The rich history of the Texas Rangers has been chronicled in works of nonfiction and memoirs. Movies and television series have been made about them, and they are a favorite hero in novels; so when you need a real man — “Give Me a Texas Ranger”.
I began work on “One Woman, One Ranger” for our newest anthology with a duel purpose. I didn’t want to write just another romance with a Texas Ranger hero, but about one who found love. I wanted it to reflect the ideals that brought peace to the untamed frontier; the strengths and traditions that made the famous respected organization the lawmen they are today.
In order to accomplish my goal, I had to understand the iconic lawmen; a colorful and brave body of fighting men who had a reputation for tenacity, firmness and quick-triggered justice. I wanted to delve into their thinking and their hearts.
I love research! When we were on tour with “Give Me a Texan” Linda Broday and I spent a day in Waco, Texas, at the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum. One of our favorite exhibits was “Writing the Ranger”, where authors from Louis L’Amour to Diane Palmer have their covers on display. The comics, the cowboys, and The Lone Ranger are all there.
But, my favorite resource that gave me the best insight into the ol’ time Texas Rangers is a book written in 1921 by James Gillett “Six Years with the Texas Rangers”. Sgt. Gillett joined the organization June 1, 1875, and rode with them until 1881. His first-person accounts influenced many scenes in my story.
From their inception, the only true criteria for being a Ranger: Could he ride? Could he shoot? Did he have the guts it took to protect? Famous lawman Rip Ford said, “They ride like Mexicans; trail like Indians; shoot like Tennesseans; and fight like the devil.” The early lawmen fashioned traditions which affected all future Rangers by creating an aura of invincibility with their dedication, toughness, and perseverance.
In 1823 they were referred to as Citizen Soldiers and “rangered” the new frontier. They’ve had a number of names including the State Police. Between the annexation of Texas in 1846 and the outbreak of the Civil War, the Texas Ranger existed almost in name only. However, in 1874, Stephen F. Austin formed two bands of ten Rangers each to protect the new frontier. The Frontier Battalion protected the vast area between the Red River and the Nueces River, while the Special Force unit handled Southwest Texas.
A must for all Rangers was a serviceable horse, a good rifle, and a six-shooting pistol. “An Act to Provide for the Protection of the Frontier of the State of Texas 1874” became the blueprint for frontier law enforcement. One clarification was the value of their horse and how it had to be appraised by the enrolling officer and two disinterested parties, so in the event something happened to the animal the Ranger could be reimbursed fairly. Yet, the horse couldn’t be disposed of without the consent of the commanding officer. Each critter was given an allowance of no more than 12 lbs. of oats or corn a day, plus 2 ounces of salt per week. If the dang rascal over indulged, the overage came out of the rangers pay check … $40 a month! I used that little known fact in my plot. Hayden McGraw’s horse, Stewball, liked to go off on his own to find food, so at times it really put my hero at a disadvantage.
At first, the Rangers were more interested in performance and gettin’ the job done than in personal appearance. The only well-groomed critter around the lawman was generally his horse, who was meticulously cared for.
In contrast, today’s Ranger dress requirements are certainly more uptown. “The appropriate Texas Ranger clothing is deemed to be conservative western attire. The Texas Ranger hat will be light-colored and shaped in a businessman’s style. Styles commonly called the Rancher or Cattleman are recommended. Brims must not exceed 4 inches or be flat with edges rolled up. Hats excessively crushed, rolled, or dipped are not acceptable. Members of the Ranger Division will own both a quality straw and quality felt hat. The appropriate hat will usually be determined by the weather or assignments.”
For my story, I wanted an emotional connection between my third generation Texas Ranger, Hayden McGraw, and his father and grandfather. Prior to 1835, these lawmen didn’t wear badges. The State of Texas Adjutant General’s Office issued Warrants of Authority, an impressive paper document kept folded in their pockets, to commissioned officers. Although that procedure played a big part in my plot, I still needed something more personal.
The origin of the Ranger badge fascinated me. The first ones were made for individual lawmen, at their request, from Mexican coins. Some were probably made by jewelers, while others may have been made by gunsmiths or metalworkers. The legend of Rangers cutting them out of coins around campfires is unlikely. These first badges were used as a means of identification in the midst of feuds and disputes that might involve several law enforcement agencies, or where hired guns were introduced. Photographs taken in the 1870’s through the 1920’s show that there was a great variety of badges and that comparatively few Rangers wore them. Of interest, later research indicates they didn’t wear badges because the sun reflected off them, making tracking easier. Many kept them hidden beneath their saddle, but always in easy reach.
Today, the Texas Rangers wear a replica of the historic original insignia which old-time Rangers carved out of a Mexican five peso silver dollar. Symbolically the five-pointed star represents the “Lone Star” of Texas, while the points are supported by an engraved wheel. Thus it is termed the “wagon-wheel” badge. The oak leaves on the left side represent strength and the olive branch on the right signifies peace. These are taken from the Texas Great Seal. The cutout center star has engraving on it and the center of the star is reserved for the Company designation or the rank. The edges still often have the coin lines and the peso is still highly visible on the reverse of the badge. Thus, First Lieutenant Hayden McGraw’s badge is a key element of my story.
As of old, the Texas Rangers still maintain vigilant watch and ward over the peace and welfare of Texas, bringing a sense of security and trust to our law-abiding citizens.
Do any of you have any Texas Rangers in your family tree? I wish I did, but since I don’t, I can only write about the fearless body of men who shaped the new frontier and salute those protecting the citizens of the fine state of Texas today.
I’m givin’ away a copy of your choice of titles to one lucky person!