Lone Star Law

When you read the words Texas Ranger or see an image of a Ranger, what comes to mind? The roots of today’s Texas Rangers trace back to the first days of Anglo-American settlement of the Mexican province of Coahuila y Tejas, in what is now Texas.  And, while now recognized as one of the most highly-respected law enforcement agencies in the world, the early history of the Texas Rangers is one of economic expansion, rugged determination, taming of rugged land, and a complicated relationship with Mexico. And, as such, not unlike what can be said about Texas.

By the early 1820s, the Mexican War of Independence had subsided, Mexico was newly independent, and at the urging of the young Mexican government, some 60 to 70 families had settled north into land that would become known as Texas.  Because there was no regular army to protect the citizens against attacks by native tribes and bandits, in 1823, Stephen F. Austin organized small, informal armed groups whose duties required them to range over the countryside from the Brazos River north to present-day Dallas, and who thus came to be known as “rangers.” 

The Empressario of Texas employs the first “rangers”

Stephen F. Austin. Photo: State of Texas Archives

Austin was an empressario (Spanish for entrepreneur) of Texas, and it was in that capacity that he wrote to Mexican Emporer Agustín de Iturbide on August 4, 1823, that he would “ … employ ten men … to act as rangers for the common defense … the wages I will give said ten men is fifteen dollars a month payable in property … 

While there is some discussion as to when Austin actually employed men as “rangers,” Texas Ranger lore dates the anniversary year of their organization to this event.  The unique characteristics that the Rangers adopted during the force’s formative years and that give the division its heritage today—characteristics for which the Texas Rangers would become world-renowned—have been accounted for by the nature of the Rangers’ original duties, which was to protect a thinly populated frontier against protracted hostilities, first with Plains Indian tribes, and after the Texas Revolution, repeated hostilities with Mexico.   

The early days of the Republic of Texas

Early Texas Rangers.
Lithograph: Texas Historical Society

In their early days, Rangers performed tasks of protecting the Texas frontier against Indian attacks on the settlers. During the Texas Revolution, they served mainly as scouts, spies, couriers, and guides for the settlers fleeing before the Mexican Army and performed rear guard during the Runaway Scrape and general support duties. These minor roles continued after independence, when the region became the Republic of Texas under President Sam Houston. Houston, who had lived with the Cherokee for many years (and who had taken a Cherokee wife), favored peaceful coexistence with Indians, a policy that left little space for a force with the Rangers’ characteristics. 

However, it would be 12 more years before the Texas Rangers were formally constituted in 1835. Austin had returned to the newly independent Republic of Texas after having been imprisoned in Mexico City and helped organize a council to govern the group. On October 17, at a consultation of the Provisional Government of Texas, a resolution was proposed to formally establish the Texas Rangers. The proposal included creating three companies that would total some 60 men and would be known by “uniforms” consisting of a light duster and an identification badge made from a Mexican peso. They were instituted by Texan lawmakers on November 24, 1835, and four days later, Robert McAlpin Williamson was chosen to be the first Major of the Texas Rangers. Within two years the Rangers grew to more than 300 men.

A new president and new priorities

Texas President Mirabeau B. Lamar.
Photo: State of Texas Archives

In contradiction to Sam Houston’s favorable view of native Americans and his desire for peaceful coexistence, newly-elected president Mirabeau B. Lamar had not forgotten the support Cherokee tribes had given the Mexican Government during the Cordova Rebellion against the young Republic of Texas.  He favored the eradication of native Indians in Texas—a view that he shared with Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Thomas Rusk. Lamar saw in the Rangers the perfect tool for the task, and he obtained permission from the Texas Legislature to raise a force of 56 Rangers, along with other volunteer companies. During the following three years, he engaged the Rangers in a war against the Cherokee and Comanche and succeeded in weakening their territorial control.   

