The Ranger Ideal: Texas Rangers in the Hall of Fame, Vol. 1, by Darren L. Ivey, University of North Texas Press, Denton, 2017, $39.95; Vol. 2, by Darren L. Ivey, $45
Darren Ivey is no stranger to Rangers—the Texas kind, that is—and neither is anyone who has been following his literary output. Here he seeks to discern the common thread guiding the Ranger ethos through an evolution that paralleled the development of Texas from breakaway republic to Lone Star State. Toward that end he compiles a series of biographies drawn from the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame in Waco, taking scrupulous care to research their exploits and contributions while separating them from the Texas-sized myths.
Vol. 1 covers eight men involved from the very inception of the Texas Ranger concept, which originally constituted a paramilitary force to “guard the colony,” as first named by the republic’s founding father, Stephen F. Austin. After Austin gets his due, Ivey profiles seven Rangers who emerged from the crucible of hardship and combat to establish a formidable reputation between 1823 and 1861—fairly familiar names like John Coffee “Devil Jack” Hays, Ben McCulloch, William A.A. “Big Foot” Wallace and John Salmon “Rip” Ford.
The end of the Civil War effectively closed that chapter of Ranger history, but the force was revived in 1874 to tackle a new mission—to uphold law and order in a state that remained fairly wild and woolly. The dozen wearers of the star covered in Vol. 2 succeeded to varying degrees in tamping down inherent Ranger grit to better match their new role as the good guys wearing the white hats. From early lawmen John B. Jones and Leander H. McNelly to the “four Great Captains”—James Abijah Brooks, Bill McDonald, John R. Hughes and John H. Rogers—who guided them into the 20th century, Ivey traces their action-packed path up to 1930.
For Western enthusiasts who like their chronicles comprehensive—even if their Colt .45s are single-action with cylinders, rather than double-action with magazines—Ivey is working on Vol. 3, which will cover the past century and bring things up to date in time for the Rangers’ 2023 bicentennial. Whatever the era, even given “just the facts,” it promises to be a wild ride.