Of Grit and Guns (200 Years of the Texas Rangers) – Fort Worth Magazine

The Texas Rangers are celebrating 200 years in service to the state and all that looks like — the good, bad, and ugly.
by John Henry
January 10, 2023
8:25 AM
Texas Ranger Bicentennial 2023
Ramiro “Ray” Martinez’s journey to the famed Texas Rangers law enforcement agency began in earnest with a perilous ascent to the top of one of the state’s most recognizable symbols.
From the observation deck of The Tower on the 40 acres of the University of Texas in Austin, the devil’s wrath rained down in the form of the most vengeful sharpshooting madman, who picked off his victims with the accuracy of a well-trained carpenter hammering nails.
The innocence and idealism of the university was suddenly transformed into Mephistopheles’ battlefield, a paradise lost. For almost 90 minutes, as Charles Whitman killed 14 people, not including his wife and mother, and wounded 31 others.
Whitman killed or wounded fellow students, a pregnant woman, shoppers and shopkeepers on the bustling Guadalupe Street, a police officer, and a newspaper boy making his rounds on his bicycle.
Martinez, “Ranger Ray,” as he would eventually be known, two other Austin police officers, and a civilian with a rifle did what the good guys do — put down this rebellion against good, against God himself, and confront and kill the bastard. Martinez and Officer Houston McCoy killed Whitman with Officer Jerry Day and Allen Crum providing cover.
The selfless servants governing good and evil had ultimately won the day.
“Your training takes over. You have a mission, so to speak,” Martinez says by phone recently. “And the mission is to protect and serve the population you’re serving. It was something that had to be done. I just happened to be lucky that I was the one who made it up there. There were roughly 100 law enforcement around there. The leadership elected to see that something needed to be done besides just shooting from a distance. Someone needed to go there and confront the killer.”
Martinez’s acclaimed law enforcement career wound around to a place on the most famous law enforcement unit of them all — the Texas Rangers. It was there that he confronted more wicked forces of society, the Duke of Duval and all his incendiary devices of graft and corruption, whose germs were so widespread that 50 years of law enforcement efforts had failed to unroot it.
We’ll find out about all of that, but in 2023 the Texas Rangers, started by Stephen F. Austin, the empresario who created his own force of 10 men to protect the population from attacking Native American warriors within his colony, turns 200 years old. He paid them out of his own wallet, this force designed to supplement the Mexican government’s militia patrols, which, in reality, were not unsatisfactory but, in some cases, nonexistent.
That was the year 1823, 13 or so years before Texas’ successful separation from her mother country.
The Texas Ranger Association and two other nonprofits, the Texas Department of Public Safety Foundation and the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, are using 2023 to celebrate the bicentennial.
“It can be argued that without the Texas Rangers in the first place, we would not have had the Republic of Texas or the state of Texas,” says Gov. Greg Abbott at the Fort Worth Stock Show kickoff announcement on March 2 — Texas Independence Day — at Dickies Arena.
“In order to have an organized society, to have a nation, a state, or country, you must first have law and order, and it was the Texas Rangers who provided the law and order that provided the foundation that led to the Republic of Texas and that led to the greatest state in the history of this country.”
Texas Ranger Bicentennial 2023
To be a Ranger, one must first be a DPS trooper. That’s the way it’s been since 1935. The Rangers, since that year a division within the Department of Public Safety, have led investigative responsibility for major violent crimes, unsolved violent crimes, serial criminals, public corruption, public integrity offenses, and officer-involved shootings. The division is also responsible for the state’s border security operations program and DPS tactical operations.
They are more often than not called in to jurisdictions that don’t have the resources to investigate.
A little more than a year from now, emerging from the ground at DPS headquarters in Austin will be a new Texas DPS Memorial. The existing memorial is inadequate, as well as incomplete, missing more than 100 Rangers who gave their lives in service to their state and country. All of those who died before the formation of the DPS in 1935.
The memorial will depict a Ranger in the same granite as the state capitol.
It is part of the $10 million fundraising goal of the Texas Ranger 2023 Bicentennial.
