In my review of the Durango Kid movie, Whirlwind Raiders (1948), the basis of which was the existence of the Texas State Police which temporarily replaced the Texas Rangers as a law enforcement movie in that state after the Civil War. According to the movie, the State Police were “a bunch of crooks with political connections who rode sway over the populace with grafts, holdups and penny ante corruption throughout their ranks.”

    My question was, how true was all of this? Walker Martin replied first, agreeing that the allegations against the Texas State Police were all pretty much true. In a followup comment, David Vineyard agreed, and expanded on this extensively, saying —

   The problem with the Texas State Police was two fold. First they were imposed in place of the Rangers by the Federal government after the Civil War, and second they were highly politicized with positions of authority being sold to the highest bidder, who in Reconstruction Texas were likely to be carpetbaggers and crooks — the only people with any money.

   They would have been resented even if they had done a good job, but by any standard they accomplished nothing and the state had descended into such a chaotic condition under them that even the Army wanted them disbanded and the Rangers reformed.


   They managed to hold on until 1876 when the Rangers were reformed in response to wide spread outlawry and the renewed threat of the Comanche and Apache in western Texas.

   Anyone wanting to know more should read Walter Prescott Webb’s The Texas Rangers which is an epic Pulitzer Prize winning history of the organization from it’s origins in the Austin colony to 1936.

   It was also loosely the basis of the movie The Texas Rangers (1936), directed by King Vidor with Fred MacMurray and Lloyd Nolan, remade as The Streets of Laredo (1949) with William Holden and William Bendix.

   The sequel, The Texas Rangers Ride Again (1940) was a B film, but had a screenplay by Black Mask alum Horace McCoy, and reflected the stories he did of modern Ranger Jerry Frost in the Mask.


   The Rangers were hardly pristine, but because the organization was always small and depended on the authority of one man with a badge and a gun it seldom had the bureaucracy to be as corrupt as the Texas State Police.

   Even today there is some confusion that the Texas Highway Patrol and the Rangers are the same. They aren’t. The Rangers are a separate investigative unit within the state police who aid in state wide crime enforcement and are called in by small towns and counties when needed.

   For most of the 20th century there have seldom been more than 500 Rangers who are recruited from the police forces around the state. Like the FBI they provide CSI and other support for localities who can’t afford their own labs and investigators. Contrary to their reputation for gunplay they actually have a good record of negotiating peaceful endings to bad situations and most agree if the FBI and ATF had left Waco to the Rangers they could have ended it peacefully.

   It isn’t that they haven’t had their bad times. In the 1920’s when Pa and Ma Ferguson controlled the governors office the Klan got a toe hold in the Rangers. A new administration brought in the legendary Colonel Homer Garrison who cleaned the Rangers up and turned them into a modern police unit.


   Garrison was so successful that during WWII he was chosen by FDR and Winston Churchill to reform the police in former Nazi controlled territories in North Africa, and helped to reform the French and German police when the war ended. Supposedly Stalin invited him to Russia to help reform the Russian police but he politely declined.

   That said the Rangers again had some trouble during the sixties during the race troubles, but again reformed and cleaned up their act. Notably even during this period it was a single Ranger who ended boss rule in South Texas when he brought down the infamous Duval County Bosses ending the virtual slavery of itinerant workers in that part of the state.

   Another film to see tackle the Texas State Police is Galloping Legion, a better than usual Bill Elliot western with Jack Holt. Not an A perhaps, but a B+ certainly.

   The Rangers, like Scotland Yard and the RCMP, trade on their legend for part of their effectiveness, but like those organizations have been aided by legendary members from Deaf (Deef) Smith and Big Foot Wallace, Rip Ford, McNelly, Lee Nace (yes, that’s where Lester Dent got the name — Nace was the Ranger who befriended William Henry Porter, O Henry when he was arrested and who is the model for the sympathetic Ranger Captain in the story that introduced the Cisco Kid), and Red Burton who arrested John Wesley Hardin and once put down a riot single handedly inspiring the “one riot one Ranger” saying (not the motto of the organization — that’s “Know you are right, then go ahead”) enshrined on the statue of Ranger Lobo Gonzales that stood in the lobby of Dallas Love Field.

   Other noted Ranger’s included the aforementioned Lobo Gonzales who cleaned up the oil boom town of Kilgore in one afternoon and Frank Hamer who hunted down Bonnie and Clyde. And I’ll confess aside from being a little prejudiced as a Texan, I’m the great grandson of a Ranger, so take all this with a grain of salt and do your own research.

   While they have their low points the actual unvarnished history of the Rangers reads like a novel. Even today a single Ranger carries with him the authority of the entire state. They aren’t infallible, and there are black marks in their history, but for once much of the hype is based on fact instead of public relations.