The early Republic
of Texas Rangers Organization was based on the English
tradition of the rural sheriff riding or ranging across
his jurisdiction to administer justice and keep the peace.
They were further influenced by the Ranger bands formed
during the French/Indian and Revolutionary wars. Made up
of volunteers (usually Scots/Irish frontiersmen), they elected
their captains and specialized in quickly covering long
distances and delivering hard-hitting surprise attacks.
The modern U.S. Army still maintains an elite Ranger Corp
for this purpose.
Rangers suffered early defeats against well-mounted
Plains tribes such as the tragedy at Stone
Houses fought just north of Cottonwood Springs. That same
year, 1837, and a little further south in the Palo Pinto Mountains,
Texas Ranger Big Foot Wallace was captured
then adopted by Comanches. He eventually escaped, rejoining his
Ranger Company just about the time its captain, Jack Hays, developed
a winning combination of thoroughbreds and repeating Colt pistols.
Capt. Hays sent this Ranger to see the gun maker, Colt, in New
York about making a heavier forty-five caliber six shooter for
(Photo from the book, The Texas Rangers, by Walter Prescott
Aided by Apache scouts, these Rangers could finally
take the fight to the Comanches. They found they not only had
the ability but the advantage in the high speed and knee to stirrup
brand of combat perfected by the Comanches. East Texas Ranger
companies depended more on axes and rifles as they fought their
way through thick forest.
Descriptions of the
Texas Rangers during the Republic.
Rangers in colonial Texas raised posses to punish
or drive out renegade Indian tribes. The Republic organized Ranger
Companies to perform this duty but there were several bitter defeats
when they first tried to pursue the tribes upon the plains, such
as the Battle of Stone Houses. Ranger victories
allowed the Republic to expand west as Captain
Jack Hays successfully led his men, including Big Foot Wallace,
far beyond the Colorado River, deep into Comancheria.
East Texas Ranger Companies fought their way up the Trinity and
the Brazos, expanding the Republic to the site of modern-day Fort
Worth under the treaty of Bird's Fort.
Following statehood, Ranger companies were called
into service of the United States in it's war with Mexico and
much of the credit for the victory belongs to the Rangers.
Texas Ranger Nelson Lee returned to Texas after
fighting the Mexicans off the coast of Vera Cruz. Reminiscent
of Lonesome Dove, he sought to make his fortune driving livestock
to distant markets. Unlike the novel, things went bad immediately
and he spent the next three years with the
Fort Worth was built
following the U.S. victory over Mexico. Soon 49er's were using
Marcy's Trail to reach the California gold mines and new forts
were built further west for their protection.
The United States built a western line of forts
to protect the migrating gold seekers. The soldiers and the action
moved one hundred miles west to Fort Belknap, the frontier's new
hot spot. Reservations were established for the Indians and the
cream of America's military talent rode onto the North Texas frontier
with the Second Cavalry. Rip Ford was authorized to form a Ranger
battalion to protect the frontier and the Texas
Indian Reservations when the Second Cavalry was relocated
to Utah. Important Ranger battles were fought at Antelope
Hills and the Pease River before Texas
joined the Confederates. Captains
Barry and Cureton's Rangers were stretched thin and the frontier
suffered devastating Indian attacks particularly the Elm
Creek Raid. Capt. Ira Graves led a bunch of cowboys in the
bloody Salt Creek Fight. Ranger Companies
continued to operate out of Decatur headquarters long after the
U.S. Army returned to the frontier. The Indians remained a very
dangerous threat as proven by A. J. Sowell's account of his company's
1871 fight at the Keep Ranch. A few years
later, Major Jones formed the Ranger's frontier regiment. His
company's 1874 defeat at Lost Valley during Lone
Wolf's Revenge Raid proved the frontier would remain a deadly
place until the raiding Indians were completely defeated. A year
or so later when all the Indians had surrendered, Jones found
out his men would stay busy just the same.
Jones reports frontier conditions, 1874:
scouting for Indians, the battalion
has rendered much service to the frontier people by breaking
up bands of outlaws and desperadoes who had established themselves
in these thirty settled Counties [patrolled by the Rangers],
where they could depredate upon the property of good citizens,
secure from arrest by the ordinary process of law, and by arresting
and turning over to the proper civil authorities many cattle
and horse thieves, and other fugitives from justice
Although the force is too small and the appropriation
insufficient to give anything like adequate protection to so
large a territory, the people seem to think we have rendered
valuable service to them, and there is a degree of security
felt in the frontier counties, that has not been exhibited [or]
experienced for years before. CMR
H. H. McConnell, Fort Richardson Cavalryman, observes
Rangers from Jacksboro:
These Rangers were tolerable Indian fighters, but
most of their time was occupied in terrorizing the citizens
and "taking in the town." Shooting scrapes and rows
between citizens, soldiers and Rangers in this year (1874) were
so frequent that the long suffering citizens by their votes
The Texas Rangers were and continue to be an
inspiration for comic book and television dramas.
