Ok, I know what you are saying. “Sure looks like you are romanticizing the Texas Rangers, there, Jim.” I’m not. I promise. But to understand the Rangers, you have to understand how they are remembered, how they are memorialized. The primary resource for all things Texas Ranger is the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame in Waco, Texas. The following biographies are from their website and will help explain how deep the lionization of Texas Rangers goes in Texas, why they influenced early border enforcers, and why their presence can still be felt in the Border Patrol.
Stephen Fuller Austin, born in southwestern Virginia, is often called the Father of Texas. He can also be called the Father of the Texas Rangers as he founded the earliest precursor of the famous law enforcement organization.
In 1820, during the last year of Spain’s control of Mexico and Texas, Moses Austin, obtained a commission as an empresario (a settlement agent) to bring settlers to Texas. Moses Austin died before he could carry out this new venture and his son, Stephen F. Austin decided to continue with his father’s plans. He arrived in Texas in August of 1821.
The new government of Mexico was in turmoil and, after canceling and then reinstating his commission, warned Austin that he must be responsible for the conduct of his colonists and provide for their defense.
Following clashes with the Karankawa Indians, Austin formed two companies of “men. . . to act as rangers for the common defense” and paid for their services himself. The first company was formed in May of 1823 under the command of Moses Morrison and responded to raids along the Texas coast by Tonkawa and Karankawa Indians.
In August 1823, Austin asked for an additional ten men to supplement the Morrison company. These two companies are regarded as the predecessors of the modern Texas Rangers. In 1835 a council of colonial Texas representatives created a “Corps of Rangers” to protect the frontier, formalizing the militia that Austin created.
Austin commanded troops during the siege of Bexar in the Texas Revolution (October 1835 – April 1836) and lived to see the creation of the Republic of Texas. He died of pneumonia on December 27, 1836, at the age of forty-three.
John S. Ford was born in South Carolina on May 26, 1815. He grew up on a plantation in Lincoln County, Tennessee. Ford was a good student and by the age of 16 was qualified to teach, but instead he went on to study medicine. He moved to Texas in 1836. Joining the Texas Army he served until 1838. Ford settled in San Augustine and practiced medicine for eight years. During this time he also studied law and passed the bar exam.
In 1844 Ford was elected to the Texas House, where he introduced the resolution to accept annexation to the United States. This was the beginning of a long career of public service. Ford relocated to Austin in 1845 and reported on the activities of the annexation convention as a reporter for the Texas National Register. By the end of the year he had purchased the paper and changed the name to the Texas Democrat. During the Mexican War he served as regimental adjutant under Jack Hays. It was as adjutant that Ford earned his nickname “Rip.” One of his main duties was to report on men killed in action. He completed each report with the words “rest in peace” after his signature. As the number of fatalities increased he abbreviated the phrase to “R.I.P.” Soon the men were calling Ford “Old Rip.”
In 1849 Ford made an exploration of the country between San Antonio and El Paso, publishing a map of what became known as the Ford and Neighbors Trail. He was also named captain of Ranger company stationed between the Nueces and Rio Grande. In 1858 he accepted a commission in the state troops and defeated the Indians in two battles near the Canadian River. IN 1859 he and his troops were sent to the Rio Grande. Here they spent many months trying to quell the activities of Juan Cortina. During the Civil War Ford was elected colonel of the Second Texas Cavalry, with a command in the Rio Grande District. In May of 1865 he led the Confederate troops in the battle of Palmito Ranch, the last battle of the Civil War.
In the years following the War, Ford continued his work as a newspaperman and politician. He was a member of the Constitutional Convention of 1875 and served in the Texas legislature from 1876 to 1879. In his later years, he wrote his reminiscences as well as several articles on Texas history. He died in San Antonio on November 3, 1897. He was buried beside the San Antonio River.
Jack Hays was born 28 January 1817 at Cedar Lick in Wilson County, Tennessee. By the age of fifteen he had moved to Mississippi and began to learn surveying. By mid-1836 Hays was in Texas where he joined a Ranger company under Erastus “Deaf” Smith. He took part in a skirmish with the Mexican Cavalry and assisted in the capture of Juan Sánchez. He was appointed deputy surveyor of the Bexar District. Hays combined his knowledge of Indian warfare with his rangering.
