Can’t get to Waco for the bicentennial year? We’ve got your online tour of the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum right here.
To commemorate the bicentennial of one of the world’s most iconic law-enforcement agencies, we asked the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum to curate a special tour for C&I readers. Your tour starts right here.
Texas Ranger Badge, c. 1880s
Gift of Dan Ragsdale/ 2584
Made from a Mexican 8-peso coin, this circle-star badge from the late 1880s is considered the earliest authentic style of Ranger badge and was known to be worn by members of Ira Aten’s Texas Ranger Company D.
The Texas Rangers were organized into two groups following Civil War Reconstruction. The Frontier Battalion (1874–1901) operated statewide, and the Special Forces (1874–1881) were stationed between the Rio Grande and Nueces Rivers. Under the command of the Texas adjutant general, Rangers were charged with protecting Texas from Indian and bandit raids. Beginning in the 1880s, each Ranger carried a Warrant of Authority and Descriptive List. These documents provided proof of the Ranger’s authority and a physical description.
Ranger badges first appeared during the Frontier Battalion Era, when their focus shifted from frontier defense to keeping order in the new settlements. The State of Texas did not supply badges. The few Rangers who wore them before 1900 either commissioned a metalworker to make them or placed an order with a police supply company. The earliest Texas Ranger badges were simple circle-star, shield, or star designs that could be made from 5- and 8-peso Mexican silver coins.
By 1901, the Indian Wars had drawn to a close. The Texas legislature reorganized the Rangers into a new “State Ranger” force with full police powers, allowing them to adapt to emerging challenges, such as organized crime, gambling, and bootlegging. Although badges were not yet issued by the state, many Rangers wore them to identify themselves. Rangers selected their badges based on personal taste and availability, resulting in a wide variety of designs.
In 1935, the Texas Rangers were reorganized as a division of the newly formed Texas Department of Public Safety. For the first time, the state issued badges to the Texas Rangers. Since the formation of DPS, there have been three official styles of Texas Ranger badges. The first style, introduced shortly following the formation of DPS, includes a shield overlaid with a circle-star. In 1957, it was replaced by a blue enameled circle-star design, based on the Lorenzo de Zavala flag of 1836. In 1962, Col. Homer Garrison Jr. approved the design of the current badge, crafted from Mexican 5-peso silver coins for Rangers and lieutenants and 50-peso gold coins for higher ranks. Inspired by early Ranger badges, the current badge is decorated with wreaths of olive and live oaks from the Great Seal of Texas. Personalized styles have also been approved and incorporate the name of the Ranger.
Joel Robison’s Texas Ranger Commission, 1836
Gift of Margaret Hickman/ 2013.022.001
Ranger commission for Joel Robison as “First Lieutenant of Rangers” signed by Texas President Sam Houston, The Republic of Texas, December 22, 1836. The promotion recognizes Robison’s role in the Texas Revolution and for participating in the capture of Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Sam Houston had been in office two months when he signed the commission in the “first year of the Independence of the Republic of Texas.”
Major George B. Erath-Frontiersman
Robert Summers, Bronze
Gift of the artist/ 2008.034.001
George Bernard Erath was born in Vienna in 1813. He enrolled in Vienna Polytechnic School at a young age to study English and Spanish. To avoid his being drafted into the Austrian military, his family sent him to America. He arrived in New Orleans in 1832, and in 1833 he moved to Mexican Texas and became a surveyor in Robertson’s Colony before joining the Rangers in 1835. He was involved in several fights and skirmishes with the Comanche and fought at the Battle of San Jacinto. After being elected to the State’s First Legislature, Erath returned to surveying and was involved in creating plats of numerous settlements, including laying out the Texas towns of Caldwell, Stephenville, Meridian, and Waco. During the Civil War, he recruited men as a home guard for Brown and Coryell Counties. In later life, Erath was highly respected as an expert surveyor and mentor and became known as the “Walking Dictionary of the Land Office.” He died on May 31, 1891 and is buried in Waco. Erath County is named in his honor.
