- Texas Rangers: Lives, Legend, and Legacy by Bob Alexander, Donaly E. Brice
Many books have been written about the Texas Rangers—about the Stephen F. Austin era, the Republic of Texas years, Indian Wars, Frontier Battalions, turn-of-the-century law enforcement, Mexican Revolution controversies, biographies of Rangers and of criminals sought by Rangers from each of these eras, as well as cases and investigations that involved Rangers. Who better to pull together nearly two centuries of history than Bob Alexander, author of numerous works on Rangers, and Donaly E. Brice, highly respected state archivist for many years and author of The Great Comanche Raid?
The first four chapters cover the period from 1823 to 1874, including interactions with the Karankawas, Comanches, and Juan Cortina as Texas morphed into a republic, a new state, a Confederate state, and then experienced Reconstruction. The next several chapters are devoted to the Frontier Battalion, one chapter per company, in which the authors identify about 450 Rangers with a plethora of information. For example, the oldest enlistees ranged from forty-four to fifty-three years of age while in [End Page 121] five of the six companies the youngest were seventeen or eighteen. The percent of enlistees who were native Texans ranged from 11 in Company B in North Texas to 34 in Company F in the Hill Country.
The writing style can be entertaining and casual, as when Ed Carnal, a young Louisianan in the Frontier Battalion, was “jumpstarted into panic” (151) during his first encounter with Indians. “Ranger Ed then put cold iron to his jittery horse and skedaddled” (151). Abducted children are labeled “innocent kiddos” (382). But the authors are not focused on entertaining readers as much as on presenting the facts about life as a frontier Ranger, such as the difficult and unending task of procuring sufficient provisions, or how ineffective Rangers were when widespread sickness among horses kept them from doing their job, or what the Kiowas did to Britt Johnson, a frontier scout, after they killed him.
In the preface, Alexander and Brice plead guilty to the book’s being “obviously a favorably disposed Texas Ranger treatment” (xviii), but only because of the evidence. The authors attack the myths and false information that have been repeated by writers through the generations. They praise W. T. Vann, Cameron County sheriff, who testified in the 1919 hearings about controversies in South Texas during the Mexican Revolution, for being bluntly critical of the Rangers’ wrongs. They also praise Elmer Kelton, former president of the West Texas Historical Association, for telling historians to record what actually happened.
The last section of the book covers a range of mid-twentieth century topics, including the birth of the Texas Department of Public Safety, the reign of Homer Garrison, the Branch Davidian compound disaster at Waco, a Davis Mountain-area home invasion by the “crackpot” (388) anti-government Republic of Texas militia, and the polygamist movement in West Texas. The authors describe today’s Rangers as college graduates who started out as highway patrolmen and who carry laptops and cell phones along with their guns. The book contains 113 pages of informative endnotes and 120 pages of photographs from a wide range of sources. It is a welcome and highly valuable source as a one-volume history of the Texas Rangers.