Texas Rangers is currently the oldest law enforcement agency in North America with statewide jurisdiction. The history of the Rangers can be traced to the early days of Anglo settlement in Texas. They are thought to be in the range of four other world-famous law enforcement agencies – the FBI, Scotland Yard, Interpol, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Many books, both fiction and non-fiction have been written about the Rangers and numerous media shows have been based on their heroic deeds.
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As former Ranger Captain Bob Crowder once put it, “A Ranger is an officer who is able to handle any given situation without definite instructions from his commanding officer or higher authority” (Bernstein 50). This definition continues to remain valid till today though the Texas Rangers are today able to be more in contact with the rest of the world through modern technology.
Texas Rangers were a mounted fighting force established in 1835 during the Texan Revolution. By the opening of the Revolution, there were three races struggling for supremacy in Texas: Comanche Indians in the Plains; Mexicans in the southwest resting on the Rio Grande, and the Anglo Americans or Texans in the timbered portion of Mexican province. Each had to produce its fighting man. The Comanche had its warrior brave; the Mexican had his caballero, ranchero, or vaquero.
To meet these, the Texans created the Ranger who had to adapt his weapons, tactics, and strategy to those imposed by his enemies (Webb and Johnson 11). The Rangers became established as the guardians of the Texas frontier, particularly against Native Americans. They were said to “ride like Mexicans, shoot like Tennesseans, and fight like the very devil” (CE 52958) Thus, the Texan Rangers were a unique kind of police force that never underwent formal training, were not expected to follow norms such as saluting officers and wore neither uniforms nor any standard gear except the six-shooter (Utley 287). Initially, the Texas Rangers was made up of three companies of 25 men each (CE 52958).
In their first decade of operation, the rangers effectively quelled lawlessness in Texas on frequent occasions, and in the Mexican War (1846–48) they served as scouts and guerrilla fighters, gaining a wide reputation for valor and effectiveness. In the late 1850s, the rangers fought vicious battles with the Comanche, and in the Civil War, Terry’s Texas Rangers gained renown. In the Reconstruction era, the Texas Rangers were engaged to control outlaws, feuding groups, and Mexican marauders and were responsible for keeping law and order along the Rio Grande (CE 52958).
In 1874 the Texas Rangers were organized for the first time on a permanent basis in two battalions; one was assigned to arbitrate range wars on the frontier, and the other was sent to control cattle rustling on the Texas-Mexico border. In the 20th century the police responsibilities of the rangers, around whom much lore had built up, decreased, and by 1935 their numbers had diminished considerably. By act (1935) of the Texas legislature, the rangers were merged with the state highway patrol under the jurisdiction of the state department of public safety. The rangers now form an elite investigative squad within the Texas highway patrol. The first women rangers were admitted to the force in 1993.
The Texas Rangers played a huge role in the troubled history of Texas from the years of colonization to the present though there have been differences in policy, organization, demands for service, and state administrations. In 1821, Stephen F. Austin, known as the “Father of Texas,” made a contract to bring 300 families to the Spanish province, which now is Texas. By 1823, Texas was populated by 600-700 people who came from all over the United States.
As there was no army to protect them, Austin got the citizens together and formed a law enforcement force called the Rangers in 1823 (Utley 13). Soon, the Rangers had to look after the entire state and came to be known as the Texas Rangers. In 1835, 25 men under the command of Silas M. Parker, 10 men under Garrison Greenwood, and 25 men under D. B. Frazier were assigned to protect the frontiers of Texas from native Indians until the end of the Revolution.
Soon, the Texas Rangers expanded in strength. One of their early successes was when Sam Houston and his army defeated the troops of Santa Anna in the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836. During the period 1836-1845, the Texas Rangers made a name for themselves through their heroic acts especially in 1840 when there were many battles against the Indians such as the Council House Fight in San Antonio, the raid on Linnville, and the Battle of Plum Creek.
Texas seceded from the Union and joined the Confederacy by the action of a convention on January 28, 1861, ratified February 23, 1861. Terry’s Texas Rangers, which was organized in Houston in 1861, became hugely popular under the able leadership of Colonel Benjamin Franklin Terry and contributed well to the Confederate Army. Texas was readmitted to the Union on March 30, 1870.
The darkest period in the history of the organization, the Period of Reconstruction (1865-1873), was the re-regimentation of the Rangers as the “State Police”. Under the administration of the Reconstructionist Governor E. J. Davis the State Police fell into disrepute among the war-weary citizens of Texas. In May 1874, under Governor Richard Coke, six companies of Texas Rangers, 75 men per company were established to protect the ranches and they came to be known as the Frontier Battalion. In the Frontier Battalion, Rangers were given the status of peace officers, whereas they earlier functioned as a semi-military organization. They were in an intermediate position between an army and a police force.
The Rangers were organized into companies, but not regiments or brigades. The company was in the charge of a captain or a lieutenant and sometimes a sergeant. The headquarters was in Austin where the captains reported to the headquarters office, who used to be the Secretary of War, later the Adjutant General, and currently, the Director of the Texas Department of Public Safety. Generally, the Ranger was called in where a case was considered too great a task for a local agency.
