Whiskey River Ranger: The Old West Life of Baz Outlaw, by Bob Alexander, University
of North Texas Press, Denton, 2016, $34.95
When John Entwistle, bass guitarist for The Who, wrote “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde” in 1968, he was inspired by the effect alcohol had on the group’s notoriously irresponsible drummer, Keith Moon. He might just as well have been alluding to Baz Outlaw.
“Who?” you might ask. Contrary to his family name, Georgia-born Bazzell Lamar Outlaw gained fame as one of the early Texas Rangers whose exploits in the latter half of the 19th century helped establish what arguably became the world’s most formidable body of lawmen. Outlaw helped when sober, that is, when his professionalism and proficiency with a gun made him a legend among legends.
When Outlaw was “in his cups,” it was a different story. His judgment went by the board, and he became the sort of mean drunk even close friends needed to give a wide berth. In an El Paso brothel in the early morning hours of April 4, 1894, his Achilles’ heel finally caught up with him in a tragic altercation involving, among others, fellow Ranger “Buckskin Joe” McKidrict and Constable John Selman.
Whiskey River Ranger is the latest in a series of biographies retired lawman Bob Alexander has mined from the rich vein of ore that is Texas Ranger history, each focusing on an individual who contributed to the organization’s legend. As in previous studies he presents a wealth of documentation to back his play. And as before, even after separating fact from legend, what remains is a rip-roaring tale. Detracting somewhat from the narrative is Alexander’s tendency to get carried away by his own prose and belabor a point with repetition and excessive psychological speculation. Still he delivers a fascinating, warts-and-all study of a man who literally walked the line between the best and worst of human nature. Relevant photographs and illustrations further evoke lawman Outlaw’s life and times.
Gentleman, brute or both? Texas Ranger buffs seeking a new badge for their display shelves can read about Baz and decide for themselves.