In 1840, Hays was appointed a captain of the Rangers. He proved himself to be a fearless fighter and a good leader of men. His Ranger companies, often mixed groups of Anglos, Hispanics and Indians, engaged in battles and skirmishes with both the Comanches and other hostile Indian tribes, as well as Mexican troops, throughout the early years of the 1840s. Hays and his Rangers were involved in important actions at Plum Creek, Cañon de Ugalde, Bandera Pass, Painted Rock, Salado, and Walker’s Creek. The battle at Walker’s Creek marked a turning point in Indian warfare with the first effective use of repeating firearms in close combat with the Comanche. Hays gained further respect as a fighter during the Mexican War. The First Regiment, Texas Mounted Riflemen, under the command of Colonel Jack Hays, served with the army of Zachary Taylor. Hays’ men scouted for the army and took part in the Battle of Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico in 1846.
George W. Baylor
1832 – 1916
George Wythe Baylor was born August 2, 1832 in Fort Gibson, Indian Territory. The family moved often during his early years. In 1836 they relocated to Natchez, Mississippi where his father died. Over the next several years the family moved to Fort Gibson to Pine Bluff, Arkansas, Little Rock, Arkansas, and finally back to Fort Gibson.
In 1845, Baylor moved to Texas to live with his brother John in Ross Prairie near La Grange. He went to Rutersville College and later, through the influence of his uncle R.E.B. Baylor, he attended Baylor University at Independence, Texas. He worked for a short time as a clerk with the Commissary Department of the U. S. Army at the Alamo in San Antonio.
Gold fever took him to California in 1854. 1856 finds Baylor in San Francisco and a member of the Vigilance Committee. According to family letters, George could not find steady employment or strike it rich in the gold fields. By late 1859 he was back in Texas and living with his brother in Weatherford.
Baylor joined the Confederate cause at the outbreak of the Civil War. Serving first with his brother’s Arizona brigade, by late summer, he was aide-de-camp to Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston. Following the battle of Shiloh, Baylor returned to Texas and was elected colonel of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment of the Arizona Brigade. He also led a Cavalry regiment during the Red River campaign of 1864 and was commended for gallantry. Following the war, Baylor continued his restless lifestyle, never staying in one place for long.
In September of 1879, Baylor was commissioned a lieutenant in the Texas Rangers and ordered to take over the command of a detachment of Rangers in El Paso. Baylor was able, through his knowledge of Spanish and his friendships with many of the leading citizens of El Paso, to put to rest the lingering hatreds caused by the Salt Wars. He was soon involved in protecting the region from attacks from the Apaches. Baylor used local guides and worked closely with Mexican authorities on the south side of the Rio Grande. One of Baylor’s greatest successes as a Ranger came in January 1881. For several weeks the U. S. Tenth Cavalry and the Rangers were kept busy in pursuit Victorio’s band of Apaches.
In January 1881 a small band of Apaches attacked a stagecoach in Quitman Canyon. Following the cold trail, Baylor and his Rangers tracked the Apaches down the bank of the Rio Grande and into Mexico. Along the way they found items taken from the stage. The trail turned back into Texas, where they found a fresh camp site. Following the trail into the Eagle Mountains, the Rangers came across a camp that was only hours old. Baylor’s men met up with a detachment of Rangers from Lt. Nevill’s company at Eagle Springs. After more tracking, the Rangers finally came upon the Indian camp. A fight ensued on the morning of January 29.
The fight, though small, has come down through history as the last Indian battle in Texas. In 1882 Baylor was promoted to captain of Company A. In 1885 Baylor’s Company A was disbanded due to budget cuts. After his Ranger service, Baylor was elected from El Paso to serve in the Texas State House of Representatives. He also served as clerk of the district and circuit courts for a number of years. He died on March 17, 1916 in San Antonio. He is buried in the Confederate Cemetery in San Antonio.
John B. Armstrong was born January 1850 in McMinnville, Tennessee. After having spent time in Missouri and Arkansas, Armstrong moved to Texas in 1871 and settled in Austin.
In the early 1870s, Armstrong was a member of the Travis Rifles (named after William Travis). On May 20, 1875, he enlisted in the Texas Rangers, becoming a member of Capt. Leander McNelly’s Special Forces. He was soon made Sergeant, and took part in the Las Cuevas War. He was also involved in the killing and capture of several suspected criminals in the area between Eagle Pass and Laredo.
