1919 Canales Investigation

1919 Canales Investigation

Adapted from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission "Rangers and Outlaws" page. https://www.tsl.texas.gov/treasures/law/index.html

By the turn of the 20th century, there was talk of abolishing the Rangers. The frontier had been tamed, and the Rangers seemed little more than a relic of earlier, more colorful times. Then came the Mexican Revolution. From 1910-1920, Mexico endured the misery of violence and civil war, and the border country of Texas was soon swept into the maelstrom.

Raids and cattle theft had been a sporadic problem along the Mexican border for decades, but in 1915, revolutionaries began to target symbols of American oppression for destruction, including farms, irrigation systems, and railroad lines. Local law enforcement could not cope with the escalating lawlessness. The Texas governor dispatched the Texas Rangers to restore order and chase the revolutionaries back to the Mexican side of the line. (The unrest spanned the terms of three governors: Oscar Colquitt, James E. "Pa" Ferguson, and William Hobby.)

Unfortunately, these Rangers wrote a black chapter in the history of their organization. Not content to police the area, they engaged in heavy-handed bullying of the Tejano population and worse. Hundreds of murders were committed on both side of the border and millions of dollars in property was destroyed.) Some shocking atrocities were perpetrated against civilians on both sides.

In 1918, Texas state representative José T. Canales of Brownsville launched an investigation into the conduct of the Texas Rangers during the border wars and filed nineteen charges of misconduct against the Rangers. The following year, the Texas legislature formed a joint House-Senate committee to look into Canales' charges. They heard testimony for two weeks.

Canales introduced legislation, House Bill 5, which would, among other measures, limit the number of Texas Rangers to 24 officers, increase pay and professionalism (with requirements for age and prior service). It also called for Rangers to hand over prisoners to local authorities immediately, rather than detain them.

The hearings absolved the Rangers of wrongdoing although it supported findings that there were "gross violation of both civil and criminal laws.” As a result of the investigation the Texas Rangers were reduced in force. Higher recruiting standards were put in place, and the pay of Rangers was increased to attract and retain higher-quality officers. Finally, procedures were implemented to better hear complaints from citizens about misconduct.

The entire transcript of the 1919 Ranger investigation (almost 1500 pages) is now available in PDF format.

Volume 1 (638 pages, 111 Mb)

Volume 2 (460 pages, 85.2 Mb)

Volume 3 (400 pages, 92.5 Mb)


Harris, Charles H. Harris; Sadler, Louis R. (2007). The Texas Rangers and the Mexican Revolution: the bloodiest decade, 1910–1920 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press).

Utley, Robert M. (2007). Lone star Lawmen: the Second Century of the Texas Rangers (Oxford: Oxford University Press).