Sunday, April 5, 2015
The suspension of civil government did not stop every officer of the law in the former Confederacy. In Texas, as lawlessness in the countryside grew, out of work lawmen banded together to establish the Unofficial Company of the Texas Rangers. Unlike other vigilante groups, which were often thinly veiled pro-Confederate gangs, the Texas Rangers before and after the war swore allegiance to the State of Texas. To many of the lawmen it mattered to less union Texas belonged than having peace and security within their State.
Unlike those same organizations, the Unofficial Company consisted of actual, trained police officers. A few were Rangers before the Great War, where some volunteered for 50th Texas Cavalry, a unit which saw plenty of action in Texas, Oklahoma and Jefferson. Others were policemen and college graduates with aspirations to join the prestigious ranks of the Rangers. In Texas, there was no law enforcement agency more respected than the State’s own policing force. It was also one of the oldest policing forces in the South, with roots stretching back to the short-lived Texas Republic.
The Unofficial Company ranged throughout western Texas, where occupation authorities paid little attention. The US Army’s primary concern in Texas was keeping order in the cities and stamping out any pro-Confederate movements. Crime in the western counties, especially when it did not pertain to the occupation forces, was left to an undermanned county sheriff department, a force so disarmed that they were only permitted to carry sidearms and that was a concession for self-defense.
The Rangers were not bound to any arms limitations. Most carried sidearms, such as the Yankee-designed Colt .45 or Tredegar .38 revolver, while many carried hunting rifles, shotguns and heavier weapons purchased in Kansas and Nebraska. In the 1920s, even in the border States, civilian purchase of firearms was not a difficult task. Often all one had to do was walk into a hardware store and select from a range of weapons. Catalog-ordered weapons, such as the Thompson submachine gun were purchased through sympathetic Kansan supporters. As lawlessness increased in western Texas and the Oklahoma panhandle, bank robbers occasionally took up residence in safe houses inside southwestern Kansas. The smart ones made certain to not as much as jaywalk while inside Kansas’s borders.
One of the ongoing battles in Texas was between the Rangers and rum-runners, or rather tequila runners from across the Rio Grande River. Veterans residing in Brownsville and other border towns established contacts in Mexico, purchased large quantities of alcohol and smuggled it across the border. The Temperance Movement made as many roads into Texas as it had the Midwest, eventually closing the State to liquor in 1922. Most of the voting population lived in the eastern, agricultural region of the State. Those who lived in the western and southern counties were not legally dry as only a handful of the counties passed prohibition laws. All of them did, however, outlaw other drugs such as morphine.
The Unofficial Company was divided on a personal level over the subject. On one hand, they did not believe any government had the right to control what one did or did not drink. That was a personal choice and for a governing body to decide it was plainly unjust. As the Founding Fathers said, the citizen had a right and duty to oppose unjust laws. The Mestizo Rangers knew of unjust laws on a more personal level. Though their status in the racial hierarchy of the Confederacy was not set in stone like those of Blacks, there was still the custom of racial division. Texas law made them equal to Whites in the eyes of the law but there was always a feeling they were on a low rung on an unofficial level.
However, as an agency that prided itself on upholding the law, no matter how unjust, they could not simply ignore it. With limited resources, they could and did prioritize it. The criminals were not those who drank alcohol but the violent thugs who smuggled it across the border. Naturally organized crime was not as open to free trade and competition as other facets of society. Each gang wanted a monopoly over the border crossings. The two big players in Brownsville, the Hernandez Family and Jamison and Associates, fought for control of the city and border crossing. It was more than a simple business dispute as Reginald Jamison was brother to infamous SOC leader Leopold Jamison and funneled part of his gang’s profits into funding the SOC.
One would think having an organization such as the Sons of the Confederacy backing them that Jamison and Associates, the legitimate sounding organized crime syndicate, would have no problem in controlling the border. Enforcing an unpopular law was quite a different matter than hunting down domestic terrorists as Reginald was well aware. He and most of the Jamison, while proud of their relatives work also distanced themselves from him less they fall under the scrutiny of the occupational authority. Given that the scuffle in Brownsville was also between different races any overt act on behalf of the SOC would have brought the US Army down on the place in a hurry.
Without them, it was a small matter by Jamison and Hernandez to pay off the garrison commander, who was more interested in stopping the smuggling of weapons or the SOC’s hideouts across the border. Major Thompson still had to bust up a smuggling ring from time to time, to keep up appearances in the eyes of his superiors, but for the most part the Army stayed out of the gang war. Some of the Rangers would not have minded watching the gangs kill each other off. However, as with so much gang violence, there was always those innocents caught in the middle.
The Unofficial Company took it upon itself to battle both of them and to protect and defend the civilian population. As with local law enforcement and the Army, both gangs tried to buy off the Rangers. To their dismay, it did not work. The Unofficial Company was not in the business for the pay, for they had none. They volunteered because they believed it their duty to uphold the law. Introduction to organized crime strengthened that resolve as it weeded out the corrupt Rangers from the idealistic ones.
The incorruptibility of the Unofficial Company did not escape public notice. So much so, that even General Haise, commander in Texas between 1921-24, took to calling them ‘untouchable’ to the greasing palms of bribery. He considered lobbying Congress to allow him to reinstate the Rangers but ultimately decided against it. As they stood, volunteers fighting for their principles, they would be stronger than a genuine state law enforcement agency, susceptible to bribery and corruption. Better to let them do their thing and not have to pay them. It would be one less problem for the Army. It would be up to his successor to reinstate them and then as a means to reign them in. At times, the vigilantes could be as bloody as the criminals they fought, as the hanging of more than one gangster proved.