In a way, I’m glad Disney’s Lone Ranger movie was a flop. Not all Chicanos view Texas Rangers in a good history light. From one of my favorite Tejano writers who has taught me quite a bit with regard to Mexican-American history.
“One riot, one Ranger? Hardly. That chestnut can be laid to rest, for there is a considerable gap between the myth of the Texas Rangers and the reality,” authors, Charles H. Harris III and Louis R. Sadler, The Texas Rangers and the Mexican Revolution: The Bloodiest Decade, 1910-1920. University of New Mexico Press
By Juan Montoya
They like to repeat the “One riot, one Ranger” myth to show their toughness. But not everyone is familiar with their real performance under fire. An enlightening example of their claim to fame is their role in the confrontation with Juan Cortina, the much-maligned “Red Rogue of the Rio Grande” who made war against the crooked settlers and their cohorts who dispossessed many Mexican-Americans of their land.
An impartial picture of the real nature of their “courage” is given in Major Peter Heintzelman’s “Fifty Miles and a Fight,” the diary/book by the U.S. Army commander sent to stop Cortina after he took over Brownsville and its citizens called on the government for help.
Below are excerpts from Heintzelman’s diary as he confronted Cortinas and his followers and examples of the Rangers’ performance under fire.
“Some 100 Rangers started out for Cortina’s camp,” he wrote Dec. 11, 1859. “They went out until they met the pickets and then after being fired upon, turned and came home. It is reported that one man had his gun shout out of his hand and then with a bullet through his hat.”
Then, several days later, in hot pursuit of Cortina on Dec. 16, he wrote “I halted and went near as proper with a small party and then tried to have the ground reconnoitered. With much delay I got a small party of Rangers, but they did not wish to move until daylight. The Rangers were not quite confident and held back, until I rode ahead and being joined by several officers we rode into the works and found them abandoned.”
In that same day, Heintzelman wrote, “We passed on some two miles or more. I all the time tried to keep the Rangers in advance and on the flanking, but with poor success.”
On page 139, the major again comments on the brave Texans, “We entered a dense chaparral of ebony in what is called ‘El Ebonal.’ Here I dismounted most of the Rangers with orders to flank through the bushes. With the guns and wagons we passed slowly up the road. We soon left the Rangers behind.”
That same sense of self-preservation is evident again on page 140 of the book where the major said, “A few of the enemy fled to the Rio Grande and crossed. The balance with their gun went up the road. Here the Rangers had an admirable opportunity for capturing the gun, but within 40 yards stopped and dismounted. The guns with the two horses and mules soon ran off.”
On page 141, Heintzelman again reported, “I am mystified at the little we have done with near 300 men. It’s very mystifying to us, but no doubt it has had a depressing effect on the enemy. We would undoubtedly have done better without the Rangers.”
Again and again the professional soldier complains about the unscrupulousness and vindictiveness of the brutal Rangers. In page 143, he writes “On Cortina’s rancho there was a heavy fence that made an excellent cover for the enemy. I had that burned down but strictly forbade burning anything without my express order. This is setting a very bad example to Cortina and the Rangers were burning all – friends and foes.”
Of particular note, Heintzelman singles out Ranger William Tobin as one of the least effective and most brutal members of the Rangers. He said, “Capt. Tobin got in from Point Isabel this afternoon. Some of his men or stragglers hung a poor Mexican man. Tobin says he knew nothing about it and that it was done without his orders or knowledge. It will have a very bad effect.”
Tobin was in direct competition with John “Rip” Ford for command of the divided Rangers. Heintzelman refers to this by saying; “The Rangers are holding an election today for major. William Tobin says if he is not elected, he will resign. If he doesn’t keep better order and do something I will write to the Governor and have the Rangers recalled. They are doing no service and bring only disservice to the country.”