Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum: 1-35 and University Parks Drive | PO Box 2570, Waco, TX 76702-2570 | (254) 750-8631
Women and the Rangers: Mothers, Wives, & Daughters - Part 1
Women and the Rangers: Mothers, Wives, & Daughters
The words “Texas Ranger”
do not usually call to mind the picture of a woman, yet women have played
an important part in the history of the Rangers. They have been mothers
and grandmothers, sisters and daughters, sweethearts and wives, aunts
and nieces, friends and foes.
Women were also commissioned as Special Rangers in the 1920s –
1940s, with one even commissioned to serve as a Mansion Guard at the
governor’s mansion, a task often performed by Regular Rangers
at that time. Today, two women serve in the active Ranger force in Company
“D”in San Antonio and and Company “F” in Waco.
It is to all of the women who have given their love and support to
the Texas Rangers since 1823 that this exhibit is dedicated.
the Myth: Hollywood vs. Reality
Too often Hollywood has portrayed women on the frontier as weak and
helpless, cowering in the background waiting for a man to save them.
The reality was often just the opposite, especially for women associated
with the Texas Rangers. The exhibit is presented chronologically, beginning
in the 1840s and continuing up to the 1980s.
"Chell Baker, a Ranger in the 1920s,
managed to keep from getting shot while in the Rangers. Maybe it was
the Rangers’ charge-right-on-in attitude that kept Baker from
getting blown away. That attitude still exists for Baker. He keeps a
Colt .45 single action on a table in the living room of the small home
he shares with his 80 year old sister Lena. “I told Lena if anybody
tries to break the door down, to pick her up and help ‘em tear
it down from the inside,” he said."
—“Ridin’ with the Rangers: Chell Baker helped keep
the peace along the border,” Austin American Statesman,
Feb 6, 1977.
Lyna and John Hensley
Mrs. Lyna Wright Hensley married Ranger John Hensley
in 1922 and moved with the Rangers to Brownsville and Donna.
“I’d stay in the camp with
all those men, and I was their pet,” she recalled. “I
didn’t cook; I didn’t wash dishes; I did help with the
horses. Always I was treated like a big sister; they were so gentlemanly.”
“I guess I was born a liberated woman.
I had my own way of doing things. I grew up on a ranch and did everything
my four brothers did to keep the ranch going from branding to doctoring
cattle to fixing a windmill. I was the best d - - - d cowgirl around.”
“Feisty Widow Loyal to her Texas Lawman,”
May 9, 1983.
Mrs. and Dan W. Roberts
I was now a regular member of Company "D",
but entirely unarmed. I spoke to the Captain about how embarrassing
it was not to have a gun and not to be able to protect myself in case
of an attack. He immediately purchased a .22 caliber Remington rifle.
I practiced target shooting with the Rangers until I was satisfied
that I could shoot as well as any of them. . . .”
and Capt. Frank Hamer
Gladys Hamer ("Hay-mer'), the wife of legendary Texas
Ranger Captain Frank Hamer, was not afraid to jump in and help out her
husband in a fight.
On October 1, 1917 the Hamers drove into Sweetwater,
Texas. Stopping to have a punctured tire repaired, Frank Hamer was attacked
by Gee McMeans. As Frank was struggling to get McMeans’ weapon
away from him, another man with a shotgun started across the street
toward Hamer. Gladys Hamer, seeing this man, picked up a small automatic
pistol from the front seat of the car and fired at the man. The man
ducked behind a car. Every time he attempted to move, Gladys shot at
him, keeping him from attacking her husband.
Catherine H. (Fulkerson) Ross
married Shapley P. Ross in St. Charles County, Missouri on November
4, 1830. They were the parents of nine children.
While the ladies met for a quilting bee
at the Shapley Ross place, the men congregated at a spring below the
Ross home and procured some whiskey. In the rude play that followed,
Captain Ross fell into the spring and his leather breeches got soaking
wet. He went to sleep in the sun and when he awoke, his pants had
dried stiff as boards. After companion ripped open the seams for him,
Ross decided to go home and get a new pair of pants. Since walking
in the stiff breeches was difficult he took them off and carried them
over his shoulder.
