Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Ranger Jim's Ramblings for September

Since Kathleen has just given us a terrific post about the Alamo, for this month I'll be keeping things in Texas. Specifically, the Texas Rangers. Good, honest men trying to uphold the law, bigoted thugs and outlaws, throwing their weight around, or somewhere in between?

For over a hundred years, the Texas Rangers' reputation was that of tough, hardened lawmen, doing a fine job of ridding Texas of all sorts of desperadoes. Later, in the turmoil of the 1960s and 1970s, the revisionist historians started painting the Rangers with one broad, black brush.

The truth, of course, lies somewhere in the middle, as it usually does. Despite what the revisionists would like you to believe, most Texans, and that includes Texans of Mexican ancestry, welcomed the Rangers as they enforced the law, at least up until the late 19th century. (The notable exception being the El Paso Salt War, which I've discussed on this blog previously). There were in fact quite a few Rangers of Mexican ancestry. It was only later, roughly
from 1885 or so and on, after much wrongdoing by the Rangers, that Hispanics began to truly distrust them.

Basically, from years of studying the Rangers, I can say that, yes, they were quite often very prejudiced, and did some horrible things, such as stacking the bodies of Mexicans they had killed in a pile in the middle of Brownsville like so much cordwood. They often dispensed justice on their own, without taking outlaws to trial.

However, the good they did, and still do, far outweighed, and still outweighs,  the bad. We cannot judge the frontier era Rangers in the context of our time, but of theirs. They were men doing a hard, often thankless job, for low pay, and facing death almost every day. Many of their roughest tactics they learned from the very men they were chasing. They had to learn to "fight fire with fire", and use every possible tactic and weapon at their disposal to bring justice, and finally civilization, to the vast, lawless expanses of Texas. Our leaders could take a lesson from those old-time Rangers in dealing with Al-Queda and ISIS/ISIL today. Sometimes you have to forget trying to do everything completely "by the book", and do whatever is necessary to make the world, or in the frontier era, Texas, safe for honest folks.

"Ranger" Jim


  1. I'd like to know more about some of those things - both good and bad - that you allude to, Jim. Good post, though. Thought provoking.

  2. Perhaps as a social worker I always want to know the context of events and actions. As a historian, it is important that I also put events and actions into the context of what is happening and the mindset of the times. Not always easy, but always important.

    Your posts on the rangers are fascinating and I look forward to more information on their actions and the events that created those actions. Doris

  3. Jim,

    Always want to be supportive.

    You write what you write and you do it well. Everything you write is wholesome and uplifting and I like that. Obviously others do as well.

    Texas Rangers did a lot of things. The story of the Walker Colt and the use it was put to against the Comanche’s by the Texas Rangers is a pretty hard and gruesome tale. The other side of the coin was that Texas Rangers were using the same tactics the Comanche’s used. The difference was---the Indians were fighting for their land and their very survival.

    My understanding is what really wiped out the Comanche’s strength was lack of immunity to European diseases. However, there were many battles between Comanche’s and Texas Rangers. The Paterson and Walker Colt began to play a major role and gave the Rangers advantage over bows and arrows. AND, this all occurred as early as the late 1830’s and into the 1840’s! Amazingly early use of six shooters!

    In discussing Texas Rangers---there’s certainly some gritty and interesting tales that can be told of that time...


  4. Jim, the frontier produced some hard men on both sides of the law. You're right about fighting fire with fire: The Rangers learned some of their most gruesome tactics from the people they chased. Some the Rangers who seem, by contemporary standards, to have been the most off-base morally and legally remain some of the most revered. Leander McNelly, Big Foot Wallace, and Coffee Jack Hays come to mind.

    Regardless whether they've been judged "good" or "bad," the Rangers left their mark on history...and still do. :-)

  5. Jim, I just got A TEXAS RANGER by William MacLeod Raine free for my Kindle. It was published in 1910, so I think it will be interesting to see how the Rangers were portrayed in literature more than 100 years ago and compare with today.

    1. That's a good place to start. So is Walter Prescott Webb's THE TEXAS RANGERS, published in 1935. When Webb wrote the book, he took pretty much everything he was told by the Rangers for granted, so while a fine history of the Rangers, it contained not much negative about them at all, in fact in many segments it's almost a puff piece for the Rangers. (Again, the El Paso Salt War being the exception).. He also thought, since the Rangers had just become part of the Texas DPS, it was the end for the organization. Later, he intended to write a revised edition, in the mid-1960s, and admitted he hadn't been careful enough to keep his point of view in the original unbiased, but had allowed the bias of the Rangers he interviewed to color his book. Unfortunately, he died before he could complete the revised edition.