The image of the Texas Rangers is filled with various myths and conjectures that films and books about these legendary characters support. The Rangers are associated with capturing serious criminals, actions in wars, and even several events that are usually not discussed. The Rangers have greatly influenced the history of Texas and today maintain high standards of citizens’ protection. It is worth noting that in 2020 they included only 166 people, which does not prevent them from professionally performing many of their duties (General Discharge, 2021). This paper examines the history of the formation of the Texas Ranger division, their current responsibilities, structure, cultural meaning, and other aspects of their activity.
The history of the Texas Rangers developed in parallel with the history of the state itself. In particular, the founder of Texas, Stephen F. Austin, who invited settler families to new territories that were part of Mexico at that time, was also involved in creating the division. In 1823, the need for the protection of settlers from attacks became acute (“History,” n.d.). As a result, Austin asked the Mexican government for permission to create a group of ten people from volunteers to protect against the Indians, which became their primary responsibility. According to Cox (2018), the first Rangers included people of various nationalities – English, Hispanic, Irish, and other ethnicities. In this way, the history of the formation and activities of the Texas Rangers began.
Although at first, they were volunteers, a few years after the start of the first Rangers’ activity, their formations became official. The Texas Council of Representatives created the Corps of Rangers in 1835 when the movement for Texas independence was gaining power (Cox, 2018). The new company included 25 people who were supposed to fight Mexican bandits and Native Americans. They adopted the tactics of their rivals to gain an advantage and also significantly used firearms. In particular, the Rangers collaborated a lot with the famous Samuel Colt and used the weapons he invented (Cox, 2018). Training and weapons gave the group significant advantages in protecting the population.
The Rangers played a role in the wars in which Texas was involved. Notably, during the war with Mexico, Rangers guarded civilians, provided intelligence, and fought as part of the army (Cox, 2018). In 1845, Texas joined the USA, and the decade after the war, the Rangers’ activities were less broad since the American army performed the main functions of border protection. However, the Rangers did not cease to exist and resumed activity during the Civil War, when Texas was part of the Confederation (Cox, 2018). After the war, there was a period of reconstruction when the squad was temporarily disbanded.
Even though the Rangers were dissolved, this situation lasted only several years. In 1874, six new detachments consisting of 25 men were formed under the command of Major John B. Jones to protect against Indian raids (Cox, 2018). When the threat from the Indians decreased, the focus of their actions shifted to the fight against criminals in Texas. In this way, they detained several famous and dangerous criminals, for example, John Wesley Hardin and Sam Bass (Cox, 2018). Although the Rangers disappeared again in 1900, in 1901, their forces were re-organized.
The population of Texas grew rapidly, and crime also spread. According to Cox (2018), new subversive activity began in 1910-1920, intending to liberate Texas and several other states from American influence, which led to guerrilla warfare and heavy tension at the border. The governor decided to increase the number of Rangers, but at the same time, no proper leadership was organized for them (Cox, 2018, Smith, 2020). As a result, the new Rangers were either insufficiently qualified or too cruel. Notably, cruelty was directed mainly against Mexicans – in particular, due to too broad authorities, some groups of Rangers became more similar not to law enforcement agencies but vigilantes.
Excessive cruelty, the killing of Mexicans, and the loss of the former moral appearance of the Rangers attracted attention. State Representative Jose Canales, who was previously closely acquainted with the Rangers, was worried about the actions of the new members of the division (Smith, 2020). He turned to the congressman demanding federal intervention but did not receive the proper support. The representative even received several threats from dishonest Rangers warning not to interfere in their affairs. However, Canales did not give up and, in 1919, introduced House Bill 5 and proposed precise requirements for hiring new Rangers.
Requirements included minimum age, law enforcement experience, and evidence of morality (Smith, 2020). Canales also made many charges against the Rangers, and hearings on their cases lasted several weeks. Although no one was arrested and all charges dropped, the need to re-organize the Rangers was recognized.
