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Harris and Sadler's Texas Rangers: A Rimrock Press Review

Walk into any Texas bookstore carrying Texana and you may well discover more books written about Texas Rangers than you really wanted to find in the first place. Happily, however, a new Ranger book by Charles H. Harris and Louis R. Sadler stands out on the already overcrowded shelves of the genre. Published by the University of New Mexico Press, The Texas Rangers And The Mexican Revolution: The Bloodiest Decade, 1910 is a meticulously researched and well written account of the Texas Rangers during the bloody years of the Mexican revolution.

Harris and Sadler, two retired University of New Mexico history professors, made considerable use of the countless documents relating to the Rangers in the files of the Nettie Lee Benson Collection and the Barker Texas History Center and the Texas state archives in Austin. In addition, the massive 673-page book contains thousands of references from all sorts of state and federal files. Among the more revealing is Record Group 65, the now declassified "Old Mex. Files" from Records of the Bureau of Investigation (today's Federal Bureau of Investigation) held in the National Archives in Washington, D. C. These records document the numerous investigations conducted by the bureau into the lucrative arms for cattle trade that sprang up during the revolution along the border. It is an amazing fresh resource full of reports and once secret correspondence written by agents in the field.

The authors unearth a number of remarkable revelations about this particularly dark period of Ranger history. First, during those years, the state Ranger force became highly politicized especially during the governorship of James Edward Ferguson. During this decade, there were never that many regular Texas Rangers on the payroll in the entire state. Harris and Sadler point out that in 1910 there were only twenty-five regular full time Rangers. The following year, their numbers increased to forty-two. Eight years later, the Rangers still numbered only eighty-seven officers. Rangers owed their jobs to the governor of Texas and political corruption in the ranks continued unchecked. In order to protect the Texas border during the civil war in Mexico, the ranks of the Rangers swelled by the swearing in of Special Texas Rangers or Loyalty Rangers. Local Sheriffs could appoint men to be Special Rangers and these appointments led to vigilantism across the state. During World War I, the Special Rangers numbered 400 while twice that number of Loyalty Rangers added to the ranks. Loyalty Rangers came into the picture in 1918 and created to act as a secret service branch of the Rangers. Regular Rangers suffered from poor pay. The pages of the book are full of examples of drunkenness and oppression among their ranks. These Rangers intimidated Hispanic voters, murdered newspaper editors, dabbled in the stolen Mexican cattle market and generally behaved in ways that we find shocking today.

Harris and Sadler dismantle a number of Walter Prescott myths from the 1930's and long held to be gospel by more than a few Austin historians. The New Mexico professors see the Porvenir Massacre to be just that, a massacre and say so. In the Bureau of Investigation records, the authors bring to light that after being fired for taking an active part in the Porvenir massacre at least four of these same Rangers from Captain Fox's Ranger Company B held up and robbed a Carrancista paymaster near Fort D. A. Russell in Marfa in 1919. The thieves got off with a reported $22,600 in loot. The Lone Ranger and Tonto wouldn't have liked these guys.

Harris and Sadler's book is a solid contender to be the definitive history of the Rangers, at least during the Mexican revolution years. Anyone interested in Rangers or in the Big Bend will find something of interest here.

Glenn Justice

Copyright 2005
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