the era of Reconstruction
drew to a close, Texas, unlike the majority
of states that made up the former Confederacy, was beginning to show
signs of economic recovery. Millions of longhorn
cattle were being driven north to railheads in Kansas and thousands
of settlers were flocking to the Lone Star state in search of a new
start. Railroads were also beginning to fan out across the prairie
in a network of commerce that would eventually bring new life and
prosperity to the western frontier. However, the steady westward movement
did not come without a heavy price in lives and property.
At the onset of the Civil War, the United States withdrew all of its
troops from the South, including the soldiers responsible for manning
the long line of forts that served to protect the northwestern frontier
of Texas. Texas
quickly replaced the unwanted Yankees with state troops, but unfortunately,
most of them volunteered for the Confederate army or were conscripted
into service. The frontier was left practically defenseless, and hostile
Indian tribes like the fierce Comanche and their cousins the Kiowa
quickly took advantage of the situation, igniting a firestorm that
drove the Texas frontier back nearly
200 miles by the end of the war.
With no one except the poorly equipped state police to deal with the
Indian situation, the frontier remained aflame throughout the period
Fortunately, people living on the Texas
frontier had a long history of defending against Indian attack or
the loss of life would have been much worse. But the people's experience
fighting Indians did little to defend them from the growing lawlessness
among Texas citizens. Local law enforcement officials, especially
along the frontier, were forced to deal with an escalating number
of murders, robberies, horse thefts, cattle rustling and bloody feuds
that remained far beyond their ability to control.
1874, Governor Richard Coke and the Texas legislature decided to deal
with the growing threats of the Indians and the outlaws by organizing
a battalion of Texas Rangers. The battalion, which became formally
known as the Frontier Battalion, consisted of five, seventy-five man
companies. The Frontier Battalion was the first permanent force of
Texas Rangers to take the field and would serve the state for the
next twenty-five years. Major John B. Jones, a former South Carolinian
and noted civil war veteran, was selected to command the unit. Jones
may well have been slight in stature at only five feet eight inches
and 135 pounds, but under his strong hand and exceptional leadership,
the battalion would eventually tame the northwestern frontier, eliminate
the Indian threat and either incarcerate or hang many of the worst
outlaws in the West.
John B. Jones
the years of the Frontier Battalion's existence, three salient characteristics
guided the actions of the Rangers who manned its ranks. First, their
esprit de corps. Every member of the battalion, young or old, had
been steeped in the lore of Ranger legends like Jack
Hays, Ben McCulloch and Bigfoot
Wallace. Second, their ruthlessness. A Ranger never issued an
order twice, and with the nearest court usually miles away, prisoners
were sometimes killed while attempting to escape. Finally, a Ranger
held nothing but contempt for devious behavior; especially when the
deviousness concerned local politicians and courts interfering with
the battalion's business.
The first duty of the Frontier Battalion was to protect settlers from
the far-ranging depredations of Comanche and Kiowa war parties. Jones
went about this business in a highly professional manner, spreading
out his five companies along the frontier in strategic sites that
afforded maximum coverage. Unlike the U. S. Army, instead of bogging
his men down with needless details and unnecessary barracks chores,
Jones kept them in the saddle constantly, focusing on intercepting
the small war bands that the army could not prevent from slipping
through their line of forts. The Rangers fought fifteen separate Indian
engagements and recovered a considerable amount of valuable livestock
during their first six months of frontier duty.
On June 12, 1874, Major Jones and twenty-six Rangers fought a skirmish
against more than fifty Kiowa warriors led by Lone Wolf. The engagement
took place at Lost Valley, not far from the Young
County line. Two days earlier, the Kiowa had attacked the ranch
of Oliver Loving, killing one of his ranch hands. As the Rangers entered
Lost Valley following the war party’s trail, they were spotted by
a few Kiowa scouts sitting their ponies on nearby hills. The Rangers
immediately gave chase, but the scouts decoyed the unwary lawmen into
a trap. Being fairly new at the job, the Rangers fell for the ruse
and galloped into the well-laid ambush. Thankfully, Major Jones remained
calm during the ensuing chaos. Displaying a coolness under fire that
braced the backbones of his men, Jones ordered his Rangers to blast
their way through a weak part of the Kiowa encirclement. One Ranger
was killed and another wounded in the breakout, but Jones then led
the men to cover in a brushy gully, where they were able to fight
off the initial Kiowa onslaught.