And, in this, the Rangers unique abilities began to be noticed.  According to Texas historian T.R. Fehrenbach, “The Rangers were to be described many times, at first as state troops, later as a police force or constabulary. During most of the 19th century they were neither. They were apart from the regular army, the militia or national guard, and were never a true police force. They were instead one of the most colorful, efficient, and deadly band of irregular partisans on the side of law and order the world has seen. They were called into being by the needs of a war frontier, by a society that could not afford a regular army.”

Texas joins the United States

With the annexation of Texas by the United States, and start of the Mexican–American War in 1846, several companies of Rangers were mustered into federal service and proved themselves at the battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma. From that moment on, their effectiveness as guerrilla fighters and guides to the U.S. Army through a territory that they were familiar with marked the pace of the American offensive against Mexico. Rangers played an important role in the battles of Monterrey and Buena Vista. The army, commanded by General Winfield Scott, landed at Veracruz in March 1847, and the Rangers once again provided valuable support at the ensuing battles.

They were also responsible for the defeat of the fierce Mexican guerrilleros who were hindering the advance of the federal troops, which the Rangers achieved ruthlessly and efficiently. By then, the Rangers had earned themselves a considerable reputation that approached the legendary among Mexicans, such that when Ranger companies entered and occupied Mexico City with the U.S. Army in September of 1847, los Diablos Tejanos (the “Texas Devils”) were received with reverence and fear.

A drawing captures a scene from the Mexican-American War.
Image: McLean County Museum

Their role in the Mexican–American War also won them nationwide fame in the United States and news of their exploits, in the contemporary press became common, effectively establishing the Rangers as part of American folklore. As the Victoria Advocate reported in the November 16, 1848, issue:

“Four newly raised ranging companies, have all been organized, and taken their several stations on our frontier. We are much pleased. We know they are true men, and they know exactly what they are about. With many of them Indian and Mexican fighting has been their trade for years. That they may be permanently retained in the service on our frontier is extremely desirable, and we cannot permit ourselves to doubt such will be the case.” 

Brutal times require brutal methods, but at a cost

Despite these popular stories and their fame, some of their most brutal interventions, such as the massacre of unarmed civilians, elderly men, women and children in Saltillo, ordered by Samuel H. Walker, remained unknown to the American public at large.  

Most of the Ranger force was disbanded during the years following the end of the Mexican–American War in 1848, since the protection of the frontiers was now an official duty of the U.S. Army. But as more settlers sought to establish homesteads in lands traditionally occupied by Indians, the skirmishes with native peoples became a major political issue.

During the 1850s, the Rangers were intermittently called on to deal with this problem, and with the election of Hardin Richard Runnels as governor in 1857, they once again regained their role as defenders of the Texas frontier. On January 27, 1858, Runnels allocated $70,000 to fund a force of Rangers, and John Salmon “Rip” Ford, a veteran Ranger of the war with Mexico, was commissioned as senior captain. With a force of some 100 Rangers, Ford began a large expedition against the Comanche and other tribes, whose raids against the settlers and their properties had become common.

On May 12 of that year, Ford’s Rangers, accompanied by scouts from the Tonkawa, Anadarko and Shawnee tribes of the Brazos Reservation in Texas, crossed the Red River into Indian Territory (now, Oklahoma) and attacked a Comanche village in the Canadian River Valley. Suffering only four casualties, the force killed a reported 76 Comanche (including a chief by the name of Iron Jacket) and took 18 prisoners and 300 horses.

In December 1859, Ford and his company were assigned to Brownsville, in south Texas, where the local Mexican rancher named Juan Cortina had launched an attack and briefly occupied the town and later conducted a series of guerrilla actions and raids against local American landowners.

Brownsville, Texas in 1857.
Photo: NOAA by Sean Linehan.

Together with a regiment of the U.S. Army, the Rangers took part in the “Cortina War” and on December 27, 1859, they engaged and defeated Cortina’s forces in the battle of Rio Grande City. Pursued and defeated by Ford and his Rangers again a few days later, Cortina retreated into Mexico, and although he would continue to promote minor actions against the Texan ranchers, the threat of a large-scale military incursion was effectively ended.

