The Official Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum in Waco, Texas
Ranger History in Brief Form - Part 2

Gangsters Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, ©2009, TRHFM

A Brief History of the Texas Rangers Part II

by Mike Cox
with updates by the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum Staff


TRAILING BONNIE AND CLYDE

But Hamer was not away from law enforcement for long. In February 1934, Lee Simmons, superintendent of the Texas prison system, asked Hamer if he would track down the notorious criminal couple Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker. Hamer agreed and was given a commission as a Texas highway patrolman.

Since 1927, when a force had been created to patrol the expanding Texas roadways, the state in effect had two police agencies. The young Highway Patrol operated as part of the Highway Department.

Hamer trailed Bonnie and Clyde for 102 days. Finally, Hamer and other officers, including former Ranger B.M.Gau lt, caught up with the dangerous duo in Louisiana's Bienville Parish. The officers had hoped to take the outlaws alive, but when the pair reached for their weapons, Hamer and the others opened fire. The career of Bonnie and Clyde was over.

For a time, it looked like the Texas Rangers were not going to last much longer than Bonnie and Clyde. Under Gov. Ferguson, Ranger commissions were easy to come by, and not all those handed a silver star were men whose character was worthy of the honor. Additionally, Ferguson appointed some 2,300 Special Rangers. A few of those were even ex-convicts.

THE DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY

The problem did not go unrecognized. The Texas Senate, on Sept. 25, 1934, formed a committee to investigate crime and law enforcement in the state. The committee produced a report in early 1935 that was singularly critical of Texas law enforcement. However, the document also proposed a solution: the creation of a state law enforcement agency to be known a the Department of Public Safety.


1949 Texas Highways Patrol Training Class, ©2009, TRHFM

A bill was introduced that would create such an agency, which would operate under a three-member Public Safety Commission. The Texas Rangers would be transferred from the Adjutant General's Department and Highway Patrol would be moved from the Highway Department to form a single state police force.

Some modifications in the law were made by a joint House-Senate conference committee and on Aug. 10, 1935, it became effective.

At about the same time, historian Walter Prescott Webb's classic history of the Texas Rangers was going to press. In a hasty postscript tacked on to the end of the book, Webb made one of the few incorrect predictions of his long career: "It is safe to say that as time goes on the functions of the un-uniformed Texas Rangers will gradually slip away..." Webb went on to say the new law amounted to the "practical abolition of the (Ranger) force..."

Under the new DPS, the Ranger force would consist of 36 men. Though smaller than it had been in years, the Texas Rangers would have for the first time in its history the benefits of a state-of -the-art crime laboratory, improved communications, and, perhaps most importantly, political stability. In name, the Rangers were 100 years old. With the creation of the DPS, the Rangers would have professionalism to match their tradition.

Tom Hickman, a veteran Ranger, was named senior captain of the Rangers. The force was organized into five companies, each headed by a captain.

Within a year of their incorporation into the DPS, the Texas Rangers got national publicity with the opening of the Texas Centennial Exposition at the State Fair grounds in Dallas. The headquarters for Co. B was set up in a specially-built log building on the fair grounds. Texas Rangers were seen in news reel footage in movie houses around the nation.

MODERNIZATION


Rangers and early Radio Equipment, ©2009, TRHFM,

Depression-era DPS appropriations were lean, but as the decade of the 1930s ended, the Texas Rangers were on their way toward modernization. Fingerprint and modus operandi files were available for Ranger use at the Department's Camp Mabry headquarters in Austin, and Ranger vehicles were equipped with police radio receivers, though two-way radio would not be available to Rangers until the 1940s. Former Ranger Manuel T. (Lone Wolf) Gonzaullas headed the Department's Bureau of Intelligence, which gave Rangers the benefit of chemical, ballistic and microscopic testing in their criminal investigations.In their early years as part of the DPS, Rangers were paid automobile mileage and furnished a Colt .45 and a lever-action Winchester .30 caliber rifle by the state. Rangers still had to provide their own car, horse, and saddle, though the DPS issued horse trailers.    


Ranger and DPS Horse TrailerRangers and DPS Horse Trailer,
©2009, TRHFM

For the first time, Rangers had the benefits of in service training. They also had to write weekly activity reports. The Texas Rangers were part of another agency but their duties essentially were the same as they had been for years. Rangers were called upon to enforce the state's laws, with particular emphasis on felony crimes, gambling and narcotics. Rangers also were used in riot suppression and in locating fugitives.


WORLD WAR II

During World War II, Rangers provided vigilant internal security in Texas. Ranger duties varied from showing air raid warning training films to tracking down escaped German POWs later in the war.

When U.S. Army Rangers landed in France, the German press thought those commandos were Texas Rangers. This apparently caused considerable anxiety among the German people. The Reich's minister of propaganda eventually had to clarify matters.