Colt Walker Revolver, .44 caliber, 1847
Marking “B Company No. 143”
Museum Collection/ 2088
In 1846, the U.S. government appointed former Texas Ranger Samuel H. Walker as a captain in the newly formed U.S. Mounted Rifle Regiment. During a trip to Washington, D.C., to receive his commission and recruit men for his unit, Walker met with Samuel Colt. They discussed improvements to the Paterson revolver and the possibility of a government contract for these redesigned weapons. The result was the creation of the most powerful handgun in the world for nearly the next century, the Colt Walker six-shot revolver. With Walker acting as an agent, the U.S. government purchased 1,000 of this new Colt repeating revolver. A year later Samuel Walker was killed in action at Huamantla, Mexico, on October 9, 1847, shortly after receiving his Colt Walker revolvers.
Comanche Leather Shield
Donated in Memory of Alexander Lamartine Casparis by the Albert Newton Family/ 2004.045.001
According to research uncovered from a University of Texas publication, this shield has been identified as Comanche. Apparently at some point in its history, (perhaps the 1930s) the shield was examined by an expert. “On the outer side of the buffalo skin appear painted designs. The central part is a turquoise color, while the outer edges are painted a dark blue. The central design, apparently that of a human being wearing a buffalo headdress, occupies the greater part of the turquoise-colored section of the skin. Sewed around the shield, just outside this blue line, is a strip of red flannel some three inches in width. The stitches which hold the flannel also originally attached 91 feathers. At the bottom of the shield remains one of the two original horsetail tassels ...”
The shield is said to have been picked up at the Battle of Packsaddle Mountain. It eventually came into the possession of Texas Ranger Dan W. Roberts, who may have received the shield from fellow Ranger Sgt. James Moss, whose account of the Packsaddle Mountain battle was recorded in Roberts’ memoirs. Roberts did not personally participate in the legendary battle with Indians atop Packsaddle Mountain. However, he did devote a chapter to that desperate fight in the 1914 publication of his autobiography, Rangers and Sovereignty. While a Texas Ranger and as a civilian Daniel Webster “Dan” Roberts participated in several skirmishes with Indian warriors. In recognition of one such harrowing encounter in which Dan and his brother George Travis and several others were wounded, the Texas State Legislature, as an expression of thanks, awarded the combatants brand-new improved Model 1873 Winchesters. On several occasions Roberts was in command of Texas Rangers during pursuit and clashes with Indians raiding the state’s frontier regions. Quite naturally for the time and place, subsequent to a battle, the victors from either side collected the vanquished adversaries’ artifacts as souvenirs and/or as trophies of war.
As the result of one such furious clash, Roberts acquired an Indian shield, a unique and prized relic. Later, he made a gift of the shield to his friend and Hill Country neighbor Alec Casparis, a renowned cattleman and businessman. During the 1936 promotions and celebrations for the Texas State centennial, [Casparis’ wife] appeared in a black-and-white silent film, When Grandpa Fought the Indians, featuring the Indian shield, a historic treasure representative of Indian handicraft and symbolic of the accoutrements necessary for warriors.
Jack Hays at Enchanted Rock, 1851
Oil on Canvas, W.S. Jewett
Gift of Roblay McMullin /1998.024.001
The legend of 1840s Texas Ranger Capt. Jack Hays at Enchanted Rock is that in the fall of 1841, Hays was cut off from his company of Rangers by several Comanche. Hays sought refuge at Enchanted Rock and singlehandedly held off the Comanche until his men could find and rescue him. According to information from the Hays family, this 1851 painting by W.S. Jewett commemorating the incident was commissioned by the captain’s wife, Susan, while they were living in San Francisco. Although the artist took many liberties with the landscape of the Texas Hill Country, the representation of Hays is accurate.
