A rip-snortin’, six-guns-blazin’ saga of good guys and bad guys who were sometimes one and the same.
By taking on the Texas Rangers, Utley (The Lance and the Shield, 1993, etc.), an accomplished and well-regarded historian of the American West, risks treading on ground that is both hallowed and thoroughly documented. He skirts those issues by turning in a balanced history of the Rangers’ first hundred years, a period that covers the group’s transformation from a loosely organized band of citizen soldiers to a professional law-enforcement unit. Contemporary scholarship is divided on that era—some modern writers view the Rangers as heroic defenders of innocent pioneers against marauding Indians and Mexican banditos, but more are of the opinion that the Rangers were little better than a mounted adjunct of the KKK, bent on racist conquest and extermination. Both sides have their points, Utley admits: the history of the Rangers is full of incidents that show a contempt on the part of Anglo Texans for those they considered to be racially and culturally inferior—that is, anyone who was not an Anglo Texan. But it is also marked by episodes of uncommon valor wherein outnumbered and outgunned squads of lawmen subdued evildoers of all varieties. At their best, Utley writes, the Rangers were “daring, intrepid, well-trained men armed with repeating weapons [who] functioned as a highly disciplined team under an outstanding leader,” and the names of lawmen such as John Coffee Hays and Sul Ross continue to command respect among Texans who know their history.
Supporting both points of view with well-chosen anecdotes, a capable contribution to Ranger history. And though Utley breaks little new ground, he offers an accessible survey of some interesting—and bloody—times.