Sunday, January 17, 2016

A Lawman's Untold Tale


Friends,

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.






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