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Old West Legends IconOLD WEST LEGENDS

Rangering

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By Andy Adams in 1906

 

No State in the Union was ever called upon to meet and deal with the criminal element as was Texas. She was border territory upon her admission to the sisterhood of states. An area equal to four ordinary states, and a climate that permitted of outdoor life the year round, made it a desirable rendezvous for criminals. The sparsely settled condition of the country, the flow of immigration being light until the seventies, was an important factor.

 

The fugitives from justice of the older states with a common impulse turned toward this empire of isolation. Europe contributed her quota, more particularly from the south, bringing with them the Mafia and vendetta. Once it was the mysterious of the criminal western world. From the man who came for not building a church to the one who had taken human life, the catalogue of crime was fully represented.

 

Humorous writers tell us that it was a breach of good manners to ask a man his name, or what state he was from, or to examine the brand on his horse very particularly. It can be safely said that there was a great amount of truth mingled with the humor. Some of these fugitives from justice became good citizens, but the majority sooner or later took up former callings.

 

Texas Rangers

Texas Rangers. This image available for photographic prints

 and downloads HERE!

 

 

 

Along with this criminal immigration came the sturdy settler, the man intent on building a home and establishing a fireside. Usually following lines of longitude, he came from other Southern States. He also brought with him the fortitude of the pioneer that reclaims the wilderness and meets any emergency that confronts him. To meet and deal with this criminal element as a matter of necessity soon became an important consideration. His only team of horses was frequently stolen. His cattle ran off their range, their ear-marks altered and brands changed. Frequently it was a band of neighbors, together in a posse, who followed and brought to bay the marauders. It was an unlucky moment for a horse-thief when he was caught in possession of another man's horse. The impromptu court of emergency had no sentiment in regard to passing sentence of death. It was a question of guilt, and when that was established, Judge Lynch passed sentence.

 

As the state advanced, the authorities enlisted small companies of men called Rangers. The citizens' posse soon gave way to this organized service. The companies, few in number at first, were gradually increased until the state had over a dozen companies in the field. These companies numbered anywhere from ten to sixty men. It can be said with no discredit to the state that there were never half enough companies of men for the work before them.

 

There was a frontier on the south and west of over two thousand miles to be guarded. A fair specimen of the large things in that state was a shoe-string congressional district, over eleven hundred miles long. To the Ranger, then, is all credit due for guarding this western frontier against the Indians and making life and the possession of property a possibility. On the south was to be met the bandit, the smuggler, and every grade of criminal known to the code.

 

A generation had come and gone before the Ranger's work was fairly done. The emergency demanded brave men. They were ready. Not necessarily born to the soil, as a boy the guardian of the frontier was expert in the use of firearms, and in the saddle a tireless rider. As trailers many of them were equal to hounds. In the use of that arbiter of the frontier, the six-shooter, they were artists. As a class, never before or since have their equals in the use of that arm come forward to question this statement.

 

The average criminal, while familiar with firearms, was as badly handicapped as woman would be against man. The Ranger had no equal. The emergency that produced him no longer existing, he will never have a successor. Any attempt to copy the original would be hopeless imitation. He was shot at short range oftener than he received his monthly wage. He admired the criminal that would fight, and despised one that would surrender on demand. He would nurse back to life a dead-game man whom his own shot had brought to earth, and give a coward the chance to run any time if he so desired.

 

He was compelled to lead a life in the open and often descend to the level of the criminal. He had few elements in his makeup, and but a single purpose; but that one purpose--to rid the state of crime—he executed with a vengeance. He was poorly paid for the service rendered. Frequently there was no appropriation with which to pay him; then he lived by rewards and the friendship of ranchmen.

 

The Ranger always had a fresh horse at his command, -- no one thought of refusing him this. Rust-proof, rugged, and tireless, he gave the state protection for life and property. The emergency had produced the man.

 

"Here, take my glass and throw down on that grove of timber yonder, and notice if there is any sign of animal life to be seen," said Sergeant "Smoky" C----, addressing "Ramrod," a private in Company X of the Texas Rangers. The sergeant and the four men had been out on special duty, and now we had halted after an all night's ride looking for shade and water, -- the latter especially. We had two prisoners, (horse-thieves), some extra saddle stock, and three pack mules.

 

It was an hour after sun-up. We had just come out of the foothills, where the Brazos has its source, and before us lay the plains, dusty and arid. This grove of green timber held out a hope that within it might be found what we wanted. Eyesight is as variable as men, but Ramrod's was known to be reliable for five miles with the naked eye, and ten with the aid of a good glass. He dismounted at the sergeant's request, and focused the glass on this oasis, and after sweeping the field for a minute or so, remarked languidly, "There must be water there. I can see a band of antelope grazing out from the grove. Hold your mules! Something is raising a dust over to the south. Good! It's cattle coming to the water."

 

While he was covering the field with his glass, two of the boys were threatening with eternal punishment the pack mules, which showed an energetic determination to lie down and dislodge their packs by rolling.

