The Texas Rangers: From Horses to Helicopters
By Mike Cox
A bronze statue of Republic of Texas-era Ranger George B. Erath stands in front of the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum in Waco. Beside it, sealed in a stone-covered concrete vault, is a 36 by 24-inch steel time capsule containing the musings and memorabilia of various active and retired 20th-century Rangers.
The capsule was sealed in place on May 28, 1998, and dedicated on June 6 during ceremonies marking the 175th anniversary of the Rangers. But when the argon gas-filled capsule is opened in 2098, future historians will not find the answer to one nagging question: Just when did the Texas Rangers really begin?
The Beginning of the Texas Rangers
The 1998 ceremony, attended by Gov. George W. Bush, was based on the popular – and majority – belief that the Rangers came into being in the summer of 1823, when Texas colonizer Stephen F. Austin penned a document on the back of a proclamation by the Baron de Bastrop. Austin did not date what he wrote, but the piece of paper he was using bore, on the other side, the date of August 4. What the empresario set down on that paper was that he would "... employ ten men ... to act as rangers for the common defense ... The wages I will give said ten men is fifteen dollars a month payable in property ..."
Three Texas Rangers circa 1892. Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum.
Other historians, most notably Dr. Malcolm D. McLean, editor of the multivolume Papers Concerning Robertson’s Colony in Texas, hold that the Rangers were not formally constituted until mid-June 1835, when Robert M. Coleman led a company of mounted riflemen against a party of Tonkawa Indians in present-day Limestone County. Another school of thought is that the Rangers were not an official entity until Nov. 24, 1835, when the provisional government of Texas – on the verge of rebellion against Mexico – passed an ordinance creating a "Corps of Rangers" consisting of three companies.
No matter what their date of origin, the history of the Texas Rangers is a vital and colorful part of the history of Texas.
Specifically, as Texas was settled, the Rangers evolved from a paramilitary force primarily concerned with Indian fighting to a civil law enforcement organization. Sometimes the Rangers were government employees, sometimes they were unpaid volunteers. As tenacious as the enemies they faced, a lack of funding was a constant obstacle for the Rangers until well into the 20th century.
The Earliest Rangers
The early Rangers furnished their own clothing, weapons and horses. In return, those who were not volunteers earned a little money and a lot of fame.
For nearly half a century, if their beginning is accepted as 1823, Rangers chose their own officers. Even after the state got around to designating officers as well as furnishing its Rangers weapons and food, quality leadership sometimes was lacking. Partisan politics interfered with their effectiveness at various periods in their history and sometimes the Rangers were overly prone to shoot first and ask questions later. But history bears out that the Rangers were right more than they were wrong and prevailed more often than they did not.
John (Jack) Coffee Hays, a young surveyor from Tennessee, was the first Ranger captain to gain fame for his exploits. As a Ranger in the 1840s, he played a major role in establishing the Ranger reputation – a mixture of fearlessness and innovative fighting techniques. His Rangers learned from the Comanches, adding something the Indians did not have – five-shot revolvers. (The six-shooter would come later, thanks to one of Hays' Rangers, Samuel Walker. Walker suggested various improvements to pistol designer Sam Colt, including the addition of another round.) With revolvers in their hands as they faced the fierce Comanches, the Rangers had the frontier equivalent of nuclear weapons.
Within a year of Texas' admission as the 28th state of the Union, the United States and Mexico were at war. Several companies of Rangers were mustered into federal service. While they were under the command of the U.S. military, they served as scouts and guerrilla fighters. By war's end they had earned a nickname on the south side of the river: "Los Diablos Tejanos" – the Texas Devils.
Rangers in the Mexican War
The Ranger reputation for effectiveness was firmly established by 1848, thanks to Capt. Hays and others and the newspaper coverage of their role in the Mexican War.
"Four newly raised ranging companies, have all been organized, and taken their several stations on our frontier," the Victoria Advocate reported on Nov. 16, 1848. "We are much pleased. We know they are true men; and they know exactly what they are about. With many of them Indian and Mexican fighting has been their trade for years. That they may be permanently retained in the service on our frontier is extremely desirable; and we cannot permit ourselves to doubt but such will be the case."
