by Mike Cox
with updates by the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum
TRAILING BONNIE AND CLYDE
But Hamer was not
away from law enforcement for long. In February 1934, Lee Simmons, superintendent
of the Texas prison system, asked Hamer if he would track down the notorious
criminal couple Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker. Hamer agreed and was
given a commission as a Texas highway patrolman.
Since 1927, when
a force had been created to patrol the expanding Texas roadways, the
state in effect had two police agencies. The young Highway Patrol operated
as part of the Highway Department.
Hamer trailed Bonnie
and Clyde for 102 days. Finally, Hamer and other officers, including
former Ranger B.M.Gau lt, caught up with the dangerous duo in Louisiana's
Bienville Parish. The officers had hoped to take the outlaws alive,
but when the pair reached for their weapons, Hamer and the others opened
fire. The career of Bonnie and Clyde was over.
For a time, it
looked like the Texas Rangers were not going to last much longer than
Bonnie and Clyde. Under Gov. Ferguson, Ranger commissions were easy
to come by, and not all those handed a silver star were men whose character
was worthy of the honor. Additionally, Ferguson appointed some 2,300
Special Rangers. A few of those were even ex-convicts.
THE DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY
The problem did not go unrecognized. The Texas Senate, on Sept. 25,
1934, formed a committee to investigate crime and law enforcement in
the state. The committee produced a report in early 1935 that was singularly
critical of Texas law enforcement. However, the document also proposed
a solution: the creation of a state law enforcement agency to be known
a the Department of Public Safety.
A bill was introduced
that would create such an agency, which would operate under a three-member
Public Safety Commission. The Texas Rangers would be transferred from
the Adjutant General's Department and Highway Patrol would be moved
from the Highway Department to form a single state police force.
in the law were made by a joint House-Senate conference committee and
on Aug. 10, 1935, it became effective.
At about the same
time, historian Walter Prescott Webb's classic history of the Texas
Rangers was going to press. In a hasty postscript tacked on to the end
of the book, Webb made one of the few incorrect predictions of his long
career: "It is safe to say that as time goes on the functions of
the un-uniformed Texas Rangers will gradually slip away..." Webb
went on to say the new law amounted to the "practical abolition
of the (Ranger) force..."
Under the new DPS,
the Ranger force would consist of 36 men. Though smaller than it had
been in years, the Texas Rangers would have for the first time in its
history the benefits of a state-of -the-art crime laboratory, improved
communications, and, perhaps most importantly, political stability.
In name, the Rangers were 100 years old. With the creation of the DPS,
the Rangers would have professionalism to match their tradition.
Tom Hickman, a
veteran Ranger, was named senior captain of the Rangers. The force was
organized into five companies, each headed by a captain.
Within a year of
their incorporation into the DPS, the Texas Rangers got national publicity
with the opening of the Texas Centennial Exposition at the State Fair
grounds in Dallas. The headquarters for Co. B was set up in a specially-built
log building on the fair grounds. Texas Rangers were seen in news reel
footage in movie houses around the nation.
DPS appropriations were lean, but as the decade of the 1930s ended,
the Texas Rangers were on their way toward modernization. Fingerprint
and modus operandi files were available for Ranger use at the Department's
Camp Mabry headquarters in Austin, and Ranger vehicles were equipped
with police radio receivers, though two-way radio would not be available
to Rangers until the 1940s. Former Ranger Manuel T. (Lone Wolf) Gonzaullas
headed the Department's Bureau of Intelligence, which gave Rangers the
benefit of chemical, ballistic and microscopic testing in their criminal
investigations.In their early years as part of the DPS, Rangers were
paid automobile mileage and furnished a Colt .45 and a lever-action
Winchester .30 caliber rifle by the state. Rangers still had to provide
their own car, horse, and saddle, though the DPS issued horse trailers.
For the first time,
Rangers had the benefits of in service training. They also had to write
weekly activity reports. The Texas Rangers were part of another agency
but their duties essentially were the same as they had been for years.
Rangers were called upon to enforce the state's laws, with particular
emphasis on felony crimes, gambling and narcotics. Rangers also were
used in riot suppression and in locating fugitives.
WORLD WAR II
During World War II, Rangers provided vigilant internal security in
Texas. Ranger duties varied from showing air raid warning training films
to tracking down escaped German POWs later in the war.
