Texas Rangers at 200

Starting before Texas was even a state, the Rangers have brought the law to the wildest country.

posted on May 18, 2023
Texas Rangers

Until fairly recently, the Texas Rangers were responsible for providing their own gear, resulting in a hodgepodge of equipment used by each member.

This year, the Texas Ranger Division is celebrating its 200th anniversary. Although some historians date the beginning of the organization to 1835, the Rangers themselves trace their beginnings back to Stephen F. Austin’s colony and the organization of ranging companies to protect the early settlers. 

Texas Rangers at 200

From the very beginning until fairly recent times, Texas Rangers were expected to provide their own horses, clothing and firearms. So, a history of frontier firearms is also indicative of what the early Rangers carried and used. With the advent of centerfire cartridges, however, oftentimes Rangers tended to gravitate to Winchester rifles and the Colt Single Action Army (SAA) revolver.

What is not commonly known is that many Texas Rangers carried the Colt single action well into the 20th century. Capt. Frank Hamer, Capt. Will Wright and Joe Bridge are just three of many who preferred the “old thumb-buster.” Leo Bishop carried a beautiful pair of Colts that were given to him by grateful citizens when he almost single-handedly cleaned up an East Texas town. Then there was my good old friend Dan Westbrook, who retired from the Rangers in 1948 to return to the family livestock business.

While in the Rangers, he carried a Colt SAA chambered in .38-40 Win. The gun barrel and ejector-rod housing had been shortened to 4 inches and were mated to a custom A.W. Brill holster. Westbrook’s rifle was a Winchester Model 92 Trapper, also chambered in .38-40 Win.

Westbrook lived in London, TX, and whenever I was in the area, I’d pay him a visit. Whenever he saw the 1911 stuffed into my waistband, he would start in on me. Didn’t I know that those things would jam?  Didn’t I know that those things weren’t accurate?  When was I going to start carrying a good gun?

One day, just for grins, I put on my engraved Colt Single Action Army. Westbrook was beside himself. What a fine gun! What a smooth action! When he asked when I had gotten it, I told him that I’d had it for quite a few years. Then, he wanted to know why had I been carrying that other piece of junk. That other “piece of junk,” by the way, was a very reliable, factory-engraved Colt Government Model 1911.

Another old Ranger, long retired when I knew him, was Lee Trimble. He was one of the exceptions to the rule and carried a very nice pair of Smith & Wesson .44 Spl. revolvers. These were the Model of 1926 guns that we called Wolf & Klarr guns after the Fort Worth company that special ordered them. Similar to Westbrook, Trimble also favored holsters made by A.W. Brill.

Trimble preferred the Remington Model 8 semi-automatic rifle, as did Hamer. As I recall, it was chambered for .30 Rem. Trimble was involved in a gunfight in 1934 in which he was hit in the hip by a load of buckshot from a 12-gauge shotgun. Trimble got his Model 8 working and by the time he hit the ground, he had hit his opponent three times. 

As the 20th century progressed, of course, the 1911 pistol became more and more popular among Rangers. One of the main reasons for this was the fact that many of the men going into the Rangers had seen service in two world wars and various military actions and were familiar with the .45 ACP. However, the same gun in .38 Super also had a long list of advocates, since it was a bit more effective at penetrating car bodies and some of the early body armor that the crooks liked to wear.

Among the men whom I knew during my career as a law enforcement officer, Capt. G.W. Burks carried a custom pair of Colt 1911s chambered in .45 ACP, tuned and customized, I believe, by renowned gunsmith Jimmy Clark of Shreveport, LA. Similarly, George Brakefield and Walter Russell both had .45 ACP semi-autos that had been profusely engraved by engraver Cole Agree. 

Another popular Colt was the Commander model. This was the model with the alloy frame that, with the later advent of the truncated Colt Commander, is now marketed as the Colt Lightweight Commander. Capt. A.Y. Allee was one of the many who liked this smaller and lighter .45 ACP.

Not long after the Smith & Wesson Combat Magnum (Model 19) was introduced, the Texas Department of Public Safety began to issue them to the Texas Rangers. Rangers like Arthur Hill, Capt. Jay Banks and Capt. Clint Peoples seemed to prefer to carry the Smith & Wesson revolver instead of a semi-auto. Wisely, Ranger leadership decided that the Rangers could carry whichever gun they wanted to—after qualifying with it, of course. And, that continues today, as the Ranger service is issued the SIG Sauer P320 pistol—but still allows use of the 1911.

The Texas Rangers are a part of that state’s history and legend. But they are also as modern as the latest crime-fighting techniques. And, here is one old country sheriff who wishes them a happy birthday.


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