Jim Gillett was just 20 years old when he decided to join the Texas Rangers in 1875.
But young didn’t mean inexperienced—Gillett was a native of the state and had spent years on the frontier, punching cattle, bustin’ broncs and battling Indians. But he wanted more; he wanted to be a Ranger.
Between his 1875 enlistment and resig-nation in late 1881, Gillett had a distinguished career. He helped capture outlaw Sam Bass just outside Round Rock in 1878. He was part of the effort to end some of the notorious Texas feuds, from the Mason County War to the Horrell-Higgins dust-up to the El Paso Salt War. And he participated in some of the last Indian
fights in Texas history. His service was acknowledged by his superiors, who promoted Gillett to sergeant by the end of his Ranger tenure.
But Gillett’s life proved that the pen was mightier than the sword (or Colt). He gained his greatest recognition from writing a book about his experiences, Six Years with the Texas Rangers, a rare first person account of the law enforcement agency in the 19th century. He self-published a small number of copies in 1921. By 1925—the 50th anniversary of his becoming a Ranger—the Yale University Press had picked up the book and given it a greater distribution, furnishing Gillett a prominence beyond what he had during his law enforcement days.
These never-before-published photos, which likely came from a Gillett family photo album, were taken around that same year. They provide a portrait of a man still active and vital at the age of 69 (and who still had 12 years of life ahead of him). The pictures also confirm that Jim Gillett was comfortable with revisiting his past.