|The Rangers and
Kiowa spent the remainder of the day locked in a stalemate, exchanging
long-range rifle fire. Thirst plagued the lawmen as they carried on
the fight, but Jones refused to allow anyone to ride to nearby Cameron
Creek until dusk. No Indians were in sight when the sun began to set
over the valley and all appeared to be quiet. Two men volunteered
to ride to the creek, each with a string of empty canteens. After
securing the water, they too fell victim to an ambush and frantically
spurred their horses back toward the gully. One man made it to safety,
but Ranger David Bailey was unhorsed by a war lance. A single blow
from a war club smashed in his skull and his body was brutally dismembered.
As darkness fell, the Kiowa withdrew along with their dead and wounded.
The fight at Lost Valley may well have been a minor affair, but it
did turn the war party back and also did much to validate the worth
of the battalion.
By 1875, the northwest frontier settlements of Texas were relatively
safe from Comanche and Kiowa depredations; however, the Apaches still
posed a problem. In order to meet the threat, a company of Texas Rangers
from the Frontier Battalion commanded by Captain George Wythe Baylor
joined forces with the United States army under the command of General
B. H. Grierson, to patrol deep into the greasewood buttes and sagebrush
that stretched far to the west and southwest of San
Antonio. In spite of their efforts, throughout the years of 1876
and 1877, small bands of marauding Apaches continued to burn, pillage
and murder their way across the Big
Bend country, escaping into Mexico
whenever the Rangers and Grierson’s Buffalo
Soldiers closed in.
Mexican army under General Joaquin Terrazas joined the fight, and
the allies waged a coordinated campaign that ranged from the Diablo
Mountains in far west Texas, to New Mexico and deep into the Mexican
state of Sonora. One of the last Apache atrocities committed in Texas
occurred in October 1880, when a war party led by Chiricahua war chief
Victorio killed the driver and passengers on a stagecoach bound for
The Rangers and Buffalo Soldiers
hounded the war party relentlessly until the Apache crossed the Rio
Grande. Terrazas caught up with them in the Tres Castillos Mountains
south of El Paso,
killing Victorio and several of his warriors. Twelve warriors and
a few women and children managed to flee back into Texas,
but the Rangers caught up with them in their Diablo Mountain camp
early on the morning of January 29, 1881. When the shooting was over,
four warriors, two squaws and two children were dead. Most of the
others had been captured. The Apache, like their fierce enemies the
Comanche, never again posed a serious threat to Texas.
Frontier Battalion also dealt with some of the toughest outlaws in
the west, including John
Wesley Hardin and the notorious train robber Sam
Bass. The long hunt for Sam
Bass came to a conclusion, when a member of the Bass gang, Jim
Murphy, turned informant and told Major Jones that the gang was planning
to rob the Williamson County Bank in the small Central Texas town
of Round Rock.
Jones and three of his Rangers headed for Round
Rock. In the shootout that followed, one member of the gang was
killed, and Bass
was shot twice, although he managed to escape. The following day two
Rangers saw a man lying under a tree in a pasture not far from town.
At first, the Rangers thought the man was one of the railroad workers
constructing the new line to Georgetown,
but he held up his hand and said, “I am Sam
Bass, the man that has been wanted so long." The town doctor did
his best to save the outlaw, but in spite of his efforts, Bass
died the following day, July 21, 1878, his twenty-seventh birthday.
