Friday, December 9, 2011

Fast and Furiously - Texas Ranger Border Justice and Patrol in the 19th Century

Attorney General Eric Holder clearly has 'no shame' and no remorse -- this cold and expressionless man seems an empty vessel occupying a desk and drawing a federal salary.  What gives him his casual confidence that he will not be forced to resign?  His arrogant attitude toward all questions?  Who really heads the Justice Department these days?  Anyone?

"As they said in the McCarthy hearings, have you no shame?" asked Holder, referencing a famous retort to McCarthy.  (CNN, 12/8/11)

"More people are going to die, probably," said Rep. Ted Poe, a Texas Republican. "Unfortunately, I think that's probably true," Holder replied.  (CNN, 12/8/11)

What follows is the full text of a very well-written article about the Texas Ranger in the late 19th century, and the rigors of their proud life protecting the great expanse of the Texas border.  How shameful it is that today our Justice Department now makes a mockery of almost two hundred years of lives dedicated to protecting our borders -- of almost two hundred years of lives lost protecting our borders.

Nelson Evening Mail, Volume XXVIII, Issue 198, 28 September 1894, Page 4

Outside of the pages of fiction the Texas Ranger is seldom introduced to the general public. His personal acquaintance is something to be prized, and with my fingers still tingling from his hearty hand clasp, the memory of his original ways still fresh in my mind, it is a pleasure to speak of him, to tell who and what he is, and what manner of life he leads.  He met me with a warm smile of welcome, and the pleasant light in his eyes was in strange contrast to his costume, with its belt full of cartridges about his waist and the heavy pistol on his hip.

He was an ideal host. Everything he had was mine, and the entire camp was at my disposal.  I had every opportunity to study him, and I availed myself well of the chance; for there is in all America no more interesting figure than the Texas Ranger.

Texas has long been a favourite field for romance and story, and in many a thrilling tale the Texas Ranger has been a character, both picturesque and prominent; yet even though his name and his fame have been so widely heralded, he is somewhat of a myth to the world at large, and even to the average Texan he is little known, much misunderstood, and thoroughly unappreciated.

The Frontier Battalion, as the Texas Ranger force is now designated, is in every way unique. It is a standing army, regularly enlisted in the service of the State, always in the field, always under arms. It has been an important factor in the affairs of Texas for more than half a century. 

It was in 1832, when the citizens of Texas were assembled in convention at San Felipe de Austin to sue for statehood under the Mexican Government, that they provided for the protection of the frontier by a body of mounted men, or civic militia, on duty for 40 days at a time, in relays of 40 men.

Texas Ranger Camp in 1887
(photo from collection of Mike Cox, Austin, Texas)
The exact extent of the force is not known, but it continued in existence and constituted one of the people's main defences during their subsequent struggle with Mexico.  Under the Republic the organization numbered 1000 men, and was divided into small troops patrolling the Mexican border and the equally dangerous frontier to the west and north, from which the murderous redskins made their frequent raids. 

When the State was admitted to the union the Rangers had yet much to do. They took a most prominent part in the Mexican War, and remained in the saddle when that war was over. Much of interest might be written of the doings of the Rangers in the stirring times which followed, when but a call was needed to augment their thin lines along the border into a determined little army, and hurl them an avenging host, down on the Mexican raiders or the Indian hordes, with the trail of burning homes and murdered, mutilated forms they always left behind them.  It is the purpose of this sketch, however, to picture the Texas Ranger as he exists today.

The force was reorganized by act of the fourteenth Legislature, and on April 10, 1874, six companies, of 75 men each, were put into the field.  The disasters of the civil war had left Texas, as were all other southern States, prostrated and poverty-stricken; but Texas, in addition to sorrows and suffering it shared with its sister states from the horrors of reconstruction, was scourged with a harassing, never-ending warfare with border ruffians and Indians, grown bold by the license of war and the subsequent years of misrule. Indians and Mexicans ranged their prairies, back and forth across the border, and murder, robbery, and arson were done by day and by night.

Progress and prosperity were held in check, the State was at a standstill, and the life led by those hardy pioneers who had pushed their way to the outposts of civilization was hazardous in the extreme, exposed as they were to the hardships of an undeveloped frontier, surrounded by a lawless desperate element, the outgrowth of existing conditions.

Captain Frank Jones’s Company D, Frontier Battalion, of the Texas Rangers, 1890's 
The Texas Rangers soon made themselves felt, however, and before their steady front, step by step, they pushed the opposing forces of lawlessness and discord. Many a hard-fought fight marked their way, and the milestones of their progress were graves enclosing the forms of brave rangers who fell before the bullet of the outlaw. Today the Indian is gone, and the desperado is held in check; but the Texas border can never be stripped of its charms for fugitives from justice and desperate men from all nations, and the day will never come when there will be no demand for the services of the Texas Ranger.

