During World War I, but more relevantly, the era of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) the state of Texas authorized the expansion of the Texas Rangers by establishing special commissions for what became known as the Loyalty Rangers. These Rangers were not within the established Rangers chain of command and often were locally hired and paid by agricultural planters, railroad corporations and mining interests to provide security on the US-Mexico border. Despite state authorization of these Rangers, they were more or less deputized vigilantes engaged in policing Mexican American communities during times of political turbulence. Generally, despite the increasingly frequent episodes of violence on the frontier, these Loyalty Rangers also offered effective and often violent support in the maintenance of labor relations between the Mexican American laboring class and Anglo American managerial and employing class. Not unsurprisingly, the laboring class found themselves frequent targets of indiscriminate and extralegal violence by these Rangers.
|Ranger Henry Ransom (seated, far left) and Company D|
In 1919 after more than a dozen episodes of ethnic and racially motivated violence by Rangers killed hundreds of Mexican American community members (who often had no ties to any cross border revolutionary activity) the state’s only Mexican American legislator Jose Tomas Canales sponsored a reform bill that would eliminate the practice of governor’s authorizing the use of special Rangers. Canales proposed reducing and reforming the regular Ranger units, demanded that those hired have law enforcement experience, that the noxious veterans of the Loyal Ranger be barred from serving, and that the governors be restrained from appointing people to Ranger commissions in the form of political patronage in reward for campaign or electoral help (as Governors Ferguson and Hobby both had done). Canales also proposed that Rangers be capable of posting $1000 bonds for their service, a fairly common expectation for elected county office holders such as sheriffs and JPs. The intention was to ensure that gentlemen held these positions, or at least that men of modest means would need the financial backing of local elites in their quest for office. What Canales hoped, of course, was that the governors would stop expanding the Ranger force with special dispensations to reward their friends, and that those politically connected friends would no longer fill the force with prejudiced and often vicious or violent men of small means who were accustomed to using violence against Mexican and Mexican American farm and mine workers.
The Canales bill sparked an enormous outcry by the Rangers in their own defense as well as growing anxiety that the issues which motivated Canales would stain the history of the Rangers and the state. A series of Canales Hearings on the bill occurred in the later 1910s until ultimately the bill failed to pass the state legislature. The hearings make some fascinating, if frustrating reading and can be found here but the growing efforts of Refusing to Forget have recently brought attention to issue as historians seeks to illuminate Texas’s experience of both World War I and the Mexican Revolution one hundred years afterward. As this piece in Slate notes, both the Bullock Museum and local historical commission authorized markers are beginning to talk plainly about the extraordinary use of extralegal violence by vigilantes and militias backed by private extractive companies.
At the invitation of the Fort Bend County library system I will be talking about the broader history of the Texas Rangers from the colonial founding of the Brazos colonies through the American Civil War and into the modern 20th century. This story of the Loyal Rangers in the 1910s is just one of many stories—some heroic, others decidedly not heroic—and I’d love to see you there. If you aren’t nearby, take time to browse the Refusing to Forget blog, or if you had a chance to visit the Bullock Museum this past Spring and saw the exhibit, tell me what you thought about it. If you really want some homework, ask your library to call those Canales hearing transcripts in to your local branch and sit down with the microfilm reader…..