Someone informed the ladies at the quilting
bee that men had been drinking rather freely. Some of the ladies became
anxious but Mrs. Ross continued her quilting, commenting “Well,
I am not the least bit worried as Captain Ross never drinks to excess.”
About that time the Captain, clad only in hunting shirt with breeches
thrown over his shoulder was seen approaching the house. The quilting
was immediately adjourned and the Captain and his wife met alone,
and no report of the meeting was ever published.
Story found in Susan Turnham McCown, “Early days
in Milam County: Reminiscences of Susan Turnham McCown,”
Southwestern Historical Quarterly, L, 372.
Ranger Adam Everett Dobbs was born in Somerset, Kentucky. Mary Agnes
Witt, born in Gleason, Tennessee, was the daughter of the Rev. Elijah
and Hannah Clark Witt. Dobbs moved to Texas in 1873, settling in Kerr
County. The Witt family settled in Kerr County in 1874. Everett and
Mary were married Dec, 31, 1879.
George W. Baylor (below)
Photograph courtesy of the Texas Collection
Baylor University, Waco, Texas
Sallie and George W.
Mrs. Sallie Baylor went with her husband, Capt. George W. Baylor, when
his detachment of Rangers left San Antonio for El Paso in August 1879.
One wagon was loaded with their household goods, including a large square
piano. In addition to his wife, Baylor was accompanied by his two daughters
and Miss Katie Sydnor, Mrs. Baylor’s sister. They settled in Yselta
and Sallie Baylor opened up a small school.
In his Six Years with the Texas Rangers, James B. Gillett
described Sallie Baylor in the following manner:
“I cannot close this
description of Lt. Baylor without mentioning his excellent wife, who
made the long, tedious journey from San Antonio to El Paso County
with us. . . . Mrs. Baylor was a very refined woman, highly educated
and a skillful performer on the piano. Her bright, sunny disposition
and kind heart won her friends among the Rangers at once.”
George David Cross served as a Texas Ranger in late 1873-1874. Cross
married Mary Amanda Erraminitie Shawver on November 16, 1881. They were
the parents of thirteen children, three of whom died in infancy. Cross
would entertain his family by playing the violin. His favorite “fiddling”
music included Leather Britches and Eighth of January. His violin selections
included Evalena and The Orphan Child. Following in his footsteps, his
six sons, one daughter and on great granddaughter all played violin.
Noah Armstrong joined the Texas Rangers in 1876, serving until 1878.
After leaving the Rangers, he settled in Coleman, Texas. He married
B. Alice Fullerton of Dawson in 1878. The Armstrongs were the parents
of three sons and three daughters.
In a 1955 interview by Rangers Doyle Curington and Max Westerman,
Armstrong recalled that after being discharged from the Rangers, he
engaged in the saloon business. After marriage, his wife objected
to the nature of his business. He sold the saloon and purchased a
sheep and horse ranch.
William Henry Ledbetter (3rd from left) served in the San Saba County
Minute Men during 1872 to 1874, and again in the Frontier Battalion,
Company D, from May 1874 until December 1874.
The poem Dreams (below) was written by Texas Ranger T.C. “Pidge”
Robinson, a member of Capt. L. H. McNelly’s Company. It was published
in the Austin Daily Democratic Statesman, May 17, 1874.
Dedicated to My Sister
Tender and true, so darkly tried,
I joy me, when the night doth fall,
Which gives me visions sweet, of all
Our happier hours, by day denied.
I gladden when the dark descends;
Then fancy bears me home again,
Ceases the heavy toil and pain
The heartsick, weary exile ends.
I see thee at thy household
I hear thee cheer our aged sire:
O sister! Nobler, purer, higher,
Thy fate-defying love appears
Than if my madness had not been;
Self exiled I, far from thy sight,
I know thy love hath reached a height
Which earthly eye hath seldom seen.
I picture that sweet time
I take thy hand, I kiss thy cheek,
I hear thy gentle voice speak
Sweet words of “welcome brother home!”
Our mother from the happier shore
Smiles sweetly on us; from the skies
She seems to say “their miseries
Hath only made them love the more.”
