The Texas Rangers
The Texas Rangers are an elite division of the state police with a storied history—some of it flattering, some not, and some just plain false—older than the state itself. The Rangers themselves date their history to Stephen F. Austin’s 1823 call for a small militia to defend his colony against Indians and bandits. The unit was dissolved after the Civil War, but later reconstituted chiefly as an Indian fighting force.
The Mexican Revolution marked a low point in the unit’s history, as thugs calling themselves Rangers dealt out brutal frontier “justice” in an effort to keep order along the Texas side of the border, most notoriously in the massacre of fifteen Mexican men and boys in the Presidio County town of Porvenir in 1918. Racial tensions were high along the Texas-Mexico border, and “suspected Mexicans,” most of them Americans, were often “summarily executed by hanging or shooting on the Texas side of the river,” according to a short piece by Ronaldo Hinojosa-Smith. “Local lawmen and vigilante groups did some of the killing, but it was the Texas Rangers—56 were operating in the Valley by 1916—whom Texas Mexicans feared the most.”
The legislature imposed reforms in 1919, and by 1935 the group had been consolidated with the state police under the Department of Public Safety, the arrangement that prevails today. The Rangers now serve as a kind of state level FBI, assisting rural authorities with murder investigations, and pursuing police corruption cases, among other crimes.
The unit’s distinctive circle on star badges (fashioned from an old Mexican five peso coin), cowboy hats, and white shirts remain the ultimate markers of prestige among Texas cops. Still, times have changed. In 1994, Robert Draper wrote about the clash of the Rangers’ myth and modernity, as the unit’s first two female agents—neither of whom had any investigative experience—were appointed, which prompted several celebrated veterans to retire in protest.
In 2007, executive editor Pam Colloff revisited the Rangers myth in a sweeping oral history, finding a modern outfit that these days relies less on the gun and more on the laptop, with an impressive record of cracking difficult cases.
The Twilight of the Texas Rangers
Are the legendary lawmen necessary? Yes, but their inability to grapple with the modern world threatens to make them irrelevant.
Watch a Bunch of Actors Pretend to be Texans
And brush up on Texas history at the same time. “Texas Rising” premieres on Memorial Day.
Law of the Land
Nearly two centuries after their forebears protected colonists from Indian raids, the Texas Rangers are alive and well and wrestling with the realities of the twenty-first century. In their own words, the iconic crime fighters explain how their world has changed—and what it takes to battle the latest generation of bad guys.
Greg Ott, Free
Greg Ott, the philosophy graduate student who was convicted of killing a Texas Ranger in 1978, has finally been released and is getting on with his life.
What happened to former Texas Ranger Joaquin Jackson.
Free Greg Ott!
Twenty-two years ago a Texas Ranger was shot and killed during a drug raid on the home of Greg Ott, a philosophy graduate student. Even today, no one really knows what happened on that tragic night.
The Last Posse
After thieves stole his daughter’s horse, deputy U.S. marshal Parnell McNamara didn’t make a federal case out of it. Instead, he rounded up a group of old-style lawmen and lit out after them.
River of Blood
The race war on the range.
If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Oakland
When Billy Martin takes his Texas Rangers on the road, the games are among the least of their worries.
Lone On The Range: Texas Lawmen
A history of the Texas Rangers.