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Cult of Glory: The Bold and Brutal History of the Texas Rangers

Review

Cult of Glory: The Bold and Brutal History of the Texas Rangers

I was not too far into reading CULT OF GLORY when I put the book down to check out a name. I am no kind of genealogy expert, but the modern online tools make it easy enough to search for common ancestors. Sure enough, the name mentioned in the book was a third cousin, several times removed. I don’t necessarily recommend mixing genealogy with history, but it does serve to personalize the history, to a degree --- and it brings home the reality that history is not as far away as we might think.

In 16 years, Texas celebrates her bicentennial (this, after my generation of Texans had to learn to spell “sesquicentennial” for the 150th anniversary of the Texas Revolution in 1986). But Texas in 1836 was a wild place, and a dangerous one, and it would stay that way for generations. The front line of the Texan frontiers would be manned by the Texas Rangers, an irregular (sometimes alarmingly so) cavalry tasked with protecting white settlements (there is, literally, a place in Texas called White Settlement) against the Mexicans, Comanches and Apaches.

"...a deeply iconoclastic book, making the point over and over again that the Rangers who were portrayed as faultless heroes on stage and screen were often anything but."

The point of CULT OF GLORY is that the popular legend of the Texas Rangers, from the masked man who rode with Tonto down to Chuck Norris, disguises a history that is dark, bloody and, at times, awful beyond belief. It begins with the massacre of Karankawa Indians who were bordering on the settlements of the Old Three Hundred settlers in the Austin Colony and ends with the sorry saga of an illiterate drifter who convinced the Rangers that he was a peerless serial murderer. In between, Doug J. Swanson chronicles the embarrassing, self-aggrandizing and occasional borderline genocidal actions of the Rangers.

This is what is called, usually with a sneer, “revisionist history,” which is little more than a term of abuse. This is the history that isn’t talked about, the history that hides in plain sight, the history that doesn’t advance the narrative. But the history is still there, and ignoring it --- ignoring the, frankly, racist acts of both the Rangers and the Texans they protect --- does no one a service.

CULT OF GLORY, even before publication, has had an unexpected impact. The “One Riot, One Ranger” statue at Dallas’s Love Field airport has been taken down because the Ranger who served as a model for the statue had worked to uphold a segregation order in a small North Texas town. And this is appropriate, because it is a deeply iconoclastic book, making the point over and over again that the Rangers who were portrayed as faultless heroes on stage and screen were often anything but.

So for Texans like me, who are the heirs of the frontier and benefit from the actions of the Rangers of the past, the question is: How do we use this knowledge that the Rangers have been complicit in deplorable acts? One good place to start is reading CULT OF GLORY and understanding how the frontier world of the Rangers still impacts ours.

Reviewed by Curtis Edmonds on June 19, 2020

Cult of Glory: The Bold and Brutal History of the Texas Rangers
by Doug J. Swanson

  • Publication Date: June 9, 2020
  • Genres: History, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Viking
  • ISBN-10: 1101979860
  • ISBN-13: 9781101979860