The success of these campaigns marked a turning point in Rangers’ history. The U.S. Army could provide only limited and thinly stretched protection in the enormous territory of Texas. In contrast, the Rangers’ effectiveness when dealing with these threats convinced both the people of the state and the political leaders that a well-funded and organized local Ranger force was essential.

And while such a force could use the deep familiarity with the territory and the proximity with the theater of operations as major advantages in its favor, in the light of emerging national political problems, the Rangers were dissolved until 1874.

Civil War and Reconstruction

Texas Rangers in mid 1800’s.

After Texas seceded from the United States in 1861 during the American Civil War, many Rangers enlisted individually to fight for the Confederacy.  During the Civil War, the duties of scouting the state frontiers for Union troops, hostile Indians and deserters devolved upon those who could not be drafted into the Confederate Army because of their age or other disabilities. This mixed group was never officially considered a Ranger force, although their work was essentially the same. 

During Reconstruction, the Rangers were replaced by a Union-controlled version of the Rangers known as the Texas State Police. Charged with enforcing unpopular new laws that came with reintegration, that organization fell into disrepute, only existing from July 22, 1870 to April 22, 1873.

When newly elected Governor Richard Coke took office in January 1874, it marked the end of Reconstruction for the Lone Star State, and he vigorously restored order to Texas in pursuit of improvements to both the economy and security. Once again Indians and Mexican bandits were threatening the frontiers, and once again the Rangers were tasked with solving the problem. 

The Texas Rangers are officially reconstituted

So in 1874, the state legislature authorized the recommissioning of the Rangers with the creation of a special force. Known as the “Frontier Battalion,” it consisted of six companies of 75 men each under the command of Major John B. Jones. This group played a major role in the control of ordinary lawbreakers as well as the defense against hostile, opportunistic Indian tribes, which was particularly necessary in the period of lawlessness and social collapse of Reconstruction.

The Frontier Battalion was soon augmented with a second military group of 40 men under the command of Captain Leander H. McNelly. The task of McNelly’s Rangers was to bring order in south Texas between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande, in an area known as the Nueces Strip. At this particular region, the general situation of lawlessness was aggravated by the proximity of Texas to Mexico and the conflict between agrarian and cattle interests. Raids along the frontier were common, and not only perpetrated by ordinary bandits but also promoted by local Mexican caudillos, a kind of Mexican mob boss or strongman.

In particular, Juan Cortina’s men were again conducting periodic guerrilla operations against local ranchers. In the following two years, McNelly and his group energetically engaged these threats and virtually eradicated them, albeit sometimes violently.

The myth of a Texas Ranger grows

It was at these times that many of the Rangers’ modern-day myths were born, such as their success in capturing or killing notorious criminals and desperados (including bank robber Sam Bass and gunfighter John Wesley Hardin) and their decisive, albeit controversial, role in the defeat of the Comanche, the Kiowa and the Apache peoples.

Texas Rangers from Company “D” enjoy a meal together near Realitos in March 1888.
Photo: Heritage Auctions via True West Magazine

It was also during these years that the Rangers suffered the only defeat in their history when they surrendered at the Salinero Revolt in 1877. Despite the fame of their deeds, the conduct of the Rangers during this period was questionable. In particular, McNelly and his men used ruthless methods that often rivaled the brutality of their opponents, such as taking part in summary executions and confessions induced by torture and intimidation.  

McNelly also made himself famous for disobeying direct orders from his superiors on several occasions, and breaking through the Mexican frontier for self-appointed law enforcement purposes. Arguably, these methods either sowed the seeds of discontent among Mexican-Americans or restored order to the frontier. By the last years of the 19th century, a high measure of security within the vast frontier of Texas had been achieved, in which the Rangers had played a primary role. 

