RANGERS, COMANCHES, AND RANCHEROS IN TEXAS AUSTIN The Texas Revolution of 1835 was caused, we are told, by “a conflict of cultures.” That is the reason offered by the orthodox historians and their copycats, the reference books. This reason was first thought up by Dr. George P. Garrison, early professor of history at the University of Texas, who, coming from Georgia, was anxious to root out the Damyankee heresy \(still religiously believed by worshippers at the Adams Family which held that the separation of Texas from Mexico was the work of a Southern conspiracy bent on spreading slavery. There was never much basis for this belief, but in order to smack it down hard a plausible reason for the Revolution had to be offered in its place, a “scientific” one. By the stiff Prussian standards that for several generations \(and even into demic circles, historians were considered scarcely worthy to sit on the same faculty with, for example, a good solid chemist, who could put everything he knew into formula. The historian, therefore, made a painful effort to pin down and dessicate his flibbertygibbet art until it took on the skeletal semblance, he hoped, of an exact science. Hp preferred, when probing into the background of human events, to explain them by “forces,” which would be chemically free of those messy things, human emotions. And what could be more scientific, as the reason for the Texas Revolution, than “a conflict of cultures”? This sounded like an actual laboratory test, where two strains of bacteria are mixed into the same tube and made to fight it out. What a splendid illustration of the Darwinian theory, the Struggle for Survival: The fittest culture wins. As we all know, the fittest ‘culture that ever was, our Anglo-Saxon heritag e, United States of America variety, Southern branch, did win. Of course, geography was on our side, and we outnumbered the Mexicans in Texas six to one. The truth is, there is scant evidence of any conflict between the “races” in pre-revolutionary Texas. There does not seem to be a single case of violence caused by racial feeling between the AngloAmerican colonist and the Mexican. There was very little contact between them. As long as the Mexican government let the colonist alone, he preferred it to the system he had grown up under. He did not \(although a great fuss was made in afterthought about courts or churches or schools. What he did care about was freedom. The uprisings at Velasco in 1832 and at Anahuac in 1835 were provoked by petty despotism, and it was the colossal despotism of Santa Anna that forced the colonists to take a stand. This was the real cause of the Revolution. It would be foolish to claim that the American and the Mexican inhabitants of Texas liked or understood each other. No isolated or provincial people likes or understands another people that differs from it in the slightest. And then, sooner or later, in the process of making a living, they get in each other’s way, and the result is hatred, which has written so many ugly pages in the history of Texas. But this hatred ‘was a consequence, not a cause of the Texas Revolution: It was, especially, a consequence of the atrocities ordered or sanctioned by Santa Anna at the Alamo and at Goliad. Even more violent was the hatred aroused by the Mexican War and by the long ensuing conflict over lands and cattle be tween the Nueces and the Rio Grande. But before the Revolution there was no such conflict, no such hatred. Only the mild contempt, mild distrust inevitable between peoples of different origins and tongueswhich is not, even, the cause of war. Charles Ramsdell And yet, there was not much difference between the fundamental philosophies of the Mexican and the American in Texas, least of all between the fighting men, who so often after the Revolution were at each other’s throats. Nor did either one differ much, fundamentally, from the Comanche warrior, who was the constant foe of both. Common to the three of them was the cult of valor and the cult of horsemanship: These were the greatest of accomplishments. All three were fiercely loyal to their comrades, and none of them was overburdened with moral or religious fears. THERE IS A DESCRIPTION I the only one in books, I believeof a tourney in Texas between the Ranger, the Comanche, and the Ranchero; it is in a book first’ published in 1892 and reprinted by the Steck Co. in 1935 with the title Early Times in Texas, by J. C. Duval. There are two stories: The first, a true account of Duval’s escape from the massacre at Goliad in 1836, has been justly celebrated by J. Frank Dobie; the second, called “The Young Explorers,” a true account of a hunting