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Pale Horse Revelations #26: Texas Rangers

Hello readers and welcome back to Pale Horse Revelations. This week’s entry will continue the recently established trend of focusing on a significant person, place, or event in Old West history. While I make no promises, don't be surprised if some of these places, people, or events find their way into future Pale Rider adventures.

This week's edition features the vaunted Texas Rangers. While the organization existed before the time period traditionally associated with the Old West, it was their exploits during this tumultuous period (though often sensationalized) that raised their reputation to near mythological proportions. Although the organization has existed for the better part of 200 years, they developed most of their reputation between 1858 and 1901. In fact, of 79 Rangers killed in the line of duty during their long history, 30 were killed during this period. It was also during this period that two of their most high profile captures or killings took place. I hope you will enjoy this brief look at their history and be inspired to dig deeper.

The Rangers were founded by Stephen F. Austin in 1823. He employed ten men to protect 600 to 700 newly settled families in the wake of the Mexican War of Independence. However, it was not until 1835 that the Rangers were formally constituted. In November of that year Robert McAlpin Williamson became the first ever Major of the Texas Rangers. Within two years the force had grown to more than 300.

After the Texas Revolution and the formation of the Republic of Texas, the 2nd President of the Republic raised a force of 56 Rangers to fight the Cherokee and Comanche. In 1837, at the Battle of Stone Houses, ten Rangers were killed. In 1841 President Sam Houston increased the Rangers from a force of 56 to 150. The Rangers continued to battle Native Americans through 1846.

After Texas was annexed by the United States several companies of Rangers were mustered into federal service to aid in the Mexican-American War. They saw action at several battles including playing a key role in the Battle of Monterey in September of 1846. A second regiment of Rangers was organized to participate in General Winfield Scott's Mexico City Campaign. The Rangers were temporarily disbanded at the conclusion of the war in 1848.

The Rangers were reformed in 1857 by Governor Hardin Richard Runnels. They were led by John Salmon "Rip" Ford and numbered 100 men. They participated in campaigns against various Native American tribes whose raids against settlers had become common. The Rangers' success in these campaigns were the foundations upon which their growing reputation would be built. Despite this the Rangers were again dissolved shortly before the American Civil War broke out.

During the war many of the Rangers enlisted in the Confederate Army. During Reconstruction the Rangers were temporarily replaced a Union controlled version called the Texas State Police. This organization was disbanded just three years later. The Rangers were recommissioned in 1873.

It was during the next decade or so that the Rangers would achieve the near mythological reputation that they retain to this day. During this period, they participated in both the Mason County War and the Horrell-Higgins feud. In addition, they played a decisive role in defeating the Comanche, Kiowa, and Apache peoples. But perhaps the most important accomplishments were the capture of notorious killer John Wesley Hardin (featured in Pale Horse Revelations #24) and the killing of bank robber Sam Bass.

It was Ranger John Barclay Armstrong who finally caught up with Hardin in Florida. Hardin had made the mistake of killing a former Ranger (Charles Webb). Armstong confronted Hardin and four companions aboard a train. Upon seeing the Ranger Hardin attempted to draw his own pistol. When all was said and done Hardin lay unconscious, one of his companions lay dead, and the remaining three found themselves staring down the barrel of Armstrong's Colt. The Ranger's hat had a fresh bullet hole, but the man was uninjured.

Sam Bass and his gang perpetrated a number of robberies beginning in 1877. In 1878 they held up two stagecoaches and four trains near Dallas, thus, drawing the attention of the Rangers. With the aid of an informant from within the gang, Ranger John B. Jones, who commanded the Frontier Regiment, was able to set up at an ambush at Round Rock, where Bass and company planned to rob the bank. A deadly gunbattle ensued, during which Bass was mortally wounded. Bass was shot again as the gang attempted to ride out of town. He died a day later, on July 20, 1878, as a result of his wounds.

Despite the near legendary status the Rangers obtained, there was a dark side to the story that cannot be ignored. In fact, some have called the conduct of the Rangers during this time period illegally excessive. Leander H. McNelly and his men, in particular, were known to use methods that often exceeded the brutality of the outlaws they sought to apprehend. Among the deeds they engaged in were summary executions and extracting confessions through torture and intimidation. While such actions should not be ignored, neither should they be allowed to detract from the documented accounts of honor and bravery associated with the group.

This brings us to the end of another edition of Pale Horse Revelations. I hope you found it to be both interesting and entertaining. As usual, I have tried to provide some interesting historical information while trying not to bog the casual reader down with too much detail. I encourage anyone interested in learning more to dig in and do a little research of their own.

As a reminder, I would love to hear your suggestions for topics to focus on in future editions of Pale Horse Revelations. If there's a particular location, person, or event that you would like to know more about, please let me know. Just fill out the Contact form found near the bottom of my home page ( and indicate your desired topic in the message box at the bottom of the form. I look forward to hearing from you all.

Please be sure to check back next week for the next installment of Pale Horse Revelations and thank you for your continued interest and support.

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