The Lone Star Rangerby Zane Grey
Western Rangers of the Lone Star is a first-person narrative by Russ Sittell, a United States deputy marshal on special assignment to assist Vaughn Steele in discovering the men behind the lawlessness and rustling rampant in Pecos County. On a stagecoach bound for the heart of Pecos County, Russ meets Colonel Granger Longstreth, his daughter Ray, and Ruth Herbert,… See more details below
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Western Rangers of the Lone Star is a first-person narrative by Russ Sittell, a United States deputy marshal on special assignment to assist Vaughn Steele in discovering the men behind the lawlessness and rustling rampant in Pecos County. On a stagecoach bound for the heart of Pecos County, Russ meets Colonel Granger Longstreth, his daughter Ray, and Ruth Herbert, Ray s flamboyant cousin. When Ray falls in love with Vaughn Steele, Colonel Longstreth finds himself severely compromised in his commitment to prevent the ranger from discovering his own ties to the band of rustlers. *First Edition Western
The New York Times, 1915
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THE FUTURE OF THE SERVICE
"United States Deputy Marshal Sittell to see Captain MacNeal of the Texas Rangers." I spoke with more force than politeness, and I flashed my shield at the block-headed attendant who had denied me admittance to the adjutant general's office.
In Texas, where nearly every man was such a giant that he had to lower his head to enter a door, it was exasperating to be only five feet six. As my business was to impress a class of men exceedingly hard to impress, and as I, despite my size, had some little reason for pride, I was naturally nettled by the manner of the attendant. Mildness of disposition was not one of my strong characteristics.
"Marshal Sittell, excuse me!" the attendant quickly replied with a vast change of demeanor that somewhat assuaged my wounded vanity.
He led me into an anteroom from which I could see into Adjutant General Weed's office. Motioning me to a chair, he passed into the office, evidently to announce my arrival. Voices sounded from within. Directly the attendant returned and now approached me with a show of respect.
"Captain MacNeal will see you presently. He is about to leave an interview with Adjutant General Weed and Governor Stone. You are to listen, hear what you can."
Then he went out, closing the door behind him.
I sat down, decidedly interested. There was something in the wind. Captain MacNeal's summons had been urgent, much in the nature of an appeal. I had been one of his rangers for three yearsbefore my service had earned me a higher post. Our relationship had been something more than that of ranger to captain, and my respect and admiration for him were great.
Since MacNeal had been leader of the rangers, he had not only been fighting the horde of outlaws, west of the Colorado, but a political faction at Austin that opposed the ranger system. MacNeal had so far accomplished wonders, making sections of that wild and vast Southwest habitable for pioneers and ranchmen. I did not doubt that he had some unusual task in the accomplishment of which he hoped to enlist my aid.
The door to the inner office was open and I overheard the earnest voice of the adjutant general, whom I knew.
"Governor Stone, this is Captain MacNeal of the Texas Rangers."
Both men courteously acknowledged the introduction, and the governor said that, of course, he was familiar with MacNeal's splendid record, won during the Rebellion. "And Captain MacNeal," he added, "I shall be pleased to hear what you have to say."
"Governor Stone," replied MacNeal earnestly, "I sought this interview to try to show you what a great ... a fatal error it would be now to discontinue the ranger service. I have no axe to grind. I'm independent of salary, and I'm not seeking anything for myself. I love the great Lone Star state. Although I am doing a great deal, I want to do something more for it.
"When I heard about the possibility of abolishing the ranger system, I scarcely credited the rumor. But, now that there seems reason to believe it, I am here to place my case and make a fight. Governor Stone, I want to ask bluntly ... do you know anything about the ranger system ... about the rangers? You are from eastern Texas. We needn't beat about the bush. It's well known that between east and west Texas there's differences of opinion ... political and otherwise. Eastern Texas has no need of a ranger service. But as for the western ... the wild Panhandle, the Staked Plains, the Rio Grande ... that's a different matter. Will you be kind enough to give me your idea of the Texas Rangers?"
That certainly was blunt. It brought back to me strong recollections of MacNeal's personality. He was a man. I warmed to his side of what I sensed might be more than an argument.
"Captain MacNeal, since you ask me directly, you are welcome to my opinion," replied the governor coldly. "Personally, I know nothing of the rangers. But I've been told by good authorities that as a whole they are a lot of swashbuckling adventurers and gunfighters, looking for somebody to kill. The sentiment in certain parts of the state makes heroes out of them, a fact which they are not slow to take advantage of. They have too much power. They are too much a law unto themselves. The sheriffs ought to be able to cope with any lawless element in western Texas, as they do in the eastern part of the state. There is a bill pending in the legislature now for the abolishment of this ranger service, and unless very strong evidence is put before me ... great enough to change my mind ... I shall sign the bill."
