Thursday, July 4, 2013

Politics, "Ma" Ferguson, and the Texas Rangers

Most of us from Texas have read about the origination of the Texas Rangers and the rough years they had with lack of state funding and low pay. But, it wasn’t until I was researching for my latest time travel, Birdie’s Nest, that I learned about the political problems the Rangers faced.

At the beginning of the 20th century, lawyers became a major threat to the Rangers. They challenged the legality of Ranger arrests by quoting the 1874 law that allowed only supervisors to make arrests of which there were only four in the state. Law on the Frontier faded and the Frontier Battalion ceased to exist when a new law went to affect. The new Ranger Force dropped to four companies of 20 men each.

In 1905, the Rangers still had their Wild West era reputation, but they were gradually evolving into detectives and solved cases with modern crime fighting techniques. They still dealt with trouble along the border and after Spindle Top, kept peace in oil Boom Towns.

From 1920-1933 the Rangers worked with Federal Agents to stop smuggling of alcohol across the border, destroy distilleries, shut down speakeasies and gambling parlors.

In 1927 Miriam “Ma” Ferguson, Democratic candidate, was elected the first woman Governor of Texas. Her husband, James Ferguson, served as Governor from 1915 to 1917 but during his second term he was impeached, convicted and removed from office to never hold office in Texas again.

His wife decided to run in his place promising to follow the advise of her husband. “A common campaign slogan was, ‘Me for Ma, and I Ain’t Got a Durned Thing Against Pa.’” During her first term, Ma averaged over 100 pardons a month. There were accusations of bribes and kickbacks, but attempts to impeach failed.

“Ma’s” second term was less controversial but rumors abounded that state highway contracts went to those companies that advertised in the Fergusons’ newspaper. A House committee found no wrongdoing. Ma was instrumental in establishing the University of Houston as a four-year institution. Though both she and her husband were teetotalers; she aligned herself with the “wets” in the war on prohibition. She took a firm stand against the Ku Klux Klan and pushed for sales tax and corporate income tax.

During her two terms, she granted almost four thousand pardons, many were those convicted of violating prohibition laws. Rumors circulated that pardons were available in exchange for cash payments to the governor’s husband. In 1936 the Texas Board of Paroles was invented to take over the power.

When “Ma” was re-elected, in protest over political corruption, 40 Rangers quit the force; the remaining Rangers were fired. Political appointments replaced them. The Texas Highway Patrol was established in 1929 to enforce traffic laws. In 1934, after an investigation of corruption, a panel recommended the formation of the Texas Department of Public Safety to be headed by an Independent Public Safety Commission. The newly elected Governor Allred revoked the commission of all Rangers appointed by the Ferguson administration.

In 1935, the Texas Highway Patrol and the Texas Rangers merge to form the Department of Public Safety begins operation. Tom Hickman is commissioned Senior Ranger. He later serves as a member of the Public Safety Commission. By the late 1930s, the DPS has a state-of-the art crime lab at their headquarters at Camp Mabry in Austin. The hiring of Rangers became less political and for the first time, Rangers had training furnished by the state of Texas.

Former Rangers Frank Hamer and Manny Gault are commissioned to end the crime spree of outlaws Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker. To the left is Clyde and Bonnie. Pictured is the Posse of Six, the officers who ended the life of the two outlaws. Manny Gault is standing on the right and Frank Hamer is kneeling on the left. The duo, who had killed 14 law-enforcement officers, were shown no mercy when ambushed by the six officers. 

In 1939, despite the neutrality of the US, Captain Frank Hamer and 49 retired Rangers offered their services to the King of England to protect their shores against Nazi invasion. The King thanked them for their offer. The US State Department was not amused.

During WWII, US Army Intelligence Division Officers trained with the Texas Rangers in Austin at the DPS Headquarters.


Texas Ranger History: Timeline - Order Out of Chaos (See The Official Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum in Waco, Texas Website.) 

In my novel, Birdie' Nest, my heroine is a Texas Ranger, proud of the Texas Star she was awarded when inducted. When she wakes up in 1890, one the hardest adaptations she has to make is giving up the job she so dearly loved. No one believes she is a Texas Ranger or that she can handle herself like one of the rough crew of the day.

Here is a blurb:

Texas Ranger, Birdie Braxton boards the Brazos Belle to attend a costume party, gets tossed into the
Brazos and when she's pulled from the river she's told the year is 1890. A fact she can’t accept … until she looks across the river to see Birdie’s Nest, her ancestral home, no longer exists.

Tad Lockhart is a content man—a prosperous rancher with a ladylove in Waco. He's not interested in marriage and family, yet … until he pulls an unconscious woman from the Brazos who insists she's a Texas Ranger from the year 2012.

As romance blooms between Tad and Birdie, she struggles to earn enough money to build Birdie’s Nest, and Tad strives to mold Birdie into a Victorian lady suitable to be his wife. Can Birdie give up dabbling in police work and other unladylike pursuits yet stay true to herself? When faced with an indiscretion from Tad's past, is Birdie's love strong enough to support her man and be the woman he needs?

Thank you for stopping by. 

Happy Reading and Writing!



  1. Linda--don't you just love this stuff about the Texas Rangers? I love every story I hear about their history.
    Ma Ferguson is one of those iconic Texas Characters. Where else could you find someone like her? 4,000 pardons? Wow. Since most were for prohibition violations, I suppose we could compare those to today's argument about criminalizing petty drug user--mainly pot.
    Thanks for this and the photos, too.
    Once day I will finish Birdie's Nest--I have way too many books on my Kindle. And in the midst of reading, I found treasures at the public library. Now that I've finished those, back to my Kindle!

  2. Linda, I've read about Ma Ferguson before. She must have been quite a stalwart woman. Or maybe quite a character.

    I didn't know the rangers offered to help out the King of England. Very interesting!

    Your book sounds great!

  3. Linda, Loved this post. Texans have had some scoundrels in office, and the Fergusons were among them. Love the Texas Rangers, and they are now (as far as I know) honorable men who do their jobs well.

  4. Yes, I do, Celia! Their early history was rather wild at times but they were always for truth and justice.

    I do understand about all the books. With these free ones, I'm overwhelmed.

  5. Yes, she was a character. I didn't know that little tidbit either until a while ago when doing some research. So much interesting info out there.

  6. Oh yes, the Rangers are very honorable. I believe even in their early days, when they were wild, they still lived by an honorable code. Some however did oversteps their bounds on occasion.

  7. Excellent recap of a most interesting time in Texas politics. Kudos. I love hearing about the rangers because their purpose and job changed and evolved from the beginning to end. Makes for interesting reading and great hero material.

  8. Yes, it does, Ciara. They're so well thought of now I don't think they'll ever have to worry about disbanding again.

    Great heroine material, too!


Thank you for visiting Sweethearts of the West! We are very sad to require comment moderation now due to the actions of a few spam comments. Thank you for your patience.