Sunday, January 17, 2016

A Lawman's Untold Tale


I don't know much about the man seated second from the left in this photo. His name was John M. Cameron and he served as a Texas Ranger, first in Company E of the Frontier Battalion and later as a Special Ranger. His service stretched from 1891 until around 1902. He was my great-grandfather's brother. As he and I were the only two lawmen in the family, I decided to set out to find what I could about him. It isn't much, but I found something. This week I received a nice, thick packet of information courtesy of the Texas Ranger Museum in Waco. I visited many, many years ago and I think it would be nice to go back sometime. Anyway, they dug out thirty pages of records and sent copies my way.

I can now tell you that Uncle Cameron was tall, like me. His enlistment records state that he was 6 feet tall which, in the 1890s, was very tall. He had black hair, brown eyes, and a dark complexion. Like me, he was temperate in his habits. Or at least he said he was on his application. His birthplace was Jackson County, Alabama. His father, a piece of information I already knew, served in the 4th Alabama Cavalry during the Civil War. Uncle Cameron enlisted in Company E of the Frontier Battalion in 1891 at the age of 20. For his service, he received 30 dollars a month which is the equivalent of $800 a month today. He had to supply his own horse and weapon too. Most of the paperwork I received dealt with pay and muster rolls. But there were some other interesting bits too. In 1895, he applied to become (and did) a Special Ranger. They served without pay but still had Ranger authority. There is an interesting supporting document from his company commander as to why such an appointment was necessary. 

The above is his commission. Unlike what you may see in the older westerns, Frontier Battalion Rangers did not carry badges. They above piece of paper had to be kept on their person at all times and served as proof of office and authority.

Above is his application to become a Special Ranger, along with his signed and notarized Oath of Office. The wording of his oath of office is not all that different than that which peace officers in Texas take today.  What follows is the document that his company commander wrote in support of it.

The affidavit reads as follows "The appointment is asked for that Mr. John Cameron may have this much protection being an important state's witness in a murder case and the defendants in said case being enemies of his might seek to take his life in order to get revenge as well as to do away with his testimony in said case. J.H. Rogers, Capt, Commdg, Co. E, F.B." The application was successful and he did serve as a Special Ranger for several years afterwards. One can assume that the men involved in the murder either got sent to prison or to the gallows. If they were found not guilty or the charges were dropped, in any case they did not get revenge.

This is a copy of a report that he wrote in which he describes arresting a man for drunk and disorderly conduct and also a group of men for horse theft. What is also interesting is that contrary to what some may think, the Frontier Battalion of the Texas Rangers did not have quite the same authority that you might think. When they were established after Reconstruction, their main job was to protect settlements from Comanche raids and to deal with groups of bandits that preyed on man and beast alike. They enlisted for short stints of time, sometimes only a month, and served at the leisure of both their captain and the state government. They were really more of a military arm of the state than peace officers, quite unlike the modern day Texas Rangers.

I'm happy to have learned what I could about him, even if it is a little limited. His service to the State of Texas should not go unnoticed and I hope he's happy that I learned more about it. Uncle Cameron and I have a few things in common, including bad handwriting. It is nice when old documents like these make you feel a little closer to long dead relatives that you never knew. 

I may not have been a Texas Ranger, and my trusty steed may have been a Chevy Silverado, but at least I got to wear a cowboy hat. My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian.

Friday, January 8, 2016

How the West Was Fun?

