Learning the Ropes: The Early Years of a Texas Ranger “Great Captain” : The History Reader

Posted on July 7, 2022

by Joe Pappalardo

On July 26, 1887, Sgt. James Brooks listens to the jury foreman declare a responsible verdict with a sinking feeling in his abdomen. At this time the Texas Ranger, standing in a courtroom in Fort Smith, Arkansas, is certainly one of three defendants. He and one other Ranger, together with a federal U.S. Indian Agent, have been discovered responsible of manslaughter for capturing a cowboy within the Indian Territory whereas attempting to disarm him.

Statue exterior of the Texas Ranger Corridor of Fame and Museum.

The cowboy they shot resisted the try to take his gun, although he knew he wasn’t alleged to put on one within the “city” of Alex, however the jury felt using lethal power was unwarranted. The conviction has derailed Brooks’ profession, placing in jeopardy his future to turn out to be one of many 4 “Nice Captains” of Texas Ranger historical past.  

Nevertheless, his case has turn out to be political. Grover Cleveland is simply six months into his first time period as President of america when Congressmen and Texas politicians press for a pardon for Brooks and the opposite two convicted lawmen. That is a straightforward method to curry favor with two states’ Congressional delegations and a wildly fashionable Democratic governor as properly. However the transfer additionally jibes with the message of his administration on the subject of the Indian Territories—Cleveland is an ardent opponent of unlawful settlement, placing him in alliance with the efforts of tribal officers and the Cherokee Strip Stay Inventory Affiliation to safeguard their lands in opposition to incursion. Empowering the US Indian Brokers—and even visiting lawmen—is one method to ship that message.  

On September 13, Cleveland indicators the pardons of the three males. Brooks is reinstated with Firm F, and in 1888, he’s promoted to turn out to be its Captain. This superb White Home intervention units him again on his path to information the Texas Rangers into the longer term.

Huge, institutional adjustments are coming. The “Frontier Battalion,” fashioned in 1874 as the primary everlasting power of Texas Rangers, discovered foes within the Comanche and Kiowa. However with the Indian presence largely crushed and tribal lands ceded to america, the Rangers of the late 1800s fixate on one other goal—criminals. The businesses are not navy cavalry who often chase outlaws, they’re roaming, mounted cops.  

In 1901, this actuality appears to be codified by the state. A brand new Texas regulation loses the Frontier Battalion identify and reorganizes the boys. It kinds 4 corporations of 20 Rangers every, commanded by Captains John Hughes, Invoice McDonald, J.H. Rogers, and James Brooks. These 4 “Nice Captains” will steer the Rangers into a contemporary age of regulation enforcement whereas branding the group with their hard-riding, frontier ethos. 

Nice Captain inspiration will probably be wanted within the years to return. The Texas Rangers reverted to their martial roots in 1915 through the cross-border chaos of the Mexican Civil Warfare, increasing right into a lawless mounted militia. They terrorized the Mexican residents of the Rio Grande Valley. Texas consultant J.T. Canales in 1919 holds hearings that brings the abuses to mild and ultimately prompts one other Ranger reform.

Canales is aware of the Rangers from an earlier period could be repulsed by these actions. Canales cites Brooks by identify (he’s now county decide) and calls him and the opposite Ranger captains of the earlier era “the noblest and finest males that I do know…At the moment they gave us safety. They have been a succesful set of males and didn’t want any restriction as a result of their very own conscience was a self-restraint and regulation.” That stands in brutal distinction to the 1915 Rangers who unfold racial violence and induced a mass migration from South Texas.

Brooks’ presence looms massive, even in the present day. As Individuals reexamine the nation’s previous, the Texas Rangers have been vilified. In response, defenders of the group’s legacy level to Brooks and the opposite Nice Captains as champions, avatars of the Texas Ranger superb. Each side appear to take the outlaw searching prowess of the Rangers without any consideration. 

However how may a small unit, with a crushing workload and heavy stress from the Governor’s workplace, obtain outcomes? How did native communities react to those armed interlopers? The place did Brooks and the opposite Nice Captains be taught their craft? Who influenced these pivotal figures? These sensible questions are misplaced amid any simplistic debate over whether or not the Texas Rangers deserve solely disdain or reward.  

Confusion over the Texas Rangers is nothing new. A member within the late 1800s, N. A. Jennings, sums up the group’s mystique and misunderstanding even then: “Almost everybody has heard of the Texas Rangers at a while in his life, however what number of know what the Rangers actually are, or what are their duties? In a normal manner, everybody is aware of they’re males who trip round on the Texas border, do a great deal of capturing, and from time to time get killed or kill somebody. However why they trip round, or why they do the capturing, is a query which could go begging for a solution for a very long time with out getting an accurate one.”  

James Brooks’ grave.

I wrote Pink Sky Morning as a solution, and targeted on the adventures of the Rangers of Firm F throughout 1886 to 1888. Throughout that point, Brooks took half in three deadly shootings, together with the killing of the cowboy that almost ended his profession. Over two years he’ll see six males die—and his personal physique maimed—in gunfights. Every incident is a chance to look at the native circumstances that prompted Ranger intervention, their intelligence, and tactical operations and the motives of the outlaws.  

Apart from the intrigue and bloodshed, many different fascinating issues emerge whereas inspecting Brooks’ profession in Firm F. One among them is the affect exerted over him and then-private John Rogers by Capt. William Scott, the corporate’s wily and decisive chief. In some ways, Scott is a forgotten nice Ranger captain, with maybe his most lasting affect on the group being the mark he made on Rogers and Brooks. By imprinting these two future leaders along with his regulation enforcement ethos—the relentless chase, even handed hand, deliberate violence, unyielding fraternity—Scott helped set the mildew for generations of Rangers to return.  

When James Brooks receives his presidential pardon and rejoins the Texas Rangers in 1887, the reverberations will probably be felt for a whole lot of years. However even his epic story just isn’t one which validates or damns the Texas Rangers of the period—no correctly nuanced crime story can or ought to do this. Experiencing his adventures between 1886 and 1888 does, nevertheless, assist clarify how the group was capable of survive its worst moments by embracing the figures from its previous. Who these males have been, and the way they did their work, has by no means been extra related.  

Joe Pappalardo is the creator of the critically acclaimed books Inferno: The True Story of a B 17 Gunner’s Heroism and the Bloodiest Army Marketing campaign in Aviation Historical past, Sunflowers: The Secret Historical past and Spaceport Earth: The Reinvention of Spaceflight. Pappalardo is a contract journalist and former affiliate editor of Air & Area Smithsonian journal, a writing contributor to Nationwide Geographic journal, a contributor to Texas Month-to-month, and a former senior editor and present contributor to In style Mechanics. He has appeared on C-Span, CNN, Fox Information and tv reveals on the Science Channel and the Historical past Channel.

Tags: James Brooks, Joe Pappalardo, Pink Sky Morning, Texas Ranger