Who were the Texas Rangers?

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Texas Rangers  |  circa 1885

It’s probably more appropriate to ask the question, “who are the Texas Rangers?”, since this law enforcement organization is still in existence today more than a 180 years later. That’s right, one of the first groups to fight on the side of justice in the old west were the Texas Rangers. 

Dating back to 1823, ten men became employed under Stephen F. Austin as a protection force for newly arriving settlers in the territory of Texas. Their first mission, protect 600 to 700 homesteaders against hostile Indian and bandit attacks. 

By 1835, the Texas Rangers as they became known, were formally constituted, and within two years their ranks swelled to an impressive force of over 300 men. During the years to follow, the size of the Rangers would also ebb and flow from over 50 men, to a fighting force of 150 under Sam Houston, the first President of the Texas Republic, where their services found them fighting in the Mexican-American War on the side of the United States.

Once the war ended in 1848, the Rangers were for the most part dismissed from duty. That was until 1857, when governor, Hardin Richard Runnels of the now, State of Texas, allocated $70,000 to rearm the organization as a deterrent to the continual Indian raids, particularly from the Comanche on the Texas settlers. When the Civil war broke out, Texas joined the Confederacy in 1861, meaning many of the Rangers changed allegiance from the northern federal government to fighting on the side of the southern cause.

1873 brought in a new recommissioned organization of the Texas Rangers that were once again aligned with the federal government. Expanding on their role of dispensing justice, the Rangers forged a solid reputation for capturing and killing notorious criminals, including those in the trade as bank robbers and gunfighters. Their decisive victories over the Comanche, the Kiowa, and the Apaches brought an end to the decades old American and Indian wars. 

There is no doubt that the Texas Rangers brought a stabilizing enforcement of the law to the lawless old west, even if it may have been one part fiction, and one part truth as extolled by the media of their day. Sensationalist writing by the press, idealized the role of the Texas Rangers as tough talking, quick shooting, and rough living in the minds of the American citizen, but in a quote attributed to, John “Rip” Ford - one of the most prominent of the early Texas Ranger Captains - his view was probably closer to the truth,

"A large proportion …were unmarried. A few drank intoxicating liquors. Still it was a company of sober and brave men. They knew their duty and they did it. While in 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."

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