Although Canales’s Bill and charges did not make an immediate effect, as their author could expect, the Rangers began to change. Mainly, changes were manifested in more thorough hiring of recruits. Changes in the division’s moral guidelines were also displayed in actions to protect some individuals against public lynchings, the practice of which spread widely in the 1920s. At the same time, in some cases, Rangers, to a large extent, could bring order to society only thanks to their presence (Smith, 2020). Thus, Canales significantly changed the rules of activity for Rangers. The modern criteria for their selection, indicated later in the paper, correlate with the proposals of Canales. This connection suggests that his actions influenced the appearance and activity of modern Rangers.
In the 20th century, there were many other significant events in the activities of the Rangers in addition to the investigation of Canales. The life of the inhabitants of Texas became stormier, in particular, due to the increase in the number of cities because of the oil boom. Bank robberies have also increased, and owners offered rewards for dead robbers, which became the basis for various manipulations – people hired someone to rob and killed them to receive compensation (Cox 2018). Dealing with fraudsters, Rangers also caught robbers, for example, the famous Bonnie and Clyde (Cox, 2018). Consequently, the Rangers were very active and influential at the beginning of the century.
Significant changes also occurred in the means that Rangers could use for work and in their structure. Initially, they gradually changed horses to cars, and then more severe modifications happened at a faster pace. In 1935, the Department of Public Safety (DPS) was created under the aegis of which the Rangers and Highway Patrol were transferred (Cox, 2018). Texas Rangers’ numbers have become smaller, but their responsibilities and employment – more official. Their capabilities also expanded – they could already check fingerprints, make chemical, ballistic, and other tests for investigations. With the help of new tools, Rangers became more effective.
During World War II, the Rangers continued to maintain order in Texas. After the war, funding for the department increased, and employees’ opportunities also grew. For example, in 1935, Rangers participated in approximately 255 cases, in 1955 – in more than 16,500 (Cox, 2018). Turbulent times followed, which was associated with intensifying civil movements, prison riots, and other issues. Rangers continued to take an active part in maintaining order, but this period also gave rise to the introduction of some additional rules due to their use by the authorities. Today Rangers are professionals whose work includes various tasks and who respect their predecessors.
Today, the duties of the Texas Rangers include several key tasks and directions that have expanded significantly lately because of the increase in the number of threats. The basis of activity is the conduct of investigations, the detention of criminals, the maintenance of order, and the protection of lives. In detail, responsibilities include:
- Interagency Investigative Assistance. Rangers assist law enforcement officials and have contacts and links with various agencies throughout the country. Following the Texas Department of Public Safety (n.d.b), investigations in which Rangers take part may include the investigation of missing persons, murders, robberies, bank fraud, and similar cases.
- Criminal Intelligence and Suppression of Organized Crime. Rangers are significantly focused on the destruction of organized crime and also cooperate with other agencies for this purpose.
- Localized Suppression of Crime in Extraordinary Circumstances. In some instances, when local agencies fail by receiving a corresponding order from Director, Rangers make efforts to maintain order in certain areas.
- Interagency Training. Cooperation with other law enforcement agencies also extends to training.
- Special Officers of the Court. Upon special request from the judges, Rangers may take part in proceedings to provide additional protection.
- Internal Investigations. Rangers also conduct investigations into DPS employees in the case of their murder, attack, or disobedience.
- Forensic Capabilities. Representatives of the division also help victims of crime restore forgotten details, for example, with the help of hypnosis. They can contribute to research by analyzing skeleton remains.
- Special Security for Elected Official. Rangers, if necessary, guard politicians and other important officials.
- Gubernatorial Security. Rangers keep Texas Governor safe during his trips in the state.
The Texas Ranger Division is one of thirteen Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) divisions. The Ranger Division, in turn, is divided into six District Companies, designated by the letters from A to F, and the Headquarters Company, defined by the letter H. District Companies are located in various cities in Texas, and their spheres of influence are distributed geographically for jurisdictions. Moreover, the Rangers may be observers of state programs, which involve work all over Texas (Roberts, 2019). The working schedule of the Rangers includes full-time and various shifts since it is necessary to protect the city around the clock, and overtime is possible. At the same time, there is always great competition for the vacancies of the Texas Rangers.
The Texas Rangers have a Special Operations Group (SOG) whose six programs are designed to combat threats such as drug distribution, organized crime, and similar serious problems. These programs include the following:
- The Special Weapons and Tactics Team (SWAT). A professional team whose responsibilities include responding to high-risk incidents, such as hostage-taking or active shooter.