party to West Texas in, I Think, 1844, is so botched by inferior fiction that is mixed up with it, including some lamentable funny stuff, I doubt if the most sedulous students of Texana ever get as far as the passages that I will quote. The hunting party in “The Young Explorers” entered San Antonio from the east and camped out “near the Alamo, under some cottonwood trees”; that is, in the old Alameda, now East Commerce St., near Joske’s. They heard there was to be a riding match between Texas rangers, Mexican rancheros, and forty or fifty Comanche warriors, so they put off their hunting trip a day to see the show. There follows a description of San Antonio on its way to a good time. The details are typical of the 1840’s, but the holiday spirit of the town is the same today: unbuttoned, bacchanalian. You can see, during Fiesta Week at the “Nights in Old San Antonio” in La Villita perhaps the gayest crowds anywhere north of the isthmus of Tehuantepec. “The next morning we found the whole population of the city, men, women and children, all preparing to leave for the scene of the great riding match, which was to take place in the prairie just west of the San Pedro creek. Gaily dressed caballeros were prancing along the streets on their gaudily caparisoned steeds; rangers mounted on their horses and dressed in buckskin hunting shirts, leggins and slouched hats, and with pistols and , bowie knives stuck in their belts, gal loped here and there among the crowd, occasionally charging ‘horse and any’ into some barroom or grocery for a glass of mescal or ‘scorch-gullet.’ All the strangers in the place, and all the citizens with their families crammed into all kinds of vehicles, were hurrying in hot haste to reach the scene of action before the match began . . . “Drawn up in line on one side of the arena, and sitting like statues upon their horses, were the Comanche warriors, decked out in their savage finery of paints, feathers and beads, and looking with Indian stoicism upon all that was going on around them. Opposite to them, drawn up in single file also, were their old enemies upon many a bloody field, the Texas Rangers, and a few Mexican rancheros, dressed in their steeple-crown, broad-brim sombreros, showy scarfs and slashed trousers, holding gracefully in check. the fiery mustangs on which they were mounted . . . A MEXICAN LAD mounted on f a paint pony, with a spear in his hand, cantered off a couple of hundred yards and laid the spear flat on the ground. Immediately a Comanche ibrave started forth from their line, and plunging his spurs into his horse’s flanks, dashed off in a direction opposite to that where the spear was lying, for a hundred yards or so; then wheeling suddenly he came rushing back at full speed, and as he passed the spot where the spear had been placed, without checking his horse for an instant, he swerved from his saddle, seized the spear, and rising gracefully in his seat, continued his headlong course for some distance beyond, when he wheeled again and galloped back \(dropping the spear as he returned at the same point from which he had taken in the ranks. The same feat was then performed by a dozen or so each of the rangers, rancheros and Indians. A glove was then substituted in place of was spear, and w in like manner it as picked up by the riders, whilst going at full KELLY BLUE, by William Weber Johnson, Doubleday, 1960, $3.95. HOUSTON Walter Clemons, when he was reviewing a book recently by C. P. Snow, likened him to Chaucer,. Claude’, and Fielding,. in that he, Snow, was already a man of experience in public life before he began to write. It was just lucky incident, he says, that Snow was able to turn his experience into creative form. He said, further, that writers of this century know very little of public life, and have only their experience in bars and beds and cocktail parties to fall back on. H. 0. Kelly, the subject of William Weber Johnson’s Guggenheim-project book, described his feeling on experience in this way: “I am glad I was born when I was. A great pleasure, memories are, and I wonder if people today have as much pleasure in them. They have so little to -remember. I was driving a jerkline team when I was still just a boy.” H. 0. Kelly was born on March 6, 1884, in Bucyrus, Ohio, of German and Swiss parentage. His father, a blacksmith, discouraged his sons from that profession because he said it was too hard and you couldn’t go far enough in it, but he did encourage them to work as machinists, and was able to help them toward that endeavor. But Kelly never felt at ease with the twentieth century. Of all the material, mechanical, and electronic wonders the new