With the advance of civilization the number of Rangers has been gradually reduced, until there are now but four companies in the field, and the minimum limit has in all probability been reached. To these four companies is entrusted the guardianship of the frontier, from the Pan Handle to the Gulf of Mexico, a stretch of border country greater in extent than the Atlantic coast from New York to Charleston.

Texas Rangers in Presidio County, El Paso
district, in 1890.
When it is realized that the Rangers keep this entire line under constant patrol, the significance of their name is seen. Empowered with the authority of peace officers, heavily armed and well mounted, they ride the broad prairies, and shrewd indeed must be the criminal who escapes their vigilance. They act in conjunction with the sheriffs of the border countries, and whenever practicable, cooperate with the regular United States army forces along the Rio Grande. Criminals of all kinds know them and fear them, and their very name is a power for good.

Some idea of the extent of their operations may be gained from a statement in a recent report of the adjutant-general— their official head —showing that in one year they scouted over 89,472 miles in the discharge of their duty, and arrested 597 desperate criminals.

I cannot give a better idea of the Texas Ranger of today than by showing him as he appeared to me on the occasion I have before mentioned, when I was the guest of one of their companies, shared their hospitality, and accompanied them on their round of duty for nearly a month.

It was in the Rio Grande country, and although winter the weather was hot and dry.  In that country rain is often unknown for many months, and on this occasion the drought had been almost unbroken for two years.  The camp of the Rangers was located in the midst of country barren of vegetation as to
resemble a desert;  yet this very country was a cattle range, and in favourable seasons the rich grass carpeted its vast stretches with verdure, on which countless herds were fattened.

A row of tents, neatly arranged, presented an appearance quite military; but with that the resemblance ceased, for the rigour and discipline of a military encampment were entirely absent. Obedient to every command, the men yet held themselves the equal of their captain; and he, in turn, treated them with an off-hand freedom very different from the attitude of the officer towards the regular in ranks. The secret of this is found in the fact that the captain has chosen every man in his company with a personal knowledge of his worth, and knows he can depend on him in every emergency. He gives no unnecessary orders, and when he speaks his men act.

The captain of the company is paid 100 dollars a month, and the privates 30 dollars. All supply their own arms and horses, and the State furnishes them with ammunition and provisions. No uniforms are worn, and in the midst of the ranger camp one finds himself in rough-looking company indeed.  Shining rifles, big revolvers, long knives, woollen shirts, and slouch hats, pants in boots, and sometimes leather breeches, are the accompaniment of every man, giving the camp the appearance of a crowd of brigands rather than a posse of police officers. It doesn't take long, however, to find that their roughness is all outside. There is no bigger-hearted, generous fellow on earth than your genuine Texas Ranger -- no more warmly hospitable place than a ranger camp.

The routine of arresting cattle thieves and trailing ordinary criminals is often varied in the round of ranger life; when big raids of outlaws, intent on driving whole herds across the border, are to be intercepted, fugitive train robbers run down, or some noted desperado taken in charge. All seems confusion at first; but when the time for action comes, a word brings order, and in a moment every man is in the saddle, belted and spurred, ready to sweep like the wind across the dusty prairies.

It was such an occasion I have in mind. A fugitive from Mexico, at the head of a motley crew of cutthroats, came in conflict with the United States troops, one of whom was killed, and the rangers took the field to assist in their capture or extermination.

Night and day they rode.  The comforts of camp were unknown.  The drought-stricken country for hundreds of miles was their field of action, and through the trackless chaparral, where naught of life was seen but the sluggish vulture feasting on the famine-slaughtered stock, they pursued the fleeing outlaws.  Many a fight they had, and it is no fancy picture which shows the ranger fallen in the fight, the smoking pistol still in his hand, while his faithful horse, with wind-tossed mane and tail, sniffs at his lifeless form. The country was sparsely inhabited, and the people, far from the centers of civilization — for the most part rough, ignorant, superstitious descendants of the lower class of Mexicans were friendly to the fugitives; yet success went to the rangers. 

A number of prisoners were taken, some worthless lives cut short, and some vacant places left in the ranks of the rangers. Those of the outlaws not captured or killed were swept from Texas soil, law and order were upheld, and though humble hearts in humble homes mourn the dead ranger so soon forgotten by the world, the result is good. The price of peace is always paid in blood.

And such is a brief glimpse into the life of the Texas Ranger. --- New York Once-a-Week

Texas Ranger Hall of Fame
The Texas Ranger, Legends of America