The Frontier Battalion was abolished in 1901 and Ranger Service was reorganized under a new law. Each Ranger was considered an officer and was given the right to perform all duties exercised by any other peace officer. Four events – the Mexican Revolution, World War I, oil booms, and prohibition – made demands on the Texas Rangers, which they could not meet. On August 10, 1935, the Texas Rangers became members of the Texas Department for Public Safety, with statewide law enforcement jurisdiction. The present-day Texas Rangers came into being on September 1, 1935.
The basic requirements for employment as a Department of Public Safety Trooper, which is the entry-level for commissioned officers, are the applicant must be at least twenty years of age and must have a minimum of ninety semester hours from an accredited college. Apart from these qualifications, there are a few special requirements needed to join the Texas Rangers and they are:
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- Each applicant must be a citizen of the United States of America, in excellent physical condition, and have an outstanding record of at least eight years experience with a bona fide law enforcement agency engaged principally in the investigation of major crimes. The applicant must be currently employed with the Texas Department of Public Safety in the position of a commissioned officer with the rank of at least Trooper II
- Applicant must have a background subject to a thorough investigation, which would reflect good moral character and habits. Applicant must possess a valid Texas driver’s license free of any restrictions that would compromise the applicant’s ability to perform his duties.
- An entrance examination will be given, and selected applicants with the highest scoring grades will appear before an Oral Interview Board before final selection.
Rangers are required to attend at least 40 hours of in-service training every two years, but for most Rangers, the training far exceeds the requirement. Some Rangers receive additional training in areas such as investigative hypnosis, which has played an important role in some criminal cases. In 2007 the average age of the Texas Rangers is 47. College hours had increased to an average of 117 hours, 41 Rangers have Bachelor’s degrees, 14 Rangers have Associates degrees, and 3 have Master’s degrees.
“They were men who could not be stampeded” – said the late Colonel Homer Garrison, Jr., longtime director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, describing the men who had won the silver or gold star of the Texas Rangers (TDPS 1). One of the most famous early-day Texas Rangers was John Coffee “Jack” Hays. He came to San Antonio in 1837 and within three years was named a Ranger Captain. Hays built a reputation fighting marauding Indians and Mexican bandits.
An Indian, who fought on the side of Hays and his men called him “bravo too much.” He helped to establish the Ranger tradition of mixing toughness with technology. Hays and men used the five-shot revolver, a weapon made by New England gun maker, Samuel Colt, with deadly effect in defense of the Texas frontier (Utley 4). In the period following the Mexican War, a popular Ranger was John S. “Rip” Ford, whose nickname stood for “Rest in Peace.”
He succeeded in driving away from the bandit Juan Nepomuceno Cortina in 1859 who sought to occupy all of Texas below the Nueces River (TDPS 1). Texas’ deadliest outlaw, John Wesley Hardin, a preacher’s son reputed to have killed 31 men, was captured in Florida by Ranger John B. Armstrong (Bernstein 50). Another well-known Texas outlaw who was gravely wounded by the Rangers was trained robber Sam Bass. When inmates in the Rusk State Hospital for the Criminally Insane rioted and took hostages in the 1950s, Ranger Captain R. A. “Bob” Crowder walked into the maximum-security unit armed only with the.45 on his hip.
Crowder and the leader of the mob had a conversation and the inmates surrendered. Again, during the same period, Rangers calmed down a violent steel mill strike in East Texas; shut down illegal gambling in Galveston, and participated in numerous cases (TDPS 1). Texas Rangers had to face issues such as local fights, bloody feuds, lynch mobs, cattle thieves, barbed wire fence cutters, killers, and other badmen. The Rangers usually prevailed.
Due to their acts of courage and fierce commitment to the cause of securing the borders of Texas, the Ranger acquired a reputation as a person who can be counted upon to take care of a situation beyond the means of local law enforcement. Adjutant General W. H. Mabry wrote of the Rangers in his 1896 report to the Legislature that “This branch of the service has been very active and has done incalculable good in policing the sparsely settled sections of the state where the local officers…could not afford adequate protection” (TDPS 1)
Presently, the activities of the Texas Ranger Division consist primarily of making criminal and special investigations; apprehending wanted felons; suppressing major disturbances; protecting life and property, and rendering assistance to local law enforcement officials in suppressing crime and violence. They also perform a wide range of criminal investigations including Murder, robbery, sexual assault, burglary, theft, and fraud; bank fraud; theft by credit card and computer-generated counterfeit checks; misuse of criminal history information; misconduct and corruption of public officials; threats against the governor and other state and federal officials; and missing persons, parental abductions, questionable deaths, and unidentified bodies.
The Texas Rangers are well equipped and they have at their disposal fingerprint and modus operandi files, police radio receivers, and the benefit of chemical ballistic and microscopic testing in their criminal investigations. They continue their services towards law enforcement and continue to remain since 1835, the premier law enforcement body for the people of Texas.
Bernstein, Andrew (2003). Old West Cowboy Ethic Is the American Way to Fight Evil. Insight on the News. Volume: 19. Issue: 8.
CE (Columbia Encyclopedia) (2007). Texas Rangers. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. Columbia University Press. New York.
TDPS (Texas Department of Public Safety) (2008). Department of Public Safety – Texas Rangers. Web.
Utley, M. Robert (2002). Lone Star Justice: The First Century of the Texas Rangers. Oxford University Press. New York.
Webb, Walter Prescott and Johnson, Baines Lyndon (1989). The Texas Rangers: A century of Frontier Defense. University of Texas Press.