Whenever I talk to anyone about my involvement with the Former Texas Rangers Foundation, the conversation invariably turns to one of the most iconic representations of one of the most iconic organizations of the American West, the Texas Rangers. And, that iconic image is of Texas Ranger Joaquin Jackson, replete with a ranger’s cinco peso star badge, double rig gun belt, weathered chaps, and holding a Winchester model 1894 carbine while standing in the scrub of West Texas.
The image originally graced the cover of Texas Monthly magazine in the February 1994 issue, and accompanied an article titled “The Twilight of the Texas Rangers,” which discussed how the legendary organization’s history and traditions clashed with the changing realities of a modern world. Dan Winters’ photograph of the 6-foot-5-inch, square jawed Joaquin Jackson met the public’s more traditional expectations of what a Texas Ranger should be, prompting popular posters and the subsequent use of the photo on the cover of a book celebrating 25 years of Texas Monthly.
Who was Joaquin Jackson?
Haynie Joaquin Jackson was born in 1935, and worked his way from the early days doing day work as a cowboy on West Texas ranches, to a basketball scholarship at West Texas State University, to officer candidate school in the Marines, to the Texas Department of Public Safety as a trooper, and eventually to the Texas Rangers in 1966. As a ranger, he was assigned to a wide swath of the Texas-Mexico border, which included places only passable on horseback. The assignment matched perfectly with his love of the arid regions of West Texas and the beloved people, both Mexican and American, that he counts fortunate to have known. In fact, during his career as a ranger, the sterling silver pistol grips on Jackson’s Colt Commander Model 1911 carried gold images of Montezuma’s profile above an arched banner, with a horses’ head inside a horseshoe.
During his career, he was involved in a shootout at the Carrizo Springs jail that ended a prison revolt. He captured “The See More Kid,” an elusive horse thief and burglar who left clean dishes and swept floors in the houses he burglarized. And, he investigated the 1988 shootings in Big Bend’s Colorado Canyon and tried to understand the motives of the Mexican teenagers who terrorized three river rafters and killed one.
“I am so grateful for the gift of serving Texas. I could never imagine a greater honor. No, there is no greater honor. Not for me.”– Texas Ranger H. Joaquin Jackson
Also while a Texas Ranger, Jackson was instrumental in starting the career of country singer Johnny Rodriguez. In 1969, a teenage Rodriguez was jailed and would often sing in his cell; Jackson, who overheard Rodriguez and was impressed by his voice, told his friend, music promoter James “Happy” Shahan, about him, and shortly aftwerwards, Johnny Rodriguez had his first gig.
A natural in front of the camera
Jackson was in several movies, namely as the character Sheriff Wes Wheeler in the 1995 motion picture The Good Old Boys with Tommy Lee Jones, in the 1997 made-for-TV movie Rough Riders, and in a 1997 TV mini-series, Streets of Laredo, based on author Larry McMurtry’s novel of the same title. Jackson also played the fictional Sheriff Jackson in the 2008 movie Palo Pinto Gold, starring singer Trent Willmon, and appears as Archie in the motion picture Poodle Dog Lounge, released in late 2008. Jackson also served as a role model for Jeff Bridges’ character Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton in the 2016 film Hell or High Water. His last film was Wild Horses released in 2015, in which Jackson co-starred with Robert Duvall. I was never on the set with Joaquin when he was filming any of these stories, although I can image the instructions from the director for each film were simply, “Joaquin, be you.”
“At heart, the Mexicans are a generous people.”– Joaquin Jackson, on his admiration for the people of the border between Texas and Mexico
The Joaquin Jackson I knew
With a simple “saddle my pony, boys” Jackson retired from the Texas Rangers in 1993, but continued to live in Alpine, Texas, where he was the owner and operator of a private investigations firm. His wife, Shirley Conder Jackson, died on February 11, 2012, and in 2014 he married Jewely Van Valin, who was by his side during his final days. He had two sons with Shirley, Don Joaquin Jackson and Lance Sterling Jackson, and two grandsons, Adam Michael and Tyler Joaquin. His oldest son Don Joaquin spent time in prison for auto theft and murder, a tragedy Joaquin Jackson writes about painfully in his memoirs. In retirement, Joaquin was active with the Former Texas Rangers Foundation, with his private security business, and with the community in his home town of Alpine.
I am fortunate to have known Joaquin Jackson, having been first introduced to him by my father-in-law, former Texas Ranger Phil Ryan, notable in his own right for his arrest of mass murderer Henry Lee Lucas. Joaquin Jackson was a very gracious man, who invited me on a few occasions to enjoy a cigar with him or play a few holes of golf. He always had a witty comment or a kind word to say to me when we would visit and share a laugh. I recall on one occasion we went to a nearby signing for his book, One Ranger, fully expecting to buy our copy and have him sign it. “Bullshit,” replied Joaquin. “you’re family.” And, with that, he signed a copy of his book with his trademark su amigo siempre, handed it to me without asking for payment, kissed my bride on the cheek, and said he looked forward to seeing us again soon. I’m sure the lost revenue from the gifted book provided much dismay of his publisher! There are a lot of great memories of Joaquin Jackson, but that’s one of my favorites. Sadly, Joaquin Jackson passed away at 80 years old at his home in Alpine on June 15, 2016.
Joaquin Jackson was a kind, thoughtful and rugged man, who despite all of the pain and suffering he witnessed, had an eternal love of the American West, a belief in the basic good nature of humans, an admiration for the blended culture of Mexico and the United States ever-present in West Texas, and the recognition that the world is bigger than any one person. In fact, he would often introduce himself as “just a ranger from West Texas,” which speaks to the very nature of the man. To my friend always, you are missed by many, but we are better for having known you.
Until next time, mis amigos siempre, happy trails! ★