- The Bomb Squad is a section of the SWAT that works when the situation is related to explosive devices. Members of the squad are seriously trained with the US Army. Their accreditation is carried out by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) (Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, n.d.b.). This team can neutralize and dispose of explosives, assess the threat, and analyze explosions.
- The Ranger Reconciliation Team is a tactical team whose main task is to collect data, most often on the border of Texas and Mexico. Its participants can act covertly and enter the territory where the usual police do not have access.
- Special Response Teams (SRT) are groups in each DPS that respond to critical situations in their territory.
- Crisis Negotiation Teams (CNT) are specially trained professionals who negotiate during hostage situations or emotionally unstable criminals.
- Joint Operations Intelligence Centers (JOIC) and the Border Security Operations Center (BSOC). Several JOIC concentrated on the border with Mexico collect intelligence and transmit it to BSOC (Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, n.d.b.). This Centre carries out a thorough analysis and, if necessary, transfers results to other bodies and agencies, thus enabling operations to prevent serious crimes.
Rangers also have several specialized programs:
- Interdiction for the Protection of Children (IPC) Program. As part of this program, officers learn to recognize suspicious behavior of children and adults to solve and prevent child abduction crimes.
- Unsolved Crimes Investigation Program. This program provides the means to re-examine unsolved or serial-like murders.
- Public Corruption Unit. Rangers are investigating the possibility of corruption among politicians, law enforcement agencies, or other bodies and employees on which society depends.
Requirements and training
In order to become a Texas Ranger, one must first become a state trooper. In this way, the candidate will meet the necessary basic requirements and undergo training, which lasts 23 weeks (General Discharge, 2021). According to Roberts (2019), candidates also need 90 semester hours in college or three years of work experience instead of education. Having become a trooper, candidates need to pursue the development of their career, as the requirements for Rangers include eight years of experience in bona fide law enforcement agencies, notably not in military police (General Discharge, 2021).
The candidate’s experience is carefully investigated for good moral qualities. Later, an entrance exam is held, and those who received the highest grades speak to the Oral Interview Board (Texas Department of Public Safety, n.d.a). In the Ranger position, education and development do not stop, and every two years, they undergo 40 hours of training. High requirements for candidates are necessary to maintain a highly professional level of performance.
During training and work, Rangers gain the skills and competencies they need. They include:
- Perceptiveness is the ability to understand and even predict human reactions and behavior.
- Empathy is an opportunity to understand different points of view and perspectives and a desire to help people.
- Physical stamina – good physical condition is necessary to cope with duties (Roberts, 2019).
- Physical strength – Rangers should be able to repel criminals and detain them.
- Good judgment is the ability to determine the best and fastest way to solve a problem or task.
- Leadership skills – as leaders, Rangers should be able to find an approach to people who turn to them for help or even calm the crowd if necessary.
- Communication skills – Rangers must collect facts important to investigations and obtain information from people.
Rangers also have strict requirements for their appearance, which combined modern requirements for convenience and accuracy and some historical traditions. Initially, the Rangers did not have a single uniform and were dressed in clothes, which was convenient for riding a horse. Clothing elements were for protection, such as a hat from the sun and boots from stones and spikes. Becoming increasingly famous and authoritative, the Rangers improved their appearance. Today, for regular daily work, Rangers have uniforms in a conservative Western style, and for special operations – battle dress uniforms.
Traditional outfits include a western hat, belt and boots, a tie, a dress shirt, appropriate pants, and a dress coat (Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, n.d.a). Moreover, the official ranger badge should be attached to the shirt, and an approved pistol be in the holster (Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, n.d.a). Rangers should not allow a neat appearance – clothes should be ironed out and clean.
There is another Ranger symbol that attracts extraordinary attention from people in addition to Western-style clothing – badges. The historical fame of the Rangers contributed to the popularization of various attributes associated with them, including badges. As a result, many fraudsters sell different fake badges as valuable (Johnson, n.d.). Their large number is also due to the fact that the first Rangers did not have official badges. Until the creation of DPS and the issuance of the first official badges in 1935, the Rangers could independently order their manufacture from jewelers or be given by grateful residents (Johnson, n.d.). Such badges were made of various materials and had different appearances. However, mostly the Rangers preferred to use the money to buy weapons and other more helpful equipment.
