to roam,
I’d advise you by experience, you had better stay at home.
I have seen the fruits of rambling, I know its hardships well;
I have crossed the Rocky Mountains, rode down the streets of hell;
I have been in the great Southwest where the wild Apaches roam,
And I tell you from experience you had better stay at home.
And now my song is ended; I guess I have sung enough;
The life of a Rangers I am sure is very tough.
And here’s to all you ladies, I am sure I wish you well,
I am bound to go a-ranging, so ladies, fare you well.
From Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads, collected by John A. Lomax, (1929, McMillan Company)
Here’s to the Ranger!
He leaves unplowed his furrow,
He leaves his books unread
For a life of tented freedom
By lure of danger led.
He’s first in the hour of peril,
He’s gayest in the dance,
Like the guardsman of old England
Or the beau sabreur of France.
He stands our faithful bulwark
Against our savage foe;
Through lonely woodland places
Our children come and go;
Our flocks and herds untended
O’er hill and valley roam,
The Ranger in the saddle
Means peace for us at home.
Behold our smiling farmsteads
Where waves the golden grain!
Beneath yon tree, earth’s bosom
Was dark with crimson stain.
That bluff the death-shot echoed
Of husband, father, slain!
God grant such sight of horror
We never see again!
The gay and hardy Ranger,
His blanket on the ground,
Lies by the blazing camp-fire While song and tale goes round;
And if one voice is silent,
One fails to hear the jest,
They know his thoughts are absent
With her who loves him best.
Our state, her sons confess it,
That queenly, star-crowned brow,
Has darkened with the shadow
Of lawlessness ere now;
And men of evil passions
On her reproach have laid,
But that the ready Ranger
Rode promptly to her aid.
He may not win the laurel
Nor trumpet tongue of fame;
But beauty smiles upon him,
And ranchmen bless his name.
Then here’s to the Texas Ranger,
Past, present and to come!
Our safety from the savage,
The guardian of our home.
From Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads, collected by John A. Lomax, (1929, McMillan Company)
El Corrido de Gregorio Cortez
In the county of El Carmen
A great misfortune befell;
The major Sheriff is dead;
Who killed him no one can tell.
At two in the afternoon,
In half an hour or less,
They knew that the man who killed him
Had been Gregorio Cortez.
They let loose the bloodhound dogs;
They followed him from afar.
But trying to catch Cortez
Was like following a star.
All the Rangers of the county
Were flying, they rode so hard;
What they wanted was to get
The thousand-dollar reward.
And in the county of Kiansis
They cornered him after all;
Though they were more than three hundred
He leaped out of their corral.
Then the Major Sheriff said,
As if he was going to cry,
“Cortez, hand over your weapons;
We want to take you alive.”
Then said Gregorio Cortez,
And his voice was like a bell,
“You will never get my weapons
Till you put me in a cell.”
Then said Gregorio Cortez,
With his pistol in his hand,
“Ah, so many mounted Rangers
Just to take one Mexican!”
From With His Pistol in His Hand: A Border Ballad & Its Hero, (1958, University of Texas Press) by Am»rico Paredes,
(This one is more about what a great fellow the trainrobber Sam Bass was, and isn’t all that complimentary toward the Rangers. But hey, it’s an outlaw ballad.)
Sam Bass was born in Indiana, it was his native home,
And at the age of seventeen young Sam began to roam.
Sam first came out to Texas a cowboy for to be,—
A kinder-hearted fellow you seldom ever see.
Sam used to deal in race stock, one called the Denton mare,
He matched her in scrub races, and took her to the Fair.
Sam used to coin the money and spent it just as free,
He always drank good whiskey wherever he might be.
Sam left the Collin’s ranch in the merry month of May
With a herd of Texas cattle the Black Hills for to see,
Sold out in Custer City and then got on a spree,—
A harder set of cowboys you seldom ever see.
On their way back to Texas they robbed the U.P. train,
And then split up in couples and started out again.
Joe Collins and his partner were overtaken soon,
With all their hard-earned money they had to meet their doom.
Sam made it back to Texas all right side up with care;
Rode into the town of Denton with all his friends to share.
Sam’s life was short in Texas; three robberies did he do,
He robbed all the passenger, mail, and express cars too.
Sam had four companions—four bold and daring lads —
They were Richardson, Jackson, Joe Collins, and Old Dad;
Four more bold and daring cowboys the Rangers never knew,
They whipped the Texas Rangers and ran the boys in blue.
