Lone On The Range: Texas Lawmen

A history of the Texas Rangers.
Wed December 31, 1969 6:00 am

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

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