Rangers subdue an assassination attempt of two presidents

Presidents Taft and Díaz meet in El Paso, Texas in 1909.
Photo: The Roosevelt Institute for American Studies

In 1909, Private C.R. Moore of Company A, performed what has been called “one of the most important feats in the history of the Texas Rangers”. U.S. President William Howard Taft and Mexican President Porfirio Díaz planned a summit in the metropolitan border area of El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. It was to be a historic first meeting between a U.S. president and a Mexican president, and also the first time an American president would cross the border into Mexico. But tensions rose on both sides of the border, including threats of assassination, so the Texas Rangers, 4,000 U.S. and Mexican troops, U.S. Secret Service agents and U.S. Marshals were all called in to provide security. On October 16, the day of the summit, Frederick Russell Burnham and Ranger Moore discovered a man holding a concealed palm pistol standing at the El Paso Chamber of Commerce building along the procession route. Burnham and Moore captured, disarmed, and arrested the assassin within only a few feet of Taft and Díaz.

The Rangers evolve into an law enforcement force, but with a reputation 

At the beginning of the 20th century, Texas’s frontiers had become more settled, thus rendering the 1874 legislation obsolete after the organization had existed as a quasi-military force for more than 25 years. Amidst serious legal troubles that questioned the authority of the Rangers to exert such a role, new resolutions appropriate to the current times were adopted.

The Frontier Battalion was disbanded with the passing of new legislation on July 8, 1901, and a new Ranger force was created, consisting of four companies of “no more than 20 men each” with a captain in command of every unit. The Rangers had now evolved into an agency with an exclusive law enforcement focus.

The Mexican Revolution that began in 1910 against Mexican President Díaz changed the relatively peaceful state of affairs along the border. Soon after, violence on both sides of the frontier escalated as bands of Mexicans took over border towns and began crossing the Rio Grande on a near-daily basis. Taking over trade routes in Mexico by establishing themselves as road agents, Mexican banditos turned towards attacking the American communities for kidnapping, extortion, and supplies.

Emiliano Zapata, a Mexican caudillo.

As Mexican law enforcement disintegrated with the collapse of the Díaz regime, these gangs grouped themselves under the various caudillos on both sides of the border and took sides in the civil war, most simply to take advantage of the turmoil to loot. Then, as the lack of American military forces for defending the border became clearer, the scope of the activities soon turned to outright genocide with the intention of driving Americans out of the Southwest entirely. Known as the 1915 Plan de San Diego, border Mexicans rose up and in conjunction with raiding Villista guerrillas, killed over 500 Texan women, children, and men in several well-rehearsed attacks.

At this point, the political decision of the Texans was to restore control and order by any necessary means. As Governor Oscar Branch Colquitt instructed Ranger Captain John R. Hughes, “ … you and your men are to keep Mexican raiders off of Texas territory if possible, and if they invade the State let them understand they do so at the risk of their lives.” Hundreds of new special Rangers were appointed by order of the state, although in its haste to provide protection, the state neglected to carefully screen aspiring members.

Rather than conduct themselves as law enforcement officers, many of these groups acted more like vigilante squads matching the brutality of the Mexican gangs. Reports of Rangers abusing their authority and breaking the law themselves increased. The situation grew even more dramatic when on March 9, 1916, Pancho Villa led 500 Mexican raiders in a cross-border attack against Columbus, New Mexico, increasing the high tension that had already existed between the communities. The raid resulted in the theft of 100 horses and mules, killing 14 soldiers and 10 residents, and setting the town a fire before retreating back into Mexico with stolen ammunition and weaponry.

War brings violence on all sides

The Texans reciprocated in the tiny community of Porvenir in Presidio County on the border with Mexico. In January 1918 a heavily armed group of Texas Rangers, ranchmen and members of a U.S. Cavalry troop descended upon the tiny community and rounded up the inhabitants of the village and searched their homes. They then proceeded to gather all the men in Porvenir (fifteen Mexican men and boys ranging in age from 16 to 72 years) and marched them off into the darkness. A short distance from Porvenir, the men were lined up against a rock bluff and shot to death.

