Nov 28, 2022 - News

Texas Rangers podcast raises questions about myth-making

A picture of Texas Rangers in the 1930s.

A group of rifle-bearing Texas Rangers. Photo courtesy of Austin Public Library/Austin History Center, via Portal to Texas History

A new Texas Monthly podcast examines the history of the Rangers, the storied Texas police force whose image has been burnished in countless Hollywood renderings.

Why it matters: Against the backdrop of a national conversation about policing and myth-making, "White Hats" — named for their traditional headwear — explores current questions about how Texans teach their own history.

  • Next year, the Rangers, created by Stephen F. Austin's group of original Anglo settlers as they fought Indigenous people, celebrate their 200th anniversary.
  • Even as they built a reputation as a heroic crime-fighting force, the Rangers hunted down escaped enslaved people, battled to secede from the Union and, later, massacred Mexican Americans.

We interviewed Austin journalist Jack Herrera about his project.

Tell me about how your own family history interweaves with the Rangers.

"My grandfather claimed that one of our ancestors was one of the first Mexican Texas rangers. That family story was the beginning of my fascination with them. More recently, my grandmother, who grew up in a Mexican neighborhood in San Antonio, told me that when she grew up, you had to be careful around them. A white hat meant 'run.'"

Why do you think Texans are so invested in pressing the myth of the Rangers?

"Very few other states that have same connection with their past as Texans. People don't go into the depths of Connecticut history to learn who they are."
"The narrative of Texas history is of intrepid settlers in a dangerous territory, who bring in industry, bring in democracy. That's a potent and politically useful story, and that's why whenever it might be questioned — in school textbooks, or about 'Remember the Alamo' — there's a sensitivity to that."

A spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety told you "there are the historical Rangers, and then there are the modern Rangers." What do you think of that distinction?

"It's a pretty fair thesis. Even before the latest push for representation, Rangers in the 1990s made a concerted effort to diversify their ranks ... But it's still not reflective of Texas, I don't think.
"And if you accept that legacy with pride, are you accepting its darker chapters?"
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