After McNelly retired from the Ranger service, Armstrong continued to serve under Lee Hall working in the Eagle Pass area. Armstrong’s most famous exploit was his capture of John Wesley Hardin. It was Hardin’s killing of Comanche County Deputy Sheriff Charles Webb in May 1874, that put the Rangers on his trail. Captured in Louisiana in September 1874 and returned to Texas, Hardin soon escaped and remained out of sight until August 1877.
Recuperating from a gunshot wound, and walking with a cane, Armstrong still applied to the Adjutant General for permission to work the Hardin case. Detective John Duncan was assigned to work with him. Learning of Hardin’s whereabouts in Alabama, Armstrong got a warrant for him, and with Duncan went in pursuit. Hardin’s gang had been menacing the railroad and the railroad was happy to assist the Ranger in way possible to capture the outlaw. Tracking Hardin to Florida, the Ranger enlisted the aid of local lawmen in Pensacola to assist them in the capture.
When the train carrying Hardin came into the station, Armstrong entered the front of the coach. Switching his cane to his left hand, he drew his Colt .45 with his right and confronted Hardin and four members of his gang. One of the men drew and shot at Armstrong who returned the fire killing the man. Hardin’s gun had hung up on his suspenders allowing the Ranger time to hit Hardin over the head, knocking him unconscious. He unarmed the other three men. Returning to Alabama, Armstrong awaited extradition papers and returned Hardin to Texas.
In 1882 he established a cattle ranch in Willacy county. He died 1 May, 1913, and is buried in Austin at the Oakwood Cemetery.
Marvin (Red) Burton was born in 1885 in McLennan County. He never wanted to be a policeman, but he served as Waco’s chief of police for more than four years.
He began his career as a Ranger with his appointment by Governor Pat Neff in 1922. He was instrumental in cleaning up the professional whiskey makers and other major crimes of the troubled oil-boom town of Borger.
In February, 1922, a series of ax murders and rapes began in McLennan County. Two men were convicted of the crimes, but Burton did not believe they were guilty, and even testified in their defense. Later the real murderer was arrested. Burton helped to control the crowd of 5000 at his hanging – the last legal hanging in Texas, in 1923.
Burton’s service as a law officer included police chief, deputy sheriff, Special Ranger, and Texas Ranger. He died in 1970.
Jesse Lee Hall was born in Lexington, North Carolina on October 9, 1849. The original spelling of his name was “Leigh,” but Hall changed it to Lee soon after moving to Texas in 1869. He first worked as a schoolteacher, but soon became a city marshal in Sherman, a deputy sheriff in Denison, and the sergeant of arms for the Texas Senate.
In August 1876, Hall became the second in command of Leander McNelly’s Special Force of Texas Rangers. Serving in the Goliad region, Hall soon broke up a gang of vigilantes and gained the goodwill of the community. In October 1876, Hall became the acting commander of the Ranger company.
He moved the company to Cuero to suppress the Sutton-Taylor Feud. The company was reorganized at Victoria in January 1877. Hall was made 1st Lieutenant and company commander with John B. Armstrong serving as the 2nd Lieutenant. Hall used the company to help suppress cattle rustling, raids across the border fueled by the Diaz revolution in Mexico, and the raiding of John King Fisher and his men. In 1880 Hall retired from the Rangers, turning over command of the company to T. L. Oglesby.
In the early 1880s Hall managed the Dull Ranch and worked to help stop the fence cutting activities in that area. He served briefly as agent to the Anadarko Indians before settling in San Antonio. With the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in 1898, Hall raised two companies for service in the First United States Volunteer Infantry regiment. After the release of the regiment from duty, Hall reentered the
army and saw action as a leader of the Macabee Scouts in the Philippines. He was discharged on October 6, 1900.
Lee Hall died on March 17, 1911 and was buried in the National Cemetery at San Antonio. Former Adjutant General Wilburn H. King characterized Hall as “a man of daring and almost reckless physical courage, of fine physique and resistless energy.”
John Reynolds Hughes was born 11 February 1855 in Illinois. The family later moved to Kansas. At the age of fourteen Hughes left home and eventually made his way into Indian Territory. He lived among the Choctaw and Osage Indians for about four years and then lived with the Comanche in the Fort Sill area. There he worked as a trader and for a short time as a trail driver. Hughes’ right arm was partially disabled during a fight, but he quickly learned to shoot with his left hand. Hughes moved to Texas, buying a farm near Liberty Hill where he raised horses.
