Early 20th Century, 1900-1920

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Out of the tumult of the 1880s and 1890s, the Texas Rangers transitioned to a relatively quiet period at the turn of the century.  

The landscape of Texas had changed.  Native American tribes were relocated to southeastern Oklahoma.  To the south, Mexico enjoyed a period of relative stability.  The Texas economy rebounded in the decades after the American Civil War as cattle, cotton, and lumber industries took off bringing population growth and industrialization.  The notion of the ‘Wild West’ and the ‘frontier’ was shrinking.   

In response to these changed circumstances, the Texas Legislature reduced the size of the Texas Ranger force in 1901.  The force numbered less than 100 men.  Through the leadership of J.A. Brooks, William Jesse McDonalds, John H. Rogers, and John R. Hughes, the Rangers weathered these lean years. The Texas Rangers settled into police work as they continued to assist local law enforcement.  

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The 1910s ended this quiet period and ushered in an era of conflict between the United States and Mexico.  The start of the Mexican Revolution in 1910 launched Mexico into a decades-long civil war.  At first, border disturbances between the United States and Mexico were few and isolated.  When this upheaval spilled over the border, the ranks of the Texas Rangers increased to improve law and order.  Unfortunately, their actions sometimes deteriorated into violence.  In response, Mexicans and Tejanos organized vigilante groups. Tension ran high.

With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Germany attempted to use tensions along the United States-Mexico border to its advantage. Germany sought to incite war between the two neighboring countries in order to distract the United States from assisting the Allied forces in Europe.  As a result, the size of the Rangers increased to include a new force called the Loyalty Rangers.  This new force consisted of three men from each county, who investigated cases of suspected espionage and reported on Mexican revolutionary activities.

These simmering tensions did not go unnoticed.  By the late 1910s, Texas State Representative José Tomás Canales called for the end of the Texas Rangers due in part to their actions toward Tejanos.  He demanded legislative action.  The resulting 1919 legislative investigation, termed the Canales investigation, would have far-reaching ramifications for the Texas Rangers into the 20th century.

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Items in this exhibit

The links shown below to the items displayed in this exhibit will open in PDF format in a separate window or tab. The documents are shown here in their entirety so some of the files contain multiple pages.

Letter from Acting Secretary of State (Washington, D.C.) to the Governor of Texas, October 15, 1909. Adjutant General Department, Departmental Correspondence, 301-220.

This letter from Acting Secretary of State demonstrated the process by which the Office of the Adjutant General, thereby the Texas Rangers, attempted to arrest and extradite Jose Villa to Texas.  Villa was wanted in Texas for murder.  Local Mexican authorities in Matamoros knew of the presence of Villa within the city but required proper orders to arrest him.  As indicated in the letter, several weeks passed before Villa was arrested.  Interactions between Mexico typically involved the State Department as a representative for the United States.

**Jose Villa should not be confused with Pancho Villa**

Letter from Sheriff A.R. Anderson of Harris County to Governor T.M. Campbell, December 7, 1910. Adjutant General Department, Departmental Correspondence, 301-220.

Sheriff A.R. Anderson requested two Rangers to assist local law enforcement in Humble, Texas (Harris County).  The sheriff needed help with enforcing the Sunday Laws.  These laws were designed to ban or restrict certain activities for religious reasons such as consumption of alcohol, gambling, etc. 

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Telegram from Oscar Thompson to Captain W.L. Wright, January 30, 1919. Adjutant General Department, Departmental Correspondence, 401-578.

In January 1919, Texas State Representative José Tomás Canales of Brownsville filed 19 charges against the Texas Rangers for misconduct.  He submitted a bill before the Texas Legislature demanding an investigation and reorganization of the Rangers.  These charges based on years of illegal incursions into Mexico and the deaths of Mexicans and Tejanos by various Texas Rangers. 

In this telegram, Oscar Thompson wrote to Captain W.L. Wright, a Texas Ranger, that he protested the Canales bill and expressed his intention to go before the committee established to investigate the charges.  The result of the “Canales investigation” would change the scope and nature of the Texas Rangers going into the 1920s and beyond.

Letter from Adjutant General Henry Hutchings to Governor Oscar B. Colquitt, April 17, 1914. Governor Oscar Branch Colquitt records, 301-253.

This letter documented the negotiations involving the Mexican government, Texas Rangers, and the heirs of Clemente Vergara.  In this letter, Hutchings provided an update on the return of stolen horses from Mexico.  Eleven horses were stolen from Clemente Vergara, a south Texas rancher. Against the advice of the Texas Rangers, Vergara attempted to retrieve his horses.  He was captured and later killed in Mexico.    

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Letter from Texas Ranger Captain W.M. Hanson to Assistant Adjutant General Walter Woodul, May 25, 1918. Adjutant General Department, General Correspondence, 401-575.

In this letter, Captain Hanson requested additional Rangers in St. Hedwig for enforcement of the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which prohibited the manufacture, storage, transportation, and sell of alcohol.   At the same time, Hanson needed men to enforce the Hobby Loyalty Act, which made it illegal to speak or act against the United States’ involvement in World War I. 

Letter from Texas Ranger Captain Charles F. Stevens to Assistant Adjutant General Walter Woodul, June 6, 1918.  Adjutant General Department, General Correspondence, 401-575.

In this letter, Captain Stevens of Company G provided a report on the legal situation involving three Rangers accused of murdering a Mexican citizen.  Stevens cited the presence and influence of German propaganda near the Texas-Mexico border.  He believed this influence undermined the Texas Rangers’ ability to maintain law and order with persons of Mexican descent. 

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Page last modified: May 20, 2016