Co. E, Frontier Battalion, Texas Rangers
Alice, Texas 1892
John Cameron (seated second from left) is my great-great uncle
Dear Readers,
I confess. I enjoy a good western, be it a novel or a movie. Maybe it is because when I was a lad, I watched a lot of John Wayne movies with my father.......most of them, I think. El Dorado and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon are my favorites. I'll be the first to admit that westerns do not present a true depiction of life on the frontier. The women characters tend to be very poorly written with minor roles. In real life, women on the west had a bit more freedom than they did in the East which is why, by the time the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920, women already had the right to vote (in state and local elections) in every state west of the Mississippi. When you watch cowboy movies, notice you see very few black or Hispanic cowboys. Again, this is contrary to history. Some have estimated that one out of every four Texas cowboys was black. Naturally, the Native American characters are rarely portrayed in a positive light. Instead, they are either warriors, drunkards, or the Wise Indian stereotype. All that being said, I still enjoy watching a good western.
The genre has fallen out of favor over the past several decades, with a few exceptions such as the success of the movie Tombstone which, despite being an excellent movie, is also a bit short on historical accuracy. But I can quote every Doc Holliday line in the film! (I'm your huckleberry.) I'm not sure why I like them so much. As far as the novels go, westerns are rarely great literature but they are pretty good reads. Many of them are sort of like a male romance novel. There is a main character, who is quick with a gun and very cool. The ladies all flock to him. And he kills bad guys. They actually have a lot in common with the thriller genre too (think Steve Berry's Cotton Malone series). Fun reads, if somewhat empty of any substance.
My dream job!
Older western movies are morality plays. There are clear cut good guys (in white hats) and bad guys (in black hats). In the end, good triumphs over evil. Perhaps part of their appeal is because in real life that doesn't always happen. The bad guys win sometimes. But people don't want to pay money to see that. Movies of any genre rarely depict life as it really is but rather as some idealized version of life. Such is true with the western. Life in the west sucked. It was a rough, violent place that created hard people to deal with it. Prostitutes in these movies are usually very attractive. This is a far cry from the gonorrhea ridden ladies of the town which existed in frontier settlements. But again, we don't want to see that on film. The movies show the west as being a simpler time, and perhaps, as our world gets more complex, that is why people like watching them.
As someone who worked as a lawman in Texas myself, there is a certain bit of the west that still colors the job here. Having the title of "Deputy Marshal" was very cool, in addition to being historic. Unlike the movie marshal's who tended to smote bad guys on Main Street twice a day, I went to work each day hoping I wouldn't have to use to my gun. Then again, I didn't have to deal with armed bandidos sweeping into town to shoot up the streets. Or as the guy said in the Three Amigos "rape the horses and ride off on the women." My trusty steed was a Chevy Silverado, then a Ford Expedition, then a Dodge Charger, and then another Ford Expedition. I never rode at the head of a posse to apprehend horse thieves, but I did get to arrest some bad people nonetheless.
Sure, I know that the western genre, particularly the ones from the 30s-60s, are not politically correct by our standards. But many of them are classics and I like them anyway. I'll keep watching them because I enjoy them, not because I think it in any way reflects how life in the west really was. For me, it is good, mindless entertainment. I don't apologize for my love of these books and novels, because, in the words of Captain Brittles (John Wayne) "Never apologize. It's a sign of weakness." Maybe that is why Wayne was married three times? I never rode off into the sunset on my horse with a redheaded saloon girl in tow like I wanted. But I did marry a redhead. She's not a saloon girl though. Much worse. She's from Missouri.
My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian. My aforementioned great-great uncle and I are the only two people in the family to have been in law enforcement. He died in the line of duty in 1902. And I got hurt and can't work in law enforcement anymore. Maybe it isn't the right occupation for people in my family.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

I'm Back With a Great Book Suggestion!

