Texas Department of public safety has an interesting history which begins not
in 1935, but in 1875. It was in that year that Gov. Richard Coke, after ousting
E. J. Davis from the capitol
building in Austin in a confrontation
which could have proved bloody but didn't, appointed the Milam County Militia
as the Special Force of the Texas Rangers and sent them to clean up the rampant
lawlessness south of the Nueces River. Although rangers had acted as lawmen at
times before, they were not lawmen per se, but State Militiamen. Coke's appointment
of Leander H. McNelly as captain of the Special Force marked the first specific
appointment of a law enforcement officer as commander of a ranger force. McNelly
had been a captain in the State Police but resigned that commission when it became
obvious that the State Police were a political agency rather than a law-enforcement
From 1875 until 1935 the Texas rangers--dubbed Rangers in an 1880s
re-write of the law authorizing them to act as peace officers--wore two hats.
As part of the state's militia they reported to the Adjutant General. As the state's
only statewide law-enforcement agency, they reported to the Attorney General.
Attorney General was an elective office, but Adjutant General was and is an appointive
office. Adjutants General of Texas, until 1935, could come from the state militia
(after 1906 the National Guard) or the Texas Rangers. William Warren Sterling,
the last Adjutant General to come from the Ranger ranks, served from 1931 to 1933,
during the administration of Gov. Ross S. Sterling. The men were not related.
By 1933 it was obvious Texas needed an entirely new sort of statewide
police force. It was in that year that Gov. Sterling asked the legislature to
establish the Texas Highway Patrol. The first chief of the new force was former
Austin Police; Chief Lester G. Phares. The officers rode Harley-Davidson motorcycles
and were issued factory-nickel-plated Colt New Service revolvers in .38 Special
caliber. The pistols had TEXAS HIGHWAY PATROL stamped on the backstrap. Once the
pistols were removed from the state's inventory and sold on the open market the
TEXAS HIGHWAY PATROL stamping was ground off, leaving a strip of bare metal down
the backstrap. These pistols--easily identified by the ground-off bare spot on
the backstrap--are highly collectible today.
In August of 1935 the Highway
Patrol and Rangers were consolidated into the Texas Department of Public Safety,
with the Rangers eventually forming the Criminal Investigation Division of the
DPS. The Rangers were stripped of their militia status at the time, something
that did not set well with a great many older Rangers. The formation of the DPS
in August of '35, stripping the force of its militia status by the administration
of Gov. Miriam A. ;W. Ferguson, almost caused the collapse of the Ranger force.
So many veteran Rangers, irked over losing their militia status and having seen
what the Fergusons did to the Ranger force in Mrs. Ferguson's previous term as
governor, resigned. Among them was Captain Frank A. Hamer, who formed a private
detective agency and accepted a job as Chief of Security at a Houston-based
oil company at a salary of $6,000 per year, a virtual fortune during the depression.
At the request of Col.. Lee Simmons, Warden of the Texas State Prison System,
Hamer resigned that job and took a commission as a Special Investigator for the
Texas State Prison System--at a salary of less than $2,400 per year---in order
to capture or kill Clyde
Barrow and Bonnie Parker.
August 13, 2013 column
"Charley Eckhardt's Texas"
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