Bowie Knife, 1838
Presented to William Lacey by Rezin P. Bowie
Gift of Rudolph Gleichman / 2017.030.001
The Bowie knife, as we know it, is based on 16th-century European hunting knives with the addition of cross guards and a clipped point. At 17 inches, the handle of this knife is believed to be made from segments of buffalo horn. A reinforced mount at the throat of the scabbard is engraved “R.P. Bowie to Capt. Wm. Y. Lacey.” Rezin P. Bowie is credited as the “father of the Bowie knife,” while his brother Jim was known to be proficient with one.
William Young Lacey (also Lacy) was born in Kentucky in 1814. He came to Texas in 1830 and rode with Jim Bowie, who had also moved to Texas in 1830. Lacey was commissioned into the Corps of Rangers from May of 1836 to December of 1837. After his Ranger service, Sam Houston sent him to Nacogdoches and Houston Counties to form militia companies. Lacey purportedly received the knife from Rezin Bowie in appreciation for his loyalty and service alongside Jim, who died on March 6, 1836 in the Battle of the Alamo, along with other Alamo defenders.
U.S. Navy Model 1921 Thompson Submachine Gun, Colts Patent Arms Manufacturing Company, .45 Cal, 1928
Gift of H. B. Purvis/ 2005.034.001
This Thompson submachine gun—1921 U.S. Navy model, .45 automatic colt cartridge caliber, manufactured by Colt’s Patent Firearms Mfg. Co, Hartford, Connecticut, from May 1, 1922 through May 6, 1922—was used by Texas Ranger Capt. Hardy Purvis throughout his career. It was passed down to his son L. H. Purvis. Both officers were said to have carried it regularly as a part of their personal arsenal.
Born in Polk County, Texas, in 1891, Hardy B. Purvis served as a deputy sheriff for more than 12 years before being sworn in as a Ranger private in 1927. His first assignment took him to Borger, Texas, during the oil boom, when the city was teeming with bootleggers, gamblers, drifters, and other unsavory characters. H.B. Purvis served with Rangers such as Frank Hamer and William W. Sterling. After 1929, Pvt. Purvis was sent to Lufkin, where he served until his appointment to captain of Company A in Houston in 1936. Capt. Purvis retired in 1956.
Louis H. Purvis was born in Corrigan, Texas, on July 14, 1912, and grew up in Lufkin, Texas, where his father was stationed at the time. One week after his 30th birthday, Louis received his official commission as a Texas Ranger and would go on to serve with Rangers such as Capt. M.T. Gonzaullas and Dudley White. He retired in 1967, having served continuously, and like his father, with distinction.
Texas Ranger Jack Van Cleve’s Winchester Model 1895 Rifle
Gift of Robert Van Cleve in Memory of Wesley Travis Van Cleve/ 2001.028.0001
This Winchester Model 1895 rifle was carried by Texas Ranger Jack Van Cleve during his service on the border as a Regular Ranger with Company A in 1916 and as a Special Ranger attached to Company C in 1917. Jack Van Cleve resigned his Ranger commission to join the United States Marine Corps in late 1917. He was killed in action in World War I in France in the spring of 1918.
Captain William L. Wright’s Winchester 1894 Rifle with Scabbard
Courtesy of W. B. Wright and H. T. Wright/ 1320.005
W.L. “Will” Wright (1868–1942) started his life as a cowboy and hired out as a ranch hand at the age of 12 for 50 cents a day. At 21 he joined a cattle drive from Tom Green County, Texas, to Cheyenne, Wyoming. When he returned, he swore he would never leave Texas again because he nearly “froze to death.”
Wright joined the Frontier Battalion in 1898 and continued to serve until 1902. In 1917, after serving for 15 years as sheriff of Wilson County, Wright was appointed Captain of Texas Ranger Company D. During Prohibition Capt. Wright’s Rangers were instrumental in capturing bootleggers and smugglers. Wright resigned from the Rangers in 1939.
Capt. Wright sustained only one bodily injury in the line of duty, when he was attacked with a sharpened spoon smuggled out of a jail cell by a condemned prisoner on his way to the gallows. Known for his lightning-fast draw, storytelling, and humor, he was above all known for his self-proclaimed creed to “act impartially without regards to nationality, color, or wealth.”
