Kick off 2023 with a nod to the bicentennial of the Texas Rangers. After a start-to-finish rewatch of Lonesome Dove, there’s a lot more to dive into.
Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, Waco, Texas: Artifacts and historical documents relating to Rangers past and present are displayed, from Lipan Apache arrows and 19th-century surveying tools to Lone Ranger lunchboxes and antique and contemporary firearms. The Hall of Fame honors Rangers who made significant contributions or were killed in the line of duty.
Texas Ranger: The Epic Life of Frank Hamer, The Man Who Killed Bonnie and Clyde
by John Boessenecker, New York, St. Martin's Press, 2016.
To most Americans, Frank Hamer is known only as the “villain” of the 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde. Historian John Boessenecker sets out to restore Hamer’s good name and prove that he was, in fact, a classic American hero. From the horseback days of the Old West through the gangster days of the 1930s, Hamer stood on the frontlines of American history. He participated in the Bandit War of 1915, survived the climactic gunfight in the last blood feud of the Old West, battled the Mexican Revolution’s spillover across the border, protected African Americans from lynch mobs and the Ku Klux Klan, and ran down gangsters, bootleggers, and Communists. When at last his career came to an end, it was only when he ran up against another legendary Texan: Lyndon B. Johnson.
Texas Rangers: Lives Legend and Legacy
by Bob Alexander and Donaly E. Brice, Denton, University of North Texas Press, 2017.
Texas Rangers: Lives, Legend, and Legacy is the authors’ answer to these questions, a one-volume history of the Texas Rangers. The authors begin with the earliest Rangers in the pre-Republic years in 1823 and take the story up through the Republic, Mexican War, and Civil War. Then, with the advent of the Frontier Battalion, the authors focus in detail on each company A through F, relating what was happening within each company concurrently. Thereafter, Alexander and Brice tell the famous episodes of the Rangers that forged their legend and bring the story up through the 20th century to the present day in the final chapters.
East Texas Troubles: The Allred Rangers’ Cleanup of San Augustine
by Jody Edward Ginn, Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 2019.
Between 1931 and 1934, San Augustine County had seen at least three murders in broad daylight, the latest developments in the decade-long rule of the criminal McClanahan-Burleson gang. Armed with handguns, Jim Crow regulations, and corrupt special Ranger commissions from Ferguson administrations, the gang racketeered and bootlegged its way into power in San Augustine County, where it took up robbing and extorting local black sharecroppers as its main activity. In 1935, Gov. James V. Allred sent a team of qualified Texas Rangers to San Augustine County to investigate organized crime. The author tells of their year-and-a-hal-long cleanup of the county, which was the inaugural effort in Gov. Allred’s transformation of the Texas Rangers into a professional law-enforcement agency. A multifaceted history of the reform of the Texas Rangers and of an unexpected alliance between the legendary frontier lawmen and black residents of the Jim Crow South.
Texas Ranger Captain William L. Wright
by Richard B. McCaslin. Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2021.
William L. Wright (1868 – 1942) was born to be a Texas Ranger, and hard work made him a great one. Wright tried working as a cowboy and farmer, but it did not suit him. Instead, he became a deputy sheriff and then a Ranger in 1899, battling a mob in the Laredo Smallpox Riot, policing both sides in the Reese-Townsend Feud, and winning a gunfight at Cotulla. His need for a better salary led him to leave the Rangers and become a sheriff. He stayed in that office longer than any of his predecessors in Wilson County, keeping the peace during the so-called Bandit Wars, investigating numerous violent crimes, and surviving being stabbed on the gallows by the man he was hanging. When demands for Ranger reform peaked, he was appointed as a captain and served for most of the next 20 years, retiring in 1939 after commanding dozens of Rangers. Wright emerged unscathed from the Canales investigation, enforced Prohibition in South Texas, and policed oil towns in West Texas, as well as tackling many other legal problems. When he retired, he was the only Ranger in service who had worked under seven governors. Wright has also been honored as an inductee into the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame at Waco.
Red Sky Morning: The Epic True Story of Texas Ranger Company F
by Joe Pappalardo. Macmillan Publishers, 2022.
The explosive and bloody true history of Texas Rangers Company F, made up of hard men who risked their lives to bring justice to a lawless frontier. Between 1886 and 1888, Sgt. James Brooks, of Texas Ranger Company F, was engaged in three fatal gunfights, endured disfiguring bullet wounds, engaged in countless manhunts, was convicted of second-degree murder, and rattled Washington, D.C., with a request for a pardon from the U.S. president. His story anchors the tale of Joe Pappalardo's Red Sky Morning, an epic saga of lawmen and criminals set in Texas during the waning years of the Old West. Alongside Brooks are the Rangers of Company F, who range from a pious teetotaler to a cowboy fleeing retribution for killing a man. They are all led by Capt. William Scott, who cut his teeth as a freelance undercover informant but was facing the end of his Ranger career. Company F hunted criminals across Texas and beyond and were confident they could bring anyone to justice. But Brooks’ men met their match in the Conner family, East Texas master hunters and jailbreakers who were wanted for their part in a bloody family feud. The full story of Company F’s showdown with the Conner family is finally being told, with long-dead voices being heard for the first time. This truly hidden history paints the grim picture of neighbors and relatives becoming snitches and bounty hunters, and a company of Texas Rangers who waded into the conflict only to find themselves over their heads — and in the fight of their lives.
The Highwaymen (2016): Frank Hamer’s widow sued Warner Bros. for Denver Pyle’s portrayal of the Ranger in Bonnie and Clyde (1967)—settled out of court in 1971—but screenwriter John Fusco’s account of the ambush of Bonnie and Clyde gave a more balanced account, with Kevin Costner as Hamer and Kathy Bates as Texas governor Ma Ferguson.
Hell or High Water (2016): Nominated for four Academy Awards, this neo-western thriller follows brotherly bank robbers (Chris Pine, Ben Foster) pursued by dedicated and complicated Rangers (Jeff Bridges, Gil Birmingham). “I’ve known some 20th-century Rangers who, shall we say, were gentlemen and gentlewomen with whom you would not want to tangle,” Texas Rangers historian Mike Cox says. “Just like Bridges played the role.”
To learn more, check out our virtual tour of the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame and Museum and read our "Texas Rangers In Myth And Memory" review.
Find much more on the bicentennial of the Texas Rangers in C&I's January 2023 issue, which can be ordered here.