La Frontiera

Captain James Abijah Brooks posed with members of his Company F in south Texas during the troubles with the insurrectionist Catarino Garza. Brooks is standing at far left; typically, the captains carried only a revolver as weaponry. This 1891 photograph shows his men booted and spurred with Winchesters at the ready.
– All Images Courtesy Texas Ranger Hall of Fame & Museum Unless Otherwise Noted –

During the 1820s the province of Texas was an ideal place for spreading terror. Comanche raiding parties swept down from the Great Plains to kill settlers or anyone who got in their way, and to kidnap women and children. The vastness of what is today Texas was a problem for the Mexican government. Moses Austin came up with an idea: colonize the area with Americans from the southern states, providing history with “The Old 300” families who were brave enough— or foolish enough—to leave the security of their homes in the South to forge a new life in this great frontier.

Although unidentified, these eight bust photos gathered and framed by a collector, could easily be Texas Rangers of the late 1850s through 1860s period. They are wearing period clothing and some eagerly show off their weapons.
John Woodard “Wood” Saunders (left) and J. Walter Durbin were photographed in south Texas. Wood Saunders began as a Ranger under Capt. Neal Coldwell in 1874 in Company F. He served off and on for many years, serving under Capt. Lamar P. Sieker, George H. Schmitt, Frank Jones and John R. Hughes. Saunders was in the squad on Pirate Island when the ambush resulted in the assassination of Capt. Frank Jones. He was honorably discharged in 1903. During those many dangerous years he also served as a “protection man” on the huge XIT Ranch in the Panhandle of Texas, served as a deputy in El Paso County, a deputy under Pat Garrett (after the killing of the Kid) and a U.S. Customs Agent before his death on July 11, 1913, in San Antonio. This image also shows John Walter Durbin, who served nearly as many years as Saunders. He left the service for a brief period with “Bass” Outlaw and John R. Hughes to earn a higher salary guarding mine shipments in Mexico. Durbin later became sheriff of Frio County from 1892 to 1896, then served on the police force in San Antonio. He died on September 19, 1916. “Lawing” was truly in his blood.
This view shows Capt. Ira Long with Company B, Frontier Battalion, during the late 1870s, preparing to start on a scout, somewhere near Fort Concho in West Texas. At left, the men are loading the mules with necessary scouting rations. Captain Long is mounted Ranger second from left. This image has “Sanders & Lester, Photographers” stamped on back.
This exquisite image of Lee Hall is the first known photograph of the lawman. The original is a mere .5” x 1” held in a 2.75” x 1.75” gutta percha frame of floral design. This locket with image was certainly a gift from Hall intended for—perhaps— future wife Bessie C. Weidman or it could have been intended for an unknown lady.
– Courtesy the Kurt House Collection –

In 1823 Stephen F. Austin employed ten men to do an impossible task: protect the early settlers. This marks the beginning of the iconic Texas Rangers. John “Jack” C. Hays, Sam Walker, Ben McCulloch, John B. Jones, Frank Hamer… these are just a few of the names which have become familiar to all. Men such as these became the mold for others to follow. Today the Texas Ranger is recognized throughout the world as the symbolic figure of the quintessential peace officer.

This photo is one of a group of great images of Company D at Camp Leona near Uvalde, Texas, by photographer Frank Chapman. With the absence of Capt. Frank Jones, young Austin Ira Aten, in temporary command is standing with coffee cup in hand. Seated on the ground, from left: J.W. King, Frank Schmid, Ernest Rogers, Calvin G. Aten—younger brother of Ira Aten, Walter Jones, Charles Fusselman, J. Walter Durbin, James R. Robinson, John R. Hughes and Bazel L. “Bass” Outlaw. With the assassination of Fusselman and then Frank Jones, Sgt. John R. Hughes became captain of Company D.
This Texas Ranger from the 1870s is obviously proud of his weaponry, the carbine and matched revolvers prominently displayed for the photographer and future generations. Unfortunately, no identification was provided.
A youthful Samuel H. Walker, whose name is immortalized by a pistol, the “Walker Colt,” was photographed without the pistol. Walker became the first hero of the Mexican War because he bravely delivered war messages to Gen. Zachary Taylor during the battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma. Together, Walker and Samuel Colt redesigned the five-shot Paterson revolver into a six-shot .44 caliber revolver, named the Colt Walker. Walker later returned to the Mexican War battlefields but was killed October 9, 1847, at the Battle of Huamantla.
Noah H. Rose, collector of Western frontier photographs of the early 20th century, identified this image as Augustine Montaigue “Gus” Gildea, as he appeared in 1878, when he was associated with John Selman and his group of desperadoes. Gildea himself may have termed this band of outlaws as “Selman’s Scouts,” who operated in New Mexico and claimed he was first lieutenant under outlaw John Selman. Gildea left several autobiographies, none complete or totally truthful. He was a wanted man, however, as Governor Lew Wallace listed wanted men of Lincoln County and in addition to Billy the Kid’s was Gildea’s name. He wisely left Lincoln County and found more peaceful pursuits in Arizona and Texas and drove at least one herd of cattle to Montana. In addition to his wanderings, he served in Company D Frontier Battalion from 1887 to 1890. This is an excellent image of a frontiersman “armed to the teeth” with six-shooter, knife, belts of ammunition and rifle.
James Thomas “Tom” Bird and friend John James Haynes were two young men from Blanco County who sought adventure a little further west. Haynes (at right) raised cattle and ranched while Bird became a Texas Ranger in the Frontier Battalion. Bird first served under Capt. Cicero Rufus Perry in Company D, having mustered in on May 25, 1874. He later served under Capt. Daniel W. Roberts, also in Company D, and finally under Lt. George W. Campbell in Company B. Note both wear knee-high boots, are proud of their revolvers, and Haynes with a wide-brim and low-crown hat which features hanging tassels.

