Pages Navigation Menu

Texas Rangers: Then and Now

The 2015 Western Writers of American Convention was held in Lubbock. Historian and author, Robert M. Utley, gave the keynote address on Friday. This 85 year old man stood behind the podium and held the crowd spellbound for almost an hour.  Here’s my summary of Mr. Utley’s keynote speech first appearing in the “WWA Roundup Magazine”, October 2015.

western writers


Keynote Summary by Natalie Bright

Edited by Ollie Reed Jr.


Historian, Robert M. Utley, an Owen Wister Award recipient and one of this year’s inductees into the Western Writers Hall of Fame, selected the Texas Rangers as the topic for his keynote address.

Robert M. Utley, Historian and Author

Robert M. Utley, Historian and Author

The Rangers originated with the earliest settlers in Texas and the law-enforcement agency’s heritage is still cherished in the state. One of the most outstanding leaders, John Coffee Hayes, equipped his men with Samuel Colts. The repeating firearm changed Indian warfare. Seventy Comanche and fourteen of Hayes’ men collided in close combat at the Battle of Walker Creek. The victory gained national attention.

The 1874 legislature created a frontier battalion of state troops, and also authorized a group to the enforcement of laws of Texas. With no official name, they called themselves Texas Rangers. Duties included apprehending fence cutters, hunting men like Sam Bass and John Wesley Hardin and dealing with Mexican banditos.

John B. Jones, appointed in 1874, was soft-spoken and slight of build, but proved to be fearless in his leadership. Forming a task force and working with local law enforcement he planned an ambush for Sam Bass. The gun battle played out on the streets of Round Rock and a mortally wounded Bass was captured in the pasture not far from town. During his term, Major Jones transformed the Rangers into the old West lawmen of history and tradition. utley book 1 Known for his bold leadership style, William J McDonald (Captain Bill) is quoted, “No man in the wrong can stand up to a man who’s in the right and keeps a-coming.”

The story goes that the Rangers were called to subdue a mob. When Captain Bill got off of the train, the town Mayor asked, “Where’s the rest of your Texas Rangers?”

“Ain’t but one riot,” he replied.

One leader, Henry L. Ransom, created more shame during the entire history of the group due to involvement in the Mexican revolution. He had served in the brutal Philippine insurrection and brought the methods to Texas. He described his process as “a bitter disease calls for bad medicine…” Some folks wondered if the Rangers had outlived their time.

During the 1920’s, Rangers imposed order on oil-boom towns, enforced prohibition, and dealt with lynch mobs. Mariam A. “Ma” Ferguson, the first woman governor of Texas, fired the entire force upon her election in 1933 because of their open support of incumbent Governor Ross Sterling. With the creation of the Department of Public Safety in 1935, the Ranger core of old emerged into the professionals we know today.

The chaos of federal, criminal and civil rights issues during the 1960’s proved a difficult period for the Rangers. Another effort was made to abolish them, however they held too deep a place in the affections of Texans. Department of Public Safety Director Homer Garrison declared:

As long as there’s a Texas, there will be Texas Rangers.”

utley lone star lawman