Rangers after The Norias Raid in 1915.
Photo: Texas State Archives.

Before the decade was over, thousands of lives were lost, Texans and Mexicans alike, due to the mutual hostilities. In January 1919, at the initiative of State Representative José T. Canales, the Texas Legislature launched a full investigation of Rangers’ actions throughout these years. The investigation found that from 300 up to 5,000 people, mostly of Hispanic descent, had been killed by Rangers from 1910 to 1919, and that some members of the Rangers had been involved in many acts of brutality and injustice.

Reform and reorganization

These were the most turbulent times in the history of the Rangers, and with the objective of recycling the force’s membership, putting it back in tune with its past and restoring the public’s trust, the Legislature passed on March 31, 1919, a resolution to purge it and enhance it and its procedures. All special Ranger groups were disbanded; the four official companies were kept, albeit their members were reduced from 20 to 15 each; better payment was offered in order to attract men of higher personal standards; and a method for citizens to articulate complaints against any further misdeeds or abuses was established.

Texas Ranger Frank Hamer during the years of tracking Bonnie and Clyde.
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

The reforms proved positive, and the new Ranger force eventually regained the status of a respectable agency. Under the command of captains such as Frank Hamer (who later became famous for leading the party that killed the outlaws Bonnie and Clyde), the Rangers displayed remarkable activity in the following years, including the continuous fighting of cattle rustlers, intervening in the violent labor disputes of the time, and protecting the citizenry from violent mobs assembled at Ku Klux Klan rallies. With the beginning of nationwide prohibition on January 16, 1920, the Ranger’s duties extended to scouting the border for tequila smugglers and detecting and dismantling the illegal stills that abounded along Texas’s territory.

The Great Depression forced both the federal and state governments to cut down on personnel and funding of their organizations, and the Rangers were no exception. The number of commissioned officers was reduced to 45, and the only means of transportation afforded to Rangers were free railroad passes, or using their personal horses. The situation worsened for the agency when its members entangled themselves in politics in 1932 by publicly supporting Governor Ross Sterling in his re-election campaign, over his opponent Miriam Amanda “Ma” Ferguson.

Ferguson was elected, and immediately after taking office in January 1933, she proceeded to discharge all serving Rangers. The force also saw its salaries and funds slashed by the Texas Legislature, and their numbers reduced further to 32 men. The result was that Texas became a safe hideout for the many Depression-era gangsters escaping from the law, such as Bonnie and Clyde, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, Pretty Boy Floyd and Raymond Hamilton. The hasty appointment of many unqualified Rangers to stop the increasing criminality proved ineffective.

The general disorganization of law enforcement in the state convinced the members of the Legislature that a thorough revision of the public security system was in order, and with that purpose it hired the services of a consulting firm from Chicago. The resulting report yielded many worrying conclusions, but the basic underlying facts were simple: the criminality levels in Texas were extremely high, and the state’s means to fight them were underfunded, undermanned, loose, disorganized and obsolete.

Texas Rangers in 1939.
Photo: Texas Department of Public Safety

The consultants’ recommendation, besides increasing funding, was to introduce a whole reorganization of state security agencies; especially, to merge the Rangers with the Texas Highway Patrol under a new agency called the Texas Department of Public Safety (the “DPS”). After deliberating, the Legislature agreed with the suggestion. The resolution that created the new state law enforcement agency was passed in 1935, and with an initial budget of $450,000, the DPS became operational on August 10.

A thoroughly professional law enforcement agency

With minor rearrangements over the years, the 1935 reforms have ruled the Texas Rangers’ organization until present day. Hiring new members, which had been largely a political decision, was achieved through a series of examinations and merit evaluations. Promotion relied on seniority and performance in the line of duty. More sophisticated means of crime fighting were put at their disposal, like automobiles, advanced weaponry and forensics. 

