Ranging the Frontier: The storied history of the Texas Rangers

The storied history of the Texas Rangers

Paid Content: From 1823 to the present day, a courageous group of men and women have been chosen to protect and serve the people of Texas. To this day, the Texas Rangers are the oldest statewide law enforcement agency in America.

From 1823 to the present day, a courageous group of men and women have been chosen to protect and serve the people of Texas. To this day, the Texas Rangers are the oldest statewide law enforcement agency in America. 

“Without the Texas Rangers, there would not be a state of Texas as we know today,” said Byron Johnson, Director of the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum in Waco, Texas.  

“They were protecting settlers as neighbors, helping neighbors, and now they are elite criminal investigators for the state,” said Christine Rothenbush, Marketing and Development Coordinator on behalf of the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum.  

Nearly 200 years ago, Texas was a state of about 700 citizens. With no regular army to protect its citizens from Native Americans or other threats, Stephen F. Austin, known as the “Father of Texas,” formed the Rangers. He was contracted by the Mexican government to bring settlers in from what was consider the old South of the U.S., as well as Europe, to settle Texas. 

“The Rangers started because the government of Mexico was unable to provide any protection in the Northern Province of Mexico, which is what Texas was at the time,” said Johnson. 

During the Texas Revolution, the Rangers were still serving as a militia company during the Battle of the Alamo. William Travis sent out an appeal, pleading for people to come in and reinforce the Alamo.  

“About the only real recruits that came in were a ranging company from the town of Gonzales, and they rode into the Alamo shortly before it was closed for the battle, and unfortunately they all died in the battle at the Alamo,” said Johnson. “The youngest one of them was still in his teens at the time.” 

“They all died in the cause of Texas independence,” Johnson added. 

FROM HORSEBACK TO ELITE INVESTIGATORS: HOW THE LEGEND OF THE TEXAS RANGERS CONTINUES TODAY

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, political corruption had spread across the state of Texas, even infiltrating the governor’s office. To combat a further spread of corruption, the state created the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), listed under a civilian Public Safety Commission. 

“In 1934, the Rangers were taken out of the direct line of the governor of the state of Texas and put under a Public Safety Commission,” said Johnson. 

The first agencies under DPS were the Texas Rangers, the Motorcycle Highway Patrol, and what would later become the state Criminal Evidence Lab. At the time, this was an unprecedented move, as law enforcement agencies were commonly created in the United States when most states formed law enforcement agencies, separated into specific departments. 

The Rangers have played a significant role in several high-profile and historic national events. Among those include the Mexican Revolution, World War I, oil booms, and prohibition. Perhaps most notably was the Rangers’ role in bringing Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow to justice.  

Parker and Barrow were an American criminal couple during the time of the Great Depression. They would travel across the U.S., robbing banks, stores, and gas stations. What separated Parker and Barrow from other outlaws during this time was technology.  

DO YOU HAVE WHAT IT TAKES TO BE A TEXAS RANGER?

“The weapons they used were essentially weapons developed during World War I, like Browning automatic rifles, and Thompson submachine guns, that were unavailable to small-town police officers,” said Johnson. “Bonnie and Clyde would come roaring into town in a Ford V8.” 

Local law enforcement in small towns was no match for the infamous criminal duo. In need of a solution to stop the national crime spree, the Rangers turned to an ex-Ranger, Frank Hamer, encouraging the former Ranger captain to come out of retirement to track down Parker and Barrow. Hamer was known as a legendary “manhunter” during his time with the agency. 

“He hunted them for over 100 days and managed to end their criminal career in a very, very carefully crafted ambush in western Louisiana,” said Johnson. “Both Bonnie and Clyde were killed.” 

The Texas Rangers popularity has grown as well. The Rangers have been the subject of numerous Hollywood films and television series, including The Lone Ranger.  

“A lot of Texans appreciate the Rangers, but they don’t realize how worldwide they are,” said Rothenbush. “We have followers in France and Germany and Czechoslovakia. All over America love and adore the Texas Rangers. They want that level of justice in their country.”  

CLICK HERE TO WATCH MORE TEXAS RANGER STORIES

On January 21, the Texas Rangers return to television. Walker, the highly anticipated new series on The CW, stars Jared Padalecki as Cordell Walker, a widower and father of two, who has returned home to Austin after being deep undercover. Walker soon discovers that a lot has changed since being away and works to get his home back in order. 

The Texas Rangers are also marking their 200th anniversary in 2023. As part of the Texas Ranger Bicentennial celebration, a series of celebrations, festivals, and engaging presentations will be offered. For more information on the upcoming festivities, visit www.texasranger.org. 

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