As we continued our leisurely wandering northward in Texas, we decided to hold up a few days in Waco. To the outside world this town has a notorious reputation as a result of the Branch Dividian fiasco. In actuality, it is a lovely town which is home to Baylor University, and the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum. The Texas Rangers are probably the best known law enforcement organization in the U.S. Now I don't want to give away my age, but my first introduction to the Texas Rangers was sitting around the family radio on Saturday morning to listen to "The Lone Ranger" radio program as the voice of Brace Beemer, the most familiar radio portrayer of the Lone Ranger, described an adventurous ride over the sounds of the William Tell Overture with a "Hi Ho Silver away." The story line described how a Ranger, ambushed by the notorious Cavendish gang was nursed back to health by Tonto, an Indian he had befriended many years before. The Ranger donned his famous black mask to conceal his identity in order to apprehend the killers of his fellow Rangers (including his brother Dan). Armed with a double set of pearled handled colt .45 pistols loaded with silver bullets, from a mine known only to Tonto, he dedicated his life to aiding the settlers of the lawless West, often leaving behind a single silver bullet as his trademark, and as he and Tonto would ride away, as someone would ask "Who was that masked man?" With this in mind, we stopped by the museum which is located on I-35 in the middle of town. The building structure is actually much larger than it appears from the outside. It is made up of mostly static displays about the various Rangers that passed through the ranks. At the far end of the hallway is a round room used for the theater that tells the story of the Texas Rangers. We learned that their story began way back in 1823. Long before there was even a Texas. The countryside was then part of Mexico and was called Tejas. It made up what is now eastern Texas. A man named Sam Austin, came west from Tennessee seeking his fortune and settled in Tejas. Many other white settlers came the same way and soon the Indians were being pushed west off lands they had controlled since time remembered. Very soon they pushed back and the killings started. Spain, feeling the financial problems of the time was not in a position to send troops so far north and for the most part left the settlers to their own destiny. Spain did authorize the creation of a 10 man force, who they called Rangers after the English horsemen. These 10 men, armed only with a musket and knife, were responsible for fending off the Indians. With this creation, the Rangers became the first state police force. Early efforts were not exactly successful. The old time flint lock muzzle loading muskets took almost a minute to load and in that time an Indian could let fly with 4 to 5 arrows. It didn't take the Indians long to learn to wait for the first rifle fire and then rush the Rangers with arrows flying. Things might have gone very badly for the settlers and the Rangers had it not been for a man named Colt. The first mass produced revolving pistol revolutionized the Rangers approach. The Colt Walker .44 cal., revolver, weighing 4 lbs 9 oz. each, were carried in saddle holsters rather than hip holsters. The first 1000 Walkers produced were not marked with numerical serial numbers but with a letter designation for each company in the U. S. Mounted Rifle Regiment. Soon the Indians realized that they were no mach for the riding, shooting cowboys called Rangers. As we wandered through the exhibits after seeing the film, it became very clear that the Ranger and his firearm were inseparable. It was his most prized possession. With few exceptions, Colt was the pistol of choice. Just about every one ever carried has an example on display. Now when it came to rifles, one particular weapon stood out among all the rest. The history of the rifle is as interesting as the Rangers' stories. It seems that three men got together one night. Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson, who had been manufacturing repeating firearms under the name of The Volcanic Arms Co. of Norwich Connecticut, joined with Oliver F. Winchester to create the New Haven Arms Co. with Winchester as president and major financial backer. The patents for ammunition which Smith and Wesson had developed were the company's major assets. These patents remained with the New Haven Arms Co. when it had financial difficulties in 1856. Smith and Wesson left to form their own arms manufacturing company in Springfield Mass. and O. F. Winchester assumed the operation of the New Haven Arms co. In 1858 B. Tyler Henry, superintendent of the New Haven Arms Co. developed a metallic .44 caliber cartridge based on Smith & Wesson's rim fire design. Henry designed a repeating rifle in 1860 which used this cartridge. Named for its designer the Henry repeating rifle was the first successful repeating rifle and forerunner to the side loading leaver action repeating rifles made by the Winchester Repeating Arms Co. beginning in 1866. This brings me to my favorite firearm. The rifle that tamed the west and has been made famous by every John Wayne cowboy movie, along with all the other cowboy movies, than any other rifle. The rifle that has the distinction of being the longest running continuously manufactured rifle model in firearms history, having been manufactured without substantial changes for over 100 years. This being the Winchester model 94, for which I bought my first one as we were leaving Cincinnati on our full time adventure. The present day Texas Ranger is a far cry from the olden days. In modern day Texas, the Ranger is the highest level of criminal investigation offered at a state level. For the last hundred years, Rangers have steadily increased their reputation as crime fighters, equipped with all the most modern equipment. Although they are mostly heard from during the investigation of "high profile" criminal cases, their presence throughout Texas is felt in the everyday life of the vigorous law enforcement community. The 107 existing "Rangers" have been picked from the existing state police force and have many of years of experience before ever being considered for the job of Ranger. Broken up into 5 companies, they are on call for the most difficult of cases. Today the rangers include not only men, but women, and a cross-section of all the races that reside in Texas. The horse may have been replaced by the police cruiser but the attitude is still held in the old tradition of a small group of men dedicated to the preservation of law enforcement in one of America's largest and most diverse states.
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