History of the Texas Rangers

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An early depiction of a group of Texas Rangers, c. 1845

The legendary Texas Rangers have patrolled the hills and plains of Texas since the early 1800s.

The Texas Rangers have a long, exciting history filled with acts of valor and heroism. Texas Rangers are recognized around the world for their courage and integrity, and it all started with ten brave men.

Early Years of the Texas Rangers

It was 1823 and Stephen Austin was in the process of fulfilling his father’s dream, leading 300 families to establish a colony on the lower Colorado and Brazos rivers. On August 10, Austin obtained permission from the newly-formed Mexican government to hire ten men to protect the settlers. Austin already had groups in place, which he called “ranging companies,” fending off attacks from Indians, outlaws and Mexican bandits. They generally traveled in pairs as they patrolled for miles. In addition to patrols and hunting down bandits, the long-distance patrols enabled them to improve their tracking skills and familiarize themselves with local Native American Indians.

The Texas Rangers Organize

The Texas Revolution brought about a formal constitution for The Texas Rangers in November of 1835. Robert McAlpin Williamson was chosen to be the first Major of the Texas Rangers and later became a Supreme Court Justice for the Republic of Texas. In addition to Williamson’s supervision, the Rangers also reported to the Military Commander in Chief of the Texas Forces. At the beginning of 1835 there was 25 Rangers, but they were already famous among colonists for their heroism and many men and boys were eager to join their ranks. Within two years the Rangers numbered more than 300.

The Texas Rangers Repeatedly Disband and Reform

On occasion, the Rangers would be disbanded, then reform. Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar, the second President of the Republic of Texas, created a force of 56 Rangers to fight Cherokee and Comanche in 1839, and Sam Houston increased the number to150 in 1841. This proved to be a wise decision as they were needed once more during the Mexican-American War in 1846 when several companies were brought into service as both cavalry and long-range reconnaissance. The Rangers built a reputation for stealth, moving discreetly through Mexican lines to find routes for the U.S. Army to invade. According to David Nevin’s The Texans, Ranger Captain Ben McCulloch once led 40 men 250 miles, raiding several villages without once being sighted by the Mexican Army. Mexican soldiers referred to them as “Texas Devils.”

Texas Rangers and the Civil War

During the American Civil War, many Texas Rangers joined the Confederacy, but other men joined the Texas Rangers to continue protecting settlers from hostile Indians and outlaws while the battles raged on in other states. Charles Goodnight, co-founder of the Goodnight-Loving cattle trail, served with the Texas Rangers during the Civil War as a scout and guide in their battles against Kiowa and Comanche. Goodnight was the guide who brought the rangers to the Comanche encampment where Cynthia Ann Parker was taken as a child. Parker was re-captured, taken from her husband and children, returned to relatives, and later died of grief. During Reconstruction, the Texas Rangers were disbanded and replaced by Union soldiers.

Texas Rangers and the Mexican Revolution of 1910

During the Mexican Revolution of 1910, the Texas Rangers were once again desperately needed to restore order on the border. However, the situation was so serious that hundreds of new Rangers were hired by the State, and these Rangers had no prior screening and inefficient training. Rangers were found to be responsible for the 1918 Porvenir massacre of 15 Mexican boys and men. An investigation by the Texas Legislature found that in a ten year span, the Rangers were involved in numerous acts of brutality. The Rangers were disbanded and reformed and a complaints system was created.

Texas Rangers in Popular Culture

The Texas Rangers are an integral part of the romance of the Old West. They were involved in the capture of notorious criminals John Wesley Hardin, Sam Bass, and Bonnie and Clyde. Western author Louis L’Amour wrote two short story collections about Texas Rangers and Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove novels have Texas Rangers as the primary characters. In 2001, James Van Der Beek, Ashton Kutcher and Dylan McDermott starred in Texas Rangers based on a book by George Durham.

Texas Rangers Today

In 1935, the Texas Rangers were made part of the Department of Public Safety and they are still a part of Texas law enforcement to this day. These highly trained and educated Texas Rangers have the same authority as a sheriff. They generally serve as criminal investigators supporting local law enforcement. They form six companies, A-F, in six geographical locations, and Austin is their statewide headquarters. There is one Ranger for each of the 254 counties in Texas. Texas Rangers wear civilian clothes, western hats and western boots, and badges made from Mexican coins pinned to their shirts.

Resources:

  1. “A Brief History.” Texas Rangers Law Enforcement Association.
  2. Nevin, David. The Old West: The Texans. Time Life Books, Canada: 1975.
  3. Procter, Ben H. “Texas Rangers.” The Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association
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