Despite the sentiment expressed by that anonymous scribe, permanence eluded the Rangers for nearly another quarter of a century. The state funded and organized Ranger companies only when necessary. Twice during the 1850s, Indian depredations along the frontier forced the state to fund Ranger operations. Several companies, including one led by the legendary William Alexander Anderson Wallace – better known simply as Bigfoot – joined the U.S. Army in an Indian campaign in the summer of 1850.
As more settlers came, planting their homes and their crops on lands that were the Indians' traditional living and hunting areas, need for a standing Ranger organization grew.
By the mid-1850s, protection from Indians – or the lack of protection – was a major political issue. The Indian situation in Texas contributed to Sam Houston's defeat in the only statewide election he ever lost. Houston was defeated in the 1857 gubernatorial election by Hardin R. Runnels, who promised action against the Indians. On Jan. 27, 1858, the newly inaugurated governor signed a bill appropriating $70,000 to fund a force of Rangers. Commissioned as Senior Captain was John Salmon "RIP" (for Rest In Peace) Ford.
Ford recruited 100 Rangers and soon mounted a major campaign against the Plains Indians, who had persisted in their raiding. On May 12, 1858, Ford and his Rangers attacked a Comanche village on the Canadian River in what is now Oklahoma, killing at least 76 Indians, including their chief Iron Jacket.
The Canadian River campaign was a significant event in Ranger history because it marked the point at which the people of Texas, and their political leadership, understood that they could not rely on a thinly stretched U.S. military for protection. Texas needed a permanent Ranger force. But by the late 1850s, more serious political problems were afoot. Any hope of a standing Ranger force disappeared in the gathering clouds of war.
The Civil War and Reconstruction
During the Civil War, men who for whatever reason choose not to fight Yankees stayed in Texas and scouted the frontier for Indians, deserters and Union sympathizers. They were not called Rangers, but that's what they were in function.
Rangers during Reconstruction achieved mixed results. The state fielded 14 Ranger companies in 1870-71 and 41 local companies of minutemen, but the effort at frontier protection failed for lack of funding. The effort was to have been funded by the sale of bonds, but no one wanted to buy the state's paper. A company under German-born Captain H.J. Richarz did some successful Indian fighting in South Texas, but another company experienced a whiskey-fueled mutiny.
The first Ranger historian was Wilburn H. King, a Confederate veteran and former legislator who served as Adjutant General from 1881 to 1891. Six years after leaving the Adjutant General's Department, King contributed a history of the Rangers to Dallas writer Dudley G. Wooten's A Comprehensive History of Texas. In flowery Victorian language, King assessed the early-day Rangers: "No gaudy trappings, no gay equipments, had any place in the necessary outfit of a Ranger, and no fifes nor drums, no brass bands, and no silken banners nor fluttering pennons accompanied these stern men on their swift and silent rides on the trail of the foe ... This remarkable organization was the outgrowth of the times and admirably suited to the circumstances and conditions under which it was developed."
The Frontier Battalion
An organization even more "admirably suited to the circumstances and conditions" of Texas was created by the Legislature in 1874: the Frontier Battalion. Six companies of 75 men each under the overall command of Major John B. Jones, a Civil War veteran from Corsicana, were in the field by that summer.
Under Jones, the Frontier Battalion achieved results in a state that had been plagued by Indians and outlaws. More than 40 parties of Indians raided on the frontier of the state during the battalion's first six months. By September 1875, no Indian raids were reported anywhere in the battalion's area of operations, a hunk of Texas 100 miles wide stretching 400 miles from the Red River to the Rio Grande. By their count, the Rangers killed a minimum of 27 Indians, though they believed many additional wounded raiders later died.
"We have had in all," Jones reported to Adjutant General William Steele, "nineteen engagements with Indians [and] pursued about forty bands that we could not overtake. In a majority of instances we met them coming in, or found their trail, followed them in and prevented them from doing mischief."