Texas Rangers in 1949.
Photo: Texas Hill Country magazine.

By the late 1930s, the Rangers had one of the best crime labs in the United States at the Headquarters Division in Austin. The appointment of Colonel Homer Garrison in September 1938 as director of the DPS proved decisive as well. Under his leadership, many respected captains such as Manuel T. Gonzaullas worked extensively to restore the good name of the force that had been compromised in the previous decades, keeping it in line with its traditions within a modern and civilized society and regaining its high status. The number of commissioned officers grew and the Rangers developed a clear detective function, while the Highway Patrol took charge of direct law enforcement duties.

The quality of the force in terms of training, funding, modernization and number strength has continued to improve. In the last few decades, the Rangers have intervened in several thousand cases with a high level of effectiveness, including many high-profile ones such as the pursuit and capture of serial killer Ángel Maturino Reséndiz, and the arrest and conviction of serial killer Henry Lee Lucas. The agency is also fully integrated with modern Texan ethnic groups, counting numerous male and female officers of Hispanic and African American origin among its members. 

What it meant to be a Texas Ranger

Texas Ranger Captain John S. “Rip” Ford.

From its earliest days, the Rangers were surrounded with the mystique of the Old West. Although popular culture’s image of the Rangers is typically one of rough living, tough talk and a quick draw, Ranger Captain John “Rip” Ford described the men who served him as this: “A large proportion … were unmarried. A few of them drank intoxicating liquors. Still, it was a company of sober and brave men. They knew their duty and they did it. While in a 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.”

As it happened with many Old West myths like Billy the Kid or Wyatt Earp, the Rangers’ legendary aura was in part a result of the work of sensationalistic writers and the contemporary press, who glorified and embellished their deeds in an idealized manner. While some Rangers could be considered criminals wearing badges by a modern observer, many documented tales of bravery and selflessness are also intertwined in the group’s history.

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

– Texas Ranger Captain “Rip” Ford discussing the Rangers he served with

Despite the age of the agency, and the many contributions they have made to law enforcement over their entire history, Texas Rangers developed most of their reputation during the days of the Old West. Of the 79 Rangers killed in the line of duty, 30 were killed during the Old West period of 1858 through 1901. Also during this period, two of their three most high-profile captures or killings took place, the capture of John Wesley Hardin and the killing of Sam Bass, in addition to the capture of Texas gunman Billy Thompson and others.

Texas Rangers today

Texas Rangers investigating crimes.
Photo: Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum

The duties of a Texas Ranger consist of conducting criminal and special investigations; apprehending wanted felons; suppressing major disturbances; the protection of life and property; and rendering assistance to local law enforcement in suppressing crime and violence. The Texas Ranger Division is also responsible for the gathering and dissemination of criminal intelligence pertaining to all facets of organized crime, suppress all criminal activity in any given area, when it is apparent that the local officials are unwilling or unable to maintain law and order, may conduct investigations of any alleged misconduct on the part of other Department of Public Safety personnel, and for providing personal protection to the Governor of Texas and other statewide elected officials. So, in essence, each modern Ranger is a unique blend of a police detective, an FBI agent, an intelligence agent, a force multiplier for county sheriffs, and a body guard.

The Texas Rangers are organized much they same way they were in 1935. The agency is divided into seven companies: six genographically-dispersed companies lettered from “A” to “F”, and a Headquarters Company “H”.  The number of personnel is set by the Texas Legislature at 150 commissioned officers, one forensic artist, one fiscal analyst and 24 civilian support personnel. The Legislature has also made a provision for the temporary commissioned appointment of up to 300 Special Rangers for use in investigative or emergency situations, and in fact many retired Rangers are given Special Ranger appointments.

