Los Rinches: The Violence and Brutality of the Texas Rangers

As the chaos of the Mexican Revolution spread across the Texas-Mexican Border, the Texas Rangers were called upon to act as a force of law and order in this region. From 1910 to 1919, the Rangers inflicted astonishing amounts of violence on Mexicans and Mexican Americans in the name of preserving law and order in Texas. Who were the Texas Rangers? Created in the 1820s, the Texas Rangers still exist in Texas today as a subdivision of the Texas Department of Public Safety. In the 19th century, the Rangers were often used to suppress indigenous groups and capture runaway slaves. By the 1910s, the Texas Rangers' primary directive was to protect the border from the disturbances associated with the Mexican Revolution. In pursuing this mission, the Rangers frequently committed heinous crimes against Hispanic individuals, such as torture, assassination, and the murder of innocent civilians.

Page 9 from  J.J. Kilpatrick's Circular

Page 9 of a circular discusing the abuses of the Texas Rangers. From the J.J. Kilpatrick papers, 1919

Written in 1919, J.J. Kilpatrick's circular highlights Ranger brutality inflicted upon Hispanic individuals in the border region. Kilpatrick initially published his work in the El Paso Times, but due to his critical tone towards the Rangers' actions in the border region, the Times refused to continue publishing his work. This led Kilpatrick to publish his circular to continue his critique of the Rangers.

The first image is from page 9 of Kilpatrick's circular. With World War I ending less than a year before Kilpatrick’s publication, Kilpatrick draws a comparison between the German atrocities committed in Belgium and the atrocities that occurred in the Big Bend region. Seeking to "Utter God’s truth,” Kilpatrick states that in the Big Bend, where no war was raging "innocent Mexicans and imaginary bandits were slain purely for the notoriety it would bring to the slayers as outlaw killers.” Instead of being champions of law and order, Kilpatrick portrays the Rangers as bandits themselves, acting violently for personal glory and gain.

Page 7 from J.J. Kilpatrick's Circular

Page 7 of a circular discusing the abuses of the Texas Rangers. From the J.J. Kilpatrick papers, 1919

Page 143a of the "Canales Investigation" of the Texas Rangers

Joint Committee proceedings on the abuses of the Texas Rangers. From the Texas Legislature Committe Proceedings, 1919

On page 7 of his circular, Kilpatrick further demonstrates how the Rangers were inflicting unjustified violence on Hispanics. Kilpatrick writes that of the “21 Mexicans killed on [the American] side of the river since 1917, only one was a bandit.” Additionally of the “eight raids” the Rangers claimed were made into the United States by Mexican bandits, “only two were genuine bandit incursions.”

The Rangers' atrocities committed on both sides of the border toward Hispanic individuals would spur a move towards seeking greater accountability of the Texas Rangers and Mexican American rights in Texas. Kilpatrick's circular is just one example of this move to bring the issue of Mexican American rights to the forefront. Importantly, rather than becoming disillusioned with the U.S. government, historians note that Hispanic communities responded with greater engagement with the political system to achieve accountability and equity.

The Texas legislature's investigation of the Texas Rangers is evidence of Tejano's seeking institutional change after experiencing a decade of intense racial profiling and brutality from the Rangers. After Tejano State Representative Jose T. Canales filed charges against the Texas Rangers in January 1919, the Texas Legislature created the Joint Committee to investigate the Texas Rangers. Canales led the investigation into the misconduct of the Texas Rangers, citing the kind of behavior Kilpatrick documents as evidence of a need for change. The excerpt of the committee proceedings includes 2 of the 19 charges Canales would level against the Rangers. Charge number 1 references the Texas Rangers' attempt to intimidate Canales to withdraw his charges, and charge number 2 references the Texas Rangers' assault of an innocent Hispanic man Jesus Villareal.

The experience with the Texas Rangers serves as a testament to the strength of the Tejano community, which was able to take a period of violence and turn it into the foundation of a movement for equality. Additionally, the work on the part of Kilpatrick and Canales illustrates the beginning of advocacy for and activism within the Tejano community in the 20th century.