The Rangers also were preventing mischief on the part of certain citizens and newly arrived visitors who thought they could get away with cattle theft or murder along the sparsely settled frontier.
"Have broken up several organizations of outlaws and fugitives from justice," Jones continued in his report. "Have had six fights with them. Have arrested and turned over to the civil authorities about 110 fugitives from justice, and recovered ... fifteen or twenty thousand dollars worth of cattle and horses and returned them to the rightful owners."
Texas Rangers vs. Sam Bass and John Wesley Hardin
Two years after Jones submitted his first biennial report, one piece of mischief prevented by the Rangers was a bank robbery planned by Sam Bass and his gang for Round Rock, a flourishing little railroad town 18 miles north of Austin.
"We are at Georgetown on our way to Round Rock to rob the bank, the railroad or to get killed," an informant who was a peripheral member of Bass' gang wrote Jones on July 17, 1878, "so for God's sake be there to prevent it."
Jones sent three men, the only Rangers he had in Austin, rushing to Round Rock. To back them up, he ordered Company E, then camped near San Saba, to ride for Williamson County. The following day, July 18, Jones and a Travis County deputy sheriff who was a former Ranger took the train from Austin to Round Rock to join the trio of Rangers who had ridden in earlier. The full company that Jones wanted in Round Rock was still en route.
The Bass gang was not as large as Jones thought. Other than Bass, there was Seab Barnes, Frank Jackson and Jim Murphy, Jones' informant. On July 19, Bass, Barnes and Jackson rode into town to check out the bank and study possible getaway routes. While they were at it, they stopped by a store to buy some tobacco.
Outside the store, Bass and his fellow outlaws were confronted by Williamson County Sheriff's deputy Ahijah W. "Caige" Grimes, who had noticed they were packing pistols. As the deputy moved to disarm Bass, the outlaw pulled his revolver and fired five shots. Grimes fell dead. A general gun battle ensued as the Travis County deputy who had accompanied Jones to Round Rock, Maurice Moore, returned the outlaw's fire. Soon Jones and the Rangers came running to the scene and began firing on the Bass gang as they rode out of town. One Ranger dropped Barnes and another wounded Bass. Aided by Jackson, he disappeared into the brush outside town.
Ten minutes after the shooting, Company E reached Round Rock and began searching for Bass and Jackson. The next day, the Rangers found the mortally wounded Bass, sitting against a tree. They took him to town, where he died on Sunday, July 20. Jackson was never heard of again.
John Wesley Hardin, another noted outlaw, managed to survive his confrontation with the Rangers. Hardin, reputed to have killed 31 men, was taken into custody near Pensacola, Fla., in 1877 by Ranger Lt. John B. Armstrong. Hardin, wanted for the murder of a Comanche County sheriff's deputy, was returned to Texas. He served a lengthy prison sentence, but in 1896, not long after his release from the penitentiary in Huntsville, he was shot to death in El Paso.
Armstrong learned his rangering while serving in South Texas under Leander H. McNelly, another individualist captain who added to the Ranger legend. McNelly's men were not members of the Frontier Battalion. They had been commissioned under a different statute as members of a Special Force intended to focus on the Texas-Mexican border. But again, like the men of the Frontier Battalion, they were Rangers in function if not title. McNelly's Rangers left graves of outlaws and Mexican bandits all across South Texas, once piling up 12 bodies of "adjudicated" cattle thieves in Brownsville as a reminder to anyone else inclined to take livestock not belonging to them.
Even Alex Sweet, whose satirical weekly humor magazine, Texas Siftings, enjoyed a large national circulation, treated the Rangers with fair reverence. In an 1882 article he wrote: "The rangers have done more to suppress lawlessness, to capture criminals, and to prevent Mexican and Indian raids on the frontier, than any other agency employed by either the State or national government."