The objective is to fund the memorial, a mobile Texas Ranger museum with approximately 1,200 square feet of exhibit space that will tour the state, and a scholarship fund for children of active Rangers, and a relief fund for active and retired Rangers.
At the Stock Show, the Rangers will have exhibits space and DPS and Rangers assets on display. There will be lectures and different educational components, including historians dressed in regalia.
“One of the things we want to show is there’s more to DPS than being just a trooper,” says Russell Molina, chairman of Texas Ranger 2023. “That’s what everybody sees, but there’s so much more behind that.”
In other words, the DPS is not simply out writing speeding tickets on the Chisholm Trail Parkway, despite a seemingly 24/7 presence there.
“And then we’ll be taking that show on the road,” says Molina, of the exhibits at the Stock Show. The bicentennial celebration will head to each of the six company jurisdictions of the Rangers in Texas: In addition to Fort Worth-Dallas, they’ll be in Houston, El Paso, Lubbock, the Rio Grande Valley, San Antonio, and, lastly, headquarters in Austin.
“We’re going to all of those areas for four-day, five-day exposure where we have a display of assets,” Molina says. “Every division of DPS will be showcasing what they do: forensic, aircraft, finance and IT, and criminal investigation.”
Texas Ranger Bicentennial 2023
There has been in recent years quite a bit of panting over the history of Rangers as politically correct revisionists put the organization in their scope of targets.
It’s true that the Rangers are seen as the crest of Texas, a heraldic device of its bigness and exceptionalism. That representation is supported through the mechanisms of popular culture.
I grew up watching the “Lone Ranger” in syndication. Chuck Norris, of course, put his stamp on the franchise, starring in the acclaimed “Walker, Texas Ranger,” whose shoots occasionally took the cast through Fort Worth. Sammy Baugh, the legendary TCU quarterback, was a Ranger in film, too, in “King of the Texas Rangers,” released in 1941. (Challenge Amazon Prime with that search-engine request.)
A cursory examination of ol’ reliable IMDB.com — the database for everything Hollywood — shows dozens of films on the Texas Rangers, including one starring John Wayne himself and others featuring Audie Murphy, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and even Clint Eastwood in the early 1990s. That one has slipped through the cracks of my memory of Eastwood films.
More recently, “The Highwaymen,” starring venerable Hollywood showpieces Kevin Costner, portraying famed Ranger Frank Hamer, and Woody Harrelson, depicts two Texas Rangers successfully pinning down notorious outlaws Bonnie and Clyde in Louisiana.
Not every successful mission caught the eye of screenwriters, however. A lesser-known story involves a Ranger successfully interrupting an assassination attempt of U.S. President William Howard Taft and Mexican President Porfirio Diaz in 1909 at the shared border in El Paso.
The Secret War in El Paso tells the story of Ranger C.R. Moore interceding, grabbing the suspect by the arm, and finding that a Mexican revolutionary posing as a newspaper reporter was carrying a “pencil pistol,” intent killing two birds with one stone, so to speak, ending the decades-long rule of Diaz and likely making James Sherman the 28th president of the United States.
Critics disapprove of Hollywood’s romanticism of the Rangers, whose tactics in some cases, particularly in those early frontier days, mirrored those of zealous warriors.  
Some would say overzealous warriors.
U.S. Army General Zachary, commanding general in the Mexican War, liked the volunteer Rangers, “brave and gallant in war.” They were ready and able soldiers in combat, make no mistake about it, though, he added, “some could be savage in peace.”
Over the years, from that period until into the 1930s, the Rangers acquired the nickname Los Diablos Tejanos for what some would call remorseless repression controlling the border regions.
A controversial book published in 2020, Cult of Glory, by Doug Swanson was unyielding in scolding the historical Rangers.
“The Rangers were the violent instruments of repression. They burned peasant villages and slaughtered innocents. They committed war crimes. Their murders of Mexicans and Mexican Americans made them as feared on the border as the Ku Klux Klan in the Deep South. They hunted runaway slaves for bounty. They violated international law with impunity. They sometimes moved though Texas towns like a rampaging gang of thugs. They conspired to quash the civil rights of Black citizens. They busted unions and broke strikes. They enforced racial segregation of public schools. They botched important criminal investigations. They served the interests of the moneyed and powerful while oppressing the poor and disenfranchised. They have been the army of Texas’ ruling class. And they have consistently lied about it.”