Delaying Action: The Battle of Plum Creek, 1978
Oil on panel, Lee Herring
Gift of William Adams/ 2020.039.001
The Battle of Plum Creek on August 12, 1840, near present Lockhart, Texas, was the site of a deadly contest between approximately 200 hastily assembled volunteers and 600 Comanche warriors and their families. The volunteers, while not acting as Rangers at the time, included many former and future Texas Rangers.
The battle began with a peace conference with the Comanche in San Antonio in March 1840. The Texan goal was to free captives held by the Comanche. The Texans did not understand that there was no central Comanche authority. This led to tension, hostility, and the massacre of 12 Penateka Comanche leaders. Enraged, the betrayed Comanches organized a retaliatory raid on the coastal settlements of Victoria and Linnville, killing settlers, stealing hundreds of horses, and raiding maritime warehouses for merchandise.
Volunteers met the overloaded war party at the designated rendezvous point of Plum Creek. The Texan charge was delayed because the rear of the war party formed a line of defense to halt the dismounted volunteers and protect their families and livestock. Recognizing they were losing precious time, the volunteers finally mounted and charged the line. The fight evolved into a running battle in which the Texans emerged victorious.
Texas artist Lee Herring, who rendered the battle in this oil painting, is at his best depicting the conflicts in life’s conditions: Native American and Western frontiersman, wild beasts and burdened domestic animals, placid waterfalls, and roiling weather. The artist brings that period of history alive with his depiction of the American West’s exuberance, the textures and essence of America’s growth toward the West Coast.
Captain M.T. “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas’ Pair of Colt Standard 1911 A1 Government Model, Commercial Conversion Pistols, 45 cal., 1917
Gift of Stan L. White and Sara White Morrison in Memory of Carroll A. Green and Harroll H. (Pet) Green/ 2920.001-.002
In his youth, Manuel Trazazas Gonzaullas (1891–1977) idolized Ranger Capt. John R. Hughes, growing up to join the Rangers himself in 1920 and serving on the border and in North Texas. He was known to carry two pistols in a special holster that exposed the triggers for instant action. Mexican bandits labeled him “El Lobo Solo,” or Lone Wolf, due to his pursuit of bootleggers, gamblers, and drug runners alone. In 1921 he accepted a job as a federal prohibition agent but returned to work with the Rangers in 1924. After a brief stint in a federal job from1925 to 1927, he became Superintendent of the DPS Bureau of Intelligence in 1935, and in 1940 he rejoined the Rangers as Captain of Company B.
Gonzaullas loved his fancy guns and cars and treated all but lawbreakers with courtesy. After distinguished service, he retired in 1951 and became a technical consultant for radio, motion pictures, and television shows such as Tales of the Texas Rangers.
His Colt pistols feature factory-engraving with gold inlay, cutaway trigger guards, with gold monogramed initials on the right and a longhorn on the left of the ivory grips, and inscriptions on each reading “Never Draw Me Without Cause, Nor Shield Me With Dishonor.”
Colt Single Action Army Revolver once belonging to outlaw Alvin Odle
Gift of Joseph Trobaugh II/ 2022.028.001
Colt Single Action Army revolver with engraving throughout, manufactured 1885. With small note concealed in the grip written by Cal Aten. The note reads: “Taken from hand of Alvin Odle as he lay dying at the East Fork of Bullhead Mt. Edwards Co., TX. Xmas night 1889.”
Calvin Aten came to Texas as a young child with his family in 1876. Following in older brother Ira’s footsteps, he enlisted in Company D of the Texas Rangers on March 24, 1888, under Capt. Frank Jones. His dangerous and adventurous time with the Rangers included working along the border in far south Texas and also in the Big Bend region. One of the most electrifying episodes of Aten’s Ranger career unwound in the Texas Hill Country near present-day Rock Springs. There, on Christmas night 1889, while accompanied by Rangers John R. Hughes and Bazel Lamar “Baz” Outlaw, Aten was involved in a fierce gunfight with fugitives Will and Alvin Odle, who were well-known for numerous crimes as well as trafficking stolen livestock across the border into and out of Mexico. The Odle brothers were killed, and as Alvin Odle lay dying, he gave his engraved Colt .45 six-shooter to the young Ranger comforting him.