In 1886 several horses were stolen from his and neighboring ranches. Hughes trailed the men for several months, killing some of them and capturing the rest. He returned the stolen horses to their owners. His feat gained the attention of not only the outlaws but also the Texas Rangers.
In July 1887, Hughes helped Texas Ranger Ira Aten track down and kill escaped murderer Judd Roberts. In August 1887, Hughes was persuaded to join the Texas Rangers. He had risen to the rank of sergeant in Company D Frontier Battalion by 1893. When their Captain, Frank Jones, was killed in June 1893, Hughes was promoted to captain of Company D. For most of his career, Hughes served along the border of southwest Texas.
In 1901, when the Frontier Battalion was abolished and the State Rangers created, John Hughes was selected as one of the four Captains of the new companies. He served until his retirement in 1915. During the 28 years he was a Ranger, Hughes dealt with a wide variety of cases including thefts at the Shafter silver mines, cattle rustlers, horse thieves, murders and even the Maher-Fitzsimmons prize fight. He was known as “the border boss.”
In his book Trails and Trials of a Texas Ranger, W. W. Sterling described Captain Hughes in this way: “John R. Hughes had every requisite of a great captain: initiative, courage, intelligence and judgment. He loved the Service. One of the axioms he used in enlisting his men. . . was ‘Nerve without judgment is dangerous, and has no place in the Ranger Service.’ “
John Hughes never married. He spent his retirement years prospecting and traveling by automobile. He was also involved in the banking industry, becoming chairman of the board and largest stockholder of the Citizens Industrial Bank of Austin, but he continued to live in El Paso.
In 1940 John R. Hughes received the Certificate of Valor, an award commemorating the the bravery of peace officers. He moved to Austin to live with a niece, and on 3 June 1947, after living through the end of the frontier and two world wars he committed suicide at the age of 92. He was buried in the State Cemetery in Austin, Texas.
James B. Gillett was born in Austin, Texas on November 4, 1856. By 1872 the family had moved to Lampasas. Gillett soon started working at the local ranches. In 1875, he went to Menard and joined the Texas Rangers.
His first service was with Captain D. W. Roberts Company D. He later served with Captain N. O. Reynolds and G. W. Baylor. Gillett served mainly in the counties of Kimble, Mason, Menard, Kerr, San Saba, Llano, Lampasas, Burnet, and El Paso counties. In addition to fights with the Kiowa, Comanche and Apache Indians, Gillett also dealt with cattle thieves and outlaws. In January of 1881 Gillett, as part of a company led by G. W. Baylor, participated in what is called the last fight between Texas Rangers and Indians. After a pursuit of Apache Indians who had attacked a stagecoach, the Rangers surprised the Indian camp, killing six, including women and children, capturing a woman and two children and scattering the rest of the band into the mountains.
In December of 1881, after six years service, Gillett resigned from the Rangers. He was appointed assistant city marshal of El Paso. In June of 1882 he became Marshall of El Paso. Gillett had a reputation as a man without fear. He left the Marshall’s office in April 1885, becoming the manager of the Estado Land and Cattle Company. He held this position for six years, resigning to begin ranching for himself.
Gillett ranched south of Alpine until 1904 when he moved his family to Roswell, New Mexico. The family moved back to Texas in 1907. He bought the Barrell Spring Ranch and began building a premium herd of registered Herefords. Gillett retired from ranching in 1923, leased his ranch and sold his cattle to his son Milton. Moving to Marfa he became very active in service clubs and helped to organize the West Texas Historical Association.
In 1921, Gillett wrote and published his memoirs, Six years with the Texas Rangers. It has remained in print ever since. The book was condensed into a textbook in 1928 and was used in public schools for many years in at least seventeen states. James B. Gillett died of heart failure on June 11, 1937. He was buried in the Marfa cemetery.
For Further Reading:
Texas Ranger Biographies: Those Who Served, 1910-1921
Texas Ranger Tales: Hard-Riding Stories from the Lone Star State
Texas Ranger: The Epic Life of Frank Hamer, the Man Who Killed Bonnie and Clyde