- The Texas Ranger Ideal, Vol 1: Texas Rangers in the Hall of Fame, 1823–1861 by Darren L. Ivey
Two contemporary devices identify a ranger. One is the U.S. Army Ranger tab with a heritage extending as far back as the French and Indian War (1756–1763). The other is the Texas Rangers’ cinco peso badge, the distinctive emblem of Texas’s premier law enforcement arm. Texas commemorates the Ranger legacy at the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame in Waco. Darren Ivey’s The Texas Ranger Ideal, Vol 1: Texas Rangers in the Hall of Fame, 1823–1861 is the first of a three-volume project that will feature the renown of this elite group. The varying definition of a ranger—soldier, police officer, territorial defender—is part of this discussion.
Seven men are included here: Empressario Stephen F. Austin, Jack Hays, Ben McCulloch, William Wallace, Sam Walker, John Ford, and Sul Ross. Only the first was not a ranger. In 1823, Austin (subject of the opening chapter) offered to “employ ten men . . . to act as rangers for the common defense of the Colony” (12), making the Rangers’ original purpose territorial defense instead of law enforcement. Deputized by a district judge in Waco to serve warrants on renegade vigilantes for the murders of Indian allies, John (“Rip”) Ford was having none of it and refused to follow through “on the grounds he was a soldier, not a police officer, and did not have permission from the governor to comply with the judge’s orders” (302).
Because rapidly developing threats amidst widely dispersed settlements could not be countered successfully by a defensive strategy, Rangers had wide latitude to conduct their own operations. Ad hoc companies were formed as dangers suddenly arose, company size varying by mission, duration, and available funding. Officers were elected and led by personal example in lieu of a standardized field manual. Companies typically consisted of one captain and two lieutenants augmented by experienced sergeants. Recruits were provided with very little from the state beyond rations, forage, and a modest salary. They brought their own horse, saddle, blanket, and rifle, but some were issued the most recent innovation, the Colt pistol. Armed with two five-shot revolvers, each Ranger “could deliver ten aimed shots in forty seconds” (74). That, in addition to the rifle each man carried, transformed a frontier ranger company into a formidable dragoon unit.
Ranger Ideal compiles the exploits of seven men who “lived for a time by [End Page 120] the gun on the ragged edge of the frontier” (x). Ivey deliberately avoids romantic stereotypes, recognizing that every society has its own heroes and villains. They might be judged as “ruthless sinners or selfless saints according to one’s own perspective. The objective historian may realize they are neither the mythical hero . . . nor are they the racist brutes of the revisionist” (x). Couched in Ranger Ideal is the heritage of an agency destined to become an altogether different institution than any of these men would imagine.
Historians love well-written books with an abundance of sources. Ivey’s narration is a compelling blend of people, cultures, and eras. Beyond the narrative are 181 pages of endnotes, forty-three pages of bibliography, three pages of Internet and newspaper sources, six pages of public documents sources, and two pages of dissertations and unpublished manuscripts. For the novice and the aficionado wishing to go further, Ivey has marked the path. One wishes he had included maps to clarify relative locations and directions as the narrative moves across Texas and Mexico.
Seven men: all “present at the creation,” all immigrants to Texas. Some were veterans of the war with Mexico and three fought for the Confederacy. One was an empresario, two, surveyors; one, a journalist. The Texas Ranger legacy began with them and Ivey tells it well. Even without the maps.