Sam had another companion, called Arkansas for short,
Was shot by a Texas Ranger by the name of Thomas Floyd;
Oh, Tom is a big six-footer and thinks he’s mighty fly,
But I can tell you his racket,—he’s a deadbeat on the sly.
Jim Murphy was arrested, and then released on bail;
He jumped his bond at Tyler and then took the train for Terrell;
But Mayor Jones had posted Jim and that was all a stall,
ÎTwas only a plan to capture Sam before the coming fall.
Sam met his fate at Round Rock, July the twenty-first,
They pierced poor Sam with rifle balls and emptied out his purse.
Poor Sam he is a corpse and six foot under clay,
And Jackson’s in the bushes trying to get away.
Jim had borrowed Sam’s good gold and didn’t want to pay,
The only shot he saw was to give poor Sam away.
He sold out Sam and Barnes and left their friends to mourn,—
Oh, what a scorching Jim will get when Gabriel blows his horn.
And so he sold out Sam and Barnes and left their friends to mourn,
Oh, what a scorching Jim will get when Gabriel blows his horn.
Perhaps he’s got to heaven, there’s none of us can say,
But if I’m right in my surmise he’s gone the other way.
From Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads, collected by John A. Lomax, (1929, McMillan Company)
Muster Out the Ranger
Yes, muster them out, the valiant band
That guards our western home.
What matter to you in your eastern land
If the raiders here should come?
No danger that you shall awake at night
To the howls of a savage band;
So muster them out, thought the morning light
Find havoc on every hand.
Some dear one is sick and the horses all gone,
So we can’t for a doctor send;
The outlaws were in the light of the morn
And no Rangers here to defend.
For they’ve mustered them out, the brave true band,
Untiring by night and day.
The fearless scouts of this border land
Made the taxes high, they say.
Have fewer men in the capitol walls,
Fewer tongues in the war of words,
But add to the Rangers, the living wall
That keeps back the bandit hordes.
Have fewer dinners, less turtle soup,
If the taxes are too high.
There are many other and better ways
To lower them if they try.
Don’t waste so much of your money
Printing speeches people don’t read.
If you’d only take off what’s used for that
ÎTwould lower the tax indeed.
Don’t use so much sugar and lemons;
Cold water is just as good
For a constant drink in the summer time
And better for the blood.
But leave us the Rangers to guard us still,
Nor think that they cost too dear;
For their faithful watch over vale and hill
Gives our loved ones naught to fear.
From Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads, collected by John A. Lomax, (1929, McMillan Company)
Nowadays, whenever a politician takes the time to wax philosophical about Hollywood movies, it’s usually to complain about how they’re corrupting our youth and undermining the very foundations of western civilization . In the Texas Congressional Record of 1955, however, Senator Price Daniel claimed that a certain popular movie and television hero had “served as a vital factor in keeping alive in the minds of people, both in the United States and abroad, the traditions and ideals of the Texas Ranger organization and its work in maintaining law and order.” That character, of course, was the Lone Ranger, the fictional masked lawman created by George W. Trendle in the early 1930s. The original story went like this: Six Ra ngers were ambushed by an outlaw gang and left for dead. But an Indian named Tonto discovered that one Ranger, who had coincidentally been a childhood playmate of his, was still alive. Tonto and the “Lone Ranger” dug six graves, but left one of them empty , and took to wearing a mask to keep his identity secret while he trailed the outlaws who’d killed his colleagues, and afterward, kept on a-comin’, through radio serials, comics, TV shows, movies, and other media.
A search of movie databases can quickly overwhelm the researcher with Ranger movies. I turned up well over 100 in no time at all. Aside from the Lone Ranger movies, other made for TV movies turned up on the lists, including Lone Wolf McQuade, the pilot t hat became “Walker, Texas Ranger”, starring Chuck Norris as the Kung Fu fighting Texas Ranger. Studying the filmographies, I was struck by what seemed to be a recurrent plot device, especially in the old serials: A Ranger or group of Rangers is mistaken f or an outlaw gang, either because of simple confusion or because of their physical similarity, or because one of the Rangers has a brother who is an outlaw. Similarly, the Rangers are frequently seen posing as outlaws in order to catch outlaws. Make whate ver you want of it, but I thought that was pretty interesting.
