following is condensed from Chapter 12 of The Law comes to Texas, by the late Frederick Wilkins, of Austin, Texas: State House Press,
1999. It is reprinted here with the permission of the author, Mr. Wilkins
and State House Press. No other use of this material is authorized without
the express written permission of the above named copyright holders.
We wish to express our thanks to Mr. Wilkins and the late Mr. Munnerlyn
for allowing us to use this material on our web page. Endnotes have
not been included in this condensation.
In the pages below
is a short description of what the day to day life in a Ranger camp
may have been like. Calling upon information found in company reports,
quartermaster records and some first-hand accounts, the author offers
a brief look into the life of a Texas Ranger, concluding with a tribute
to the Ranger mule.
reading Ranger scout reports, reviewing the monthly returns, or examining
laconic telegrams, it is easy to believe the Rangers were the stuff
of legend and myth rather than very real men who possessed the foibles
and faults of all men. Rangers had to eat and sleep, liked to have a
drink and chased women on occasion, and a few were thrown out of the
force for excessive fondness for some or all of these habits. Very little
of the reality of daily Ranger life is revealed in official records;
fortunately, most of the Rangers who wrote memoirs included descriptions
of camp life which provide a portrait of the Ranger as a person rather
than a manhunter.
Food and shelter
are the basic requirements for life; eating and sleeping for themselves
and their mounts had a great influence on most Ranger operations. During
the early years of the Frontier Battalion, the battalion=s quartermaster
supplied each Ranger company with a set ration consisting of flour,
bacon, beef, coffee, sugar, salt, soda, soap, vinegar, pepper, candles,
potatoes, onions and rice. A ration was the amount of each of these
items an individual Ranger would consume in one day, and the company
orderly sergeant was required each month to write out a list of how
much was on hand of each item. There was some variation in the rations
issued the companies because the quartermaster could not always find
every authorized item in each company location.
Although the Rangers
did not have a very varied diet, it was not bad for the time and probably
better than most people on the frontier, who ate what they could grow
or hunt. Many of the staple items were hard to find away from the settlements,
and the Rangers often swapped surplus flour, rice and sugar for fresh
milk and eggs and butter. Many accounts mention the ease of finding
wild game and fish. At times the Rangers would camp near pecan groves
or in an area where they could find wild honey. These natural supplements
to their diet were always welcome and often vital on long scouts when
supplies ran low.
The canvas tents which the state furnished as the basic Ranger shelter
worked well enough in warm months, but the bitter weather in North Texas
required special winter quarters, generally log huts or cabins depending
on how much timber was available. [James B.] Gillett describes how Company
D constructed log cabins when they were in winter quarters near the
San Saba River. Each mess of five men built a cabin about sixteen to
each eighteen feet square with a fireplace and chimney. Rangers also
took advantage of any building available: [George W.] Baylor's men were
able to live in stone or abode houses while in Yselta, and [Charles
L.] Nevill's company found some old buildings below Fort Davis which
the men occupied in a combination of adobe and tents.
In earlier days
a favorite pastime of the Rangers was horse racing, and many units developed
race tracks. Generally betting was not allowed because the danger of
hard feelings over losing money was too great;. . . The proscription
of gambling also applied to card games; [George] Durham describes a
card game in which he cheated in an attempt to beat an old hand who
was a master poker player. The deception almost ended in a gunfight.
Nevertheless, card playing remained a favorite way to kill time when
off duty, and some companies even set the hours for play. When Company
E petitioned for definite times, Lieutenant Gillespie published a company
order to set the rules: men, when not on duty, could play cards between
eight and eleven in the morning and one and five in the afternoon. If
any man gambled for cartridges or after hours, he lost his privileges.
Mrs. Roberts [wife
of Capt. Dan W. Roberts] wrote about a croquet set among the possessions
of Company D while she was with the unit which the Rangers enjoyed.
Music was also a favorite, although not every company was lucky enough
to have musicians. Mrs. Roberts mentioned the number of Company D=s
men who played some instrument; Captain Roberts was a talented violinist,
and the men formed their own band and played concerts for people when
they were near a settlement or army post. Gillett mentions that the
musicians of Company D were not the only ones; Company A also had a
number of talented musicians. Major [John B.] Jones enjoyed the concerts
by the members of his escort company.
When a company
was near a town or army post, the Rangers took advantage of any social
events taking place. Mrs. Roberts mentions one combined dance and quilting
bee, lasting day and night, which people traveled considerable distances
to attend. The Company D dandies always attended such festivities but
sometimes on a take-your-turn basis when they had to pool their decent
clothing so that at least a few might attend.
Most men signed
on as Rangers with little more than the clothing on their backs. Although
a Ranger was obligated to have a horse, saddle and arms in order to
enlist, even these requirements were not always followed to the letter
of the law. Especially in the early years, the state frequently allowed
a promising recruit to enlist without personal weapons, furnishing his
arms and deducting the money from his first pay. In late December 1874,
Captain [Martin H.] Kenney, the battalion=s quartermaster, wrote Lieutenant
[J. T.] Wilson in Company A and gave him a list of men who owed money
for clothing or horses. Most of the sums are modest, suggesting the
purchase of clothing, but a sixty-five dollar debit indicated reimbursement
for a horse. Durham mentions arriving in Texas with only the clothing
on his back and wearing the same outfit for over a year before he could
save enough for a new outfit.
popular during this era, and there are many pictures of the Rangers
of the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The average Ranger of
the late 1870s normally lived in his work clothes, which were also his
dress clothes. He did not look like the movie cowboys; unlike the cowboy
boots popular today, he wore boots almost knee high and cut square across
the top with a high heel and somewhat pointed toes. Usually a Ranger=s
boots were the best item of clothing he owned. His spurs were heavy,
with large rowels. A wide-brimmed hat was a necessity, and they were
worn in almost every color and shape. The Ranger had long underwear,
and his pants and shirt were generally of fairly heavy weight. he wore
a vest, a handy place to keep a watch if he had one, coins, tobacco
and any papers. In the colder portions of the state, or during winter,
the Ranger wore a heavy coat manufactured of anything from thick cloth
to buffalo hide.
