Saturday, May 27, 2006

Six Years with the Texas Rangers by James B. Gillett

Larry McMurtry mentioned Gillett's excellent account in Sacagawea's Nickname, so I picked up a copy to at least pretend that I was doing legitimate research for Hunted.

Gillett served in the Texas Rangers, mostly E Company, from 1877 through 1883 and was involved in several famous encounters, from the capture of the outlaw Sam Bass to the resolution of the Salt Lake War in West Texas. Along the way, he chronicles the chases and arrests of a dozen or so badmen and Mexican bandits, the characteristics of two or three different Ranger commanders, the foibles of five or ten companions, and the discharge of a few thousand rounds of ammunition.

Gillett strikes a good balance between high adventure and a dusty chronicle of the day-to-day mundanities of camp life. Written in 1921, some forty years after the events recounted, one suspects that Mr. Gillett must engage in some of the old man's penchant for manufacturing details, else he missed his calling in life, since his recounting of names, locations and minutiae is impressively detailed. While the account occasionally delves into the realm of self-aggrandizing hyperbole, Gillett generally comes across as a reasonably humble fellow, and doesn't irritate. The account would not feel particularly dated at all were it not for the occasional remark which would provoke outrage from the modern NAACP. Political correctness was not in vogue in Texas in the 1920's.

This book is a fun piece of the historical record, with enough high action recounting to likely fall well short of actual scholarship. But it's a fun jaunt through late nineteenth century rangerdom in South Texas. Entertaining if you are interested in Texas history, priceless if you are looking for details of the doings of the Rangers in this particular time period.


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