Skip to comments.A darker picture of frontier heroes emerges
Posted on 11/07/2004 5:26:23 AM PST by Max Combined
Scholars detail Rangers' violence in a border war against Mexicans
WACO - Back east, for social cachet there is nothing like an ancestor on the Mayflower. In Texas, it is a Texas Ranger in the family tree.
Here at the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, some of the most avid visitors come in search of connections to the men who won the West and, it was said, would charge hell with a bucket of water.
But Southern Methodist University in Dallas says new historical accounts are casting the long-revered fighters of outlaws and Indians in a decidedly darker light.
The scholarship being gingerly acknowledged at the Hall of Fame involves investigations into massacres committed in an obscure border war against Mexican bandits and insurrectionists in 1915, a quagmire of its time. "Not a bright period in the history of the Rangers," concedes the museum's director, Byron Johnson, in a film seen by many of its 80,000 visitors a year.
A recent book by an assistant history professor at Southern Methodist and other accounts exploiting archives on both sides of the border, including a damning but little-known Texas legislative investigation of 1919, link the Rangers to the "evaporations" of up to 5,000 Mexican insurgents and Tejanos Texans of Mexican origin whose lands in the Rio Grande Valley were coveted by Anglo settlers.
"People are still coming across skeletons," said the professor, Benjamin Heber Johnson, 32, whose book, Revolution in Texas: How a Forgotten Rebellion and its Bloody Suppression Turned Mexicans Into Americans, published late last year by Yale University Press, offers one of the fullest accounts to date of the violence. In the end, he said, the repression led the Mexican-Americans to secure their rights with organizations like the League of United Latin American Citizens.
'Bullet in the back' The university's communications director, Meredith Dickenson, in material promoting the book as a "bullet in the back" to conventional, laudatory accounts of the Texas Rangers, wrote: "Here's an episode unlikely to ever be on Walker, Texas Ranger."
In addition, a new documentary, Border Bandits, based on the memoirs of a Texas rancher, offers a firsthand account of the killings of two unarmed Tejanos by a carload of Texas Rangers driven by a legendary Ranger, William Warren Sterling, who later led the force as adjutant general and mythologized his exploits (but not his shootings) in a popular 1959 memoir, Trails and Trials of a Texas Ranger.
"I thought the killings were an isolated incident," said the director of the documentary, Kirby F. Warnock, a Dallas writer whose grandfather, Ronald A. Warnock, had tape-recorded his recollections of coming upon the victims and burying the bodies. After recounting the tale in a 1992 memoir, Texas Cowboy, Kirby Warnock said, "I got lots of calls saying, 'The Rangers killed my granddad.' "
Another book just published, The Texas Rangers and the Mexican Revolution: The Bloodiest Decade 1910-1920, by Charles H. Harris III and Louis R. Sadler, history professors emeritus at New Mexico State University, also recounts the cruelty of both sides.
Reopening old wounds
The disclosures have bruised some feelings at the museum, which has a half-million items of Ranger memorabilia. "You can't put current values on past times," said Johnson, the director, who is an anthropologist.
In recent weeks, showings of Border Bandits and forums on Benjamin Johnson's book have reopened wounds nearly a century old in the heavily Hispanic borderland, where the graves of the two Tejanos can still be found. "I think the real bandits were the Texas Rangers," said Jon Bazan, a grandson of one of the victims, who spoke at a screening in Harlingen in early October. "They were just like James Bond a license to kill."
The museum cites Ranger "aggressions" against Mexicans but treats with reverence icons like Frank Hamer, who tracked down Bonnie and Clyde years after accumulating a fearsome reputation not acknowledged in the exhibits for terrorizing Mexicans.
A focus of the recent scholarship is an enigmatic plot that served as the backdrop to the violence. In January 1915, with Mexico in a revolutionary uproar and world war raging in Europe, a Mexican rebel named Basilio Ramos was stopped in McAllen with a manifesto calling for an armed uprising to reclaim Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and California for Mexico, and other lands for Indians and blacks. Prisoners and Anglo men age 16 and older were to be executed.
Confusion continues to surround the origins and seriousness of the scheme, called the Plan de San Diego, for the small Texas town where it was supposedly hatched, but its exposure at a time of bandit raids from Mexico panicked the settlers. In one attack, Mexican raiders captured a U.S. soldier, cut off his head and stuck it on a pole.
Texas Rangers, first recruited in the 1820s by the early settler Stephen F. Austin to control the Indians, responded with a wave of shootings and lynchings what one local newspaper called a "war of extermination." Johnson's book quotes witness accounts of mass hangings of prisoners and innocent Mexicans and Tejanos, some of the bodies desecrated "with empty beer bottles stuck in their mouths."
After an attack on the giant King Ranch, three of the dead raiders were lassoed and dragged by Rangers on horseback, who proudly posed for a photograph later made into postcards. Elsewhere, bodies, dead and alive, were thrown on flaming pyres or left to rot, with relatives too terrorized to bury the remains.
A Brownsville lawyer, J.C. George, said, "There have been lots who have evaporated."
Good job, Rangers.
A dark time.
I'm SO glad we can trust the law enforcement organizations on BOTH sides of the border, now.
I'm so glad we're looking at history in an objective way now.
It's the left's agenda of deconstructing American history.
Why don't they spend their time deconstructing the failures of liberalism and communism?
Texas Rangers are heroes.
The Comanche's and Mexican Bandits were not Saints Ether. both sides played pretty rough
New York Times News Service - any questions?
The author, Ralph Blumenthal, has been working at the New York times since the nineteen sixties. In the last election he was given the assignment of sliming George Bush, and tried his hardest to give life to the CBS phoney documents story. Five will get you ten he is a New Yorker born and bred, a red diaper baby, and one of those East Coast liberals committed to the extirpation of any aspect of America's past that is viewed with some reverence.
I have a real problem with dredging up muck about men long dead and no longer here to defend themselves.
I guess the Texas Rangers wouldn't pass the Kerry "Global Test"
How un PC of them to think an armed revolution across the border was a big problem for Texas, since a large portion of Texas was Hispanic.
The SwiftVets have presented boat-loads of evidence, a gazillion eyewitnesses, and reams of documents proving their case . . . and nary a historian in sight is interested YET the Texas Rangers are being slammed because of eyewitness testimony related by a great-grandson. Or was it just a grandson? Regardless . . . one could hardly be called unbiased if family was involved.
Did the Texas Rangers do some things wrong? I'm sure they did . . . but bringing the law to lawless areas isn't a job for the faint of heart -- see Iraq. I'm sure some Iraqi terrorists have been shot in the back too . . . but only after they've fired off an RPG at a schoolbus of Iraqi children and turned tail to run.
It's just not in our physical and cultural makeup for there to be wholesale executions of our enemies . . . THAT is and what will always be what separates us from most other countries on Earth. And that's why we're the greatest country the world has ever known.
More politically correct BS to distort history.
Same news cycle
Bush wins big. Too early to start smearing him again, so smear his state.
Same thing happened in 2000.
A bunch of anti - Texas news items hit the MSM
Folks weren't PC back then -- it hadn't been invented, thank God.
It was called kill or be killed. Or -- He who shoots last is dead.
Dead Mexican Banits - Date unknown
Postcard: "Permanent Headquarters of Mexican Bandits in Hidalgo Co.".
Ah yes, time to return to the good ol' liberal tradition of re-writing history to tear down the dead white guys".
In the eyes of the liberal intelligentzia, America thrived not because of these frontiersmen and statesmen, rather, it thrived in spite of them.
The frontier was brutish and nasty. They did what they had to do. Period.