The current design of the Rangers badges was approved later and inspired by the story of the activities of the first Rangers. The modern design was introduced in 1962 and had the form of a five-pointed star framed by a wheel (Johnson, n.d.). In 1962, the badges were made of coins with a face value of 5 pesos, since earlier some Rangers wore similar (Johnson, n.d.). The inscriptions “Texas Ranger” and “Dept. of Public Safety” and oak and olive branches, meaning strength and justice, respectively, are engraved on the wheel. There is also a space to indicate the rank in the star’s center (Johnson, n.d.). Since then, the design of the badges for the Rangers has not changed and has become the most recognizable.
Rangers and their activities were supported by various myths, making it possible to create a particularly strong heroic image. As a result, many stories and legends about them are distorted. For example, Rangers’ creation and their first activities are usually presented as protection from Native Americans. However, it is possible that their task was also to destroy the indigenous population – Karankawas, Cherokees, and other tribes (Davies, 2020).
In the war with Mexico for their brutality and murders, the Rangers were called Los Diablo Tejanos, which means the Texas Devils (Davies, 2020). Although their activities against Mexicans in the 1910s were already mentioned, it is worth noting that some incidents, like the Porvenir massacre, were incredibly bloody, but no one received punishment. In Porvenir, Rangers killed 15 unarmed men and boys of Mexican descent in 1918 (Venkataramanan, 2020). Before becoming part of the DPS, the Rangers were cruel and could even be participants in crimes.
In the 1950-the 1960s, Rangers also often showed cruelty and actions that modern society can condemn. For example, during desegregation, the governor sent a ranger to school to not allow African Americans to enroll in classes for mixed schools (Davies, 2020). Rather cruel actions were taken to prevent strikes among agricultural workers during a boycott organized by Cesar Chavez (Davies, 2020). These actions influenced new changes in the work of the Rangers, and they could no longer be used for political purposes.
In modern activity, the Rangers may receive some criticism on the issue of diversity. Historically, except in the very first years of existence, their ranks included mainly white men. However, in 2020, there were about 160 employees, and among them – 4 women, 8 African Americans, and 34 Hispanics (Davies, 2020). Moreover, in 2020 the first two women captains appeared among Rangers (“DPS announces,” 2020). Based on these data, it is worth noting that the Rangers make efforts to improve their work in various areas, including diversity.
Other concerns relate to problems that have recently received new publicity in connection with the death of George Floyd. According to an inquiry conducted by New York Times journalists LaForgia and Valentino-DeVries (2021), some Texas Rangers do not adequately consider deaths in custody. For example, the ranger who investigated the case of Kelli Leanne Page, who died in the cell because of two guards, unfairly took the guards’ side (LaForgia & Valentino-DeVries, 2021).
Journalists also indicate that Rangers, in some cases, delay visiting or do not come to the crime scene at all. An example of such neglect is the case of Delbert McNiel, during the investigation of which the ranger only examined the body in the hospital and conducted several interviews with the people involved without visiting the crime scene (LaForgia & Valentino-DeVries, 2021). These are only a few of the cases considered by journalists, but they are very indicative.
Most of the criticism of the Rangers appeared recently due to a more thorough and critical look at law enforcement agencies. When past and real misses were widely publicized, calls followed for the renaming of the squad itself and the sports team and other symbols named after them (Venkataramanan, 2020). In particular, in 2020, a statue depicting a ranger in the airport was destroyed (Davies, 2020; Venkataramanan, 2020). Some historians advocate not to use the word “ranger” as it refers to their almost 200-year history filled with cruelty. Other experts believe that changing names is unnecessary, but it is essential to display the history of Rangers as it is – with achievements and adverse events (Venkataramanan, 2020). Thus, despite the Rangers’ long idealization, their history is likely to be conveyed more fully in the future.
Many legends and statements are associated with the Texas Rangers. In particular, the phrase “One Riot, One Ranger,” the origin of which also has its own story, gained fame. According to Cox (2018), the phrase is attributed to Ranger Capt. McDonald thanks to a book dedicated to his activities written by Albert Bigelow Paine. His task was to cancel the prizefight in Dallas, and the city mayor who met him was surprised about the ranger arriving alone to perform it. In response to the mayor’s concern, McDonald answered that he was enough because the fight was only one (Cox, 2018). Similar stories and famous phrases add authority and demonstrate the power of Rangers.