(Photo from the book, The Men Who Wear The Star, by Charles M.
Ranger stories from the book, Texas Ranger Tales,
Stories That Need Telling, by Mike Cox:
Back in Texas on September 9, 1843, after escaping
from Mexican custody along with two other Texans-including the
man who would one day deliver his eulogy-Walker soon signed
up to ride with the legendary Ranger Captain John Coffee Hays.
In the words of a contemporary writer, Texas was "then
embroiled with the abrasions of the great Camanche [Comanche]
race and the minor tribes strewn along her northern frontier."
Mindful of these "abrasions," in January 1844 the
Congress of the Republic of Texas authorized Hays to organize
"a Company of Mounted Gun-men, to act as Rangers."
Hays recruited his men in February and March and
went to work on the frontier. All the Rangers were armed with
a new weapon, originally purchased by the Republic for its navy:
a five-shot revolver manufactured by a Connecticut gunsmith
named Samuel Colt. Walker and the other Rangers soon got a chance
to use the new pistols.
On June 8, 1844, near a creek in the Pedernales
River watershed, at a point Hays later described as about fifty
miles north of Seguin (no other communities existed in the area
at the time), the Rangers-including Walker-tangled with seventy
to eighty Comanche and Waco Indians. Hays reported some Mexicans
also were in the party.
This is how Hays described the fight in his official
After ascertaining that they could not decoy or
lead me astray, they came out boldly, formed themselves, and
dared us to fight. I then ordered a charge; and, after discharging
our rifles, closed in with them, hand to hand, with my five-shooting
pistols, which did good execution. Had it not been for them,
I doubt what the consequences would have been. I cannot recommend
these arms too highly.
The Rangers killed twenty-three of the hostiles,
badly wounding another thirty. Hays lost one Ranger to Indian
arrows with Walker, Robert Addison Gillespie, and another Ranger
Walker later assessed the fight in this light:
Col. J. C. Hays with 15 men fought about 80 Comanche
Indians, boldly attacking them upon their own ground, killing
and wounding about half their number. Up to this time these
daring Indians had always supposed themselves superior to us,
man to man, on horse
the result of this engagement was
such as to intimidate them and enable us to treat with them.
This battle changed the history of the West. It
marked the first time Rangers had been able to fight the Comanches
with an effective close range weapon that did not have to be
reloaded after each shot. In firing an estimated 150 rounds,
Hays and his men shot 53 Comanches in a running battle. The
Rangers had the frontier equivalent of the atomic bomb on their
The Comanches, though clearly at a disadvantage
in weaponry, still were extremely competent in using their bows
and arrows and lances.
"In this encounter," Graham's Magazine
reported only a few years later, "Walker was wounded by
a lance, and left by his adversary pinned to the ground. After
remaining in this position for a long time, he was rescued by
his companions when the fight was over."
Walker was taken to San Antonio, where he recovered
from his wounds. Despite his close call, Walker stayed with
Hays until the Ranger company ran out of funding. In 1845 he
served in another Ranger company, this one led by Gillespie.
On March 28, 1846, Walker was honorably discharged from the
"Texas Mounted Rangers." But more rangering lay ahead.
Another story from the book, Texas Ranger Tales,
Stories That Need Telling, by Mike Cox:
Former Ranger A. J. Sowell remembered years after his Indian-chasing
days an occasion when his company, sixty miles into the frontier
beyond Fort Griffin, was running low of the essentials-flour,
bacon, coffee, and tobacco. Not only that, an icy norther was
blowing and the Rangers only had two tents. On top of all that,
it was Sowell's turn to stand guard, hungry and cold, while
the other men tried to sleep.
As Sowell sat alone in the cold, his rifle about
to freeze to his hands, "It seemed as if all the coyotes
and wolves that roamed these vast solitudes had collected, and
taken their position on the hills around our camp, to serenade
us with dismal howls and yelps."
Sowell did not write whether he thought about
shooting some of the coyotes for breakfast, but it would be
a violation of orders to shoot at one at night. The other Rangers
might think Indians were attacking and that could be more dangerous
than an empty stomach.
Having some fresh coyote meat would not have done
much good in this case. The Ranger did not have any firewood,
"Without wood; our provisions nearly exhausted;
with no chance of getting any, unless we could eat coyotes,
we were in a sad fix. Coyotes by the million," Sowell wrote.
The Rangers turned to head back to Fort Griffin,
but it took another couple of cold, hungry days to reach the
fort. At their next camping spot they did find wood for a fire
and grass for their horses, but no game. They were living on
coffee and half-rations of bacon. By the time they set up camp
near Fort Griffin, they were not far from the point of cooking
some coyote when a detail of Rangers rode in to the fort to
get some fresh supplies.