I haven’t seen more than a handful of these, but I’ve become familiar with a lot of the information about many of them through past research. So I’ve made notes on some of the titles that seemed to deserve it.
This is by no means intended to represent a complete list. To compile such a thing would be virtually impossible. And a lot of the films no longer exist. Many westerns featured Rangers in a subsidiary role, while others had Ranger-type characters but took place in a generic western setting that could have been Texas or could have been that great, sprawling, dusty expanse of prairie that really only exists in our cinematic imagination. In any event, if I’ve left out any important Ranger films, or included any that shouldn’t have been, let me hear from you ([email protected]).
1993—A Perfect World
Review: Has a lot of things going for it, not the least of which are director Clint Eastwood, who stars as Texas Ranger Red Garnett, a picturesque Central Texas location, a great script, and an Airstream trailer which serves as a “modern” Ranger mobile command post. Like the late, great, Ben Johnson (who portrayed a Ranger at least a couple of times during his career), Eastwood is a natural for the part. Oh yeah, some guy named Costner is in it, too. He makes a good heavy. Maybe he should try it more often.
1926—Ahead of the Law
1943—Bad Men of Thunder Gap
1943—Beyond the Last Frontier
1940—Buzzy Rides the Range
1938—Code of the Rangers
1942—Come On, Danger!
1939—Come on Rangers
1944—Cyclone Prairie Rangers
1941—Dead or Alive
1942—Down Rio Grande Way
1942—Down Texas Way
1934—The Dude Ranger
1945—Enemy of the Law
1969—Great Bank Robbery
1944—Guns of the Law
1937—Guns of the Pecos
1950—Guns of Justice
1943—Hail to the Rangers
1941—King of the Texas Rangers
Review: Texas Ranger Tom King, played by onetime football hero Slingin’ Sammy Baugh, hunts for the Nazis who killed his father. Directed by William Witney.
1933—King of the Arena
Review: An evil outlaw goes by the handle of “Black Death” because the unlucky targets of his chemical bullets turn black. Ken Maynard, also the screenwriter and director, stars as the brave Texas Ranger who learns that Black Death is stalking a wild West showãthe same one the ranger used to work in. Black Death is terminated in a final gun battle in Mexico. Deliciously weird.
1923—King’s Creek Law
1931—Lasca of the Rio Grande
1941—Last of the Duanes
1950—Law of the Badlands
1928—Law of the Range
1937—Law of the Ranger
1983—Lone Wolf McQuade
Review: No, the western will never die, as long as something this brilliant and fine comes along every ten years or so. Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones star as ex-Rangers who don’t rent pigs, but they do a nice tribute to the true saga of cattlemen/trailblazers Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving.
1940—Man from Tumbleweeds
1933—Man of Action
1945—Marked for Murder
Review: Tom Mix as a Ranger for the last time, in his last film, helps out his Indian buddies. By the way, some of the frontier Rangers best allies in their fight against the Comanches were the Tonkewas, who hated the Comanches almost as effectively as the white settlers did.
1951—My Outlaw Brother
1952—Night Stage to Galveston
Review: Gene Autry proves that Rangers sing just as purty as singing cowboys.
1940—Northwest Mounted Police
Review: Gary Cooper as Ranger Dusty Rivers, up in Canada (actually it was Paramount’s back lot), tracking a Texas killer and mixing it up with the Mounties in Cecile B. de Mille’s first Technicolor epic.
1994—One Riot, One Ranger
1970—Over the Hill Gang Rides Again
1990—Pair of Aces
Review: Willie Nelson is a safecracker, Kris Kristofferson a Texas Ranger. What more could you want? How about Rip Torn as Capt. Jack Parsons? Rent it.
1949—Ranger of Cherokee Strip
1940—Ranger and the Lady
Review: Roy Rogers proves that singing Rangers get just as many girls as singing cowboys do.
1940—Rangers of Fortune
1943—Rangers Take Over
1937—Rangers Step in
Review: Johnny Mack Brown in one of his many Ranger outings. Songs include the Texas Rangers singing “It’s a Ranger’s Life.”
