Rangers, Archives, and Discovering Texas History

We are always honored when researchers use the State Archives housed at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission to further their writing. TSLAC is often credited and cited by the authors of books and articles on a wide variety of subjects.

We were particularly interested when one recently published book citing the TSLAC archives garnered national attention. Cult of Glory: The Bold and Brutal History of the Texas Rangers by Doug J. Swanson is a retelling of the story of the Texas Rangers. Swanson describes in painstaking detail how behind the romantic portrayal of the Rangers in books, films, and television, lurks a darker history of persecution of Native Americans, Mexicans and Tejanos, and Black Texans at the service of the state. Swanson credits the current-day Rangers as being a modern law enforcement agency and he does not deny the valor of many of its most famous figures of the past, but he is uncompromising in his examination of the full story of the Rangers throughout much of Texas history.

Douglas Brinkley, a Rice University professor of history, reviewing Cult of Glory in the New York Times Book Review (June 9, 2020), writes, “Swanson, a prodigious researcher, recounts how in their nearly 200-year ‘attention-grabbing’ history, Rangers burned peasant villages, slaughtered innocents, busted unions and committed war crimes.”

A fair chunk of that prodigious research was conducted in the State Archives. In his acknowledgements, Swanson states, “I extend special thanks to archivist Tony Black and the staff at the Texas State Library and Archives, who endured my many questions and requests with patience and professionalism. The TSLA is a state treasure.” (We especially appreciate the mention of the late archivist and historian Tony Black, a gentleman and true scholar of Texas history.) It is true that the Archives holds a substantial body of records relating to the Texas Rangers and has often been cited in other books in relation to the Rangers. Notably, the bestselling Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann (Doubleday, 2017) cites TSLAC files in telling the story of the Rangers’ investigation of the deaths of oil-wealthy Osage Indians in Oklahoma in the 1920s.

Swanson’s book is not the first re-examination of the history of the Rangers to make use of the rich holdings of the State Archives at TSLAC. As long ago as the 1950s, University of Texas folklorist Américo Paredes accessed the TSLAC archives for his landmark history, “With His Pistol in His Hand”: A Border Ballad and Its Hero (University of Texas Press, 1958) which challenged the seminal Rangers history of his senior UT colleague Walter Prescott Webb. And former TSLAC Historian Donaly Brice and co-author Bob Alexander grappled with the mixed history of the Rangers in their 2017 account, Texas Rangers: Lives, Legend and Legacy (University of North Texas Press, 2017).

The deep truth of history lives in primary source materials. Researchers willing to apply the time and industry to explore them will be rewarded. Cult of Glory contains a chapter on the alleged mass murderer Henry Lee Lucas, the investigation of whose crimes was handled and–according to Swanson–botched by the Rangers. The chapter is based largely on records of the Lucas investigation contained in files from the Texas Department of Public Safety in the TSLAC Archives. Swanson comments that he appeared to be the first researcher to access the files after they were transferred to TSLAC.

The archivists and librarians at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission stand ready to assist researchers in discovering the historical record of Texas. Much of that material is available online via the Texas Digital Archive at https://tsl.access.preservica.com and online collections and guides such as the recently posted guide, “In Recognition of Texans Who Worked for Equality,” (https://www.tsl.texas.gov/arc/workforequality) detailing the contribution of Tejanos, Blacks, and other marginalized groups to the history and accomplishments of Texas. 

We invite you to discover the history of Texas in the State Archives.

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