Originally founded in 1823 whence Stephen F. Austin contracted 10 frontiersmen, the Rangers served as an unofficial law enforcement agency. It was used mainly to repel Indian attacks against the original Texian settlers, primarily from the Tonkawa, Karankawa, and Comanche tribes.
“Under Mexican law, Austin was authorized to form a militia to ward off Indian raids, capture criminals and patrol against intruders,” reads the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum website. That rank of 10 was compensated 15 dollars per month, “payable in property.”
The actual ranks of the loosely-composed organization vacillated, swelling and contracting days and months at a time.
The museum adds, “The official records show that these companies were called by many names: ranging companies, mounted gunmen, mounted volunteers, minutemen, spies, scouts and mounted rifle companies. By whatever name they were known, these units performed the same ranging duties.”
Their weapons and tactics were as rough and sporadic as the frontier requires. “Early Rangers shot Spanish pistols, Tennessee and Kentucky rifles, carried Bowie knives made in Sheffield England and rode swift Mexican ponies.”
Veritable Swiss army knives of men, they were once described to “ride like a Mexican, trail like an Indian, shoot like a Tennessean, and fight like the devil.”
Two years after the provisional Texas government gave the band its official authorization just before declaring independence from Mexico, the Rangers’ ranks had grown to over 300. Following the official authorization, a member was paid $1.25 per day.
During the war for independence, “[Rangers] covered the retreat of civilians from the Mexican army in the famous ‘Runaway Scrape,’ harassed columns of Mexican troops and provided valuable intelligence to the Texas Army.”
“The only men to ride in response to Col. William B. Travis’ last minute plea to defend the Alamo were Rangers who fought, and died, in the cause of Texas independence.”
Texas Rangers would feature prominently in another skirmish with Mexico 10 years later during the Mexican-American War — sparked by a border dispute for the land between the Rio Grande and Nueces Rivers.
During the conflict, Rangers served as scouts for the U.S. Army and “fought with such ferocity in the war they came to be called ‘Los diablos Tejanos’ — the ‘Texas Devils.’”
The organization, like its members, was tossed into the wilderness after the Civil War — assembling briefly and disbanding frequently until the Great Depression, when the group was consolidated as part of the Texas Department of Public Safety, under which it operates today.
Rangers maintained order on the frontier, tracked down bandits, cracked down on rum runners during prohibition, and hunted down Bonnie and Clyde during that century in between.
Today, the organization serves an investigatory role, often as the specialized units called in to inspect all kinds of alleged improprieties.
In 1968, the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum opened in Waco, where it continues to operate and display Ranger history and legacies over the organization’s nearly 200 years of existence.
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Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.