Successful as they generally were, Frontier Battalion Rangers were not as autonomous as their legend suggests. They still had to follow orders. In the spring of 1885, Capt. J.T. Gillespie was forced to issue an order reminding his men in Company E where they could and could not wear their pistols. Sidearms were for Ranger business only, he said. "Visiting houses of prostitution with your arms is forbidden unless in company with some city or county officer," the captain wrote. "Complaint ... has been made that members of Company E while visiting said houses of prostitution have rudely displayed their pistols to the annoyance of all present."
"Though organized originally for the protection of the frontier only," King wrote in 1897, "the healthful and beneficial effects of their work became so marked as to attract attention everywhere ..."
Feuds, Fence-cutting and Lynch Mobs
Ranger work was not always "healthful" – particularly for felons – but their services always were in demand. They fought their last Indians in January 1881 in the mountains of far West Texas, but after that there were feuds to settle, barbed-wire fence cutters to stop, killers and robbers to catch, and lynch mobs to suppress. During the fence-cutting crisis in the mid-1880s, Ranger Ira Aten proposed an innovative solution: eliminate fence cutters by rigging fences with bombs triggered to explode if the fence wire was cut. Headquarters in Austin ignored the suggestion, but it is reflective of 19th- century Ranger thinking.
By the end of that century, at least 62 Rangers had died in the line of duty from Indian arrows or outlaw bullets.
Politics and the Rangers
At the beginning of the 20th century, what threatened to kill off the Rangers was not the criminals they encountered but lawyers. Defense attorneys began challenging the legality of Ranger arrests by pointing out that the 1874 law that created the Frontier Battalion provided that only "officers" could take someone into custody. Gov. J.D. Sayers requested an opinion from Attorney General Thomas S. Smith. On May 26, 1900, Smith interpreted the meaning of "officer" as someone in command, not a peace officer or police officer. Until corrective legislation could be passed, Ranger privates suddenly were little more than armed guards, powerless to make an arrest. Only their supervisors – of which there were four for the whole state – could take someone into custody.
That lawyers had the luxury of drawing such a fine point of law showed that the frontier had indeed faded. The Frontier Battalion ceased to exist as of July 8, 1901, when new legislation went into effect. The new law authorized a Ranger force of only four companies of no more than 20 men each.
Five years into the new century, the Rangers still had their Wild West-era reputation, but they were evolving into detectives. On Sept. 26, 1905, a woman and her four children were found murdered on a farm near Edna in Jackson County. Local officers soon arrested Monk Gibson, a black man who had worked for the husband and father of the victims. Rangers and state troops were called out to protect the suspect from a lynch mob. Gibson escaped from jail, was recaptured in San Antonio and stood trial. But the jury hung.
Ranger Captain W.D. "Bill" McDonald reopened the investigation at the request of the prosecutors. A key piece of evidence, three bloody fingerprints with a dot beneath them, had been found on a board in the home of the victims. McDonald developed a second suspect in the murder. The Ranger made an imprint of the man's hand holding a knife, and it matched perfectly with the print found at the crime scene. With evidence developed by the Ranger, Gibson was convicted and hanged as well as Felix Powell, the second suspect, whose bloody hand print had cleared the case.
The Jackson County case was an example of modern crime fighting.
Trouble Along the Border
When Revolution broke out in Mexico five years later, the job facing the Rangers was more in keeping with their heritage. The revolution that began in 1910 marked the beginning of a decade of fighting and political instability. Bloodshed soon seeped across the shallow Rio Grande as Mexicans began raiding into Texas seeking supplies, weapons and horses. Others, inclined to banditry for less political reasons, took advantage of the situation as well.
"I instruct you and your men to keep them [Mexican raiders] off of Texas territory if possible," Gov. Oscar B. Colquitt wrote Ranger Capt. John R. Hughes in El Paso, "and if they invade the State let them understand they do so at the risk of their lives."
Before it was over, many lives were risked and lost, mostly those of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. Though more than a score of Anglos were killed along the border by Mexican bandits, the number of deaths along the border attributed to Texas Rangers and vigilante groups varied from a minimum of 300 to 5,000.
