History of the Texas Rangers Part II: A Force to be Reckoned With

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Tony Maples Photography


During annexation and the Mexican War in 1846, the Texas Rangers earned global fame, and after admirable performance in the battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma on May 8–9, 1846, they became an even greater force to be reckoned with, as the “eyes and ears” of Gen. Zachary Taylor. With the best of mounts, the best of arms, and familiar with their territories, the rangers forged the route through to Monterrey for the U.S. army, and in early in 1847, provided enough military information to assist the General in winning the battle of Buena Vista. And with the assistance of an American army under Gen. Winfield Scott making their way into the Valley of Mexico, the rangers figured prominently in U.S. victories over the next five months under the direction of Jack Hays and Samuel Walker. They proved so successful against Mexican guerrillas in ruthless warfare that the local populace called them “los diablos Tejanos.” By 1848, the term “Texas Ranger” had grown to be a common household term, synonymous with a great force.

History of the Texas Rangers Part II: A Force to be Reckoned With

Photo: Facebook/Texas Ranger Association Foundation

Following the Mexican War, over the next 10 years, the Texas Rangers became a dormant force. With the U.S. assuming responsibility for protecting the frontier in Texas, the rangers were given no official function, nor were they enlisted by the state for service. Losing its famous captains and the vast contingent of its frontier defenders, it wasn’t until 1858 when John S. “Rip” Ford was appointed as senior captain that the rangers briefly returned to their fighting traditions. In the late spring of that year, they moved into the northern parts of Texas to fight a large band of Native Americans, killing the noted Comanche chief, Iron Jacket in the process. By March of 1859, they were assigned to the Brownsville area, where they fought alongside the U.S. Army, with only small success, against the “Red Robber of the Rio Grande,” Juan N. Cortina. Following this, however, for approximately 14 years, the rangers had little impact in Texas. With the pending Civil War in 1861, they individually joined the Confederates, and to protect its frontiers, the Lone Star State had to rely on a mixture of young boys, old men, or those that were rejected from Confederate conscription.

History of the Texas Rangers Part II: A Force to be Reckoned With

Photo: Facebook/John G Smith

By 1874, however, Texas appeared to be overrun with lawlessness as well as mounting issues with Mexican bandits and Native American attacks to the west and south. The state democrats were now in power and the legislature authorized two unique military groups to meet their needs. The first was the Special Force of Rangers under Capt. Leander H. McNelly. The second was the Frontier Battalion under the direction of Major John B. Jones. Both proved equally effective in their duties, however, due to their efficiency, the Battalion proved no longer necessary post-1882. And as the requirement for frontier law enforcement waned in the face of the encroachment of civilization, so too did the prominence and prestige of the Texas Rangers. Although they occasionally intercepted Native American or Mexican marauders around the Rio Grande, dealt with cattle thieves in both the Panhandle and down around Big Bend, and protected blacks from white lynch mobs, by 1900 they had all but been relegated to being completely obsolete. In 1901, the legislature curtailed the Texas Rangers force to four companies with no more than 20 men apiece and one officer, and through the early 1900s, they had strong leadership but minimal effective duties.

Can’t get enough of the Texas Rangers’ history? Read Part IPart III, and Part IV of this series.



Texas Rangers Hall of Fame and Museum

Texas State History