The Law Comes to Texas: The Texas Rangers 1870-1901, by Frederick Wilkins, State House Press, Austin, Texas, 1999, $29.95, $19.95 paperback.
The story of the Texas Rangers is long–full of crime-fighting feats real, imagined and somewhere in-between. Dallas-born Frederick Wilkins has sifted through thousands of pages of reports, muster and pay rolls, diaries and newspaper accounts in an effort to tell that story the way it really was–and the true tale cannot fit in one volume. The Law Comes to Texas: The Texas Rangers 1870-1901 comes on the heels of Wilkins’ The Legend Begins: the Texas Rangers 1823-1845 and The Highly Irregular Irregulars: Texas Rangers in the Mexican War. The final volume in the series, Defending the Borders: The Texas Rangers 1848-1861, will be out in 2000.
Texans love their history, so they should delight in this series of books–even those Lone Star Staters who are likely to argue a point or two about their most famous law enforcers. But the name Texas Rangers has an intriguing ring to it even in Bangor, Maine, and The Law Comes to Texas should also appeal to Old West buffs everywhere. After all, Wilkins’ 403-page work covers the era when gunslingers such as John Wesley Hardin, Sam Bass and King Fisher were being chased by Rangers such as Lee (originally “Leigh”) Hall, Leander McNelly, John H. Hughes and William J. McDonald.
And then there was Bass Outlaw (his actual name), a nervy Ranger whose drinking got him booted out of the force. Outlaw became a U.S. deputy marshal but kept drinking. One day in April 1884, the drunken lawman shot Ranger Joe McKidrict in the back outside an El Paso brothel before he himself was gunned down by Constable John Selman. People who try to shoot down the Ranger legend often cite Bass Outlaw, but, as Wilkins notes, the man “served well, and when he strayed he was kicked out of the Rangers.”
The book opens with Reconstruction in Texas, 1865-1873, and finishes with 1901, when the Texas Rangers’ famous Frontier Battalion was laid to rest, marking the end of an era. The Rangers remained, however, and they continue to serve today. In his preface, Wilkins states that his “only agenda in this tale is to tell an accurate story without apology, glorification, or revisionism.” The true story clearly stands tall…on its own merit.