When U.S. Army
Rangers landed in France, the German press thought those commandos were
Texas Rangers. This apparently caused considerable anxiety among the
German people. The Reich's minister of propaganda eventually had to
By 1945, the authorized
strength of the Texas Rangers had been increased to 45 men. Two years
later, the force was increased again, to 51 men. Texas was growing in
the post-war economy and so was the parent agency of the Rangers. In
1949, the Legislature authorized construction of a new headquarters
building in North Austin. The same year, the DPS bought its first airplane.
A Ranger became the Department's first pilot-investigator.
In their first
year under the DPS, the Rangers took part in an estimated 255 cases;
two decades later, in 1955, the Rangers were involved in 16,701 cases.
continued to add to their legend during the 1950's. When inmates in
the Rusk State Hospital for the Criminally Insane rioted and took hostages,
Ranger Capt. R. A. "Bob" Crowder and the leader of the mob
had a conversation and the inmates surrendered.
Rangers made national
headlines by their quiet but firm presence at various campuses in the
state as school integration was for the most part peacefully implemented.
When violence seemed possible at the high school in Mansfield, Rangers
were sent to the school. A photograph of Ranger Sgt. Jay Banks, reflectively
leaned against a tree in front of the high school as students walked
into the building beneath a dummy hanging in effigy, was widely published.
Also during the
1950s, Rangers calmed down a violent steel mill strike in East Texas;
shut down illegal gambling in Galveston and participated in numerous
cases, some sensational, many merely routine investigations.
in these cases usually was documented as briefly as possible. This was
Ranger Zeno Smith's report for July 3, 1956:
Wilson County Sheriff
requested the assistance of one Ranger in the investigation of twenty-five
head of cattle near Floresville. A lengthy investigation resulted in
the filing of five complaints and indictments in each case against the
suspect who is still at large. 115 hours.
More than 40 years later, the Texas Rangers are still investigating
cattle thefts and major felony crimes. Today, though there is some overlapping,
the DPS Criminal Intelligence Service handles most of the gambling cases,
the Department's Narcotics Service concentrates on the drug problem
and the agency's Motor Vehicle Theft Service handles motor vehicle and
But the Rangers'
caseload has continued to grow, along with the rest of Texas. In the
mid 1980's Rangers annually undertook more than 5,700 investigations
and filed more than 3,200 criminal cases. Rangers yearly arrested more
than 1,200 persons and recovered some $8 million worth of stolen property.
of the Ranger force stands at 134 commissioned members distributed in seven
companies "A" through "G" and a headquarters detachment
in Austin. "Field Ranger" Sergeants are supervised by a Senior Captain (Chief),
Headquarters Captain (Assistant Chief), company captains and lieutenants.
Texas Ranger Company Divisions
BECOMING A RANGER
Rangers are selected from the ranks of the Department of Public Safety.
No recruiting has ever been necessary. It is not unusual for more than
100 officers to apply for only a single opening. To become a Ranger,
a DPS officer must have at least eight years of commissioned law enforcement
experience (including two years with the DPS) and must have at least
60 hours of college or equivalencies, Ranger appointments are made up
on the basis of a competitive examination and oral interviews. Rangers
are required to attend at least 40 hours of in-service training every
two years, but for most Rangers, the training far exceeds that. Some
Rangers receive additional training in areas such as investigative hypnosis,
which has played an important role in numerous criminal cases.
In addition to
their high educational level, modern Rangers have the benefit of state-of-the-art
weaponry and other equipment. Each Ranger is furnished an automatic,
12 gauge shotgun and a semi-automatic rifle. He or she also
has a crime scene kit with materials for taking fingerprints and making
plaster casts of tracks and tool marks along with additional evidence-gathering
rifles, night vision scopes, tear gas guns and grenades and gas masks
are available for each Ranger company. Black lights, used for detecting
fluid traces on clothing and other items, also are available at the
company level. Sophisticated electronic surveillance equipment is at
the disposal of the Rangers as well.
travel by car, airplane or helicopter and occasionally by horse. Rangers
are not issued uniforms, they dress as they need to. A Ranger in Dallas
might wear a suit and tie while a Ranger assigned to a rural area would
likely choose Western wear. During normal everyday activity, Rangers
are still expected to wear western boots and have their badges pinned
to their shirts.
As Walter Prescott
Webb wrote in his 1935 history of the Rangers,
they "are what they
are because their enemies have been what they were. The Rangers had
to be superior to survive. Their enemies were pretty good...(the Rangers)
had to be better..."
That's the way it was, and that's the way it still is.