Dear Friends,
I apologize for my long break from the world of blogging. I don't have a good excuse, so I won't waste your time by giving you a bad one. Just kidding. I actually do have a good excuse. In the past, I've been slaving away as an adjunct teaching 8-9 courses a semester while taking 2 graduate classes of my own as I try to finish my MS in Criminal Justice. This past semester, I reduced my teaching load to six classes and this spring I will finish my Criminal Justice degree (finally!). So there you have it. I do not know if I will be as prolific in the upcoming weeks and months as I have been in the past, but I suppose something is better than nothing. Now on to the subject of today's post!
I don't know how I missed these books when they came out. I mean, I heard of them, but I did not read them. I can only surmise that it is for the same reasons given above for not blogging very much over the past months. As I am now making an effort to set aside more time for reading and less time for watching TV, over the Christmas break I was able to obtain the Liberation Trilogy by Rick Atkinson. The actual book titles are An Army at Dawn, The Day of Battle, and The Guns at Last Light. If you do the kindle thing, which I finally started doing in May after I ran out of room for any additions to my 2,000 book collection, you can get the three volumes together in a set for a very reasonable price, around $23. So about a week ago, I got my copies and dove in.
It is somewhat embarrassing for me to admit that despite having a lifelong interest in World War Two, my knowledge of the campaigns in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy are more general than specific. I can speak at length and with authority on the Eastern Front, the air war over Europe, and the campaign in northwest Europe from D-Day to the Fall of Berlin. I cannot do that as it relates to Operations Torch, Avalanche, or Husky. Compounding my shame is that my own grandfather commanded an infantry platoon in North Africa and Sicily! (Despite having been in the Army since June of 1940, it was until 1943 that the Army decided an officer who was fluent in French and German might be of more use to the war effort as an intelligence officer rather than an infantry officer.) Thankfully, this wonderful series of books has remedied my lack of knowledge!
Mr. Atkinson is a journalist. I say this because it means he knows how to tell a story. While plenty of analysis exists in the pages of his books, it is at its core, a narrative history. When it comes to writing this kind of book, journalists have an edge of academic historians. Academics get bogged down in arguing their thesis and storytelling takes a back seat, if it is even in the car at all. Journalists just make better storytellers, in my opinion. This is quite evident in the Liberation Trilogy. His books move from the halls of Washington to Eisenhower's Headquarters, to those of various generals, and finally, to the soldiers in the foxholes, the sailors in their ships, and the aircrew in the planes. This movement is seamless and the transitions excellent. At no point does it appear disjointed or choppy.
What I also appreciate about these books is that the author does not follow what I call the Brokaw/Ambrose school of World War Two history which goes something like this: American soldiers in Europe were all wonderful people who were fighting for freedom and liberty for all and did no wrong. And, of course, they won the war all by themselves. Atkinson covers the war warts and all. He mentions cases of American soldiers murdering prisoners, of various misdeeds both minor and serious, and also of serious command lapses, including on Eisenhower's part. He gives full attention to our allies in the West and covers British, Canadian, and even French contributions too. As his volumes cover the fighting in the West, the books do not fully explore the contributions of our Soviet allies, but this was not necessary for these volumes as it was not the point of the books. I did watch a C-SPAN interview with the author and he did talk about the importance of the Soviet contribution. This, of course, flies in the face of contemporary American history which ignores the Soviet war effort and also the fact that the Soviets took on around 80% of the German Army and caused around 90% of their casualties. Given the Russo-phobia that still exists in this country, this is not surprising.
I found his analysis of the various commanders to be spot on as well. With all the political infighting that went on, it is surprising that our combined forces were able to accomplish anything! His account of the 36th Infantry Division (Texas National Guard) and their ill fated attempt to cross the Rapido River was exceptionally moving. My grandfather enlisted in the Texas National Guard in June of 1940. He remained part of that unit until January of 1942 when he went to OCS and was, upon graduation, reassigned to a different unit. And this is just one of the many stories told in these marvelous volumes.
My grandfather was in the Army from June of 1940 until July of 1946. He rose from the rank of buck private to Captain. He talked a lot about his time in London, or Paris, or Berlin.....where he was part of the first group of Americans to arrive in the city. Granddaddy did not talk a lot about his time in North Africa or Sicily other than to mention some of his soldiers. Though I knew why he was close mouthed about his time in combat, these books help put it into focus a little better. Sadly, my grandfather passed away on Easter Sunday in 2009 at the age of 88. I'm sure he would have enjoyed these books too.
Mr. Atkinson's website says he is now working on a trilogy on the American Revolution which sounds quite promising. Given the fact that he spent 15 years researching and writing the Liberation Trilogy, I sure hope the Revolutionary War books don't take that long! Part of me wishes he would turn his attention to the Pacific Theater, but I'm sure that whatever he writes will be good. I'll certainly be looking forward to it.
So, Dear Readers, you should make haste to acquire these books if this is a subject which interests you. I promise that you won't be sorry.
My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half Ass Historian.