The statewide headquarters of the Texas Rangers is located in Austin at the Texas DPS headquarters, where the Chief of the Texas Rangers is located. Like most other state-wide law enforcement agencies, the Texas Rangers have a special weapons and tactics (“SWAT”) team, a bomb squad, a reconnaissance ream, special response teams, and crisis negotiation teams.  Unlike many other law enforcement agencies, the Texas Rangers also include a border security operations center, a joint operations and intelligence center, and a public corruption unit.

How to recognize a Texas Ranger

Texas Ranger Joaquin Jackson.
Photo: Dan Winters

Modern-day Rangers do not have a prescribed uniform, per se, although the State of Texas does provide guidelines as to appropriate Ranger attire, including a requirement that Rangers wear clothing that is western in nature. Currently, the favored attire includes white shirt and tie, tan or gray trousers, a light-colored western hat, double-rig ranger belts, and cowboy boots. 

Historically, according to pictorial evidence, Rangers wore whatever clothes they could afford or muster, which were usually worn out from heavy use. While Rangers still pay for their clothing today, they receive an initial stipend to offset some of the costs of boots, gunbelts and hats.

To carry out their horseback missions, Rangers adapted tack and personal gear to fit their needs. Until the beginning of the 20th century, the greatest influence was from the vaqueros (Mexican cowboys). Saddles, spurs, ropes and vests used by the Rangers were all fashioned after those of the vaqueros. Most early Rangers also preferred to wear broader-brimmed sombreros as opposed to cowboy hats, and they favored square-cut, knee-high boots with a high heel and pointed toes, in a more Spanish style. Both groups carried their guns the same way, with the holsters positioned high around their hips instead of low on the thigh. This placement made it easier to draw while riding a horse and is still in common use today.

The Silver Star

What makes a Ranger most recognizable, though, is the distinctive badge they wear.  The wearing of badges became more common in the late 1800s. Historians have put forth several reasons for the lack of the regular use of a badge; among them, some Rangers felt a shiny badge was a tempting target. Other historians have speculated there was no real need to show a badge to a hostile Native American or outlaw. Additionally, from a historical viewpoint, a Ranger’s pay was so scanty that the money required for such fancy accoutrements was rarely available. 

Nevertheless, some Rangers did wear badges, and the first of these appeared around 1875. They were locally made and varied considerably from one to another, but they invariably represented a star cut from a Mexican silver coin (usually a five-peso coin) in a design reminiscent of Texas’s Lone Star flag.

A modern Texas Ranger badge.

Although present-day Rangers wear this familiar “star in a wheel” badge, it was adopted officially only recently. The current design of the Rangers’ badge was incorporated in 1962, when Ranger Hardy L. Purvis and his mother donated enough Mexican Cuauhtamoc .900 silver coins for each of the 62 Rangers at the time. Since then, the Ranger badge has only had slight modifications. Modern Texas Rangers receive two badges when they are promoted to the Ranger service, a silver badge made from a Mexican cinco peso coin and a bronze, silver-plated badge to carry in their identification case. Rangers often have other personalized badges built, which are highly-prized mementos for the family of a deceased Ranger.

Famous in real life, and highly notable in popular culture

Numerous films and television series focus closely or loosely on the Texas Rangers, including several from the lore of the The Lone Ranger, the movie series Lonesome Dove, the television series Walker, Texas Ranger, the 2016 film Hell or High Water, and a 2019 Netflix film, The Highwaymen about the manhunt for the brutal and notorious Bonnie and Clyde.

Regardless of how one views the mixed history of the Texas Rangers, a distinct Ranger tradition has evolved. One with cultural and historical significance to Texas and the American West, such that the Texas Rangers are legally protected against disbandment. One that has served as the basis for other law enforcement agencies, and one that has universal and immediate recognition of a Texas Ranger when we meet one. So respected are the Texas Rangers now, that many times an alleged criminal will agree to only talk to a Texas Ranger, thereby assuring a fair investigation.

Until next time, mis amigos, happy trails! ★