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Bob Alexander’s "Riding Lucifer’s Line" is a well researched collection of twenty-five sketches about Texas Rangers who died by gunshot in the performance of their duties along the Texas-Mexican border between the years 1875-1921. Writing from the knowledgeable perspective of a retired U.S. Government Treasury officer, Alexander undertook a formidable task piecing together the often-obscure and many times incomplete life stories of these selected lawmen. This is not an easy task. Historical records relating to Texas Rangers are frequently spotty and incomplete for a variety of reasons. Some were lost to fire or other calamity while others curiously somehow vanished from state archives, county courthouses and other repositories. These Rangers commonly moved from job to job inside and outside law enforcement seldom staying in one location or position for long periods. Pay was low, hardship plentiful and life threatening danger a constant factor.

Alexander’s Rangers met death in a variety of ways ranging from accident to ambush with a surprising number being the result of inexperience and the absence of modern tactical training. Early day Rangers had to learn law enforcement mostly by performing the job and sometimes this in itself proved deadly particularly on the Texas-Mexican border. An example of this was the 1890 death of Texas Ranger Private John H. Gravis in Presidio County. Gravis had been a Ranger for about five months when he and a deputy sheriff got into a gunfight in the rowdy silver mining town of Shafter. The young Ranger lost his life after being shot in the head. While conflicting accounts cloud the details Alexander pointedly summed up the tragedy by writing “On the Texas/Mexican border rookies were but the raw meat of the devil”. Another example emerged with the death of Ranger Robert E. Doaty some two years later. Doaty had been a Ranger for only twenty-two days when he met death in another border shoot out. The same is true for Eugene B. Hulen killed in Presidio County in 1915 after being a Ranger forfifty-seven days.

Although the author’s wordy writing style might burden some, Alexander does offer the dedicated reader an insight infrequently found in the innumerable volumes of Texas Ranger history. The author avoids the Texas Ranger mythology pitfalls of Walter Prescott Webb and others painting a realistic and sometimes gritty picture of these lawmen as they met their end. There are no stereotypes present in these stories. In a lengthy two-part introduction Alexander lays out his premise in which he acknowledges the wrongs and abuses of some pre-modern era Rangers. He traces the evolution of the Texas Rangers from their early days as Indian and bandit fighters and gunmen to today’s lawmen through advancements in transportation, tactics and technology. While Alexander promises, “no white washing” in his effort he does somewhat subjectively present the lawman’s point of view relegating divergent analysis to being somehow less than creditable. While Alexander seems to disdain the work of agenda driven scholars and those he considers to be “armchair historians”, he does not hesitate to make use of such research.

No one doubts that law enforcement on the Texas-Mexican border is and always has been a very risky but necessary profession. It is also controversial mostly during the bloody years of the Mexican Revolution. This book will probably appeal more to Texas Ranger enthusiasts and less to those persuaded by revisionist views. However, it is an insightful work deserving consideration by all. These Rangers who gave their lives certainly merit inclusion in the pages of history. How and why they died is a worthy topic for reflection. Alexander’s effort is to be commended. As Louis R. Sadler put it “This is Bob’s best book to date” and it is.

"Riding Lucifer’s Line: Ranger Deaths Along the Texas-Mexican Border". By Bob Alexander. Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2013. Pp. xxvi, 404. Photographs. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $29.95 cloth.

Glenn Justice

Used with contractual permission of
"The Americas: A Quarterly Review of Inter-American Cultural History"
Copyright 2014

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