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 mystery of the criminal western world. From the man who came for not building a church to the one who had taken human life, the catalog 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.
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 the 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.