A ubiquitous part of Western history and myth, the Texas Rangers are one of the most storied law enforcement agencies in the world. Their legacy is the product of nearly 200 years of protecting the frontier.
Following the Mexican War of Independence, tensions were high between the newly settled families of what is now Texas and the native tribes. In 1823, the “Father of Texas,” Stephen F. Austin, assembled an informal militia to protect the settlers and “act as rangers for the common defense.” This group became the ancestors of the Texas Rangers.
In 1835, the Rangers became formally constituted, and within two years, their ranks numbered more than 300. During the Texas Revolution and Mexican-American War, they functioned as scouts, spies, and couriers. They also played a critical defense role against Indian, Mexican, and outlaw attacks. Armed with Colt revolvers, they were a devastating force.
In the following decades, the Rangers’ reputation expanded far outside the Texas borders. Names like Leander McNelly, John Jones, and John Coffee Hays circulated across the West. The Rangers’ capture of notorious criminal John Wesley Hardin and killing of outlaw Sam Bass only increased their reputation and renown. Today, there are some 150 commissioned Texas Rangers who wear the iconic badge.
The following images, courtesy of the Texas Ranger Museum and Hall of Fame, offer a glimpse into the history of the oldest state law enforcement body in the country.