If you’re a regular reader of the words I publish on this website, you’ll know that I’ve long advocated for the baseball teams in Atlanta and Cleveland to change their names and abandon the racism attendant with those monikers. However, it’s worth noting that those aren’t the only teams with names steeped in racism.
A magisterial new book by journalist Doug J. Swanson, “Cult of Glory: The Bold and Brutal History of the Texas Rangers,” lays bare their long record of savagery, lawlessness and racism.
“They burned peasant villages and slaughtered innocents,” he writes. “They committed war crimes. Their murders of Mexicans and Mexican Americans made them as feared on the border as the Ku Klux Klan in the South.”
A century ago, during the fighting that took place along the border during the Mexican Revolution, blood flowed like the Rio Grande. “The terms ‘death squads’ and ‘ethnic cleansing’ would not enter common usage for another 60 years or so,” Swanson notes, “but that was what the Rangers were and what they did.”
Later, they were a bulwark acting to hold back racial equality. When black students tried to enroll in the segregated Texarkana Junior College in 1956, angry white people barred the way, hurling gravel and racial slurs and forcing the students to leave. The Rangers stood idly by.
But that barely scratches the surface — and Swanson’s isn’t the first book to look at the Rangers’ bloody history of violence. Two years ago, Monica Muñoz Martinez wrote a history of the Rangers which detailed their role in ethnic cleansing of Black and Brown people in Texas.
Martinez’s research posits the height of Texas Ranger violence against Mexicans to have occurred from 1915 to 1919. Some 300 ethnic Mexicans were murdered between 1915 and 1916 alone. These dates coincided with the reign of not only the disgraced governor James “Pa” Ferguson but also, starting in 1917, the often-venerated William P. Hobby. Martinez is appropriately unsparing in her detailing of Hobby’s consistently anti-Hispanic, anti-NAACP agenda: In short, he used the Rangers as his own personal goon squad in instigating intimidation tactics against minorities. Hobby presided over an era that, according to Martinez, saw the “widespread practice of executing landowning [Hispanic] men to force the sale of land by their widows through threats of physical violence”— much of said violence aided and abetted (if not directly perpetrated) by the Rangers with official state consent. Powerful U.S. political elites like Hobby made sure that any serious investigation of Ranger crimes through official legal channels would be doomed to failure.
How bad was it? The Rangers were more than a police force - they acted as the Texas governor’s personal guard. The Rangers were actually originally formed and organized in the 1820s for the purpose of forcibly exterminating and expelling Indigenous and Native peoples from Texas, with an appalling body count.
By the turn of the twentieth century, the Rangers had moved on to lynching Black and Latino Texans. The Rangers weren’t remotely shy about their methods, which included torture, and bragged about their murderous prowess. Their methods led some scholars to compare them to the Gestapo in terms of their deadly efficiency and body count.
The Rangers didn’t care much about following laws — domestic or international. Even their defenders note that they routinely crossed the border between Mexico and Texas in order to attack and burn villages and murder women and children.
The Rangers killed thousands of innocent civilians in a one-year period during the early days of World War One, justifying the carnage by saying they were trying to dissuade Mexico from siding with Germany. These brutal raids escalated throughout the war, culminating in the Porvenir Massacre, when the Rangers murdered an entire group of unarmed civilians.
In the early morning of January 28, 1918, Texas Rangers of Company B and four local ranchmen—Buck Pool, John Pool, Tom Snyder, and Raymond Fitzgerald—surrounded the residents of Porvenir. With the help of soldiers from the Eighth U.S. Cavalry Regiment, the Rangers and cattlemen woke up the residents and separated fifteen men and boys from their families and neighbors. The unarmed group was taken into custody, denied due process, and executed en masse.
The Porvenir Massacre led to a 1919 investigation into the Rangers by State Representative and lawyer Jose Tomas Canales. Canales’ life was repeatedly threatened by the Rangers during the course of the investigation, which led to nineteen charges being levied against the organization. The Texas legislature declined to go further, and eventually Canales did not seek reelection.
Canales’ report and findings are available for public review. Remarkably, the Rangers interviewed as part of the investigation are not at all shy about their racism or murderous intent. One Ranger justified his murders by saying that “A great many of the people who live on this side of the river are of a different race than our own. . . . it is unfortunately true that a sympathy exists [for breaking the law] because they are of the same race . . . .” Others admitted to breaking into womens’ houses and searching their effects without warrants or cause. Still another said that he believed the Rangers could execute a person without due process or just cause so long as the person in question was a “bad man” and that only “law abiding” people of Mexican descent were entitled to the protections of American citizenship.
The Canales investigation also revealed the existence of so-called “Black Lists,” groups of people of Mexican descent who the Rangers would make disappear, or as they called it, “evaporate.” Hundreds of people would be on a single list, all of whom were innocent of any crime except protesting the brutality of the Rangers.
By the 1950s, the Rangers had been repurposed to another evil: preventing school integration. The Rangers, fully armed, prevented Black students from attending majority-white schools even after the Brown v. Board of Education decision made such actions illegal. In fact, until earlier this month, a statue of Ranger Jay Banks, who recruited fellow Rangers to assault Black children attempting to go to school, stood at Dallas Love Field Airport. The Rangers spent much of the first half of the twentieth century attacking members of the NAACP, and after the Brown decision made part of its mandate the expulsion of the NAACP from Texas. During this period, a majority of Rangers were members of the Ku Klux Klan.
So there is, essentially, no difference between a Major League Baseball Team calling itself the “Rangers” and one calling itself the “Gestapo.” Nevertheless, the Texas Rangers believe that their identity is separate from their genocidal namesake.
“While we may have originally taken our name from the law enforcement agency, since 1971 the Texas Rangers Baseball Club has forged its own, independent identity,” the team said Friday. “The Texas Rangers Baseball Club stands for equality. We condemn racism, bigotry, and discrimination in all forms.”
But let’s be honest: the Rangers cannot reject bigotry in any form when they are named for an agency created for the purpose of exterminating Indigenous people, murdering Latinos, and terrorizing Black kids. The law enforcement agency known as the Texas Rangers are a white supremacist institution. The baseball team seems not to care.