Texas Ranger Ira Aten

Aten knew that bringing law and order to the land had to be the highest honor a man could achieve.
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Credit: Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum

Credit: Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum

In 1878, Ira Aten (1862–1956), the 16-year-old son of a Methodist Minister, was instantly enamored with the Ranger way of life upon witnessing the death of notorious outlaw Sam Bass. Then and there, among the Texas Rangers who had brought down the criminal, Aten knew that bringing law and order to the land had to be the highest honor a man could achieve, and set his sights on becoming a lawman.

Five years later, he joined the Rangers. He served from 1878 to 1891 (sometimes volunteering without pay), playing a crucial role in what most folks called “The Fence-Cutting Wars.” 

After barbed-wire began stretching across the once-open range, fence clippers became contraband as outlaws, hustlers, and disgruntled cowboys snipped out protest against the settlement of the West. Tasked to find a solution in 1876, Aten worked as an undercover ranch hand to root out the potentially violent fence offenders. 

When his investigative attempts ran dry, Aten found another solution—dynamite. By rigging a low tension wire between two fence posts at high-traffic spots, Aten made sure that if the wires on the top were cut, the one down below would trigger an explosion. 

The Adjutant General caught wind of Aten’s experimental methods and ordered the bombs be removed immediately. Not overly fond of orders, Aten decided to light a few sticks. Word quickly spread that bombs were planted under fence lines all across the range, effectively cowing the fence cutters in the area and marking Aten as a highly effective, if nontraditional, lawman on the plains.

Ira’s success as a Ranger in both The Fence Cutting War and in political arenas earned him no small influence over community affairs, and he remained a dedicated civil servant until succumbing to pneumonia at 91 years old.

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