"Thank you for plain speaking," replied MacNeal, and the tone of his voice told me how cool and tense he could be when feeling anger or resentment. "You will remember, Governor, that the original bill provided for a ranger service operating only west of the Colorado River. If you are not familiar with the conditions in the remote and wild sections of the border, it is time you were availing yourself of reports sent monthly to Adjutant General Weed.
"I have this to say, pointblank. Sheriffs cannot deal with the situation as it stands today. There's a horde of criminals along the Rio Grande. I have a record of three thousand. The Panhandle and Staked Plains are also overrun by outlaws and Desperadoes. There are honest communities ... towns ... whole counties under the dominance of clever, unscrupulous rustlers. A band of militia could not clean up these places. If it is to be done, the rangers must do it. As to my men ... well, some of them are gunfighters. I have tried to find that class of men. I have rangers who have been outlaws. A reformed outlaw who has been a famous gunfighter makes the best kind of ranger. His fame is as much help as his actual work.
"You will not understand this, because you know nothing of the class of men who harass the border. I think a careful study of the reports sent in by my rangers will open the eyes of any unprejudiced person."
"Let us see one of these reports," suggested the governor.
"Adjutant, get that last one of Vaughn Steele's I sent in. It's a case in point, and, besides, I'll have something else to say about Steele."
I heard the opening of a drawer and rustling of papers.
"Here it is. Steele certainly does things. You can see that by what he leaves out in his report," replied the adjutant general.
"Read it to me," said Governor Stone.
"Please take note that this is the report of one ranger's work for one month," put in Captain MacNeal.
The adjutant began by naming the town of Del Rio, where evidently the report had been written, and the date; then, after a pause, he read:
El Paso to Valentine to Del Rio. Arrested three Mexicans ... cattle thieves. In absence of sheriff guarded them till his return. To Ensign. Called by attack of schoolteacher. School house burned in fight. No arrests. Brought teacher to Del Rio. Prevented lynching of Negro. Arrested sheriff in getting Negro to safe place. Traced down rumor of Mexican raiders operating on this side border. Unfounded. Arrested white man named Jinks with boatload of stolen goods. Chased the outlaw, Mott, across into Mexico. Killed my horse. No arrest. Assisted rancher. Found bunch of cattle hidden in brush along river. Enlisted cowboys. Drove herd to owner. Nursed maltreated Mexican. Got him home over river. Arrested four Negroes for attacking him. Shot two ... not fatally. Called to Ensign. No arrest. To Del Rio. Arrested rioters in gambler's resort. Chased them with posse. No arrests. To Ensign, to Cargo, to Junction, to Del Rio after the outlaw and murderer ... Chick Owens. Was shot making arrest. Jail torn down by Owen's pals. Wounded again in fight. Had to kill Owens....
"There! That's quite sufficient," interrupted Governor Stone. "I don't want to hear any bloody details."
"The half is not told here," said Captain MacNeal. "But I can read between the lines. This ranger rode seven hundred miles last month. He simply states ... To El Paso, to Valentine, to Del Rio, et cetera. But that means the hardest kind of riding over desert country. He merely states he was wounded twice. No particulars. He ..."
"I gather the report must have been a chronicle of a most remarkable month's work. But is it ... er ... true?"
For a moment, following the governor's cold question, there was silence in the other room.
"Governor Stone, I believe you can rely on these reports," replied the adjutant.
"He must be an able fellow. Where is he now?"
Here I pricked up my ears and listened a little harder. I had never met this magnificent ranger, but I, like every other outdoor man in western Texas, had heard all about him. Some of Steele's jobs had given me jealous qualms, yet thrilled me through and through.
I have just sent Steele upon the most difficult and, perhaps, dangerous service he ever undertook. Certainly it is the most important one. It is one I would have undertaken myself, had I had the confidence and ability needed."
"What is the service?" inquired the governor.
"Have you ever heard of Fairdale, Pecos County?"
"Let me see ... Fairdale? Why, yes, indeed, I've read things in the papers. Somebody has spoken to me about Fairdale. A remote town or settlement, rich but exceedingly lawless."
"Lawless!" Captain MacNeal uttered a short, grim laugh. "Fairdale is far to the southwest. I've never been there. It's a good-sized town, located west of the Pecos River. Pecos County is merely a name for a great wild barren. Fairdale is favorably located in a rich, well-watered valley, and the ranchers are prosperous in spite of the raiders.
"For a year now, from time to time, I've been receiving anonymous letters. They are from persons afraid to sign names ... persons whose friends and families have been robbed, assaulted, murdered. In every case I was importuned to send a company of rangers there, I sent an unknown ranger to make an investigation ... to be careful and secret ... and to return with a report.
"He did so. Used as I am to reports of lawlessness, this one amazed me. All the deviltry common to the border goes on there by day and night. More than that, and more interesting, was the ranger's report that Fairdale must be a center for the most secret, powerful, mysterious, and dangerous band of criminals operating in the Southwest. I decided to send Steele there, to ferret out this lawless gang and break it up."