Unlike the cowboys
depicted on TV and in movie westerns, the Ranger carried his knife and
pistol on a belt worn high on his waist; he needed his handgun ready
at any time and could take no chances on a belt hung low on his hips.
A number of contemporary photographs show Rangers wearing cross-draw
holsters, a convenient way to draw a weapon when riding.
The grim, relentless
manhunters were also practical jokers. Since Texas supplied the Rangers
with little more than the opportunity to get shot, each recruit was
eager to obtain anything free, and a favorite trick was telling new
Rangers that the state furnished them with free socks. Naturally, the
man issuing the free socks was the company commander, and the old hands
would watch from cover as the new man approached the captain to ask
for his socks. Captain Roberts of Company D always went along with the
Some pranks were
more physical in nature. During winter, when the Rangers lived in log
cabins, a great favorite was blocking the chimney with rags. When the
smoke forced the occupants to flee, other Rangers would rush up screaming
Afire!@ then dash inside to throw outside all the possessions of the
Jeff Milton, besides
being a good man with a gun, was a champion jokester. One of his friends
could never understand why his girl friend had dropped him and refused
even to talk to him; he never knew Milton had confided to her in strictest
confidence that her boyfriend was an escaped convict.
One day when alone
in camp, Mrs. Roberts received some letters addressed to her husband,
who was away on business. One letter was from Austin, and usually any
message from the capitol was bad news; the Rangers asked her about the
contents, certain it was news about cutting company strength. She finally
told them they were right; the legislature was on another economy move
and all men under five feet ten inches would be discharged. For some
time the company was in turmoil as men measured each other trying to
estimate heights to see if they had made the cutoff until Captain Roberts
returned and told them it was all a joke. Mrs. Roberts said "the
Rangers thought it was a good joke and did not hold it against me."
Not every Ranger
spent his time in paying cards or thinking up practical jokes. When
off duty, especially during the long winter evenings, some of them studied
and eventually became lawyers, doctors, or other professionals. Probably
about the same number of men, however, were unable to read or write,
although some of these learned the rudiments during their enlistment.
A number of the older men saved their money and purchased cattle and
land; others not interested in being tied down to a ranch purchased
a few head and had nearby farmers or ranchers keep their stock with
the larger herds. . . A number of Rangers became large landholders when
they left the service; Nevill, Gillett and [Pat] Dolan all had large
ranches in the Trans Pecos, and [John B.] Armstrong became a major landholder
in South Texas. Many Rangers went to work as ranch foremen or ranch
managers. R. R. Russell saved his money, became a banker and one of
the few Ranger millionaires. Perhaps the majority of Rangers, however,
had a good time and spent their wages about as fast as they were paid.
The Rangers changed
as Texas changed. Living conditions improved dramatically from 1874
to 1890, and to some degree the Rangers reflected these improvements.
The men were still young and looking for adventure, but they were somewhat
better educated and dressed better. In 1875 Gillett wrote about the
necessity for gathering up all the good clothing in Company D to obtain
a few complete and decent outfits for the local dances; a photograph
of Company D in the mid-1880s shows every man in a coat and tie. The
battalion picture of 1896 portrays each Ranger in a good "Sunday"
suit, something almost unknown in the 1870s. Ranger [Alonso] Van Oden
describes very matter of fact manner how he spent a month's pay for
a new suit and a pair of boots, a commonplace expenditure by the 1890s.
A few things remained
constant during the quarter century, and one of the features of camp
life has received little mention over the years. Much has been written
about the celebrated Ranger horses, but each company also had a few
mules for hauling the company wagon or for use as pack animals on long
scouts. A tribute to the Ranger mules is overdue.
The mules, carefully
selected and smaller than most of their breed, had impressive endurance
and made possible the long scouts that became a Ranger trademark. They
kept up with the horses and charged along with the unit in a fight.
The Rangers swore the animals knew what was happening and enjoyed the
battle. At least one was killed in action, and many others were cut
free and lost.
Brave as they were,
the feature that most impressed those who wrote about the mules was
their sense of the ludicrous. They were animal comedians which, unless
confined, wandered through the camps taking food from the Rangers. They
delighted in frightening wagon trains by spooking other mules or horses
hauling freight. Once, in Austin, a Ranger mule got loose and wandered
about the streets until it ran into one of the new mule-drawn trolley
cars; the Ranger mule charged the other mule which bolted and jerked
the trolley from the tracks.
On scouts the little mules were laden with everything from Dutch ovens
to ammunition boxes, frying pans, coffee pots, canned food, and forage,
most of which made a terrific racket startling to other animals. The
mules seemed to be aware of their ability to instill fear and would
charge other animals to cause confusion. Orders finally had to be issued
to keep the mules out of settlements and towns and away from road traffic.
The mules' antics and abilities didn't change over the years; Gillett
wrote about their antics in the 1870s, [Ira] Aten told the same wild
tales in the 1880s, and even in the late 1890s Paine described [William
J.] McDonalds mules and the wild charges.
So, after all their
years of service, a belated tribute is hereby extended to the Ranger
mules, essential features of camp and field who knew little of the law
but understood duty.