The Texas Ranger Costume

During the 19th century the only law in many parts of Texas was the Texas Rangers. The term "Ranger" started in the 1820s at Austin's Colony when Stephen F. Austin formed a "ranging" company of volunteers for defense against hostile Indians. Before the Civil War ranger companies were formed and disbanded as needed, generally unpaid or at best poorly paid. The Gonzales Ranging Company of Volunteers was the only entire company lost in combat, at the Alamo. Rangers fought in the Mexican War with much controversy, but were probably the deciding factor on the US side. After the war Rangers were the only defense against Indians in some areas. The US government sent soldiers, but not enough. They were also the only defense against Juan Cortina's bandits and cattle rustlers. General Cortina had the misfortune to have land in the Nueces Strip, which was once Mexico and then Texas. Anglos forced his family across the border, and he made them pay for years to come.

After the Civil War some local companies were formed before the reconstruction (read: carpetbagger) government left in 1874, but in 1875 the Frontier Battalion was formed and remained in existence until 1900 when it was disbanded due to a poorly worded charter failing to stand up in court. (Only "officers" had arrest powers, and the courts took that to mean commissioned officers, negating most of their arrests.) Additionally, briefly, McNelly's Rangers, the Washington County Volunteer Militia/Special State Troops/Special Force (1874-1881) were given Texas Ranger badges before being disbanded.

Early Texas Ranger Badge circa 1889, © 1999 The Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum





Texas Rangers were both policeman and soldiers, but they didn't wear uniforms. In most areas they didn't wear badges until late. Several references say badges didn't start being issued until about 1887. But George Durham, in Taming The Nueces Strip, mentions badges being issued to McNelly's Rangers in 1875. But there were no badges before then, despite what you might've seen in The Comancheros.

Replica badge from Texas Jacks, made from Cinco Peso Mexican coin but fancier than existing original. But so few originals exist, who's to say this isn't authentic?







Some badges were made originally from Cinco Peso Mexican silver coins. Most Texas Ranger badges you see are fantasy badges according to the Texas Ranger Museum and Hall of Fame. They sell an accurate replica of Curran "Kid" Rogers 1890's badge, a 5-pointed Texas star with "Texas RANGER State" engraved on it. Hand cast silver, it is $80, but historically accurate for the time.

Shown as a bolo, the "Kid" Rogers 1890 badge as sold by the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame and Museum in badge and bolo form. This is an authentic style of pre-1900 badge, but not the only style worn. Badges were locally made and varied considerably.



















Rangers were poorly paid, about $30 a month. Durham mentions several times how worn his clothes were, and how badly he wanted new ones.

At least one photo of a McNelly ranger in 1875 exists of William Callicott. He is shown without vest or suspenders, with a bandana, no spurs, striped wool pants, wooden handled Colt pistol butt forward on the left side, and Sharps carbine. He wears a bandoleer of 50-70 Sharps ammunition without very many rounds on it (they went to Las Cuevas with only 20 rounds/man and ran out but held off a large force of Mexican Army and bandits and killed 200 or so with what they had.) His hat is a 4x4 (4" crown, 4" brim) pushed back on the top of his head, so we can't see the crown.

William Callicott, 1875, a McNelly Ranger The big bandolier with the rifle sling on it pretty much necessitates the cross-draw holster. Callicott is dressed in one step above rags. Everything, from the wrinkled boots to the 4 x 4 hat are worn out.





















Eventually the company was encouraged to buy new clothes. They had been in action long enough to get paid but located so they had no place to spend their money. This allowed Durham to save enough for a new outfit (with a few misadventures cheating at poker in order to get the money, a near fatal mistake). "So I went to a tailor by the name of Pancoast and had him measure me for a set of clothes-britches and a coat. I went to Lucchese and had him measure me for a pair of boots, and I went to Halffs and got at hat. He also got a new pistol belt and necktie. Many photos I've found of Texas Rangers shows them wearing ties. Durham did describe McNelly's Rangers as wearing "kerchiefs instead of cravats." When the cameras weren't around, I'm sure the Rangers looked pretty much like working cowboys of the era.


James A. Gillett, 1879 Sergeant Gillett wears his long-barreled Colt strong side, with Sheffield Bowie in front of it. He has a vest and a tie.











In the 1879 photo of Sergeant James Gillett, author of Six Years With The Texas Rangers, he is wearing a hat of indeterminate shape. It appears to have a rolled brim. Hats were not pre-shaped then. Durham talks about creasing a hat he was looking at in a store. All of the photographers were good about one thing, getting the subject to tilt his hat back onto the back of his head so his face showed. The result is we know what their faces looked like, but not necessarily the shapes of their hats. One of the hats in the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame has a Gus-like crease and a pencil-rolled brim. John Hughes is shown wearing a really high crowned near sombrero in one photo. A lot of "Boss of the Plains" hats show up in photos, too. Some are shapeless as if they'd been worn a lot, of course. Look at the hats shown in the photo of Captain Roberts camp in 1878. They vary from something Tom Mix would like to plain 4 X 4s to shapeless messes. For once we can actually see the hats.

Capt. D. W. Roberts' Company in camp, ca 1878. Note the far different styles of hats, from Tom Mix to shapeless. ©1999, Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum.










Contrary to popular belief, they weren't all white. Durham mentions an acorn brown one. They wore what they had. Photos show more dark hats than light.

Compare the second hat from the left and the second hat from the right with this one. Close?







Gillett is shown wearing a white shirt, black or dark vest, and pants that look like canvas duck. They generally wore vests. A man wasn't considered properly dressed without a vest (exception noted in several photos, however, such as Callicott). Also it gave them pockets for their watches if they had any, and smoking material and the like. Gillett said that the men all wore vests.

He is also wearing a string tie.

His gunbelt isn't really visible, but the pistol is being carried butt-to-the-rear with his Sheffield Bowie in front of it. Until you try it, you would think the knife would be "in the way" there. But it doesn't interfere with the draw, and it's very convenient if you're using it as a tool. It can be easily put back in its scabbard. To the rear that becomes a problem. Both have ivory, pearl, or "bone" handles. It has a 7.5" barrel, which was the only length available when the photo was taken. It is undoubtedly a Colt .45. If a prospective ranger didn't have a pistol, a Colt .45 was issued to him, and $17.50 was deducted from his pay. Winchester carbines, issued after the initial issuing of .50 Sharps carbines, cost a ranger more than a month's pay, $40. The state bought ammunition. One ranger company bought a case of Winchesters and had the price deducted from their pay. Richard King gave McNelly's Rangers Winchester Carbines as thanks for ridding the Nueces Strip of bandits.

James A. Gillett's Sharps Carbine (top) and Winchester '73 Saddle Ring Carbine as displayed at the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum.









The pants appear to be canvas "duck" pants in high top square topped boots. Rangers had to ride a lot and were authorized to ride a horse to death if necessary in the line of duty (the state would reimburse for its value, thus rangers had to have their horses appraised when they joined). Thus they generally wore spurs, usually big "Texas" spurs. Captain George Baylor, on the other hand, used shooting sticks as a riding quirt. If you were forced to abuse a horse in order to accomplish the mission, either spurs or a quirt would be needed.


Please go to:

The Texas Ranger Costume, Page 2