Few Texas Rangers have come from Texas…and one who gained fame was from North Carolina: Jesse Lee Hall, born in 1849. After the Civil War, adventure drew him to Texas, where he became a lawman first in Grayson County, then in Austin. He gained fame as a lieutenant under Capt. Leander H. McNelly. He then was made captain. His philosophy was the same as his first captain: get the job done, no matter what. His targets were thieves and murderers of all types, on either side of the
Rio Grande.

One of the more famous images of Company D showing Captain Frank Jones and a dozen of his men, proudly showing their weaponry. Standing at rear l.-r.: Jim King, Baz Outlaw, Riley Barton, Charles Henry Vanvalkenburg Fusselman, William “Tink” Durbin, Ernest Rogers and Walter Jones. Seated from l.-r.: Bob Bell, Cal Aten, Captain Jones, J. Walter Durbin, Jim Robinson and Frank Schmid. This beautiful image of Company D was made in Rio Grande City and backstamped “L.P. Beckham Photographer.” Of this group, King, Outlaw, Fusselman and Captain Jones died violently, the former after service in the Rangers, while Fusselman and Jones were killed in the line of duty. The border then, as now, was a dangerous place.
Standing at left is the tall sheriff of La Salle County, Charles Brown McKinney. This beautiful image shows him ready in the town or more likely in the brasada of south Texas. Note his white-handled Colt with bowie knife just before it, his trouser bottoms stuffed in his boots. In February 1885 McKinney, with former ranger Lee Hall, forged a peace treaty with Dr. O.C. Pope on an island in the Rio Grande which only temporarily stopped senseless killings between Mexicans and Anglos. Next to him is former Capt. L.H. McNelly Ranger George W. Farrow, serving as a deputy.
– Courtesy the Brush Country Museum, Cotulla, Texas –
John Salmon Ford arrived in Texas shortly after the Battle of San Jacinto but joined the Texas army serving under Captain Jack Hays. He later practiced medicine for a number of years, then served in the Texas congress, served as editor of Austin’s Texas Democrat newspaper. During the Mexican War he served as adjutant of Hays’s company; one of his duties was to inform family members of the death of a loved one. He signed his letters with a “R.I.P’ which shortly thereafter became his nickname. While in the Texas Rangers he fought Comanches as well as raiders under Juan Cortina. During the Civil War he commanded the 2nd Texas Cavalry and later served as mayor of Brownsville, Texas. In his later years, he wrote profusely of Texas history.

From 1875 to 1880, Hall was a ranger. He fell to no outlaw’s bullet, but to the heart of a young woman who insisted he resign from the Rangers if he wanted her hand in marriage. He didn’t insist on her becoming a Texas Ranger’s wife. If he had, he may have become one of the “Four Great Captains” along with John R. Hughes, Bill McDonald, James A. Brooks and John H. Rogers. Or he may have fallen to an outlaw’s bullet as Capt. Frank Jones.

Company D was not the only company of the Frontier Battalion who posed for a photographer. This image shows Capt. James A. Brooks with his Company F (left) somewhere in south Texas in 1888. This is a unique image as it also shows John H. Rogers, a future ranger captain. Standing l.-r.: Frank Carmichael, Bob Bell, Curren “Kid” Rogers, younger brother of John H. Rogers, Gene Bell and Jim Harry. Seated l.-r.: Tupper Harris, Sgt. J.H. Rogers, Capt. James A. Brooks, Charles Rogers and Bob Crowder.
This is among the frequently exhibited Ranger images of the 1890s period, probably because the photographer posed the men well showing their weapons. Standing are Pvts. Robert Speaks and Jim Putman, the latter having survived the bloody shootout with Fine Gilliland in the Glass Mountains of West Texas. Seated are Alonzo “Lon” Oden and Cpl. John Reynolds “Border Boss” Hughes. Oden later wrote of his experiences as a Texas Ranger. This image of four men of Company D was made at Shafter in Presidio County.
Ranger Capt. Joseph Shely and his men of Company F were photographed in 1882. Standing, from left: James M. Buck, first sheriff of La Salle County; Samuel E. “Pete” Edwards; Captain Shely; George W. Farrow; William T. “Brack” Morris; and Charles Norris. Seated, from left: Washington W. Shely, younger brother of the captain; Tom Mabry; Robert Crowder; and Cecelio Charo.
– Courtesy Western History Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries, N.H. Rose Collection, #1409 –
Captain L.H. McNelly in 1872 was tasked to find and capture the Adjutant General of Texas, James Davidson, suspected of stealing thousands of dollars from the State Treasury. McNelly followed his trail to Montreal, Canada, but Davidson had managed to elude McNelly and eventually settled in New Zealand, never to return to Texas. This image is one of two made by Montreal photographer James Inglis.
– Courtesy the Albert and Ethel Herzstein Library, San Jacinto Museum of History, La Porte, Texas –

Hall resigned from the Rangers and eventually served during the Spanish-American War and later in the Philippine Insurrection. Wounds suffered in battle there forced him to leave the service. He died in 1911 and is buried in the National Cemetery in San Antonio.

Chuck Parsons’ works focus on the real Texas Rangers and the outlaws they chased. His biographies of Wes Hardin, Jack Helm and John R. Hughes established him as a quality researcher. His latest book is Texas Ranger Lee Hall: From the Red River to the Rio Grande (University of North Texas Press, 2020).

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