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Texas Ranger John B. Jones and the Frontier Battalion, 1874-1881

Rick Miller

Publication Year: 2012

In 1874, the Texas legislature created the Frontier Battalion, the first formal, budgeted organization as an arm of state government of what historically had been periodic groups loosely referred to as Texas Rangers. Initially created to combat the menace of repeated raids of Indians from the north and from Mexico into frontier counties, the Battalion was led by an unusual choice: a frail, humorless Confederate veteran from Navarro County, John B. Jones. Under Jones’s leadership, the Battalion grew in sophistication, moving from Indian fighting to capturing Texas’s bad men, such as John Wesley Hardin and Sam Bass. Established during the unsettled time of Reconstruction, the Rangers effectively filled a local law enforcement void until competency was returned to local sheriffs’ and marshals’ offices. Numerous books cover individual Texas Rangers of note, but only a few have dealt with the overall history of the Rangers, and, strangely, none about Jones specifically. For the first time, author Rick Miller presents the story of the Frontier Battalion as seen through the eyes of its commander, John B. Jones, during his administration from 1874 to 1881, relating its history—both good and bad—chronologically, in depth, and in context. Highlighted are repeated budget and funding problems, developing standards of conduct, personalities and their interaction, mission focus and strategies against Indian war parties and outlaws, and coping with politics and bureaucracy. Miller covers all the major activities of the Battalion in the field that created and ultimately enhanced the legend of the Texas Rangers. Jones’s personal life is revealed, as well as his role in shaping the policies and activities of the Frontier Battalion. Based largely on primary documents, especially the actual correspondence generated by the various actors in the Battalion’s drama that best tell the tale, this book is a major contribution to understanding the early development and growth of what became the institution celebrated in legend today. And John B. Jones at last has a definitive biography that recognizes him as one of the most important men who actually laid the groundwork for that legend.

Published by: University of North Texas Press

Series: Frances B. Vick Series

Title Page

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pp. v-xi

Texas in the early 1870s was raw and violent. Communities in the eastern part of the state were taking shape, and local governments had come to provide some semblance of competency in the shadow of Reconstruction. However, in the unsettled northern and western areas, in what would be...

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1. Irresistible on Horseback

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pp. 1-15

THE YOUNG MEN HUDDLED ALONG the shallow dry ravine as they listened to the pop-pop of gunfire from the Indians facing them on the crest of the ridge ahead. The shots whistled above them, uncomfortably close, occasionally striking one of the horses abandoned to...

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2. Daring Gallantry

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pp. 16-28

PREPARATIONS FOR THE COMING conflict began quickly in Navarro County. On Monday, May 6, 1861, Colonel Henry Jones organized a company of Home Guards, scheduled to meet and drill regularly at Corsicana. On June 4, Brigadier General L. T. Wheeler of the...

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3. The Right Man

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pp. 29-48

JOHN B. JONES & COMPANY, partnered by Jones and A. F. Robbins, described itself as a business of “bankers and exchange dealers,” “general commission merchants,” and “wholesale and retail grocers,” maintaining a “full stock of groceries constantly on hand...

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4. No Carpet-Knight

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pp. 49-63

MAJOR JONES CONTINUED his tour of inspection, arriving next at Maltby’s Company E, fifteen miles west of Brownwood, on June 28, 1874. After reviewing the company’s activities, Jones determined that all was quiet locally and that the company could do better service elsewhere...

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5. A Heavy Task

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pp. 64-81

AS JONES MADE HIS WAY BACK DOWN the line to his headquarters in Austin, the companies continued their hunt for raiding Indians and wayward outlaws. On August 3, General Steele commissioned J. T. Nelson of Stephenville as a second lieutenant in Waller’s Company...

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6. The Abominable Legislature

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pp. 82-101

ON NOVEMBER 24, 1874, THE BAD news came for the six-month- old Frontier Battalion. At Governor Coke’s direction, because the current appropriation for frontier defense was insufficient to sustain the battalion until the next legislative session in January when a new budget...

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7. Kill All the Dutch

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pp. 102-118

THE ACTIVITY O N THE RIO GRANDE reached such a level of international tension that Adjutant General Steele felt compelled to make a tour of the area in May of 1875. Leander McNelly and his men were encamped at Edinburg, fending off horse, cattle, and oxen thieves...