1943—Return of the Rangers
1936—Ride, Ranger, Ride
1932—Riders of the Desert
1925—Riders of the Purple Sage
1949—Riders of the Whistling Pines
1941—Riders of the Badlands
1942—Riders of the Northland
1941—Riders of the Purple Sage
Review: This is only one of several filmed versions of Zane Grey novels that took great liberties with the novel’s plot. In this version, Tom Mix portrays Jim Lassiter as a Texas Ranger who must avenge a wicked lawyer’s shifty maneuvers. Lassiter goes undercover as a ranch hand and tends to romance as well as the livestock and fence mending.
1951—Ridin’ the Outlaw Trail
1947—Ridin’ Down the Trail
1937—Rio Grande Ranger
1940—Rocky Mountain Rangers
1935—Rough Riding Ranger
1941—Rollin’ Home to Texas
Review: One of John Wayne and John Ford’s finest moments. Should be required viewing for every red-blooded American.
1960—Seven Ways from Sundown
1949—South of Rio
1953—Star of Texas
1949—Streets of Laredo
1974—The Sugarland Express
Review: O.J.’s white Bronco slo-mo LA freeway chase was a spin around the block compared to the true story that inspired Steven Spielberg’s feature directing debut. Goldie Hawn busts her convict husband out of prison so they can get custody of her baby. The seemingly-statewide car chase must have racked up thousands of hours of overtime for DPS troopers. The immortal cowboy actor Ben Johnson plays a sympathetic Ranger in charge in that immortal Ben Johnson way.
1986—Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
1940—Texas Rangers Ride Again
Review: Based on Webb’s The Texas Rangers, but with a pretty loose interpretation, this King Vidor-directed film came out just in time for the Texas Centennial. Starring Fred MacMurray as one of three bandits, two of which become Rangers and then must go track down the other one, who preferred that side of the law. Guess which side Fred’s on?
Review: Again, a gunslinger decides to pin on the Ranger badge to go after outlaw Sam Bass. While he’s at it, he brings in the Sundance Kid. John Wesley Hardin makes an appearance here, too, just to keep things lively. Starring Noah Beery.
1968—Three Guns for Texas
1945—Three in the Saddle
1976—The Town that Dreaded Sundown
Review: If the name of Ben Johnson’s character, Capt. J.D. Morales, sounds a little like that of Ranger Captain M.T. “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas, it’s because the latter really was in charge of the real life case of the Phantom Killer in Texarkana. No classic, but rentable because Johnson’s in it and the creepy case it’s based on remains unsolved.
1944—Trail of Terror
1943—West of Texas
1953—Winning of the West
This is a very subjective bibliography. Like many Rangerphiles, I’ve always been drawn to the first-hand accounts, memoirs, and biographies of Rangers who served during the frontier era. These are the rarest of Ranger books, and in many ways, the most illuminating. Sure, they might be a little shaky on the facts here and there, and they might try to put a Ranger’s actions in a little better light than they get in this, more sophisticated day and age. But so what? The intelligent reader can read between the lines. The fanatical Rangerphile is the one who buys every Ranger book he or she can, old or new, no matter what the cost. That’s what overdraft protection is for, right?
A Texas Ranger, N.A. Jennings (1889) (Order from Amazon.Com.)
Border Boss: Captain John R. Hughes, Texas Ranger, Jack Martin (1942) (Order from Amazon.Com.)
Bounty Hunter, Rick Miller (1988) (Order from Amazon.Com.)
“Buck Barry,” Texas Ranger, edited by James K. Greer (1932) (Order from Amazon.Com.)
Captain Bill McDonald, Texas Ranger, Albert Bigelow Paine (1909) (Order from Amazon.Com.)
Captain Lee Hall of Texas, Dora Neill Raymond (1940) (Order from Amazon.Com.)
Early Days in Texas: “A Trip Through Hell and Heaven”, Jim McIntire (originally published in 1902, reprinted 1992 with annotation and introduction by Robert K. DeArment) (Order from Amazon.Com.)
Edward Burleson, Texas Frontier Leader, John H. Jenkins and Kenneth Kesselus (1990) (Order from Amazon.Com.)
Encyclopedia of Western Gunfighters, Bill O’Neal (1979) (Order from Amazon.Com.)
Fugitives from Justice, James B. Gillett (1997 publication of Rangers’ “little black book” of late 1800s) (Order from Amazon.Com.)
“I’m Frank Hamer”, John H. Jenkins and H. Gordon Frost (1968) (Order from Amazon.Com.)
Indian Depredations in Texas, J.W. Wilbarger (1889) (Order from Amazon.Com.)