 

"Cut your observations short as possible there, Ramrod, or there will be re-packing to do. Mula, you hybrid son of your father, don't you dare to lie down!"

 

But Ramrod's observations were cut short at sight of the cattle, and we pushed out for the grove, about seven miles distant. As we rode this short hour's ride, numerous small bands of antelope were startled, and in turn stood and gazed at us in bewilderment.

 

"I'm not tasty," said Sergeant Smoky, "but I would give the preference this morning to a breakfast of a well-roasted side of ribs of a nice yearling venison over the salt hoss that the Lone Star State furnishes this service. Have we no hunters with us?"

 

"Let me try," begged a little man we called "Cushion-foot." What his real name was none of us knew. The books, of course, would show some name, and then you were entitled to a guess. He was as quiet as a mouse, as reliable as he was quiet and as noiseless in his movements as a snake. One of the boys went with him, making quite a detour from our course, but always remaining in sight. About two miles out from the grove, we sighted a small band of five or six antelope, which soon took fright and ran to the nearest elevation. Here they made a stand about half a mile distant. We signaled to our hunters, who soon spotted them and dismounted. We could see Cushion sneaking through the short grass like a coyote, "Conajo" leading the horses, well hidden between them. We held the antelopes' attention by riding around in a circle, flagging them. Several times Cushion lay flat, and we thought he was going to risk a long shot. Then he would crawl forward like a cat, but finally came to his knee. We saw the little puff, the band squatted, jumping to one side far enough to show one of their number down and struggling in the throes of death.

 

Painting of a Texas Ranger

Painting of a Texas Ranger by Hermon Adams

 

 "Good long shot, little man," said the sergeant, "and you may have the choice of cuts, just so I get a rib."

 

We saw Conajo mount and ride up on a gallop, but we held our course for the grove. We were busy making camp when the two rode in with a fine two-year-old buck across the pommel of Cushion's saddle. They had only disemboweled him, but Conajo had the heart as a trophy of the accuracy of the shot, though Cushion hadn't a word to say. It was a splendid heart shot. Conajo took it over and showed it to the two Mexican prisoners. It was an object lesson to them. One said to the other, "Es un buen tirador."

 

We put the prisoners to roasting the ribs, and making themselves useful in general. One man guarded them at their work, while all the others attended to the hobbling and other camp duties.

 

It proved to be a delightful camp. We aimed to stay until sunset, the days being sultry and hot. Our appetites were equal to the breakfast, and it was a good one.

 

"To do justice to an occasion like this," said Smoky as he squatted down with about four ribs in his hand, "a man by rights ought to have at least three fingers of good liquor under his belt. But then we can't have all the luxuries of life in the far West; sure to be something lacking."

 

"I never hear a man hanker for liquor," said Conajo, as he poured out a tin cup of coffee, "but I think of an incident my father used to tell us boys at home. He was sheriff in Kentucky before we moved to Texas. Was sheriff in the same county for twelve years. Counties are very irregular back in the old States. Some look like a Mexican brand.

 

One of the rankest, rabid political admirers my father had lived away out on a spur of this county. He lived good thirty miles from the county seat. Didn't come to town over twice a year, but he always stopped, generally over night, at our house. My father wouldn't have it any other way. Talk about thieves being chummy; why, these two we have here couldn't hold a candle to that man and my father. I can see them parting just as distinctly as though it was yesterday. He would always abuse my father for not coming to see him. 'Sam,' he would say, -- my father's name was Sam, -- 'Sam, why on earth is it that you never come to see me? I've heard of you within ten miles of my plantation, and you have never shown your face to us once. Do you think we can't entertain you? Why, Sam, I've known you since you weren't big enough to lead a hound dog. I've known you since you weren't knee to a grasshopper.'

 

Chuckwagon Cook"'Let me have a word,' my father would put in, for he was very mild in speaking; 'let me have a word, Joe. I hope you don't think for a moment that I wouldn't like to visit you; now do you?'

 

"'No, I don't think so, Sam, but you don't come. That's why I'm complaining. You never have come in the whole ten years you've been sheriff, and you know that we have voted for you to a man, in our neck of the woods.' My father felt this last remark, though I think he never realized its gravity before, but he took him by one hand, and laying the other on his shoulder said, 'Joe, if I have slighted you in the past, I'm glad you have called my attention to it. Now, let me tell you the first time that my business takes me within ten miles of your place I'll make it a point to reach your house and stay all night, and longer if I can.'

 

"'That's all I ask, Sam,' was his only reply. Now I've learned lots of the ways of the world since then. I've seen people pleasant to each other, and behind their backs the tune changed. But I want to say to you fellows that those two old boys were not throwing off on each other--not a little bit.

 

They meant every word and meant it deep. It was months afterwards, and father had been gone for a week when he came home. He told us about his visit to Joe Evans. It was winter time, and mother and us boys were sitting around the old fireplace in the evening. 'I never saw him so embarrassed before in my life,' said father.

