The Texas Rangers, an elite state law-enforcement agency that enjoys a legendary image in wider American culture, was formally proposed on this day in history, Oct. 17, 1835.
“The Rangers are part of the history and mythology of the Old West,” writes the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame & Museum in Waco, which claims the Rangers are the oldest state law-enforcement agency in North America.
The organization is known officially today as the Texas Ranger Division of the state Department of Public Safety.
It derives its name from its original mission of “ranging” across the frontier to protect settlers.
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The Rangers are deeply ingrained in Texas history, culture and identity.
The organization traces its roots to “Father of Texas” Stephen A. Austin, who led the state’s earliest Anglo-European settlements in 1821, and then inspired the new Texans’ eventual fight for independence from Mexico.
“There was no regular army to protect [settlers], so Austin called the citizens together and organized a group to provide the needed protection,” writes the Department of Public Safety.
“Austin first referred to this group as the Rangers in 1823, for their duties compelled them to range over the entire country, thus giving rise to the service known as the Texas Rangers.”
Austin was imprisoned in Mexico City in January 1835 by President Santa Anna while presenting to authorities the text of a new Texas constitution.
He was released eight months later.
“When Austin returned from his imprisonment in Mexico in 1835, a body was organized called the ‘Permanent Council.’ On October 17, 1835, Daniel Parker, a member, offered a resolution creating a corps of Texas Rangers,” according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Given the vast distances patrolled by relatively few officers, the Texas Rangers were given wide latitude to make individual executive decisions.
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They developed a reputation for autonomy found in few other agencies.
Their legend was fostered in pop culture.
“The Lone Ranger,” a hero of American broadcast and cinema lore, was a former Texas Ranger.
The organization also inspired the 1983 movie, “Lone Wolf McQuade” and its 1990s TV spinoff series, “Walker, Texas Ranger,” both starring actor Chuck Norris.
The role helped fuel the actor’s mythic tough-man status that exploded in the early days of the internet.
“Superman wears Chuck Norris pajamas,” says one famous meme.
The real-life Rangers have been involved in several spectacular law-enforcement actions.
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Perhaps most notably, Texas Ranger Frank Hamer led the police posse that gunned down Depression-era gangsters and Texas natives Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow in 1934.
The couple was killed in Louisiana.
“The Rangers have been called one of the most effective investigative law enforcement agencies in the world.”
The lawman was also known for his efforts to battle the Ku Klux Klan in Texas. Hamer biographer John Boessenecker claims the Ranger’s efforts prevented 15 lynchings.
The Rangers remain few in numbers, yet continue to “range” across the vast Lone Star State.
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The agency has just 162 commissioned Rangers assisted by 60 full-time support personnel, according to the Texas Rangers Association Foundation.
Their mission today, the foundation reports, is to “lead criminal investigative responsibility for the following: major incident crime investigations, unsolved crime/serial crime investigations, public corruption and public integrity investigations, officer involved shooting investigations and border security operations.”
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Says the Rangers Hall of Fame: “The Rangers have been called one of the most effective investigative law enforcement agencies in the world.”