Life of “Big Foot” Wallace, A.J. Sowell (1899)
Lone Star Man: Ira Aten, the Last of the Old-Time Rangers, Harold Preece (1960) (Order from Amazon.Com.)
Memoir of Capt’n C.R. Perry of Johnson City, Texas: A Texas Veteran, C.R. Perry (edited by Kenneth Kesselus) (1990)
Pidge, Chuck Parsons (1985)
Rangers and Pioneers of Texas, A.J. Sowell (1884) (Order from Amazon.Com.)
Rip Ford’s Texas, John Salmon Ford (1963) (Order from Amazon.Com.)
Six Years with the Texas Rangers, 1875-1881, James B. Gillett (1921) (Order from Amazon.Com.)
Taming the Nueces Strip, George Durham, as told to Clyde Wantland (1962) (Order from Amazon.Com.)
Texas Ranger in the Oil Patch, Captain John M. Woods (1994) (Order from Amazon.Com.)
Texas Ranger Tales: Stories that Need Tellin’, Mike Cox (1997) (Also see the Book Review.) (Order from Amazon.Com.)
Texas Ranger: Jack Hays in the Frontier Southwest, James K. Greer (1993, condensed from Colonel Jack Hays: Texas Frontier Leader and California Builder, 1952) (Order from Amazon.Com.)
The Capture of John Wesley Hardin, Chuck Parsons (1978) (Order from Amazon.Com.)
The Evolution of a State, Noah Smithwick (1900) (Order from Amazon.Com.)
The Gentlemen in the White Hats, C. L. Douglas (1934) (Order from Amazon.Com.)
The Legend Begins, Frederick Wilkins (1996) (Order from Amazon.Com.)
The Texas Rangers: A Century of Frontier Defense, Walter Prescott Webb (1935) (Order from Amazon.Com.)
The Texas Rangers: Images and Incidents, John L. Davis (1991, revised edition of The Texas Rangers: Their First 150 Years, published 1975)
The Texas Rangers: Men of Action & Valor, Mike Cox (1991) The Western Peace Officer, Frank Prassell (1972) (Order from Amazon.Com.)
Three Years Among the Comanches, Nelson Lee (1859) (Order from Amazon.Com.)
Trails and Trials of a Texas Ranger, William Warren Sterling (1959) (Order from Amazon.Com.)
With His Pistol in his Hand: A Border Ballad & Its Hero, Américo Paredes (1958)
On the Scout
In the old days, when Rangers went “on the scout” to apprehend a band of cattle thieves or other desperados, they depended on a fast horse, a trusty Walker Colt revolver, and not much else. Today, we can retrace their steps in relative comfort and safety, with the aid of a fast modem or a car with a tank of gas.
One of the first things you learn when grazing the Internet for Ranger info is that there’s a virtual galaxy of information on the Texas Rangers—the professional baseball team, that is. There’s also a hockey team in New York called the Rangers. So you have to do more than a simple search for the term “Texas Ranger.” To save you a little time and wear and tear on your fingertips, check out these links first:
Don’t know much about Rangers, or would like to know more about them, their counterparts, and the folks on the other side of the law, too? National Association for Outlaw and Lawman History (NOLA) is a wonderful historical association devoted to that sort of thing. They put out a great quarterly journal and host annual conferences, such as the most recent one, held in Harker Heights, TX last July. This year’s conference was almost exclusively devoted to the latest in Texas Ranger historical research. Just to keep things from getting redundant, the fabulous Leon Metz of El Paso gave a talk on John Wesley Hardin. Be sorry you missed it. For information, write to: Paula Miller, Membership Secretary, 1201 Holly Court, Harker Heights, TX 76548-1538.
Texas Ranger Hall of Fame & Museum, at Fort Fisher Park in Waco, is the second most visited museum between San Antonio and Dallas (number one is, you guessed it, the Alamo). If you have any interest in Ranger history at all, plan to spend at least a couple of hours here, because there’s plenty of cool stuff to see, including Texas Ranger badges, firearms, tack, and personal gear; a Bowie Knife owned by its namesake; a shotgun and rifle owned by Billy-the-Kid, and weapons and other stuff that belonged to Bonnie & Clyde. Cool souvenirs abound in the gift shop. Future plans for the museum include an interactive web site by early fall, and a museum expansion program that will focus even more on the broad cultural impact of the Texas Ranger legacy, with an interactive exhibit gallery.
