Wearing the Cinco Peso

I came away from independent historian Mike Cox’s The Texas Rangers, Wearing The Cinco Peso, 1821-1900 with a new view of the fabled outfit, the samurai of early Texas, you might say. There’s less of their invincibility here than vulnerability. Despite committing occasional injustices, they seem often to have been short of manpower, money and even modern weapons yet would charge into a fight they couldn’t reasonably win and only after taking as well as inflicting casualties, withdraw. They usually were effective, but they paid a high price.

I can’t find the link but one newspaper reviewer complained the book is too bloody. It is graphic in describing the appalling things the Commanche and other maurauding Indians liked to do to settler families, but no more so, I don’t think, than some recent historical fiction. More so, however, than professional historian Walter Prescott Webb’s 1935 classic that Cox has updated with thorough documentation. Webb, for instance, says on page 313 only that Ranger D.W.H. Bailey was slain in July, 1874, trying to get water for a thirsting company under Indian siege. Cox tells us that Bailey’s name was Dave and quotes a comrade that the Indians killed him in sight of the others by cutting off his nose, ears, hands, arms, etc. and eating his flesh until their leader dispatched him with a tomahawk. It helps you understand why the early Rangers tended to shoot Indians on sight. When the savages finally were subdued, there were still Anglo and Mexican murderers and border bandits to fight and the Rangers kept charging, and sometimes losing, but were always ready to charge again.

The only thing I found disconcerting was the author’s continual mockery of the spelling and grammar of old letter-writers and memoirists. Any reader of nineteenth century material knows that spelling and punctuation were ad-hoc, and only the arrival of mass public education standardized them. Cox is finishing a second volume to bring the Rangers up to the 21st century, something Webb didn’t live to do, and it should make a dandy story, or rather series of stories, which is the way this first volume is put together. Rangers are mainly detectives, nowadays, but their mystique lives on in their holstered but cocked .45s. I’ll look forward to No. 2 and, meanwhile, recommend this one to anyone interested in Texas history. As my Corsicana grandfather used to say, "It’s a peach."

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