Representative José T. Canales of Brownsville spearheaded a Legislative investigation of the Rangers in 1919. After hearing testimony of misdeeds ranging from the shooting of prisoners to drunkenness, the Legislature passed on March 31 a bill that reduced the number of Rangers. The measure also raised Rangers' pay, in an effort to attract higher-quality men. A procedure for handling citizen complaints against Rangers also was established.
Keeping the Peace in Boom Towns
The Canales hearings marked a turning point in Ranger history, and so did the development of the automobile. During the second decade of the 20th century, Rangers responding to reports of bandit raids sometimes rode horses and sometimes they piled into automobiles. Automobiles need gasoline, not corn or oats. The emergence of the automobile, coupled with World War I, fueled Texas' oil boom. Beginning in 1917 and continuing through the early 1930s, the job description of a Ranger included town taming. Several times during the 1920s, Gov. Dan Moody found it necessary to invoke martial law in oil-boom towns, such as Mexia and Borger. Other cities, such as Burkburnett, Desdemona, Kilgore, Ranger (named for a Ranger camp located there in the 1870s) and Wink, escaped martial law but still required the presence of Rangers.
Two captains and eight Ranger privates were sent to the Hutchinson County town of Borger on April 7, 1927. "A thorough-going clean-up was put underway," the Adjutant General reported. "The liquor traffic was broken up, many stills being seized and destroyed, and several thousand gallons of whiskey being captured and poured out. Two hundred and three gambling slot machines were seized and destroyed ... and in a period of twenty-four hours ... no less than 1200 prostitutes left the town of Borger." Rangers also were sent to handle labor troubles in Denison and Galveston. In a practice that would continue into the 1960s, Rangers were, in effect, state-employed strike breakers.
Two well-known Ranger captains, Frank Hamer and Tom Hickman, took on an assignment from Governor Moody in 1927 that would become much more common for the Rangers in future decades: investigating political corruption. The two captains made a bribery case against two members of the Legislature who were collecting cash to kill a bill one of them had introduced. In addition to the criminal charges against them, both representatives were expelled by the House.
Five years later, however, it was the Rangers getting the boot from the state. In 1932, the Rangers publicly supported incumbent Gov. Ross Sterling in his race against Miriam A. "Ma" Ferguson. She was the wife of Jim Ferguson, who as governor was impeached, convicted and removed from office in 1917. Mrs. Ferguson won the election. Those Rangers who did not resign prior to her inauguration were fired the moment she took office.
Former Ranger Helps Catch Bonnie and Clyde
Among those who left was Capt. Hamer. Two years later, though carrying a commission as a Highway Patrolman and not a Ranger, he got national headlines when he and former Ranger Manny Gault tracked down the outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow in Louisiana. The couple, wanted for the murder of two Texas Highway Patrolmen and other slayings, died in a barrage of gunfire when they drove into a trap Hamer had set for them.
The Modern Texas Ranger Force
Today's Texas Rangers can trace their heritage to a recommendation from a Chicago-based consulting firm, Griffenhagen and Associates. Hired by the Legislature in 1933 to assess the state of law enforcement in Texas, the consultants found it was not much to brag about. Crime was rampant and the means of fighting it, at the state level, was underfunded, undermanned, disorganized and lacking any modern scientific backup. The recommendation of the firm: Remove the Rangers from the Adjutant General's Department and merge them with the young Highway Patrol to form a new agency called the Department of Public Safety.
Members of the 44th Texas Legislature, after conducting a committee meeting on the matter, agreed with the suggestion and passed a bill providing for the new state law-enforcement agency in 1935. University of Texas history professor Dr. Walter Prescott Webb predicted the new department would be the end of the Texas Rangers.
"It is safe to say that as time goes on," Webb wrote in his 1935 work The Texas Rangers: A Century of Frontier Defense, "the functions of the un-uniformed Texas Rangers will gradually slip away..."
While Webb and others worried that the Rangers had been legislated to boot hill, many Texas sheriffs fretted that the new DPS would usurp their authority as the chief law-enforcement officers of their counties. As it developed, those viewpoints were wrong. The Rangers survived and the state's 254 sheriffs lost none of their authority.