Not only that, Swanson alleged, the Rangers covered up “their wrongdoing” through the art of “mythic rehabilitation and resurrection.”
“For decades, the Rangers operated a fable factory through which many of their greatest defeats, worst embarrassments, and darkest moment were recast as grand triumphs. They didn’t merely whitewash the truth. They destroyed it.”
The Rangers en brochette.
Texas Ranger Bicentennial 2023
One incident Swanson features — and uses to make a sweeping censure — is the attempt to integrate schools in Mansfield. The author makes a condemnation of the Rangers’ actions there — or rather inaction and allegation of the sin of omission — specifically the condemnation of Ranger Jay Banks not assisting Black students to enroll in school.
Banks, of course, in reality had been prohibited by Gov. Allan Shivers from doing so. This wasn’t a situation like Little Rock where Eisenhower’s direction to the troops was to assist in integrating the schools. The Rangers were tasked with preventing violence, a mission the Rangers successfully accomplished.
To that end, Banks allowed safe passage for a priest on-site to advocate for the admittance of the Black students.
That book was what led to the city of Dallas taking down the “One Riot, One Ranger” monument in Love Field — the Ranger statue is Banks — over what the statue might represent for some people.
It was a curious thing, this removal of the statue, to those with ties to the Rangers, who noted that one of Banks’ biggest admirers is Earl Pearson, the first African American chief of the Texas Rangers. Pearson later recounted how, as a young DPS trooper, he met Banks, who encouraged him to apply to become a Texas Ranger.
Banks even wrote him a letter of recommendation.
Some academics have pounced on Swanson’s tome. North Texas history professor and author Richard McCaslin denounced the book as having sacrificed historical accuracy after the author “abandoned objectivity and deep research.
“Perhaps this is a good book if you want to understand the violence that swirled around the early settlers of Texas, and the legal conflicts that wracked the Lone Star State in the 20th century, but the Rangers are not the most common source of this brutality,” McCaslin wrote in a review.
That’s not to say bad stuff didn’t happen. The Rangers and their supporters don’t even deny that.
“I thought it was just a rehash of old stuff,” says Martinez. “He wasn’t discovering anything new. Just rehashing old criticisms. If you go into the history of the Rangers, yes, there were the dark days. Hell, they were not perfect.”
They also weren’t always Rangers, Martinez says. At least not full Rangers. Some were so-called “Special Rangers” or reserve Rangers, which designated one a “Ranger” for the purpose of carrying a gun. Some of these people worked in the railroad or were cattlemen.
“They were all ‘Special Rangers,’” Martinez says. “They didn’t come under the scrutiny of the values or [train in an] academy. Therefore, you pay for what you get sometimes. We paid dearly because some of those people, especially along the border, they were just gun happy, so to speak, and needless to say they didn’t know the first thing about law enforcement. I’m sure there was a lot of stuff that went on that was illegal or shouldn’t be condoned.”
The first thing Miriam “Ma” Ferguson, a paragon of corruption, did when she took office in January 1933 was fire all the Rangers for the sin of supporting her opponent, Ross Sterling. Incoming Rangers, too, saw a reduction in salaries, and the Legislature further reduced the Rangers’ force.
That didn’t attract the best and brightest. It also served to attract the ignobles, such as Bonnie and Clyde and all the other Depression-era gangsters who now saw a Texas weakened in law enforcement as a sanctuary for their pursuit of ill-gotten gains. That’s why Ma, as depicted in “The Highwaymen,” recalled Rangers Frank Hamer and Maney Gault to find Bonnie and Clyde.
It’s also true that those early Rangers were formed by the brutal frontier, characterized by savage attacks by Native populations unsparing in their determination to see settlers out of Texas by any means necessary.
Revisionism is full of magnifying glasses exploring and judging past events using the criteria of the 21st century. Certainly, we wince when examining what happened at Porvenir in 1918. We also, on the other hand, have never been subjected to the terror or machinations of Villistas.