Aten kept the revolver under his mattress the remainder of his life; to ensure the story would not be lost upon his death, he penciled a tiny note and placed it inside the pistol’s wooden grips.
Following his tenure with the Texas Rangers, Aten became a cowboy on the XIT Ranch, later acquiring a cattle ranch of his own near Adrian, Oldham County, where he registered the 8N brand.
1936 Single-Axle Horse Trailer, DPS #1440
Manufactured by Hyde Mfg.
Restoration Courtesy of Joe Hunter and Karr-Hunter Buick Pontiac
Gift of Joe S. "Sandy" Boone/1997.024.001
A typical scene in the late 1930s might have found Rangers camped out on a site with their horses at the ready. This horse trailer was issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety in the 1936 and could transport two horses. It has a hinge door and canvas top, with a clear front “window.” The canvas sides can be rolled and tied up for airflow. It would be hitched to a DPS vehicle to transport two horses.
The tradition of Texas Ranger horsemanship was born by melding Hispanic and Anglo-European equipment and riding styles. After the Civil War, railroads became the primary means of transport for Rangers over long distances. Horses were carried along in freight cars or supplied at the destination.
In the 1920s, automobiles replaced horses in urban areas, but the use of horses continued in rural areas, where the terrain was often impassible by vehicle. After the founding of the Texas Department of Public Safety in 1935, horse trailers were issued to Ranger companies and hauled into the field behind state vehicles.
The advent of four-wheel-drive trucks, SUVs, helicopters, and ATVs have superseded much of the use of horses. Across the state, however, there are still areas unsuitable for modern vehicles. In these locations, Texas Rangers today may be seen horseback in the field. The Texas Department of Corrections supplies horses for current field operations.
Sam Bass $20 Gold Coin, 1877
Museum Collection/ 2119
After the death of his father in 1864, Sam Bass was sent to live with an uncle in Mitchell, Indiana. He traveled to Denton, Texas, in1870 and was hired as a farmhand. In 1874 he began racing horses. Two years later, Bass met Joel Collins and took a herd of cattle to the Dakota Territory. After losing all their money in a saloon venture, the two men turned to a life of crime. They robbed a total of five stagecoaches and rarely received a large payoff. On September 18, 1877, Bass and five other men seized $60,000 from a Union Pacific train in Big Springs, Nebraska. The robbers split the newly minted $20 gold coins, which bore a prominent 1877 date and went their separate ways. Bass continued to stage train robberies in the Dallas area during the spring of 1878, but the payoffs were not large enough. Bass and his gang planned to rob the Round Rock bank in July 1878. Bass was mortally wounded in a gunfight with the Texas Rangers on July 19 but did not succumb to his wounds until July 21, 1878, his 27th birthday.
Lone Ranger Black Mask custom-made for Clayton Moore
Gift of Elizabeth Mahon in Memory of Dolores Taylor, M.D. / 2009.054.260
Perhaps the best known of the Lone Ranger actors is Clayton Moore (1914–1999). Before becoming the Lone Ranger, Moore worked as a circus acrobat and aerialist, model, stuntman, and bit player in Hollywood. By late 1938 he was an actor in B westerns and played the lead in several serial cliffhangers in the 1940s and 1950s. In World War II, Moore served in the U. S. Army Air Force and made training films with the First Motion Picture Unit. In 1949 Moore was signed to play the Lone Ranger on television. He left the production in 1952 but returned the following year to continue portraying the “masked man.” In all, he starred in 169 episodes. He and Jay Silverheels, as Tonto, also starred in two feature-length Lone Ranger movies. For more than 40 years following the close of production, Moore continued to both portray the Lone Ranger and promote Ranger “ideals” in personal appearances, TV guest spots, and commercials.