With an appropriation of $450,000, the Department of Public Safety officially came into being on Aug. 10, 1935.
"When we build a good department," Commission Chairman Albert Sidney Johnson said at the Public Safety Commission's October 6, 1935, meeting in Austin, "you will all probably consider this the day that it got started ... We plan to be one force, one Department of Public Safety. I do not wish you to get the idea that we are going to do away with the Highway Patrol or the Rangers ... The Ranger Force is the finest thing in the world, however, in the last few years they have suffered terribly ... through politics."
By the late 1930s, the DPS had a state-of-the-art crime lab in operation at its headquarters at Camp Mabry in Austin. The hiring of Rangers was made less political, and, for the first time ever, the state furnished formal training.
Following America's entrance into World War II after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, in addition to their other duties, the Rangers took on a new role. They traveled the state training air-raid wardens and helping local officials organize civil-defense measures. That activity was news only in Texas, but on Aug. 19, 1942, the Rangers made headlines around the world when the Associated Press reported that "Many French officials and some diplomats were excited today by mistaken reports that 'Texas Rangers' had landed in Dieppe with Allied commandoes." The source of the confusion was a report from London that American Army Rangers had participated in the action.
In the 1950s, Rangers helped Attorney General Will Wilson clean up illegal gambling in Galveston. Capt. R.A. "Bob" Crowder added to the Ranger mystique in 1955 when he single-handedly quelled a melee at the Rusk State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. When Texas schools were desegregated following the Supreme Court's 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decisions, Rangers stood by at several schools, keeping the transition for the most part peaceful.
The Rangers found themselves in a different sort of situation involving ethnic minorities in 1967: the Starr County farmworkers strike. Rangers under Capt. A.Y. Allee came to Starr County after a railroad trestle was burned in an incident believed related to the strike. The Rangers made mass arrests under the state's anti-picketing laws and were accused of brutality. For the second time in 50 years, the Rangers became the subject of hearings by lawmakers – this time the U.S. Congress. Congressional subcommittees in June 1967 and December 1968 found that Rangers had used excessive force during the strike. Allee also was named in a class-action lawsuit filed by the farmworkers. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it was affirmed in 1974. But by that time, Allee had retired from the Rangers.
By the late 1980s, the makeup of the Rangers had changed dramatically since the days of Allee. Lee Roy Young Jr., a 15-year DPS veteran, became the first black Texas Ranger in modern times on Sept. 1, 1988. By the first quarter of 1999, there were six black Rangers, including one captain, and 14 Hispanic Rangers. (A spokeswoman for the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame and Museum library says that in the 19th century, blacks were thought to have worked as teamsters with the Rangers and black Seminoles served as scouts. Researchers are attempting to document this part of Ranger history.)
In the old days, the only requirements for rangering were that a man be a good shot and a good horseman. These days, a Ranger does not even have to be a man. The first female Rangers were appointed in August 1993. As of 1999, the 107-member Ranger force included two females. Though sex is no longer a barrier, a Ranger applicant must have at least eight years of law-enforcement experience, including at least four years with the DPS. For acceptance into the DPS, a person must have at least 60 hours of college education or equivalencies. It is not unusual for 150 to 200 DPS officers to apply for only a handful of Ranger openings, and some Rangers have been interviewed numerous times before being accepted.
New Rangers – as were their early-day counterparts – are still expected to be good shots, but they receive additional training in fingerprint-recovery technique, photography, blood-splatter interpretation, investigative hypnosis, and numerous other skills aimed at assisting them in handling criminal investigations.
Each Ranger is issued a laptop computer, a digital camera, a video camera, a full-size and microcassette recorder, a cellular telephone and evidence-collection kits, along with more traditional crime-fighting weapons, including a .357 caliber Sig Sauer P226 semi-automatic pistol (or a .45 caliber Colt semi-automatic), a Ruger Mini-14 rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun, gas mask, body armor, helmet and baton. For prisoners they have handcuffs and leg irons.