 

'I did ride out of my way, but I was glad of the chance. Men like Joe Evans are getting scarce.' He nodded to us boys. 'It was nearly dark when I rode up to his gate. He recognized me and came down to the gate to meet me. "Howdy, Sam," was all he said. There was a troubled expression in his face, though he looked well enough, but he couldn't simply look me in the face. Just kept his eye on the ground. He motioned for a nigger boy and said to him, "Take his horse." He started to lead the way up the path, when I stopped him. "Look here, Joe," I said to him. "Now, if there's anything wrong, anything likely to happen in the family, I can just as well drop back on the pike and stay all night with some of the neighbors. You know I'm acquainted all around here." He turned in the path, and there was the most painful look in his face I ever saw as he spoke: "Hell, no, Sam, there's nothing wrong. We've got plenty to eat, plenty of beds, no end of horse-feed, but by G----, Sam, there isn't a drop of whiskey on the place!"'

 

A range rider, 1913"You see it was hoss and cabello, and Joe seemed to think the hoss on him was an unpardonable offense. Salt? You'll find it in an empty one-spoon baking-powder can over there. In those panniers that belong to that big sorrel mule. Look at Mexico over there burying his fangs in the venison, will you?"

 

Ramrod was on guard, but he was so hungry himself that he was good enough to let the prisoners eat at the same time, although he kept them at a respectable distance. He was old in the service, and had gotten his name under a baptism of fire. He was watching a pass once for smugglers at a point called Emigrant Gap. This was long before he had come to the present company. At length the man he was waiting for came along. Ramrod went after him at close quarters, but the fellow was game and drew his gun. When the smoke cleared away, Ramrod had brought down his horse and winged his man right and left. The smuggler was not far behind on the shoot, for Ramrod's coat and hat showed he was calling for him. The captain was joshing the prisoner about his poor shooting when Ramrod brought him into camp and they were dressing couldn't find him. He's built like a ramrod."

 

After breakfast was over we smoked and yarned. It would be two-hour guards for the day, keeping an eye on the prisoners and stock, only one man required; so we would all get plenty of sleep. Conajo had the first guard after breakfast. "I remember once," said Sergeant Smoky, as he crushed a pipe of twist with the heel of his hand, "we were camped out on the 'Sunset' railway. I was a corporal at the time. There came a message one day to our captain, to send a man up West on that line to take charge of a murderer.

 

The result was, I was sent by the first train to this point. When I arrived I found that an Irishman had killed a Chinaman. It was on the railroad, at a bridge construction camp, that the fracas took place. There were something like a hundred employees at the camp, and they ran their own boarding-tent. They had a Chinese cook at this camp; in fact, quite a number of Chinese were employed at common labor on the road.

 

"Some cavalryman, it was thought, in passing up and down from Fort Stockton to points on the river, had lost his saber, and one of this bridge gang had found it. When it was brought into camp no one would have the old corn-cutter; but this Irishman took a shine to it, having once been a soldier himself. The result was, it was presented to him. He ground it up like a machete, and took great pride in giving exhibitions with it. He was an old man now, the storekeeper for the iron supplies, a kind of trusty job. The old saber renewed his youth to a certain extent, for he used it in self-defense shortly afterwards.

 

Cowboys sitting down for supperThis Erin-go-bragh--his name was McKay, I think--was in the habit now and then of stealing a pie from the cook, and taking it into his own tent and eating it there. The Chink kept missing his pies, and got a helper to spy out the offender. The result was they caught the old man red-handed in the act. The Chink armed himself with the biggest butcher-knife he had and went on the warpath. He found the old fellow sitting in his storeroom contentedly eating the pie. The old man had his eyes on the cook, and saw the knife just in time to jump behind some kegs of nuts and bolts. The Chink followed him with murder in his eye, and as the old man ran out of the tent he picked up the old saber. Once clear of the tent he turned and faced him, made only one pass, and cut his head off as though he were beheading a chicken.

 

They hadn't yet buried the Chinaman when I got there. I'm willing to testify it was an artistic job. They turned the old man over to me, and I took him down to the next station, where an old alcalde lived, -- Roy Bean by name. This old judge was known as 'Law west of the Pecos,' as he generally construed the law to suit his own opinion of the offense. He wasn't even strong on testimony. He was a ranchman at this time, so when I presented my prisoner he only said, 'Killed a Chinese, did he? Well, I ain't got time to try the case to-day. Cattle suffering for water, and three windmills out of repair. Bring him back in the morning.' I took the old man back to the hotel, and we had a jolly good time together that day. I never put a string on him, only locked the door, but we slept together. The next morning I took him before the alcalde. Bean held court in an outhouse, the prisoner seated on a bale of flint hides. Bean was not only judge but prosecutor, as well as counsel for the defense. 'Killed a Chinaman, did you?'

 

 

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