Sadly, no one, in those days in that time and space, just considered anyone part of the same human family.
“We want to tell the history correctly and in full context,” says Molina, the chairman of the Rangers bicentennial celebration. “The good, bad, and the ugly. We’re doing it all, but most importantly, it needs to be accurate.
“I’ve been working with historians and academia, and I ask them, ‘Do you understand the importance of what you’re working on. What you’re doing here is laying that groundwork. You have to get this right.’ You can’t tell Texas history without the Rangers being part of it.”
Texas Ranger Bicentennial 2023
“I really never saw myself,” Chance Collins says before pausing, “you hear people say, ‘I always wanted to be a Ranger.’ I really never saw myself at that level. My sights were set on being a highway patrolman. I wanted to be the best. I wanted to be with DPS, and I wanted to wear the uniform of a highway patrolman because I saw that every day in what they did and who they were.”
Collins, though retired, will be a Texas Ranger until the hue of health has left his cheeks.
Collins retired as chief after 4 1/2 years [SC1] in September after 20 years with the Rangers and eight years before that with the DPS.
His brother-in-law, DPS Trooper Daniel Higdon, stationed in Tyler, was killed in the line of duty in 1983. Higdon was standing between two trucks when one rolled back, striking both.
“He was the brother I never had,” Collins says. “I went to his funeral, and here were all these people, just a mass of people from across the country. And I thought, ‘You don’t even know him.’
“I think we all want to be part of something greater than ourselves. That really solidified it for me. All I ever wanted to do was wear that uniform.”
One of his first cases as a Ranger was a gang-related mass killing in Edinburg. That resulted in death sentences. As a major, he worked the shootout between bikers at the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco in 2015. He was also involved in the mass shootings at Sutherland Springs and, more recently, Uvalde.
“There are individual cases that really touch you,” Collins says. “It’s one thing to have a homicide, it’s another to have a living victim you talk to.”
He recalls a conversation with his sister-in-law, a nurse, who asked him about a case.
“I never talked in detail about cases,” he says.
But his sister-in-law asked him about a case and mentioned the name of the victim. He said, yes, he did indeed know of the case and the remembered it well. The lady worked as a nurse with his sister-in-law.
The case involved a woman in her 60s who had been sexually assaulted repeatedly in her home by three men who had broken in and tied her and her husband up. Collins went to the hospital to investigate.
“It felt like I was talking to my mother,” Collins says. “She reminded me of my mother. There’s been a couple of cases like that. But I looked at her and said, ‘We are going to find the people who did this to you.’ The look on her face was so — she was in such pain obviously, emotional pain — thankful. You could see the trust that, ‘I know you’re going to help me.’ That drives you. It’s hard to explain. And we did find them.”
It was a moment he wasn’t imagining. His presence and reassuring words were the beginning of healing for a terribly broken woman. His sister-in-law went on to tell him that the woman, not knowing she was related to Collins, opened up about the crime and the Ranger who was working the case.
“She said, ‘I knew when he told me they were going to find the people who did this that it was going to be OK. I just felt it was going to be OK.’”
That’s the kind of stuff that’s worth a year’s salary.
Martinez, a student at UT before leaving for the U.S. Army, like former Earl Pearson, the first Black chief, was a native of Rotan, a three-hour drive west of Fort Worth and just a smidge, 62 miles, northwest of Abilene.
“I didn’t know Mr. Crum,” says Martinez of the civilian who joined him and two other officers at the top of the tower. “He had a rifle in his hand. When I started going up the steps, he said, ‘Where are you going?’ I said I’m going to look for the shooter. And he said, ‘You’re not going alone. I’ll cover you, you cover me.’ I said, ‘Well, c’mon.’
When they got up there, they were joined by McCoy and Day.
“I went out the door, and of course a lot of friendly fire was coming up,” Martinez says of other civilians on the ground doing what they could do to take out Charles Whitman. “It wasn’t very friendly, but anyway. They didn’t know we were up there.”
Martinez was carrying his six-shot revolver, a Smith and Wesson 38-44 Heavy Duty revolver, and McCoy, a shotgun when they stepped out onto the tower’s lookout deck in 1966. When Martinez turned a corner, he spotted Whitman crouched down at the end of the other tier.