Some said his final words were, “Life is but a bubble, trouble wherever
Wesley Hardin developed his reputation as a gunfighter in Gonzales
County during the infamous Sutton-Taylor feud, a bloody disagreement
between two violent families and their friends. Before his infamous
career was over, Hardin would be credited with killing twenty-seven
men; some believed the count was even higher. On May 26, 1874, Hardin
visited the small town of Comanche
to help out his brother Joe, a respected attorney. Hardin and two
of his friends, Jim Taylor and Bud Dixon, were drinking heavily in
Jack Wright’s saloon, when they gunned down Deputy Sheriff Charles
Webb. Some witnesses said Webb deliberately picked a fight with the
Hardin. Others said Hardin was mean and nasty drunk and challenged
Webb to draw. No matter who was at fault, Hardin and his two friends
fired as one, and Webb fell dead, hit three times. Hardin and Taylor
fled with a posse close on their heels but Dixon remained in town.
running high against the shooters, and local law enforcement immediately
put out a call for the Texas Rangers. When the Rangers arrived, they
suggested that Dixon and Hardin’s brother Joe be placed in protective
custody. John Wesley Hardin and Taylor had managed to escape from
the posse, and the duo rode into Austin
a few days later. That same morning, an ugly mob began to gather around
the jail in Comanche,
demanding that the sheriff turn over Dixon and Hardin’s brother. The
sheriff refused to release the prisoners, but shortly after midnight,
the mob stormed the jail and led Joe Hardin and Bud Dixon outside
with ropes around their necks. Both men were hanged from a nearby
live oak tree. In October, the Comanche County Grand Jury indicted
John Wesley Hardin for the murder of Deputy Webb. A warrant was issued
for Hardin’s arrest.
Responsibility for the search and arrest of Hardin was given to the
Frontier Battalion, since the Texas Rangers were the only law enforcement
agency with statewide authority. Setting to work immediately, the
Rangers rounded up several of Hardin’s friends and associates for
questioning, but Hardin was nowhere to be found in Texas.
Realizing that if the Rangers did not catch up with him, a vengeful
Texas lynch mob surely would, Hardin had fled to New Orleans with
his wife and infant daughter. From there, the family took a steamboat
to Florida, but even that did not prove to be far enough to avoid
the long arm of the Texas Rangers.
John B. Armstrong
| Hardin was
apprehended on a train in Pensacola by Rangers John Armstrong and
Jack Duncan as he was struggling with the local Sheriff. Armstrong
demanded that the outlaw surrender and Hardin cursed, telling Armstrong,
“I’d rather die than be arrested.” But Armstrong wanted Hardin alive
to stand trial in Texas, so he thumped
him on the head with the barrel of his big Colt, and Hardin fell unconscious
to the floor of the railroad car. The career of notorious outlaw John
Wesley Hardin had finally come to an end thanks to the dedicated Rangers
of the Texas Frontier Battalion. Hardin was quickly brought back to
Texas to stand trial. He was convicted
and spent the next eighteen years behind bars, but it was not Hardin’s
destiny to die of old age. After studying law in prison, he worked
as an attorney in Gonzales
and eventually moved to far West
Texas, where in 1895, he was gunned down in an El
With the explosive population growth after Reconstruction and the
introduction of barbed wire, the big range country of West
Texas quickly turned into the land of the big pastures, and the
work of the Frontier Battalion was largely done. Not all aspects of
Old West violence had been erased; the heritage of violence had too
long been woven into the fabric of western society to be easily eliminated.
The efforts of the Frontier Battalion had, however, transformed the
tenor of the social climate on the frontier from one of near anarchy,
where men lived strictly by a six-gun code of personal justice, to
an organized society able to curb violence through effective law enforcement
and a system of honest courts.
February 1, 2014 Column
for "The Texas Frontier Battalion."
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for "The Texas Frontier Battalion "
The Texas Rangers: Men of Action and Valor, (Austin: Eakin
T. R., Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans, New
York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1968).
R., "Activities of Company E, Frontier Battalion, Texas Rangers
1874-1880," West Texas Historical Association Year Book 11, 1935.
Prescott, The Texas Rangers: A Century of Frontier Defense,
(Boston: Houghton Mifflin Publishing, 1935; rep., Austin: University
of Texas Press, 1989).
The Law Comes to Texas: The Texas rangers 1870-1901, (Austin:
State House Press, 1999).
Battalion," Handbook of Texas Online, (http://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/qqf01),
accessed January 7, 2014. Published by the Texas State Historical