From Horseback to Elite Investigators: How the legend of the Texas Rangers continues today

Since the inception of the Texas Rangers in 1823, the valiant law enforcement agency has adapted with the times, developing a more modern operation. Today its legacy has grown to one of the most effective investigative law enforcement agencies in the world.

When Stephen F. Austin hired ten experienced frontiersmen to “range” over the territory of Texas, there were only approximately 700 people across the area. Over the last 200 years, Texas, which spans nearly 270,000 square miles, has grown to the second most populous state in the U.S., home to about 30 million citizens.

To cover that much ground, the Rangers started to modernize in 1934 as part of Texas’s newly formed Department of Public Safety (DPS). With DPS’s creation, the Rangers finally received the support to match its grand tradition and efforts. Since then, the agency has increased its manpower to 167 commissioned Rangers.

“By all standards, ten years ago there were only 103 Texas Rangers, which is interesting because there are 254 counties in Texas,” said Matt Cawthon, a retired Texas Ranger. “If you have 103 or 172 Rangers, you still don’t have one Ranger for each County, so each Ranger has to cover more than one County, and some of the counties in Texas are very large.”

To meet the requirements to field a 21st-century investigative force, the Rangers also place great importance on earning college degrees, investing in networked technology and state-of-the-art forensic analyses.

“Today, the modern Texas Ranger is almost limitless in his capabilities,” said Cawthon. “The availability of resources through the state of Texas and beyond. A Ranger may need a forensics team with sophisticated DNA gathering abilities, a helicopter, an airplane, or a drone. A Ranger may even need a SWAT team. These are things that the Ranger can bring to any investigation throughout Texas.”

As the people of Texas faced new dangerous challenges, the Rangers had to strategize to counter the new threats.

“The biggest is human trafficking in smuggling and child trafficking,” said Sweaney. “In the last ten years, because of the severity of it and the amount going on, the amount of money that these smugglers can make not only with drugs but now you know the smuggling of humans and using children and women.”

The Rangers have earned respect on a global scale. They are sought after for their unique crime fight and investigating experience and practices.

“They’ve been asked to go literally all over the world to teach other police departments,” said Johnson. “We’ve had police officers from other departments all over the world in here, they’ve been amazed at the spectrum of things that the Texas Rangers are doing at any one time.”

Despite the Rangers’ reputation, the work to improve and grow as an agency never stops. Each Ranger is provided the support and resources to be as well prepared as possible in several different law enforcement areas. It is especially critical to the agency’s success in modern times, as Rangers must adapt to each other’s circumstances they are presented in the field.

“Once you become a Texas Ranger, the training continues,” said Cawthon. “You’re going to be taught criminal investigation. You’re going to be taught crime scene investigation, forensics, hypnosis. You may be taught interview and interrogation techniques. There is just a ton of training available for a Texas Ranger.”

The Rangers are the oldest state law enforcement agency in North America. They have been compared to other world-famous law enforcement agencies such as the FBI and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. But even as time passes, the modern-day Texas Rangers remain a proud source of heritage and tradition, valued by the men and women who serve and the Texans they protect. Their work and presence stand as a symbol of service for future generations.

Texas Rangers are returning to television on January 21. Jared Padalecki stars as Cordell Walker in the highly anticipated new CW series Walker. A Texas Ranger and recent widower, he returns from an undercover investigation to his two children in Austin, Texas. Getting settled back home, Walker soon discovers that a lot has changed since being away, and it is up to him to fix it.

The Texas Rangers are also marking their 200th anniversary in 2023. As part of the Texas Ranger Bicentennial celebration, a series of celebrations, festivals, and engaging presentations will be offered. For more information on the upcoming festivities, visit www.texasranger.org.

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