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8. Gallant and Untiring

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pp. 119-131

LEAVING THE MASON COUNTY VIOLENCE behind him for the time being in November 1875, Jones began another inspection tour, arriving first at Foster’s Company E, which he found “in good condition and doing good service.” The people in the area credited the presence...

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9. Terribly Tongue-Lashed

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pp. 132-150

RANGERS CAME UNDER CRITICISM in San Antonio when, on September 13, 1876, several men from Company A were confronted by city policemen for “parading the streets . . . armed to the teeth.” The company, as Jones’ escort, was camped on the Leon River...

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10. A Bedouin in the Saddle

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pp. 151-166

MAJOR JONES LEFT KIMBLE COUNTY and by May 6, 1877, was at Fort McKavett, where he requested of General Steele that Dr. E. G. Nicholson be once again reinstated as Battalion Surgeon, the appointment to date from April 19. Jones then moved on to Coleman...

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11. Here Comes the Rangers!

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pp. 167-185

MAJOR JONES LEFT AUSTIN for El Paso County by stagecoach on the morning of October 24, 1877. A detachment of Rangers was readied to proceed separately to El Paso, but, if Jones was able to reach an “amicable adjustment” of the affair before their arrival, the...

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12. A Manly and Vigorous Effort

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pp. 186-201

JONES FOUND HIMSELF at Fort Bliss in February of 1878, jousting with his fellow commission members as they took testimony from witnesses such as Tays, Kerber, and others, and collected all available documentation. In the interior of the state, the Frontier Battalion continued...

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13. Agin’ My Profession

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pp. 202-220

CONFRONTED IN THE UNDERBRUSH of Denton County by running gunbattles with various posses, including Peak and his men, Sam Bass and his gang—Henry Underwood, Seaborn Barnes, Frank Jackson, Arkansas Johnson, Henry Collins, and Charles Carter—fled to...

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14. Stately as a Queen

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pp. 221-237

ALTHOUGH IT HAD BEEN PROCLAIMED that the problem of raiding Indians had been diminished by the state troops, companies continued to scout for their presence. Usually all they found was evidence of the Indians’ presence in an area, but occasionally there was a...

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15. Scared on Our Arrival

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pp. 238-254

PEGLEG CROSSING SAT ON the San Saba River about twelve miles east of Menard in Menard County for many decades. A relay station was constructed there to accommodate a stage line running between Fort McKavett, Fort Mason, and San Antonio. The fact that horses pulling...

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16. Promptness and Fidelity

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pp. 255-270

JANUARY 1880 BEGAN with a bizarre conflict between two Rangers and two company commanders in which Jones had to ultimately intervene, although the details are murky as some of the essential correspondence is not in Ranger records. In October of 1879, Sergeant...

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17. Sober, Steady, and Respectable Man

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pp. 271-284

IN EARLY AUGUST 1880, the Sheriff ’s Association of Texas met at the Dallas Opera House. Sheriff Eugene Glover of Duval County offered a resolution that the Frontier Battalion and Oglesby’s Special Troops “were recognized as an auxiliary to the regular constabulary force...

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18. Pangs of Sorrow

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pp. 285-297

JONES ALWAYS HAD a fragile constitution. His health problems were a periodic problem, and he suffered frequent attacks of what was termed “derangement of the liver.” In January and February of 1881, he felt rather good and even put on a few pounds. However, on March 6, his...

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19. The Best Officers and Men

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pp. 298-308

ALMOST IMMEDIATELY the question arose as to Jones’ successor. Speculation centered on Neal Coldwell, who had been acting adjutant general and Jones’ pick to handle his inspection and quartermaster duties. General William P. Hardeman, a superintendent of the Texas Confederate...


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pp. 309-370


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pp. 371-395


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pp. 383-401

E-ISBN-13: 9781574414783
Print-ISBN-13: 9781574414677

Page Count: 432
Illustrations: 38 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Frances B. Vick Series

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Subject Headings

  • Jones, John B., 1834-1881.
  • Texas Rangers. Frontier Battalion -- Biography.
  • Texas -- History -- 1846-1950.
  • Frontier and pioneer life -- Texas.
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