Despite all the modern equipment available to them, one Ranger tradition continued at the turn of the 21th century: They still do not wear uniforms. Clothing choice is up to each Ranger, though white hats, Western-style clothing and boots are their unofficial "uniform." For tactical situations, each Ranger does have a set of black military-style combat fatigues. The shoulder bears an embroidered patch.
The Rangers are divided into six companies, A through F. Each company is commanded by a captain and a lieutenant. The six field captains report to headquarters in Austin, where Senior Captain Bruce Casteel is Commander of the Rangers. Assistant Commander is Capt. Gene Powell.
In the 1990s, Rangers continued to do what they had done for generations: investigate felony crimes, be available for riot-suppression duty, protect prisoners in high-profile criminal cases and execute court orders. In addition, Rangers handle complicated white-collar crime investigations, public-integrity cases and computer crimes.
On Oct. 16, 1991, the Rangers were called on to investigate the worst mass slaying by gunfire in American history. During the noon hour that day, George Hennard crashed his pickup truck into a crowded Luby's Cafeteria in Killeen. He got out of the truck and calmly began killing people. Before he died from a self-inflicted gunshot, he had killed 22 people. Working with the Killeen Police Department, the Rangers conducted an exhaustive investigation of the case. They found Hennard had acted alone, his motivations – truly known by no one but him – were open to conjecture.
Rangers assisted the FBI during the Feb. 28-April 19, 1993, Branch Davidian stand-off at Mt. Carmel, 10 miles east of Waco in McLennan County. After the self-styled messiah David Koresh's compound burned on the final day of the siege, leaving him and nearly 80 of his followers dead, the U.S. Attorney's Office requested that the Rangers conduct the crime-scene investigation. The undertaking was the most complex in the history of the Rangers. A third of the Ranger service was on the scene for nearly three weeks, collecting more than 2,000 pieces of evidence. For the first time in Ranger history, a computer system was set up at the crime scene for use in cataloging the evidence, which ranged from thousands of fired and unexpended rounds of ammunition to scores of charred firearms and other items.
Four years later, a separatist movement in 1997 drew the Rangers into a drama that was a virtual re-enactment of their history. On April 27 that year, two men and a woman – all camouflaged and carrying semi-automatic weapons – stormed a private residence in the Davis Mountains subdivision southwest of Fort Davis. Following hours of negotiations with Rangers and FBI agents, the three suspects released their two hostages and retreated up a winding mountain road to the "Embassy" of the so-called "Republic of Texas." During the seven-day Republic of Texas stand-off in Jeff Davis County, Rangers scouted the area in helicopters and on horseback.
In addition to the incident in Fort Davis, Rangers undertook 5,205 investigations in fiscal 1997-1998. Because Texas is so big, they traveled more than 2 million miles, a figure which includes flights in DPS aircraft to other states to return wanted fugitives or to interview witnesses. The work the Rangers did in 1997-1998 led to 829 felony and 130 misdemeanor arrests. Ranger investigations during the fiscal year resulted in 860 convictions, including 4 death sentences and 57 life sentences. In addition, $21.4 million in stolen property was recovered.
On Thanksgiving Day 1998, a convicted killer named Martin Gurule became the first Death Row inmate to escape from the Texas prison system since the Depression era. The Rangers participated in a large-scale manhunt and on Dec. 3, Gurule was found drowned in a creek only a mile from the prison from which he escaped a week earlier. Though Gurule was no longer a problem to society, Gov. George W. Bush and others wanted to know how he could have escaped from a maximum-security facility in the first place. The governor, as his predecessors had been doing for generations, turned to the Rangers. "I'm upset about it," he said of the highly-publicized escape. "I've asked the Texas Rangers to step in and answer the question for me and for Texas."
— written by Mike Cox, an Austin-based historian and former Chief of Media Relations for the Texas Department of Public Safety, for the Texas Almanac 2000–2001. Cox has written three books on the Texas Rangers.