The Men Who Wear the Star: The Story of the Texas Rangers, by Charles M. Robinson III, Random House, New York, 2000, $29.95.

In the tradition of Walter Prescott Webb, whose classic The Texas Rangers: A Century of Frontier Defense appeared in 1935, Texas native Charles M. Robinson gives a colorful account of the most storied law enforcement organization in the West in one well-written volume. Webb’s Ranger tale had needed a retelling for some time, and several authors have decided to take on the challenge.

Believing that the Ranger story could not adequately be told in just one book, Texas author Frederick Wilkins has produced four volumes. The last one, Defending the Borders: The Texas Rangers 1848-1861 (State House Press, Austin), is due out this year. In 1999, Thomas Knowles’ illustrated history They Rode for the Lone Star: The Saga of the Texas Rangers, Vol. 1 (Taylor Publishing, Dallas) appeared, just after the 175th anniversary of the Rangers. Both of these authors, as well as Robinson, point to 1823, when “rangers” was apparently first applied to a Texas defense force, as the beginning of the Rangers. Webb didn’t consider those early irregulars as actual Rangers, and indeed the Texas Rangers weren’t formally organized until 1835.

Robinson covers the Rangers in 352 pages, far less than the 580-plus pages Webb devoted to them, but many readers will find that a blessing. New material has been uncovered since Webb wrote his book, of course, but Robinson points out that much of the record has also been lost. Like any modern historian, Robinson has had to weed through legends and deal with what he calls “the blurred line between myth and reality.” Not all Rangers lived up to their heroic image, and the author does a good job of handling the good and the bad.

Louis Hart