RANGERS HALL OF FAME & MUSEUM
Did you know The Lone Ranger was a Texas Ranger? Well, it makes sense with the name but it never really occurs to you until standing before the famous movie, radio and comic book character memorabilia of the matinee serial hero in the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame Museum in Waco, Texas. Perhaps the confusion is that most official rangers don’t wear masks. The original radio programs said the story was set in Texas, but much of the relationship to place was later abandoned, or perhaps assumed. The lawman Texas Ranger shouldn’t be confused with the baseball team, but the story of the cowboy law force is such an integral part of Texas lore, the official symbol of the Texas Rangers, a silver star in a circle can be seen painted on neighborhood houses.
The early Texas Rangers, were first formed in 1823 by Stephen F. Austin, as “rangers for the common defense” essentially to protect pioneer settlers in the territory which would later become the “lone star” state. The first rangers were established in three companies. The first rangers were volunteers and expected to bring their own equipment. If they didn’t own a horse, they walked. After a decade, with the establishment of the Republic of Texas in 1835, the rangers were reorganized into a coordinated frontier law force. The first rangers remained a citizen militia which went be a variety of names. After a hundred years, in 1935, during the depression which had loosed a rash of crime, from petty theft to infamous bank robbers, and the growth in automobile traffic on Texas’s long roads, the ranger were reorganized again under the state Department of Public Safety, becoming essentially the Texas version of state police. Modern day Texas Rangers operate much like the FBI, called in to investigate major crimes and other duties, but still with the white cowboy hat, a required uniform element
At the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame, the story of the rangers is told through historic artifacts, from a collection of weapons and badges to saddles and photographs. Curiously, a lesser known part of the story is that the rangers of the early west, having a fair amount of down time, were given the task of surveying much of the broad plains, with the Vara chain of the surveyor, more the tool of day rather than the six-gun. More familiar at the museum is the place of the Texas Ranger in popular culture, both fact and fiction. It was a former Texas Ranger, Frank Hamer, who tracked the bank robbing spree of Bonnie and Clyde, following Clyde Barrow’s escape from the Waco jail (the jail building still exists in downtown Waco), and orchestrated an ambush of the outlaw couple in a brutal barrage of 150 rounds of ammunition on a country road near Gibsland, Louisiana. The story as told in the 1967 Warren Beatty movie with familiar character actor Denver Pyle as the real life Hamer, in droopy western mustache, was highly fictionalized, nearly beyond recognition, except for the portrayal of the actual death scene. Parts of the bullet riddled car would be taken on tour of carnivals and fairs for decades after (see Bonnie & Clyde Guns). Some 214 movies have featured rangers as characters, from “True Grit” to “The Over the Hill Gang”.
Perhaps the most famous of the lawmen in fiction is Chuck Norris as “Walker Texas Ranger”. Norris took the name for the character from an actual early historic ranger, Samuel Walker, but the character actually came from an earlier action film, where Norris played “Lone Wolf McQuade”. In a notorious Hollywood law suit, Norris was sued for taking the idea for his long running CBS TV show from the earlier film, without paying the original creators, but this particular crime was not investigated by the real rangers. The most well-known Lone Ranger of the filmic past was Clayton Moore, whose guns and mask are onedisplay at the museum. But the classics don't long escape movie remake mania. Johnny Depp is soon to appear a new big budget Disney version of the “Lone Ranger”, playing faithful Indian companion, Tonto, rather than the masker avenger of the plains, creating a new bit of controversy about Depp’s claim to Native-American heritage for his part. There are a few Bonnie & Clyde projects in the works, from as far away as Norway and Austria, about as far from Texas as you can get. The museum itself was opened in 1968 with an ever going collection and awards. A new research center is currently under construction.
Visiting the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame
The Texas Ranger Hall of Fame & Museum is just minutes from downtown Waco, off I-35 at the edge of the Baylor University campus, on University Parks Drive. It’s hard to miss with the bronze horsed ranger out from waving the Texas state flag. The museum is open 365 days a year from 9 am to 5 pm; with last admission at 4:30 pm. Admission prices are $7 for Adults, $6 seniors and Military with ID, $3 for children 6-12. The gift shop offers a host of Texas Ranger themed gifts and memorabilia from coffee cups to white Resitol cowboy hats, in case you want to be the hero in your own story. “Hi yo, Silver…Away!” © Bargain Travel West
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