Texas Pioneer, Trail Driver, and Texas Ranger’s Museum, located next door to the Witte Museum and Brackenridge Park in San Antonio, has a much smaller collection of artifacts and exhibits than the museum in Waco, but it’s still a pleasant and rewarding place to visit. Talk about interactive, the guides here may buttonhole you as soon as you walk in the door, so be prepared for a dose of Texas Ranger history from the git-go. The place has a low-tech, homey feel, not unlike perusing a big scrapbook in an up stairs attic, except in this case the attic is a fine, WPA deco style limestone building constructed in 1936, in the same style as the Texas Memorial Museum in Austin, but on a smaller scale. Two fine bronze statues out front tell you that you’ve come to the right place; the Texas Ranger statue is by Richard O. Cook, the other, the Texas Trail Driver is the work of John Gutzon Borglum, who also did Mount Rushmore. The museum is located at 3805 Broadway. Call (210) 822-9011 for hours.
TEXAS RANGERS ON THE CYBERFRONTIER:
Lone Star Junction is a worthwhile place to check out all sorts of Texana. Of particular interest is an electronic version of The Evolution of a State, by Noah Smithwick, former Texas Ranger, pioneer, and memoirist. You can also check out a compilation of Mike Cox’s weekly Texana columns, many of which are about, naturally, Texas Ranger books.
HISTORICAL MARKERS ON THE INFORMATION HIGHWAY
Before you head out on your next road trip, be sure you have a copy of Roadside History of Texas, by Leon Metz, and be sure you’ve already checked in at the Texas Historical Commission, because they’re probably the only people in the state who know where each and every Texas Ranger-related historical marker is located, roadside or other. For the past three years, THC has been working on their Texas Historic Sites Atlas, a searchable database which they hope to have fully operational in 1998. They’ve got a Beta version up now. Check it out.
FOR THE WEBB-SAVVY
No Texana scouting expedition will be complete without a visit to the watering hole of the Texas State Historical Association, whose site is nicknamed, quite appropriately, “The Webb Site” (as in Walter Prescott Webb, the giant of Texas historical letters). TSHA also publishes some of the finest Texas and Southwestern history publications to be found, check out their list.
Looking for that extra special Ranger history item, some that even your bibliomaniac friends don’t have? How about an obscure oral history recorded during the WPA years? Go straight to the American Memory Collection of the Library of Congress and do a search for documents and/or photographs relating to “Texas Ranger.” I’ve found some great stuff here.
Maybe you’re new to the state and you think the Department of Public Safety is the agency in charge of sorting through Halloween trick or treat candy for razor blades and making sure that people who buy mattresses don’t remove those DO NOT REMOVE tags, and you’re wondering just what in the heck the Texas Rangers have to do with the DPS. Wonder no more. Go straight to the DPS home page and you’ll find info on the who/what/where of not only the DPS but the agencies under its jurisdiction, including the Texas Rangers and their history, requirements for becoming a Ranger, and all sorts of other stuff, including the answer to that big DPS FAQ: Is it legal to pick bluebonnets from the side of the road in Texas? You can also send email to their PIO (Public Information Office), which is where Ranger expert number one Mike Cox hangs his hat during the day.
THE END OF THE TRAIL
For the lucky few statesmen, politicians, heroes, and those allowed access by special legislative decree, the Texas State Cemetery in Austin is the last place we’ll go on our journey of life. For the curious and information-hungry virtual Ranger, however, the State Cemetery is just another ramp on the information super trail, and it’s a darn good one, too. Edward Burleson, John Reynolds Hughes, D. W. Roberts, William “Big Foot” Wallace, and John Lemon Wilbarger are just some of the Texas Rangers resting here who prove the old adage, “Texas heroes never die, they just get a new home page at the State Cemetery.” Look up Edward Burleson (who served not only a former Ranger but as vice president of the Republic of Texas) and you’ll find a 1,300-word biography, a daguerreotype, a history of said daguerreotype, a photo of his tombstone, the inscription of said tombstone, and the location of the grave. There’s also an image of the towering statue of Stephen F. Austin, father of Texas and the man who authorized the first company of Rangers to protect his infant colony. And while you’re here, pay your respects to that larger than life Texas Ranger, frontiersman, storyteller, and folk hero, Bigfoot Wallace, whose epitaph reads: “Here lies he who spent his manhood defending the homes of Texans.”