Captain Leander McNelly’s Company of Rangers, 1877. Photograph
courtesy of the Texas Confederate Museum, Austin, Texas.
Carey Cheek Matson McNelly
George Durham, a member of Leander McNelly’s Company, recorded
his memory of Mrs. Carey McNelly.
On one occasion in 1875 when the company thought they might see some
action, some of the newer recruits who had never shot at another person,
or had another person shoot at them, realized they might be among the
casualties. Durham writes that Mrs. McNelly was in camp with the company,
“little ninety-pound girl that before
the war had known only plantation and college life. . . she was hardly
more then twenty: but she was a woman; and she was the Captain’s
wife, and until now I hadn’t got in speaking distance of her.
But this morning I wanted to talk to a woman.” Durham asked
Mrs. McNelly to contact his mother with the news if he should be killed
and gave her a note listing who should receive his few belongings.
Leander H. McNelly and Carey Cheek Matson were married October 17,
1865 at the Matson home on Mill Creek in Washington County, Texas. The
McNelly’s engaged in farming until McNelly accepted a position
with the State Police in 1870. He stayed in the State Police until they
were disbanded in 1873. In 1874 he accepted a commission to form a Special
Force of Texas Rangers. Carey traveled with the Ranger Company whenever
possible to help nurse the Captain and prepare special meals for him.
Caroline and George Durham
George Durham, a member of Leander McNelly’s Ranger Company,
described meeting the girl who would become his wife at the King Ranch
in Taming the Nueces Strip:
We ate in the grub shanty. Only it wasn’t
a shanty – it was a hall filled with four tables seating maybe
a hundred. We filed by and filled our mess kits and got a cup of coffee.
A woman and young girl gave us refills whenever we needed them. I
soon found out that by emptying my coffee cup this girl would come
up, reach across my shoulder, and say “Could I pour you some
more?” I would have drunk cup after cup of coyote poison if
she’d have refilled for me. Three times I said, “If you
don’t mind, ma’m,” and three times I said, “Thank
Whenever she walked up it seemed
like somebody had dumped over the lilac water. I reckon I’d
have sat there and drunk coffee till it ran out of my ears, but she
seemed to catch on after awhile and didn’t come back to me.
That was a wife for a Ranger. . . .
In her memoirs Mrs. D. W. Roberts tells the following story about Mrs.
C. Rufus Perry:
“Captain Rufe Perry commanded
Company D during the first six months after it was organized. I must
tell you what a brave wife he had. She visited him while he was encamped
right on the trail where the Indians crossed the river. One beautiful,
moonlit night ten Indians passed right by this camp. She stayed there
alone while Captain Perry reported the presence of the Indians to
the main camp. That was a wife for a Ranger!”
The headquarters consisted of a log kitchen and two tents. The
first tent served as living quarters for Captain and Mrs. D. W. Roberts.
The second tent was furnished as a guest chamber complete with an army
cot, washstand, table and a mirror on the tent pole. These three structures
were surrounded by a brush fence with a whitewashed picket gate.
Mrs. Dan W. Roberts
Columbus (Tex) Times –
Bride – Married September 13, 1875, Captain D. W. Roberts and
Miss Lou Conway, the Rev. Dr. Archer officiating. The gallant groom
and his accomplished bride departed on the train immediately after the
ceremony. The best wishes of all attend them.
Mrs. Roberts wrote: “My friends thought
I was courageous; in fact, quite nervy to leave civilization and go
into an Indian country. But it did not require either; I was much in
love with my gallant captain and willing to share my fate wherever and
whatever it might be.”
Having been left in Mason while Capt. Roberts
went to Menard to check on his company, Mrs. Roberts came face to face
with the violence of the “Mason County War.” She determined
to leave with Capt. Roberts upon his return to Mason and live in camp
with the Rangers rather than stay and face death in town. “The
next morning we left Mason for Menard. We were going into a country
where Indians raided, but I was leaving a country where white men raided.”
In his memoirs Capt. Roberts recalls, “I
prepared quarters for us about one and one-half miles from town, . .
. Here we spent our honey-moon, with sweet old King Nature. . . . Our
only music was the gobble of wild turkeys and the splash of beavers’