Martinez fired all six shots, hitting the killer. McCoy followed with a shotgun blast that finished him off and another to make sure. The two officers, perhaps letting out the angst of a city, got their money’s worth. Martinez grabbed McCoy’s shotgun and fired again.
Texas Ranger Bicentennial 2023
Sadly, the incident was merely the first of the phenomenon known as the American mass shooting.
Debate raged for years about which officer’s bullet actually killed Whitman. There is no doubt that both got their licks in.
Martinez, only the third Hispanic on the Austin police department when he was sworn in, in 1960, was up for promotion at the time of the tower massacre. He was soon promoted to sergeant investigator, a job he had held for two years before leaving for the proverbial greener pastures and greener bank account.
He went in with a partner to open a restaurant.
Martinez had only been there about two weeks when he knew he had made a mistake. “But it was too late. I was already committed.” After eight months, he had had enough. An application to the Department of Public Safety was successful. He was hired on in 1969 and appointed as an agent to its narcotics division.
“I had known about the Rangers, and I admired them,” Martinez says. “Bill Wilson was the Ranger stationed in Austin. I had contact with him; I knew him. I thought, maybe, one day.”
A very convenient opportunity to join the elite department fell in his lap. It turned out to be too good to be true, for Martinez anyway. In the mail was delivered a personal letter from Texas Ranger Senior Captain Clint Peoples. It was an invitation to take the promotional test for Ranger.
At the time, the DPS was under political pressure to add more Hispanics to the Rangers. Martinez discovered that that’s where the interest lay in his becoming a Ranger. He wanted nothing to do with it. He wanted to compete and earn a position on an even playing field.
“I felt that I could have made it then, but I didn’t want to be a token,” Martinez says. “I didn’t want to be given anything I didn’t deserve. I wanted to compete. I sent him [Peoples] a nice letter declining the invitation.”
In the letter, Martinez said he believed he was needed more at DPS in narcotics to help eradicate the drug problem.
He applied the next time through the normal channels. He passed the test and made it to the interview board, where he was met there by none other than Capt. Peoples, who greeted him with a question: “Ray, did you eradicate the drug problem?”
Everybody, and I mean everybody, has jokes.
That year, Martinez “died on the list,” a term familiar to just about every Ranger. After one is approved for promotion, through the rigors of a test and interview process, he or she is sent to “the list.” Those on the list — three to five make it — are up for promotion to the Rangers as soon as an opening occurs.
One stays on the list for a year. If you don’t make the Rangers within the year, you — yes — die on the list. Once the year is up, you come off the list and start all over again with the testing and interview process.
The very next year, 1973, during the sesquicentennial of the Texas Rangers, Martinez became “Ranger Ray,” beginning a career that would last 18 years. He was sent to Laredo, where, he says with a laugh, “I did a little of everything.”
High-profile cases were in his future, the first being the investigation into the deadly Carrasco incident at the state penitentiary in Huntsville. Frederico Gomez Carrasco, a convicted South Texas drug kingpin serving time for assault with intent to murder a police officer, and other inmates conceived of a plan to stage a rebellion at the prison. The plan to smuggle firearms into the prison was successful, but the ensuing siege, lasting 11 days, was a disaster told to the world. When negotiations broke down, two female hostages and an inmate were killed. Carrasco committed suicide.
Martinez and a team of Rangers were sent to investigate how guns and ammunition were smuggled into the prison.
The perpetrator was an employee, who smuggled the guns in by disguising them as food and the bullets as pineapple, repurposing the pineapple can to hold bullets. The Rangers were tipped off by an abnormality in the employee’s lie-detector test.
“He had fled to Houston. He knew the jig was up,” says Martinez. “He was arrested in San Antonio and confessed.”
The Texas Rangers had been after George Parr for literally generations when Martinez’s team of Rangers was sent back in under the direction of Texas Attorney General John Hill in 1975. Parr was known as the “Duke of Duval County.” His machine politics ran Duval County and neighboring counties since his father’s days in the 19-teens. Parr, beginning with his father, was the patrone, and graft and corruption were the name of the game.