The heroic image of the Rangers was maintained almost from the very beginning of their existence. Initially, achievements and courage were reported through news dispatches and stories, and their image was filled with adventures (Stopka & Lohr, n.d.). In this way, the Rangers gained fame as warriors, overcoming enemies more potent than them and acting under challenging circumstances. As a result, back in the 1850s, songs, bikes, and legends made up about them. Later, their image was used for various advertising, for example, games, school supplies, or products (Stopka & Lohr, n.d.).
Stories about Rangers were also revealed in many books, the plots of which were similar to each other, released in 19-20 centuries. Even modern marketers often use Rangers in advertising a variety of products, such as cars, emphasizing their resilience.
The Rangers had the most substantial influence in culture on the development of stories, films, and characters based on them. The most popular character – Lone Ranger – was created in 1933 by George Trendle for radio broadcasting, and in the future, appeared in many films, series, and books (Stopka & Lohr, n.d.). The Tales of the Texas Rangers program, which existed in the early 1950s on radio, also gained popularity. In the 1970s, the Rangers theme subsided a little but returned with renewed vigor when the generation, in whose childhood Tales and the Lone Ranger were popular, grew up (Stopka & Lohr, n.d.). Then there were new super-popular characters and programs, for example, Walker, Texas Ranger.
Rangers were represented not only in the traditional setting of the West. Their image also significantly influenced the development of various stories, for example, science fiction and other areas. For instance, such space Rangers as Buck Rogers, Captain Video, and even Buzz Lightyear were partially inspired by Texas Rangers (Stopka & Lohr, n.d.). They are also represented in various country songs, folk, and similar trends in the music industry. Thus, the image of the Rangers is firmly strengthened in different cultural directions. Although this vision covers up some Ranger crimes, they are still a cultural asset.
The Texas Rangers are an important symbol, so respect for them is expressed not only in popular culture. Particularly, the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum is located in the state territory, and it describes the history of Rangers (Harder, 2021). Here, visitors can learn about essential historical points, the exhibitions dedicated to high-profile cases, and Bonnie and Clyde’s one is the most popular, ranger badges, and other exhibits (Harder, 2021). The names of Rangers who died during the service or achieved outstanding goals are included in the hall of fame. The museum attracts many people, allows them to trace the history of the Rangers in detail, and honor their memory.
Texas Ranger Police Division is a unique Texas law enforcement agency whose history has made it world-famous. The Texas Rangers appeared simultaneously with the state of Texas to protect its settlers from the Indians in 1823. Later, having already officially formed in 1835, the Rangers sometimes disappeared, but not for a long time. They quickly gained fame as heroes and defenders, supported by various myths, stories, and subsequently films and radio broadcasts. The historical fame of the Rangers and their modern professionalism keep the popularity of their image. They inspired earlier and now the development of culture and have become a national heritage.
Today, the Texas Rangers are an elite division, performing difficult work with high requirements for potential candidates. In particular, those who want to become a Texas ranger should have eight years of experience in law enforcement, outstanding moral qualities, and good physical fitness. The duties of modern Rangers include investigating severe crimes, detaining criminals, searching for missing persons, performing internal investigations, guarding the governor, and other tasks. For the high-quality performance of their duties, the Rangers develop the necessary skills – from communication and leadership abilities to physical strength. To meet high requirements, Rangers are constantly learning and improving.
Thanks to the noble image created, their cruel and often unjust actions were silent for a long time. For example, the Rangers were too biased against the Mexicans because of a conflict, which resulted in brutal killings like the Porvenir massacre. Earlier, part of their work was the destruction of Native American tribes. In turn, in the middle of the 20th century, Rangers were used to restrain desegregation and boycotts of agricultural workers. Even today, with high requirements for the moral qualities of the Rangers, journalists note their unprofessional actions in investigating deaths, the culprits of which are law enforcement officers. Due to a more critical view of law enforcement agencies recently, such information is becoming increasingly available.
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