Everyone knows the ages-old quip that says, “Texas is a state of mind.” It’s a statement that carries validity, but there’s one question that’s seldom raised.
Specifically, it’s a state of mind in whose minds? Certainly, it applies to Texas natives, as well as some transplants. It also applies to people who’ve never set foot on Texas soil. The mystique enveloping the state is so thick that it’s even found a place in foreign countries.
Proof of that statement came into full view a few years ago when citizens from foreign lands (especially Japan and Germany) paid significant bucks to visit Texas “ranches” where they could dress up as their favorite Old West personalities (maybe Billy the Kid or Wyatt Earp), ride horses, and strap a six-shooter to their thigh. (Seriously.)
The fascination with Texas was, and still is, a blend of fact and fiction laced with legends and heart-pounding stories of justice prevailing over lawlessness. And, standing head and shoulders over everyone else was, and still is, the Texas Rangers.
It was Stephen F. Austin, the “Father of Texas,” who birthed the Rangers in 1823 with ten men. He recruited them to protect the settlers who began arriving and colonizing even before Texas claimed statehood in 1845. They were paid from Austin’s personal pocket.
The developmental history of the Texas Rangers was as complex and tumultuous as the unwinding of the state itself. It was, after all, the wild west. Laws were slowly unfolding. There was more gray area than there were defined lines, and there were times when too much was left to interpretation. As a result, the Texas Rangers are still quietly haunted by some dark days of racial and social injustice.
The official kick-off for the year-long celebration marking the Rangers’ 200th birthday began January 13, 2023, at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo. Russell Molina, who was named Chairman of the Bicentennial festivities, has invested large portions of his heart and soul into the planning and execution of the event-filled twelve months.
“We laid our plans around four main goals,” Molina said. “First is a commemoration of the 200 years of service to Texas and its residents. The second is to educate the public about modern Rangers. Many people don’t realize the Rangers come under the Department of Public Safety (DPS) which was established in 1935 and they must serve first as a DPS Trooper before applying to become a Ranger.
“Traveling across the state and building awareness about the various divisions of DPS is third. The fourth goal is to raise funds to support projects within the DPS.”
Currently, 166 men and women serve as Texas Rangers across the state’s 254 counties.
Molina is passionate about the Rangers’ contributions to Texas, but he does not shy away from admitting there was a “bad and downright ugly” period. He faces the 1918 Porviner massacre when fifteen unarmed Mexican boys and men were killed. He also addresses allegations that Rangers supported white supremacy.
“Unacceptable behaviors often happen during the development of almost any organization,” he said. “My question is, is it appropriate to judge people in the past by the moral standards of our own time, especially when we’re discussing an organization that has done so much good over 200 years?”
Some of the Texas Rangers’ “firsts” include the development of the Colt Walker pistol in the 1800s, the first use of forensics in Texas in 1891 to convict a murderer, the state’s first car chase in 1910, one of the first law enforcement agencies to use aerial surveillance in 1922, and use of female undercover Petticoat Rangers to identify illegal gambling operations in the 1930s.
Early Rangers earned $1.25 daily plus $5.00 monthly for food and supplies. The men moved over the prairies as lightly as Indians. They provided their own horses, tack, ammunition, rifle, pistol, and a knife.
Today’s Rangers investigate many of the state’s most serious crimes. Their primary intent is the same as their predecessors of 200 years ago – to protect their family, friends, and fellow citizens from harm.
To join the birthday party, check their website for events and general information.