Among Parr’s patrons was Lyndon Johnson, who likely owed his ascent to the presidency to the Duke. Without the mysterious, suddenly discovered Box 13, where vote counters found the necessary 87 votes, LBJ never would have won election to the U.S. Senate. Well, not in 1948 anyway.
In addition to the proverbial iron fist and intimidation, George Parr ruled with bullets.
And this is how the system worked: Parr put his own people in the leverage-heavy positions, gutted his enemies wherever and whenever possible, kept as many of the citizens as possible in an appreciative slavery, and stole as much as he could for himself.
One anecdote from the Dallas Morning News from the 1950s describes such, as well as the tension and lengths the Rangers went in stopping him. The Rangers pursued this guy for years.
“One Ranger bloodied George Parr’s left ear in a courthouse brawl Monday and said he made the South Texas political kingpin promise to stop ‘carrying Winchesters over there in Duval County.’”
It was Capt. Alfred Allee who belted Parr — by that time, no one doubted he deserved it —during a brief fight in the Duval County courthouse that started as an argument between Ranger Joe Bridge and Parr’s nephew, Archer Parr, who was — get this — the sheriff of Duval County. George Parr was waiting to plead innocent to a charge of illegally carrying a gun.
George Parr and another, ahem, gentleman were charged with brandishing guns at a meeting of Freedom Party members in San Diego — not that San Diego. San Diego, Texas, is the seat of government of Duval County, predominantly Mexican-American country. The Freedom Party opposed the reign of Parr, and with that kind of opposition came risks.
During the fight, Allee and Archer Parr both went for their guns.
“I thought for sure there was going to be a killing,” said Caro Brown, a reporter for The Associated Press, told the Morning News.
Brown said that before the scuffle, Bridge and Archer Parr were arguing over the circumstances of George Parr’s appearance on the gun charge.
“Well, I don’t appreciate the runaround I got,” Bridge said to Archer Parr.
“Well, I know of some things you’ve done unbecoming …,” Archer Parr answered. His reply was interrupted by Bridge’s fists, which knocked Archer’s glasses to the floor.
Archer jerked out his gun. Allee, a 200-pound veteran of tough border country patrols, twisted the pistol out of the slender Parr’s hand.
At this point, “chubby” George Parr jumped into the fight, but he didn’t have time to swing. Allee hauled off and landed the blow to poor George’s left ear.
After the 20-minute talk inside the courtroom, they all emerged, and Allee said George Parr had promised to stop pistol whipping and otherwise carrying Winchesters in Duval County. However, mere months later, Allee said the Rangers uncovered a Parr plot to kill him — the Parrs, it was alleged, were not above murder to maintain their power.
“I am here until this thing is over with — me and my six men. I think my company can handle it. We are all for one and one for all,” Allee said, with a not-so-subtle warning to the Parrs, “If anything happens to me or my men, we will get you.”
It wasn’t until 1974 that the Parrs finally fell, with the help of the feds, who nabbed both Parrs for income tax evasion.
George Parr, out on appeal but due in court for a bond revocation hearing, went missing. The Rangers found him on his ranch slumped over and dead of a self-inflicted gun-shot wound. Archer Parr was already in a federal penitentiary.
However, the germ of Duval County — corruption — was still everywhere.
Texas Attorney General John Hill sent in the Rangers. On that task force was Ray Martinez, along with Rudy Rodriguez, and Gene Powell, all working under Capt. John Wood.
What they found was staggering. Corruption in every government institution, including the school district.
“The schools, the city, the county, you name it,” Martinez says. “They had their hands in it, defrauding the public coffers.”
Seized in one raid were missing school records that were found in a well between the ceiling and roof of the Benavides school district administration building. The records had been sought since the previous year in connection with the Internal Revenue Service probe of the Parrs.
“The records included letters and other documents dealing with the operation of the school district,” a newspaper account recorded. “They were apparently thrust into the space hurriedly.”
That investigation netted 300 state indictments against school and county officials.
“I’m proud of the Duval County investigation,” Martinez says. “I was real proud of that investigation.”
Score another for the good guys.
January 10, 2023
8:25 AM
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