not many times when people are doing research on the history
of Texas, that they don’t come across that illustrious group of lawmen known
as the Texas Rangers.
I doubt that there is a band of lawmen anywhere
who have garnered as much respect and admiration as the Texas Rangers. You might
say that there is sort of a romantic, yet mysterious, allure which accompanies
these brave men who sought to preserve law and order in the Lone Star State –
back when Texas was young and bad men roamed the
At times the paths of these men crossed; they may have served
in the same company or perhaps assigned to the same case, but they rode together
in pursuit of those who would do harm to the citizens of Texas.
men were not unlike those who fought for Texas independence.
They wore no uniforms in the Rangers; some were fancy dressed, while others wore
the simple attire that would be found on a Texas cowboy.
But they did
have several things in common – they were well-armed and proficient in the use
of their firearms and they were fearless when confronted by Indians or bandits.
Two such men were Jesse Lee Hall and John Barclay Armstrong.
Both of these men gained fame while serving in the Rangers, but Armstrong was
probably the most famous because of his dealings with the outlaw, John
According to the Handbook of Texas, Jesse
Hall came to Texas from North Carolina in 1869 when he was 20 years old. At
some point in his young life, he must have encountered and made an impression
on the well-known artist, Frederic Remington. The artist was quoted as saying,
“Hall is a gentleman of the romantic Southern soldier type and he entertained
the highest ideals, with which it would be extremely unsafe to trifle.”
began his life in Texas as a schoolteacher, but it wasn’t long before he was wearing
a badge. He was a city marshal in Sherman
and a deputy sheriff in Denison.
Later, he became a Texas Ranger serving under Capt. Leander McNelly’s Special
Forces group operating in the Nueces Strip.
After McNelly fell ill, Hall
was promoted to company commander – this is where Hall and Armstrong crossed paths,
because Armstrong, who had been the company’s sergeant, was promoted to second
lieutenant serving under Hall.
Armstrong and Hall moved their company
of rangers to Cuero where
they suppressed the famed Sutton-Taylor Feud. Later, Hall decided to break up
the company into units of one or two men and station them along the border to
suppress cattle rustling and to stop outlaw King Fisher and his gang. Hall resigned
from the Rangers in 1880.
Jesse Hall married in 1880 and was blessed with
five daughters. According to the Handbook of Texas, most of his business
ventures failed but his patriotism lived on as he raised two companies for service
War. He saw action in the Philippines and received medals for his gallant
One historian described Hall as “a man of daring and almost reckless
physical courage, of fine physique and resistless energy.”
Hall died in
1911 at the age of 62. He is buried in the National Cemetery at San
Jesse Hall’s fellow ranger, John Armstrong, was known
as “McNelly’s Bulldog” while serving under Capt. McNelly. He joined that unit
in 1875, one year before Hall joined up. Many of the rangers felt that Armstrong,
not Hall, should have gotten McNelly’s command.
Armstrong was from Tennessee
and was quick to join the Rangers when he moved to Austin.
He was assigned to the Eagle
Pass area and operated on both sides of the border, breaking up outlaw gangs
and helping to arrest the notorious John King Fisher.
greatest achievement was the capture of the famed outlaw John
Wesley Hardin. Armstrong volunteered for the job and he pursued Hardin
first to Alabama and then to Florida where he confronted the outlaw and four of
his gang on a train in Pensacola.
It has been said that when Hardin
spotted Armstrong he shouted, “Texas by God,” and went for his gun. Armstrong
with his pistol and knocked him unconscious while killing one of Hardin’s
men and arresting the others.
Armstrong brought Hardin
back to Texas where he was tried and sentenced to
25 years in prison. Armstrong was also involved in the killing of outlaw Sam
Bass at Round Rock, Texas.
Afterwards, he was assigned to Cuero
where he retired from ranger service and became a U.S. marshal.
was described by one writer as being “well-built with a face marked by heavy brows
and made distinguished by a finely modeled nose and deep-set languid eyes. The
Ranger always wore a full beard and was something of a dandy in the way he dressed.”
The man known in later years as “Major” Armstrong owned a 50,000-acre ranch in
Willacy County. He died at the age of 63.
This is a brief history of the
lives of only two Texas Rangers; there are so many more stories to tell. And just
like their predecessors, today’s Rangers continue in their task to protect the
people of Texas.
June 27, 2011 column
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