Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum

Location: Waco, Texas

Webpage: Museum

General Description: The official Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum is an excellent place to learn the history of the Texas Rangers.  It is the location of the Homer Garrison Jr. museum gallery, the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame, the Texas Ranger Research Center and the Headquarters of Texas Rangers Company “F”. The museum gallery consists of a number of permanent exhibits telling the story of the Texas Rangers.  Prior to the Texas Revolution for Independence small, informal groups of men would be hired by local communities to protect settlers from the Indians and bandits.  The Texas Rangers were formally formed in 1835 when Stephen F Austin returned from Mexico after being imprisoned for seeking justice for the settlers.  Without the protection of the Mexican government, he helped organize a council to govern a group of men to be called the Texas Rangers.  Beginning with three companies of 60 men, the organization quickly grew over two years to over 300.  In the early days their duty was to protect settlements from Indian raids and during the Texas Revolution they acted as scouts, spies, and couriers.  As the first President of the Texas Republic, Sam Houston favored peaceful co-existence with the Indians and mostly disbanded the Rangers.  However, when Mirabeau Lamar became the second President in 1838, his views would remove all the Indians from Texas and the Rangers grew 58 full-time men plus numerous volunteer companies. When Sam Houston was re-elected President in 1841 he understood the efficiency of having an armed militia and increased the Rangers to 150 men.  With the annexation of Texas into the US and the Mexican-American War in 1842, several companies of Rangers were mustered into the army and proved themselves as an unbeatable guerilla force and scouts in many key battles.  Their role in the Mexican-American War won them national acclaim and became firmly established in American folklore.  Following the war, however, the need for the Rangers declined since protecting the frontier became the job of the US Army.  However, in the 1850s more settlers sought to establish homesteads in areas traditionally occupied by Indians it became a hot political issue that the Army was spread to thin along the frontier and the Rangers were once again called upon to deal with specific incidents along the frontier and border with Mexico.  The success of these campaigns marked a turning point in Ranger history and convinced the citizens that a well-funded Texas Ranger force was needed.  When Texas seceded from the US in 1861, most of Rangers enlisted in the Confederate army and defending the frontier, dealing with Indian raids, and scouting for Union troops fell to men who due to age or disability were not drafted.  Thus Indian raids greatly increased and the frontier was pushed south and east.  During Reconstruction, the Rangers were replaced with a Union-controlled version called the Texas State Police, charged with enforcing unpopular new laws that came with reintegration.  The Texas State Police existed only from 1870 to 1873.  With the state election of 1873, Reconstruction officially ended for Texas and the legislature recommisioned the Texas Rangers and a new force titled the Frontier Battalion, consisting of six companies of 75 men were tasked with solving the problems of Mexican bandits and Indian raids once again.  It was during this time that many of the Rangers myths were born in their capturing and killing of notorious criminals, bandits, and their decisive role in defeating the Commanche, Kiowa, and Apache Indians.  Despite their fame, their conduct during this period was often questionable using executions and torture.  By the beginning of the 20th Century the Texas frontier had become much more settled and the role of the Texas Rangers came into question.  In 1901, the Frontier Battalion was disbanded and a new Ranger force of four companies with no more than 20 men was formed.  The Texas Rangers had evolved into a law enforcement unit.  The Mexican Revolution that began in 1910 destabilized the Mexican border with bands of Mexicans taking over border towns by force.  As the lack of American military response to the situation it turned to outright genocide with the intention of driving Americans out of the southwest.  Violence continued to escalate until Porvenir Massacre in 1918 when a heavily armed group of Rangers rounded up the citizens of Porvenir along the border and killed them.  This type of brutality was common on both sides and before the decade was over thousands of lives were lost.  These were the most turbulent times in the history of the Rangers and in 1919 the Texas legislature passed a resolution to purge it and enhance its procedures to become strictly a law enforcement force.  The reforms proved positive and eventually the Rangers regained its reputation of being one of the finest law enforcement agencies in the world dealing with the  “continuous fighting of cattle rustlers, intervening in the violent labor disputes of the time and protecting the citizenry involved in Ku Klux Klan’s public displays from violent mob reaction.”  One of the highest profile interventions was during the oil boom when lawless communities would spring up over night and the Rangers were called upon to bring law and order to them.  During the Great Depression, the Rangers were downsized along with nearly all law enforcement agencies, with the number of officers reduced to 45.  The result was that Texas became a safe haven for Depression-era gangsters escaping from the law including Bonnie and Clyde, George “Machine-Gun” Kelly, Pretty Boy Floyd, and Raymond Hamilton.  To deal with the situation the Texas Rangers were combined with the State Highway Patrol under the Texas Department of Public Safety in 1935 with a massive increase in funding.  These reforms have ruled the Texas Rangers through today and it has once again grown to be a leader in law enforcement in the world.

Impressions:

1) The museum is organized into a series of galleries highlighting different parts of the history of the Texas Rangers.  Within the museum there are over 14000 irreplacable artifacts from throughout history along with over 2,500 firearms.  There is also a long video about the history as presented on the History Channel.

2) The Hall of Fame preserves artifacts from each of the rangers over the years that have been inducted, along with a brief accounting of their notable accomplishments.