The Texas Rangers, those horseback-riding peacekeepers sitting tall in the saddle from the Rio Grande to the Panhandle, have a storied history that parallels that of the State of Texas itself. Contrary to popular myth, the Rangers were not just cowboys with badges, but rather, a commissioned and trained militia that ensured peace on the Texas frontier, and in the 20th century, an official law enforcement state agency.
When entrepreneur Stephen F. Austin was granted permission by the Mexican government to bring settlers to the fertile lowlands along Brazos River in what was then Northern Mexico, he started a wave of Anglo immigration from east of the Mississippi. The colonies, stretching from modern day Austin to modern day Houston, was a rough frontier, populated by local native tribes like the Comanches, the Kiowas, and the Karankawas. They would all be defeated or relocated by the end of the 19th century by the Texas Rangers.
In the early days, the Texas Rangers proved their might in many famous battles including the Battle of Plum Creek and Battle of Walker’s Creek, where the Comanches proved no match for the new handheld Colt revolver. Rangers died defending the Alamo, and served Sam Houston in the victorious Battle of San Jacinto. Even General Zachary Taylor employed the Texas Rangers in his 1845 campaign to secure Texas and much of the western continental United States from Mexico, eventually making it all the way to Mexico City. Dubbed by the Mexicans Los Diablos Tejanos or the “Texas Devils,” the Rangers had proven themselves to be an effective military force.
Texas Ranger Captain Jack Hays, whose legend was larger than his real life, fought alongside General Taylor in the Mexican War. Dubbed “Devil Jack” by the Comanches, Hays inspired many tall tales of his bravery, and Hays County was named for him. The California Gold Rush lured Hays away from Texas in 1849.
The always colorful Rangers were also well known for the bandits, horse thieves, and bank robbers they captured. With the creation of the Frontier Battalion in 1874, they were instrumental in ending conflicts with dwindling Indian tribes up to the close of the 19th century. John Wesley Hardin and Sam Bass were among their more high profile captures, but it wouldn’t be until the Great Depression when semi-retired Texas Ranger Frank Hamer did what no other law enforcement officer, including the new FBI’s G-men could do, capture the notorious Bonnie & Clyde.