I remember, as a little boy in Kingsville, Texas, the day my mother pointed out a big man leading a horse along the railroad tracks. “Look, Sonny, there’s a Texas Ranger.” I can still hear the awe in her voice.
The Texas Rangers are recognized world-wide as an iconic police force. Along with the Canadian Royal Mounted Police, they carry the image of an officer operating alone in the wilderness, doggedly pursuing wrong-doers, quick on the trigger, prevailing with courage and determination.
The truth is not so neat.
The Rangers entered the Twentieth Century as a loosely organized frontier patrol, whose reputation derived from battles with Indians. They emerged from the century as a modern state police force. The transition was anything but smooth. Excessive and meaningless violence along the border with Mexico has left a permanent stain on the Ranger reputation. Their brutality sparked a short-lived revolution along the border, the Plan de San Diego. Later, manipulation of the organization by a series of irrational governors nearly destroyed the force. Walter Prescott Webb, in his 1935 history, The Texas Rangers, concluded that the force wouldn’t survive.
But they did. What saved them? Perhaps a popular radio program, The Lone Ranger. I remember at least one Saturday morning serial at the Rialto Theater in Kingsville. The reputation of the Rangers went national.
Eventually they were transferred to a newly-created Department of Public Safety along with the State Highway Patrol. Under highly competent leadership the Rangers fought gambling, boot-legging, crime in the newly-grown oil field communities. Their “one riot – one Ranger” reputation grew.
Perhaps the best of the Twentieth Century Rangers was Captain Manuel T. “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas. I’ve borrowed him for a major role in Revenge of the Texas Ranger. Born in Cádiz, Spain, Gonzaullas was the first Hispanic Ranger. He made his reputation and acquired his nickname while cleaning up oil field communities. Cool under fire, an outstanding marksman, Gonzaullas’ mere presence was enough to scatter the miscreants. Gonzaullas survived Governor Miriam “Ma” Ferguson and was responsible for introducing the Rangers to modern crime-fighting methods such as ballistics, finger-printing and paraffin tests.
Fittingly, upon his retirement in 1951 Gonzaullas became a consultant for Hollywood movies.
Dac Crossley (www.daccrossley.typepad.com)