cen speed. A board with a bull’s eye marked upon it was then set up at the point where the spear and glove had been placed. A warrior with his bow in his hand and three or four arrows from his quiver charged full speed toward the mark, and in the little time he was passing it planted two arrows in the board. The rangers and rancheros then took their turn, using their pistols instead of bows, and t all of them struck the board as they passed it, and several the bull’s eye. “0 t h e r extraordinary feats: hanging by one leg to the horn of the saddle, in such a way that the rider could not be seen by those he was supposed to be charging, and, in that position, shooting arrows or with pistols at an imaginary oe under the horse’s neck; jumping from the horse when at a gallop, running a few steps by ,this side, and ‘springing into the saddle again without checking him for a moment, passing under the horse’s neck and coming up into the saddle again from the opposite side . . . THE LAST and most exciting performance was the break ing in of several ‘wild steeds of the desert’ that had never been backed by man. These were tied ‘short up’ to stakes firmly plantMcMullen, a ranger, who had already been voted the most daring and graceful rider on the ground, approaching cautiously the most perfectly formed and powerful of these unbroken steeds, at length succeeded in spite of the furious struggles of the terrified animal in slipping a blind of thick cloth over its eyes. Instantly the horse ceased struggling and stood perfectly still. McMullen thenforced the bit in his mouth, girted the saddle securely upon him, and placing his foot in the stirrup, ‘sprang upon his back. All this time the horse never moved, but the quivering of its well-formed, muscular limbs showed. that its terrors were unabated. McMullen fixed himself firmly in his seat, and grasping the reins with his left hand, leaned forward and quickly drew off the blind he had placed over the horse’s eyes. The wild horse,’ snorting and absolutely screaming in its rage and terror, gave one tremendous bound, and then darted off at headlong speed across the prairies; but instead of trying to ‘check him, McMullen urged him on with whip and spurs until he had gone perhaps a mile, when he reined him round and brought him back within fifty yards of the point he had started from. Here, suddenly coming to a halt, the horse began to pitch or plunge in such a violent manner, none but the most perfect rider could possibly have kept his seat in. the saddle. But McMullen stuck to him as if he had been part of the animal itself. At length, frantic with rage and fright, the horse reared straight up and threw himself backward upon the ground. A cry of horror broke from the lips of the spectators, for every one supposed that McMullen would be crushed to death beneath the weight of his steed; but he sprang from under him just in time to save himself, and the moment the horse rose to his feet, we saw him seated again in the saddle, as calm and composed as though he were bestriding the gentlest hack that ever bore a country curate to his church . . .” Prizes were distributed at the endhadsomely mounted pistols, bowie knives, Spanish blankets the first to McMullen, the second to Long Quirt, a Comanche brave, ‘the third to H. L. Kinney of Corpus Christi, the fourth to Don Rafael, a ranchero from the Rio Grande. Then presents were given to the Comanches. IS IT ABSURD to wonder if, in I this idyllic scene of enemies at play, any of the Rangers or Comanches or rancheros ever thought how much alike they all were, under the skin; and even their skins must have been pretty much alike, bronzed as they were by the Texas sun. that Kelly was able to turn his vast, loose-knit experience into art form. Because he was finally too worn out from a hard life to pursue his dealings with the earth, and because he had always painted pictures for amusement, he became a professional painter and at last achieved some success. On art, Kelly has this to say: “The more one looks at the work of fine old artists, the sorrier modern efforts seem. I often forget, though, that this young generation does not have the memories of beautiful scenes, either, that us old-timers have. No wonder they crave to see ‘Westerns.’ I often feel sorry for the kids. I was just lucky.” Here we come back to the idea of experience, and that idea that modern experience isn’t as rich as old-fashioned experience. And, ‘uncomfortable as it was, we look back with nostalgia to other
You May Also Like
The Texas Rangers are tasked with investigating corruption and crimes by public officials. Those officials are rarely held accountable.