For the last several years, the border between the United States and Mexico has been plagued by extreme violence initiated by cartels smuggling narcotics and illegal aliens north, particularly into the state of Texas.
As anyone familiar with the history of conditions on the Rio Grande knows, such bloodshed is hardly new. In fact, the border has been a periodic battleground since the mid-1830s and shows little sign of changing anytime soon.
In his latest book, “Riding Lucifer’s Line: Texas Ranger Deaths Along the Texas-Mexico Border,” Bob Alexander discusses the lives and deaths of 24 Texas rangers who fell in the line of duty while serving on the Rio Grande. The anthology begins in 1874 with establishment of the Frontier Battalion, the year the Texas rangers became a permanent organization, and closes with the last Texas ranger death on the border in 1921. In two introductory essays: “The Frontier Battalion Era, 1874-1901” and “The Ranger Force Era, 1901-1935,” Alexander also discusses the Texas rangers as the members of the service transitioned from bandit-hunting state troops to more modern, professional law enforcement officers.
Byron A. Johnson, the executive director of the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum in Waco, wrote the foreword and reviewed the history of the Rio Grande from Spanish colonial times to the present day when Governor Rick Perry authorized the deployment of Ranger Reconnaissance Teams to high-crime areas along the border.
In the preface, the author relates how he approached this project without any agenda, except to tell the true story of these men’s ultimate sacrifices. Strictly keeping to facts, he does not hesitate to challenge apocryphal Texas ranger legends. Alexander also lays bare many of the classic Texas ranger histories that rely more on anecdotal accounts than supportable evidence.
He notes rangers were neither stalwart knights for law and order nor brutal, trigger-happy racists, but rather just men, some of whom were outstanding, good and bad.
Alexander further observes that for much of the time covered in the book, most of the population along the border was Mexican-born or Hispanic. Consequently, the majority of the criminals encountered by rangers were of Mexican ancestry, not because of racism but simple demographics. In fact, much of the Hispanic citizenry on the Rio Grande were honest folk merely trying to live their lives.
Alexander holds no interest in justifying aberrant behavior on the part of a few rangers or excusing the actions of bandits because of social inequalities.
I met the author recently in Waco and attended a presentation he gave at a history conference. With his full handlebar moustache and folksy persona, he reminded me of the classic Texas cowboy sitting around the campfire telling stories.
His writing also reflects this style but under the unaffected manner, there is a keen analysis of border conditions, lawmen and history. He himself spent 40 years in law enforcement and retired as a special agent with the U.S. Treasury Department.
He then taught criminal justice courses at a Texas community college. With this latest work, he has written 12 award-winning books discussing law enforcement in the Old West.
The book is illustrated with two galleries containing 60 period photographs taken from collections at the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum.
Perusing the bibliography reveals his exhaustive research into archived documents, books, magazine articles and newspapers. The text is supported by more than 1,000 endnotes.
Once again, Bob Alexander has written a solid, meticulously-researched book that presents an interesting topic in an enjoyable form.
With vivid characterizations, Bob Alexander wants to tell you a good story of the men who rode Lucifer’s Line.
Darren Ivey is a firefighter and a Manhattan resident.