This is a reprint of a review I wrote published over a decade ago in the Daily News of Galveston County. It first appeared in 2006.
Authors give balanced view of Texas Rangers
By Mark Lardas
The Daily News
Published December 17, 2006
“The Texas Rangers and the Mexican Revolution: The Bloodiest Decade, 1910-1920” by Charles H. Harris III and Louis R. Sadler, University of New Mexico Press, 2004, 687 pages, $37.50
There are two images of the Texas Rangers. The Walter Prescott Webb Ranger is a noble paladin, fighting the forces of evil on the Texas frontier, usually single-handed. The “Gunpowder Justice” Ranger — the revisionist’s portrait — presents the Ranger as the tool of racist repression to keep people of color — Hispanic and black — in their place.
You can fill a book justifying either view. Many authors have written just those types of works. Either way, the book is a good seller. There are natural audiences for both.
More difficult is writing a book considering everything, providing a balanced view. Yet, Harris and Sadler provide a balanced and dispassionate account in “The Texas Rangers and the Mexican Revolution.” They do it in a book covering the most controversial period in the history of the Texas Rangers.
The start of the 20th century saw the end of the Rangers’ traditional role — providing law enforcement on the Texas frontier.
The frontier had largely disappeared by 1910, and Texas was considering eliminating the Rangers.
Despite the Ranger mystique, the Rangers had difficulty in recruiting and keeping good men. The underfunded rangers were poorly paid.
The 10 years that followed breathed new life into the rangers. The Mexican Revolution, started in 1911, created turmoil along the Rio Grande for a decade.
Revolutionaries used Texas to prepare expeditions into Mexico. Criminals used Mexican disorder to provide a sanctuary from which to raid Texas.
Complicating the situation was the “Plan de San Diego” — a scheme to retake Mexico’s lost provinces through “ethnic cleansing” of Anglos by Tejanos.
Harris and Sadler convincingly argue that the plan was a cynically successful ploy by Mexico to keep Tejanos too busy to support counter-revolutions against the Carranza government.
Throw in World War I, with Mexico officially neutral, yet pro-German. Texas faced threats — some real, others imagined — not experienced since the republic.
Harris and Sadler show how the Rangers met the decade’s challenges, expanding from 25 men in 1910 to a force of nearly 1,000 at the end of World War I (including unpaid special and loyalty rangers). They do so with an unvarnished examination of the Rangers’ successes and failures during that period.
While long, this book is magisterial in approach. A fascinating account of a troubled decade, it will keep you reading, despite the length.
Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.