I recently had the opportunity to discuss the Texas Rangers with a friend who grew up in a small Texas town. (I’m told it met the qualification of “town” status because of the presence of a Dairy Queen.) I had to chuckle when she pointed out that, in her childhood, she remembers looking upon the Texas Rangers with the kind of reverence she normally reserved for the Tooth Fairy and Big Foot! She had no idea why it was so. It just was. My friend said, “I went to elementary school with the son of a Texas Ranger. I didn’t even know that that meant. I just knew that people were awfully impressed. So, I was impressed, too!”
Sometimes things are so ingrained in our culture that we don’t really stop and ask, “What’s the big deal?” Since we can probably all agree on what the big deal is with the Tooth Fairy, Big Foot, and even Dairy Queen, for that matter (Uh, it’s the Buster bar!), maybe it’s time to ask that question of the Texas Rangers.
What’s the Big Deal?
Did you know that the Texas Rangers Division has been around for longer than any other law enforcement agency in North America? Okay, so you may have known that. I mean, it’s not exactly a secret. But it is still worth contemplating. In 1823, Steven F. Austin wrote a “call to arms” and the Texas Rangers were born. Just so we’re clear, Texas didn’t become a state until December 29, 1845.
Yep, the Texas Rangers have a long history in the Lone Star State. So many things about the Old West have gone the way of the tumbleweed. It’s kind of nice to know that something as fundamentally “Old West” as the Texas Rangers has managed to stay relevant.
Rather than go into a big timeline of events, I’ve decided to look into what makes this organization so special that it has assumed almost a mythical position in Western lore. Just a quick glimpse into some of the more famous cases handled by the Texas Rangers seems to solve that mystery. Over the years, the Texas Rangers have been responsible ending some of the world’s most notorious crime sprees by some of the Old West’s most notorious outlaws.
John Wesley Hardin—Ah, good ol’ John Wesley Hardin. He’s always been my favorite outlaw because I can relate to wanting to shoot someone just for snoring. Don’t get me wrong; I wouldn’t do it. But I feel I understand him on an emotional level! In 1877, a Texas Ranger caught up with John Wesley Hardin in Florida. The Ranger, John Armstrong, had been on Hardin’s trail for three years, since Hardin had shot a Texas Deputy Sherriff. Let that be a lesson to you, Bad Guys! Texas Rangers don’t give up easily! Armstrong accompanied Hardin back to Texas, where he was tried and sentenced to life in prison. Yeah, that would have worked out better if the Texas Governor hadn’t pardoned Hardin after 15 years in prison.
Sam Bass—Train robber Sam Bass didn’t make it to prison after his run-in with four Texas Rangers in Round Rock, Texas. Bass and his gang had been responsible for the largest robbery on the Union Pacific—$60,000 in 1877! (Let me put that in Old West terms. According to my internet sources, a pound of lard cost $0.06 in 1877. So $60,000 would have bought 1,000,000 pounds of lard! You could bake a lot of biscuits with that!) In 1878, the Texas Rangers persuaded a member of Bass’ gang to turn informant. The gang was located. One of Bass’ associates was shot and killed on the spot. Bass was shot, but managed to get away. He didn’t get away for long, though. Bass was captured and died in a jail cell, the following day.
Bonnie and Clyde—Even Bonnie and Clyde’s crime spree ended with the help of Texas Ranger, Frank Hamer. The infamous duo was being sought for murders, bank robberies, automobile thefts and burglaries. I’m having visions of Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty! When the FBI, local law enforcement and Ranger Hamer met up with the infamous duo, it was all over but the shooting!
Then there were the run-of-the-mill criminals…the cattle rustlers, bootleggers and bandits that roamed the countryside. The Texas Rangers were always up for the challenge of protecting the honest citizens of the sprawling state of Texas.
Pop Fiction and Fact
Pop culture had certainly played a part in keeping the Texas Ranger name alive and well in the consciousness of citizens. Some of the most famous Texas Rangers have been fictional. In 1943 alone, seventeen movies were made that featured Texas Ranger characters. My personal favorite fictional Texas Ranger is still the Lone Ranger! Then, of course, I mustn’t forget to mention Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove books, which center on the lives of retired Texas Rangers. And what article about the Texas Rangers would be complete without a mention of Chuck Norris as “Walker, Texas Ranger”? Am I right?
And through it all, the Texas Rangers have continued to be relevant. They’ve gone from being a group of diligent volunteers to an elite group of professionals. They’ve changed with the times, while holding onto the history that made them so recognizable in the first place.
The Texas Rangers have never recruited. They’ve never needed to. Even today, it’s common for them to have 100 applicants for every available position. I’m pretty sure it’s easier to land a spot on “Dancing with the Stars” than with the Texas Rangers! Texas Ranger candidates come from the Department of Public Safety. They must have at least eight years of law enforcement experience, with at least two of those years having been at DPS. They must also meet educational requirements. And their training doesn’t end when they land the job. It takes a lot of work to maintain that almost mythical status.
In case you’re planning some summer road trips, you might want to swing by Waco, Texas. You can pay a visit to the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum. As long as you’re in Waco, you might want to run by the Dairy Queen too! Google Maps tells me there’s a Dairy Queen a mere 1.6 miles from the museum. Enjoy a Buster bar for me would ya?
And, take a few minutes to enjoy this video about the Texas Rangers, including a little visit to the museum!
Happy Trails, y’all!