By 1945, the authorized strength of the Texas Rangers had been increased to 45 men. Two years later, the force was increased again, to 51 men. Texas was growing in the post-war economy and so was the parent agency of the Rangers. In 1949, the Legislature authorized construction of a new headquarters building in North Austin. The same year, the DPS bought its first airplane. A Ranger became the Department's first pilot-investigator.

In their first year under the DPS, the Rangers took part in an estimated 255 cases; two decades later, in 1955, the Rangers were involved in 16,701 cases.

KEEPING THE PEACE

Rangers continued to add to their legend during the 1950's. When inmates in the Rusk State Hospital for the Criminally Insane rioted and took hostages, Ranger Capt. R. A. "Bob" Crowder and the leader of the mob had a conversation and the inmates surrendered.


Annual DPS Photo of Texas Rangers, ©2009, TRHFM,

Rangers made national headlines by their quiet but firm presence at various campuses in the state as school integration was for the most part peacefully implemented. When violence seemed possible at the high school in Mansfield, Rangers were sent to the school. A photograph of Ranger Sgt. Jay Banks, reflectively leaned against a tree in front of the high school as students walked into the building beneath a dummy hanging in effigy, was widely published.

Also during the 1950s, Rangers calmed down a violent steel mill strike in East Texas; shut down illegal gambling in Galveston and participated in numerous cases, some sensational, many merely routine investigations.

Ranger activity in these cases usually was documented as briefly as possible. This was Ranger Zeno Smith's report for July 3, 1956:

Wilson County Sheriff requested the assistance of one Ranger in the investigation of twenty-five head of cattle near Floresville. A lengthy investigation resulted in the filing of five complaints and indictments in each case against the suspect who is still at large. 115 hours.

TODAY'S RANGERS

More than 40 years later, the Texas Rangers are still investigating cattle thefts and major felony crimes. Today, though there is some overlapping, the DPS Criminal Intelligence Service handles most of the gambling cases, the Department's Narcotics Service concentrates on the drug problem and the agency's Motor Vehicle Theft Service handles motor vehicle and equipment thefts.



Sr. Ranger Captain Antonio Leal, Chief of the Texas Rangers
©2009, Texas Department of Public Safety

But the Rangers' caseload has continued to grow, along with the rest of Texas. In the mid 1980's Rangers annually undertook more than 5,700 investigations and filed more than 3,200 criminal cases. Rangers yearly arrested more than 1,200 persons and recovered some $8 million worth of stolen property.

The size of the Ranger force stands at 134 commissioned members distributed in seven companies "A" through "G" and a headquarters detachment in Austin. "Field Ranger" Sergeants are supervised by a Senior Captain (Chief), Headquarters Captain (Assistant Chief), company captains and lieutenants.

 

Texas Ranger Company Divisions

BECOMING A RANGER

Texas Rangers are selected from the ranks of the Department of Public Safety. No recruiting has ever been necessary. It is not unusual for more than 100 officers to apply for only a single opening. To become a Ranger, a DPS officer must have at least eight years of commissioned law enforcement experience (including two years with the DPS) and must have at least 60 hours of college or equivalencies, Ranger appointments are made up on the basis of a competitive examination and oral interviews. Rangers are required to attend at least 40 hours of in-service training every two years, but for most Rangers, the training far exceeds that. Some Rangers receive additional training in areas such as investigative hypnosis, which has played an important role in numerous criminal cases.

EQUIPMENT

In addition to their high educational level, modern Rangers have the benefit of state-of-the-art weaponry and other equipment. Each Ranger is furnished an automatic, 12 gauge shotgun and a semi-automatic rifle. He or she also has a crime scene kit with materials for taking fingerprints and making plaster casts of tracks and tool marks along with additional evidence-gathering necessities.

High-powered sniper rifles, night vision scopes, tear gas guns and grenades and gas masks are available for each Ranger company. Black lights, used for detecting fluid traces on clothing and other items, also are available at the company level. Sophisticated electronic surveillance equipment is at the disposal of the Rangers as well.

Today's Rangers travel by car, airplane or helicopter and occasionally by horse. Rangers are not issued uniforms, they dress as they need to. A Ranger in Dallas might wear a suit and tie while a Ranger assigned to a rural area would likely choose Western wear. During normal everyday activity, Rangers are still expected to wear western boots and have their badges pinned to their shirts.

As Walter Prescott Webb wrote in his 1935 history of the Rangers,

they "are what they are because their enemies have been what they were. The Rangers had to be superior to survive. Their enemies were pretty good...(the Rangers) had to be better..."

That's the way it was, and that's the way it still is.

© 2009,All Rights Reserved. Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, a division of the City of Waco.

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The Official Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum in Waco, Texas