"Sir, you don't mean to tell me you've given one single ranger such a job as that?" queried the governor incredulously.
"I expect to send him another ranger ... that's all," replied MacNeal.
"But, man alive, it's absurd! What you ought to send is a company of militia!"
"That would entail great expense, and that is what this new legislative bill is aiming to cut down, isn't it?"
"That is the aim ... yes."
"Well, anyway, soldiers would be powerless, even if you did send them. So also would a whole company of rangers. What this job needs is a couple of keen, resourceful, implacable, dangerous men!"
"But how can they ... alone ... break up a powerful gang of ruffians?"
"Perhaps they're not all ruffians. I've known respected and intelligent citizens to be mixed up in shady deals. I have detailed Steele to go to Fairdale, openly as a ranger, and to begin work. I'll send another ranger to help him. If they are not killed, they will clean up the town. My men have made more than one town safe for the decent people to live in. Of course, not such places as Fairdale, but bad enough to show their capacity for dangerous work."
"Captain, your confidence is beyond me," commented the governor. "Frankly, this is the most extraordinary undertaking I've ever heard of."
"If you knew the ranger, it wouldn't seem so strange," went on Captain MacNeal. "I expect, of course, to lend them every assistance possible. Steele asked for a nervy and clever man to be sent to Fairdale as a secret aid. I've had the man in mind, and he's now waiting outside."
"No, not now. Formerly he was with my service. But at present he is a special officer, United States deputy marshal."
"Call him in," said the governor.
It was the adjutant general who came into the anteroom for me. His greeting made me believe he sided with MacNeal in this matter. I went with him.
MacNeal seemed the same slim, erect, and soldierly officer I remembered so well, and his dark face surely expressed welcome and pleasure at sight of me. We shook hands as we greeted each other.
Then Adjutant General Weed introduced me to the governor. I saw a tall, pale man with a pointed beard and an aristocratic bearing that reminded me of a rich Louisiana planter. The way the governor looked me over with his cold, blue eyes was not especially to my liking. He did not offer his hand, though from habit I had made a move to extend mine.
"Does the ... er ... the marshal know yet of the dangerous mission upon which you would send him?" asked Governor Stone of MacNeal.
"I heard your conversation," I replied bluntly.
"Will you care to accept Captain MacNeal's proposition?"
"I'll be glad to go. Adjutant General Weed can authorize me, if he sees fit."
"You, of course, appreciate the danger of this work?" queried the governor.
"The more the danger, the better I'll like it," I rejoined.
My tongue sometimes was swifter than it ought to have been, and I had a hankering for the governor to take me for one of those swashbucklers that had so disgusted him.
"Do you know this Ranger Steele?"
"Only by reputation."
"And what is that reputation?"
"Steele's known on the border from El Paso to the mouth of the Rio Grande. He is feared."
"Do you entertain any conviction of his success in this service?"
"He'll clean up Fairdale."
I put it strongly, without a shadow of doubt. I was eager to help MacNeal's argument.
"Ah! Indeed! You seem to share the captain's confidence. I see you wear a gun there, under your coat. How is that ... carrying a weapon here in the capital?"
"I always pack a gun. Any minute I might run into men."
"Men you want to arrest, I presume?"
"No. Men who are hankering to kill me!"
"Indeed? May I ask what for?"
"Because I did arrest them once, and now that one thing or another ... perhaps political influence ... has helped them out of jail, they'll be looking for me."
Plain it was that Governor Stone was impressed with me, but scarcely favorably.
"No doubt you've had victims ... er ... you've killed men?"
"Only a few. I never counted."
That sickened the aristocratic governor from eastern Texas, and he turned to the others. "Gentlemen, manifestly the United States deputy marshal will be an able lieutenant for Ranger Steele." He turned his face to MacNeal. "Have you anything further to say to me about the matter?"
"Only this, Governor Stone," replied MacNeal quickly. "Will you make a test case of this? Will you wait till Steele has succeeded or failed in his attempt to make Fairdale a law-abiding town? I shall find means to furnish you with authentic details of his work. Will you hold off signing this bill for a while?"
"Captain MacNeal, that is a most fair and reasonable request," replied the governor with some warmth. "If you are satisfied to make this a test of the ranger service, I shall be glad to wait, even a year or more. I remind you, I am open to conviction. You have made some remarkable statements in regard to your rangers. For the welfare of Texas I hope and pray they are true."
Governor Stone bowed to the captain, then to me, and in company with the adjutant general he left the office.
When Captain MacNeal turned to me he was white, and his jaw was working. "Russ!" he exclaimed passionately, calling me by the familiar name once common among my ranger comrades, "Russ, the future of the service depends on you and Vaughn Steele!"
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